For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. [Deuteronomy 10:17-18]
My first call to the ministry of Word and Sacrament was to serve a developing congregation in Canton, Ohio, some 20 years ago. It was a worshipping community of mostly Mexican immigrants, many of whom were recent arrivals to the United States, with others from Central and South America and a couple from the Caribbean.
They worked mainly in restaurants, poultry processing plants, construction, discount clothing outlets and other service-type jobs. They spoke little if any English, thus limiting their economic and employment opportunities and other benefits that many of us take for granted. It goes without saying that a significant number were also undocumented.
In 2016, I took part in a human rights observation mission along the Guatemala-Mexico border.
Though we were there to document the violations that the people endured, I was also there to better understand the reasons why a person would pick up and leave his or her country of origin to travel here.
These are experiences that have shaped my ministry and put a face on my concern for the vulnerable in our society. Though my personal efforts are mostly motivated by concern for the stranger, throughout the Old Testament, the repeated theme that God makes very clear to the people of Israel is that they should care for the orphan, the widow, and the stranger among them. The famed Old Testament scholar, Walter Brueggemann, writes often about God’s concern for the widow, the orphan, and the stranger. He terms it, God’s “triad of vulnerability.”
Today’s reading from Deuteronomy begins with a question: So now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you?
We are perhaps more familiar with the question as heard in the book of the prophet Micah: What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? [Micah 6:8]
The answer is quite obvious throughout all of Scripture. As people of God, we are called to speak and act for those who are struggling with hunger, homelessness, poverty, and injustice.
As I write this, the debate over raising the minimum wage appears to be a lost cause. Those who oppose it are describing this issue in negative terms, “leftist radical” being perhaps the least insulting. But what God calls us to realize is that God has created all people, thus all people have inherent worth and dignity, and our concern for all people shatters the fences of our own politics and economic interests.
At this time in history, we are living in a country utterly divided by partisanship, by contentious rhetoric, by the color of the state, and by our stubborn refusal to even hear the other side and to try and work together for a common good.
Our challenge as Christians and as the Church is to demonstrate to the world, and specifically to those who shape public policy, that God is active in our world, and we are those through whom God shows care for the vulnerable of our society. The vulnerable are not likely to believe what we say about the love of God if we don’t care enough to help them in their need.
It is a natural reality that we are most comfortable with and usually care most about those who are like us. But now we live side-by-side with people of many different tribes. We are challenged to share God’s concern for the stranger among us, as well as for those who are hungry, for those who suffer injustice, and for the poor.
God is telling us not to count the cost, not to turn up our noses, but to reach out to whoever may need the love of God. We are all called to be neighbor to all, to those who are not our neighbors; to love those who do not necessarily love us; to give to others who may not ever give back to us; without regard to race, ethnicity, creed, color, sexual orientation, political viewpoint, or anything else. For Jesus, there are no borders, no boundaries, and no boxes. Period.
As Christians, we always start with the fact that God initiates the relationship with us – not we with God. God calls us to be in unity with God and all people. God’s reaching out to us is best understood as God giving us everything we have – with no strings attached and without our deserving it, without our having done anything to gain it.
God in Christ Jesus made it clear that we are the most precious beings in all creation – so valuable, as he proved on the cross, that we are ALL worth dying for.
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