Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.
I am back on familiar territory after a productive three days in Washington, D.C., where ELCA Bishops, church and community leaders, gathered to advocate for immigrant rights and refugee resettlement. Instead of my usual reflection on the upcoming Sunday readings, I offer today a review of my days on the Hill.
Gathered under the theme of “Renewed in Christ to Witness,” what was noteworthy about this event was the spirit of collaboration between the ELCA Advocacy office and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS).
ELCA Advocacy has developed the AMMPARO strategy, a response to the plight of unaccompanied minor children who began crossing the border some years ago to escape violence and poverty in their countries of origin.
LIRS has been resettling refugees for more than 75 years. Both issues intersect. So it was only practical that the two agencies combine their efforts. (To learn more about the work of these agencies, I invite you to click on the links above.)
LIRS is a pan-Lutheran agency, so this endeavor also brought together three church bodies who are not always recognized for working together; the ELCA, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, and the Latvian Lutheran Church. As the palmist said, “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!” [Psalm 133:1]
After opening worship on Monday evening, we spent the next day centering our message in preparation for our visits to congressional leaders on Wednesday. We asked two things of our senators and representatives in congress:
(1) Maintain the United States’ position as the world leader in protecting the most vulnerable by insuring the full and continued operation of the refugee resettlement program, and
(2) support compassionate policies that provide immediate protection for Central American children and their families, and faithful solutions to the conditions that cause people to flee.
The Ohio delegation included Nick Bates, Executive Director of the Hunger Network in Ohio; Carmen Colón-Brown, Synodically Authorized Lay Minister, Iglesia Luterana Vida Eterna, West Chester, Ohio; and the Rev. Dr. Kristine Suna-Koro, Associate Professor of Theology, Xavier University.
We met with the two Ohio Senators, Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman, as well as legislative correspondents for Representatives Joyce Beatty (DOH03), and Warren Davidson (ROH08). The two senators and the aide for Representative Beatty seemed attentive and supportive. With the Democratic legislators, Senator Brown and the aide for Representative Beatty, it was like preaching to the choir.
Admittedly, I was surprised by the congeniality of Senator Portman. Though it was more of a photo opportunity than a sit-down conversation, he seemed to genuinely listen to our concerns and paid little attention to the aide who was pressuring him to move on to his next group.
As expected, the aide for Representative Davidson, though civil, could not mask his indifference. He seemed ignorant on the issues and responded with the usual rhetoric of the need for better vetting of refugees. I, of course, politely, but firmly, pushed back on that claim. As Americans, we, too, want to protect our country from those who wish to do us harm. But refugees go through a rigorous and secure vetting process. Half the world’s refugees are children. So, the reality does not equal the rhetoric.
This was our last visit of the day and cast a pall on the euphoria of the first three meetings. But overall, it was a good day. There is follow up to be done, especially in the case of Representative Davidson. We invited him, through his aide, to visit Vida Eterna, and meet the people who are affected by the current administration’s attitude. Whether he will or not remains to be seen.
I know I begin to sound like a broken record, but refugees are humans, created and loved by God, who are looking for new place to call home and a chance to build a new and prosperous life. As Lutherans, we know the importance of welcoming vulnerable migrants. Following World War II, one out of every six Lutherans in the world was either a refugee or a displaced person.
As people of faith, we are called to welcome the stranger. We heed the Bible’s call to love our neighbor as ourselves. The Gospel demands that we speak for those who have no voice.
Holy Week begins next Sunday, April 9, with Palm/Passion Sunday. We will celebrate the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem and within minutes, hear the narrative of his suffering and dying. This same man who rode into Jerusalem on this day on a borrowed donkey to the shouts of, “Hosanna,” will, within days, hear the same crowd yell, “Crucify Him!”
Our generation is much like those who were praising Jesus on that first Palm Sunday. We frequently see the mob mentality at work today in the political arena. More often than not, we give in to the mind of the crowd, rather than act out of personal convictions. We want to be on the popular side, the winning side, we want to side with the majority.
As we enter this so called Holy Week, consider the following questions. How much have we advanced as a society? Do we treat the stranger or anyone different from us with respect or disdain? Are we a society that cares for its poor, its ill, its aged, or the stranger, with compassion and concern or indifference and apathy?
I realize these may be uncomfortable questions for some, and I don’t ask them lightly. I pose these questions to us because it was in this way that Jesus challenged people with in his day, and it rings true in our time. We worship a God who became one of us and was killed for, among other things, suggesting that we owe our first loyalty, that we owe the best of what we are, to something that is greater and more eternal than any government or nation ever could be. We owe it to ourselves and we owe it to our creator to ask these hard questions so that we know where our true loyalties ultimately lie.
Jesus modeled for us a life under God’s reign, a life of equality, unity, harmony and peace, a life governed by the commandment to love God and love our neighbor.
· By now you have heard that our Director for Evangelical Mission, the Rev. Terrance Jacob, is resigning his position to accept a call to a church in the Florida-Bahamas Synod. I invite you all to join us in wishing Pastor Jacob Farewell and Godspeed on Thursday, April 6, here at the Lutheran Center beginning at 5:30 p.m.
· Next Tuesday, April 11, rostered ministers of the Northeastern Ohio Synod are invited to gather at Trinity Lutheran Church in Kent for our annual Renewal of Vows liturgy in which we renew our vows of ordination, or consecration, and bless the oil which we’ll use for anointing during the next year.
Pastor Doug Fidler, and the people of Trinity, Kent (600 S. Water St.) will welcome us with their gracious hospitality and offer us lunch following the service. Cost of lunch will be $5, with retired rostered and their spouses offered free meals. Please contact the Trinity church office (330-673-5445 or firstname.lastname@example.org) by April 5, and let them know you plan to stay for lunch.
May God’s Holy Spirit encourage and strengthen us to live together in Christ, motivated by compassion and a desire to serve others today, tomorrow, and always.
+Bishop Abraham Allende