“Wandering Arameans” ~ sermon for October 1, 2017

October 2, 2017

“Wandering Arameans” ~ sermon for October 1, 2017

Our New Testament reading this morning provides another example of Jesus offering a lesson supported by a parable that emphasizes his point.

Today’s message covers topics of claiming authority, living up to your word and judging others.

Hear now a reading from the gospel of Matthew 21:23-32.

Here ends the reading of God’s holy word. May God add to our hearing and understanding, God’s blessing. Amen.

Please pray with me.

Welcoming God, you receive and bless all who come to you in humility.

Show us our false pride, that we may repent of all conceit and arrogance and, caring for one another, may honor Jesus to the glory of your name.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.


I want to offer you some numbers:

7.4 billion is the number of people on the earth;

2.3 billion is the number of people identified as Christian;

326 million people is the population of the United States;

65.3 million is the number of refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people in the world;

37 million is the number of legal immigrants in the United States;

11 million is the number unauthorized immigrants in the United States;

3,977 people live in Salisbury, Connecticut;

200 people claim membership in the Salisbury Congregational Church;

75 – approximate number of people here this morning.

On this World Communion-Neighbors in Need Sunday, it might feel overwhelming to think of having an impact with numbers like these, however we have learned over time that each and every act of kindness has a ripple effect in the world.

The Hebrew scripture this morning told us “the whole congregation of Israel journeyed by stages.”

Scholars estimate that the Israelite refugees numbered between 600,000 and 2 million!

I know that’s a broad range, but some count the women and children and some only the warriors.

Regardless, do you ever picture the Israelites wandering in the wilderness with Moses to be that many in number?

I know that I didn’t, though the bible cites these numbers several times.

We forget history and often remember things quite different than they actually were.

Later in Exodus Moses reminds the Israelites: “You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien; for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”

In Deuteronomy, the fifth book of the Pentetuch, Moses again reminds his followers to offer thanks to God with this prayer:

A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.

How often do you think of your ancestors and what they might have endured so that you could be sitting here this morning?

What do we owe those who came before us?

Perhaps more importantly, what do we owe those who will come after us?

Each generation has taken the lessons of scripture and interpreted them for their own time.

Now, here we are, in 2017 looking to this ancient text to help us understand how to care for an earth inhabited by 7.4 billion people.

Later today we will host a community dialogue titled ‘A Christian response to Immigration.”

To prepare for this afternoon’s program, I spent time these past few weeks exploring the history of immigration in our country.

As with the other Peace Through Understanding programs, I was surprised by how much I didn’t know.

From this afternoon’s program booklet:

The immigration policies of the United States are complex and far reaching.

The United States has always been a land of immigration.

From the original inhabitants of the land to the current day, each new group has had to struggle to be accepted into the fabric of American society.

There are as many reasons to immigrate as there are people, however some of the fundamental motivations do not change.

Seeking a better life, one free from oppression, violence, and poverty has prompted individuals to incur monumental risks to come to America.

America, in turn, has been able to provide opportunities to millions of people to meet those expectations.

America was seen, and is still seen, as a land of promise.

Immigration control efforts have been part of the American political scene from the beginning of the country, as well.

Just a year after George Washington was inaugurated The Naturalization Act of 1790 was introduced.

Naturalization was limited to immigrants who were free white persons of good moral character who had lived in the United States for two years.

This meant that indigenous peoples, free African Americans, indentured servants and slaves were excluded from citizenship.

In 1795, Congress amended the act, extending the minimum residence requirement to five years to become an American citizen.

This remains in effect today.

The first anti-immigration movements began in the 1800’s.

The Nativists’ (native-born Americans who opposed immigrants) resentment towards immigrants occasionally turned into violence.

In July 1844, riots broke out in Philadelphia.

Two Catholic churches and a Catholic school were burned by mobs of Nativists.

Twenty people perished.

The 1850’s had the KnowNothings, a group whose membership was restricted to Protestant men who wanted to “purify” society and politics by increasing restrictions on immigrants.

This group used the fear of the country being overrun by German and Irish Catholics controlled by the Pope and the loss of Republican values, to gain victories in Congress.

At the same time, in California, Chinese immigrant laborers were being tormented.

The Chinese laborers were cheaper than white laborers.

Having made the voyage on credit from China, they had no choice but to accept lower wages to repay their creditors.

Therefore landowners preferred cheaper Chinese immigrants.

As a result, the State of California passed a bill that sought to calm the rising tension and protect white laborers.

It imposed a monthly tax on working Chinese immigrants.

In California, the Chinese immigrants soon found that they were not always welcome.

Ethnic tensions arose as gold grew scarce and the economy slowed down.

In 1850, California enacted the Foreign Miners Tax, forcing many Chinese to stop prospecting for gold, while Chinese workers were the targets of violent attacks in the mining camps.

We forget history and often remember things quite different than they actually were.

The United Church of Christ has demonstrated ongoing concern with immigration in the United States and with the well being of immigrants for many years.

In 1981, General Synod 13 issued a Pronouncement, “Justice in Immigration,” which called for refugees and immigrants to be given constitutional and labor rights; declared opposition to sanctions against employers; urged penalties against exploitation; supported the granting of regular legal status to undocumented persons; and called for the church to support immigrants and refugees.

A resolution from General Synod 25 in 2005 stated: “We are called to be people of reconciliation and called to engage in the act of reconciliation… When barriers are constructed, hostility that exists becomes exacerbated. Differences between peoples can only be addressed through bringing them together, not by adding further divisions. By breaking down walls that separate, we actively seek peace and reconciliation in the world and attempt to follow Jesus’ example”.

As long as people live with poverty, fear, and oppression they will seek an escape.

Desperate people take desperate action.

Embarking on an ocean crossing on a raft is a desperate act.

Crossing the desert on foot is a desperate act.

Wandering in the wilderness for forty years was a desperate act.

These are the actions of desperate people who believe they have no other options.

We can wring our hands and say that there is nothing we can do, or we can figure out exactly what we can do and set about doing it.

Addressing the causes of the world wide migration will be far more effective than enforcement of immigration laws, more conducive to peace than fences and walls, more pleasing to God than a thousand burnt offerings.

One writer this week summed it up this way:

Once we have found our own source of strength, purpose and meaning, it can be tempting to try and regulate who gets to share it.

When we experience God’s life and presence in a certain way, it’s fairly easy to believe that everyone needs to connect with God the same way we did.

The problem with this view is that we can turn ourselves into gatekeepers for God’s Reign, drawing lines between who is in and who is out.

We may also miss the work of God when it comes to us in a new or unfamiliar way, or through an unexpected person.

It takes great humility and openness to accept that God meets us – and everyone else – where we are.

God’s grace is extravagantly and shockingly flexible, and it extends to everyone, no matter who they are or what they have done.

If this is not the case, then we’re not dealing with grace. T

he challenge, though, is that grace must always be received, and receiving God’s grace is directly related to how willing we are to see God’s grace at work in others – especially those we would naturally consider underserving.

This is the problem with gatekeeping.

It tries to close the door on others, and in doing so, it actually closes the door on us.

This week let us seek to release our need to be gatekeepers, and open our hearts even more to this radical, all-encompassing grace of God.

My friends, as Christians, we are called to welcome the stranger.

Fifty four times in scripture we are reminded by Moses, the prophets, Jesus and Paul to love one another because love is from God.

We are to love because God first loved us.

That’s a history lesson we ought to remember.

It is a simple as that.


Let us pray.

Gracious and loving God of our ancestors, be with us this day as we explore our history and examine our lives to determine how best to offer the welcome you command.

We ask for your guidance and grace as we face seemingly insurmountable world problems.

Help us trust that you, God, are present – traveling with us on this particular wilderness journey.

Help us, we pray, to demonstrate your love to all those who we encounter.

Let us be leaders in compassion.

Hear now our prayers for those whom we love.

For those who are sick, we pray for healing.

For those who mourn, we pray for comfort.

For those who wander the world, searching for a place to call home, we pray that your Holy Spirit might guide them and guard them.

For your amazing world, O God, we give thanks and we call you to help us mend what is broken and celebrate what is good.

Hear now our silent prayers, as we turn our hearts to you.

Jesus taught them to pray in these words….


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