how we talk about immigration and refugees
god be with you
For the past few weeks we’ve been talking justice, how it is central to our understanding of who God is and what God is like, and what that means for us as fans and followers of Jesus.
We’re doing this to remind us of who we are and of what our place in the world is.
Thomas Merton called it “living like water.”
We’re called to be people who not only nourish the world, but who shape it and guide it, moving it closer and closer to that kind of world God wants us to have.
So we talk about justice because justice is what we’re supposed to be talking about.
It’s what we’re supposed to be concerned about.
Its the preset we have whenever we go to do stuff like vote, shop, interact with neighbours, raise our kids, do our jobs, or whatever it is, we’re supposed to do it with the concern for the kind of justice that Jesus teaches us:
a justice that heals, restores and makes right.
So we’ve already talked about a few justice issues facing our world;
we've talked about cultural genocide and how we can reconcile with our indigenous neighbours,
we’ve heard why talking about sex in church is important,
and today we talk about why the church should care about immigration and refugees.
And to do that, we will talk about:
the question we’re asking,
the hebrew word which blew the rabbis' minds
the question God’s asking,
and a hebrew word which should blow our minds.
So why refugees and immigration in church? Out of all the things we could talk about, why this one?
Well, a couple reasons:
It’s in the news so we need to know how to process what we’re seeing.
We’ve sponsored a refugee family and we should know why we did that.
But also this:
There were 65 million people fleeing their homes in 2017. That’s 1 in 113 people on our planet.
51% of those are children. All of them forced to move because of violence, famine, poverty, and persecution.
We’re talking about this because this is the world we live in.
This is the reality of millions of our brothers and sisters around the world.
And as people who live in Canada, a country who actively receives immigrants and refugees, this is an important conversation we’re having as a society.
And the question for us this morning is how do we, as people of faith and spirituality, as people trying to see and understand the world and our place within it in a very particular way, have that conversation? What’s the spiritual perspective do we need to have on this?
So that’s the question we’re asking this morning: how do we, as people of faith, come at this conversation?
Are you with me?
Now, we could come at this a few ways.
We could explore how Jesus, the very person at the centre of our faith and spirituality, was himself a refugee.
We could talk about how we have a God who comes to us from beyond. We could explore how God has this habit of entering into our lives and world from the people and places we so often write off and dismiss as worthless and strange.
That all would preach.
But for today, let’s come at it another way. Let’s enter into it all through this small, innocuous, four letter Hebrew word that blew the minds of some ancient rabbis.
And that word is found right at the beginning of our Bibles in the second chapter of Genesis.
The story we find there is probably pretty familiar to some of us:
it’s the story of how and why God made the universe.
Its the story of how after making the world and everything in it, God took some dirt, breathed into it, and created humanity, inviting them to join in on what She was doing, asking them to help steward the world towards a world where everyone had a place and everyone had enough.
And out of all the amazing, powerful, and beautiful things this story tells us,
about what it means to be fully human and alive in this world,
about why God created the world,
about our inherent worth and value as humans,
about the very nature of God,
the thing that seems to have blown the minds of the ancient rabbis was the most innocuous word in that story:
We know it as the name given to the first human God created, that archetype and representative of all of humanity.
And now here’s what blew the rabbis’ minds:
Adam is actually the Hebrew word ‘a-dam,’ and a-dam means ‘earth.’ Which isn’t too mind blowing really. The guy is named after the stuff he’s made of.
But the rabbi’s saw something deeper going on here and what they saw was this:
Properly translated a-dam doesn’t just mean earth. A-dam means ‘the earth.’
Adam wasn’t just created from some dirt that just happened to be there in a pile by God’s foot,
but God took dirt from all over the earth,
from every part of it,
from every place,
and out of that,
which is to say,
out of that,
God created humanity.
And that blew the minds of the rabbis because they saw within it very powerful truth about what it means to be human, a truth that would end up shaping something Jesus would end up teaching:
To be human is to be of the earth.
To be human is to be boarderless,
its to be global.
To be human is to be able to be at home anywhere in our world.
That’s pretty beautiful isn’t it?
There’s some power in there.
To be human is to be of the earth.
It’s to be at home anywhere in the world.
That should blow our minds!
And we could just stay here and riff around with that for a bit and see how it helps us answer our question, but let’s play with this some more and see if this understanding of what it means to be human can help us understand that other story we heard this morning.
The other story we heard this morning is part of a bigger story called 'the Exodus.’ It’s one of our really foundational stories where God leads Moses and the Israelites out of lives of slavery and oppression in Egypt and into place where they could live in peace and freedom. And thats basically what we heard. We heard God giving to Moses the gist of whats about to happen, of the liberation thats about to take place:
"Ive heard your cries for freedom, Ive felt your pain, Im going to lead you out of the land youre in,
and lead you into some new land, the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, and the Jebusites.”
And that’s beautiful news. We have a God who listens! We have a God who responds to our cries! We have a God who breaks the chains of the things that oppress us! We have a God who leads us out of death and into new life!
But here’s why this is one of the most problematic texts in our scriptures:
The land God is going to lead them into? It’s not empty.
It’s already occupied by six other peoples.
That land God is leading them into is already home to other people.
This should stop us dead in our tracks because we have some really serious questions to ask:
Is God endorsing colonization and invasion?
Is God advocating for the violent take over of other people and nations?
We need to ask them because that’s exactly what goes down: Israel enters in and things get pretty bloody.
We need to ask them because this is the text people have used to justify things like residential schools, colonization, genocide, and war.
And so we need to rumble with those questions. They are really important questions to ask.
But there’s one more question we need to ask and it’s the question that we need to ask when trying to figure out how we navigate the conversation of immigration and refugees.
And that question is this:
While God is saying this to Israel, what’s God saying to the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorite, Perizzites, Hivites, and the Jebusites?
What is God saying to the people in the land the Israelites are about to enter into?
What is God saying to those who are about to encounter the thousands upon thousands of people fleeing oppression, persecution, and slavery in Egypt?
We need to ask that question because isn’t that our question? Aren’t we looking for guidance on what to do with the thousands of people looking to flee violence, persecution, and death? Aren’t we asking how do we see these people moving towards us looking for a new home?
What if God is saying to them:
“I’ve heard the cries for freedom from your neighbours; I have felt their pain. I am going to pry them loose from the grip of Egypt and bring them to a good land with wide-open spaces, a land lush with milk and honey: your land. I am bringing them here so make some room.”
But why would God be saying that to them? How can we think that’s what God would say?
Well, it’s here we talk about the other Hebrew word, the one that should blow our minds:
Its the word our tradition uses to talk about how in order to make room for the universe to exist, God first had to remove a part of God’s self, God had to shrink into Herself in order to make space for new life to happen.
Isn’t that beautiful?
We have a God who makes room.
We have a God who makes space for new life to happen.
We have a God who sacrifices Godself for the sake of the other.
God tells them to make some room because that’s how its supposed to work.
Thats the example we’re to follow.
As people created in God’s image we practice zimzum.
When space is needed for new life to exist, we make room.
And maybe that’s where we find the way to have this conversation about immigration and refugees.
When it comes to how we, as the church, are to think about these things, we do it with the foundation of zimzum;
we do it remembering that we’re called to make room for others,
and we make that space because we know we are all Adam.
We are all of the earth.
We are all neighbours.
We are all at home in this world.
When we encounter people fleeing from persecution and oppression wanting to come into our country, city, and neighbourhoods, we can now hear God saying to us:
“I have heard the cries of the children in Syria. I have felt the pain of the LGBTQ community in Uganda. I have seen the people struggling to cross the Mediterranean. I am leading them out of oppression and violence and bringing them here, to your country, your city, and your neighbourhoods.
I am bringing them here so make. some. room.”