Friday, June 15, 2018

The Alien in the Land

Hey!  You guys did a great job of staying with me through some interesting chapters that I pretty much read to you with a few inserted comments—that hopefully provided some manner of explanation.  Some of Leviticus just presents itself and all I can do is say, “That’s what God told them.”  

We try to understand what it was like to come out of 420 years of slavery and suddenly be a people unto themselves.

We can’t.  There are things that God directed that applied only to the priests.  There are directions to the people as a whole.  There are some that are just agricultural.  There are some that tell the people and the priest how to make temporary atonement for sin.  We are to understand that every command and decree that God gave his people was for their own good.

We may not comprehend all of that in our time.  We are blessed to live in a time of grace.  We are blessed to understand the central message in Leviticus:  Be holy as God is holy.  The message transcends Testaments.

This morning I want to pick out one verse that you have already heard.  We touched on it briefly, but let’s take a hard look at it.

The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.

Let’s talk about something a little controversial.  Let’s talk about aliens in our land.  Let’s look at the directives from God on how to treat aliens.

First note, that there was no such thing as an illegal alien in this time.  The word did not make sense.  If you went into a country that was not your own, you obeyed its laws or you became a slave or were put to death or sometimes both.  You just didn’t get to break the law and still be free.

Understand that for most of the ancient world, being in a country except as a spy or invader did not violate the law.  Even spying was not so much illegal as it was lethal if you were caught.

There were no borders like today.  Crossing back and forth between and among nations was just something you did at your own risk.  Entry into a walled city might have been a different story, but crossing a border didn’t amount to much in most places.

Unless you were a high muckety-muck, you didn’t need papers.

Think about Namaan going to see Elisha (2 Kings 5), he needed some king-to-king correspondence, so it wasn’t perceived as an invasion or Namaan was not taken for purposes of ransom.

Now, if you brought an army with you, that was a different matter. 

But if you or your family came into another country, you were subject to their laws.  Those laws could change at any time, especially if the king made them or canceled them at a whim.

These aliens were subject to the laws of the land, but for the most part it was never illegal just to be an alien in a land.  The whole illegal alien concept was not a thing.  If you were an alien in the land, you were subject to the laws of the land.

God told his people that these aliens were also subject to your mercy and generosity.  When it was time for a Sabbath, they were also entitled to a Sabbath.  Remember when we come to Jesus confronting religious leaders about the Sabbath, he said:  The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. 

Those who obeyed God’s law couldn’t just say, get two of my pagan servants and have them run down to Chick-Fil-A and pick up something.  The Sabbath was for everyone.

When it was time for harvest, not everything was harvested.  Some was left for the poor and the alien.  God always included provision for those who were not blessed to own land or business in the Promised Land.  God always looked out for the less fortunate.  God’s commands directed his people to look out for the less fortunate and the stranger.

Think back in time from the giving of the law to Sodom and Gomorrah.  Most people think that God destroyed these cities because of homosexuality and bestiality and just general unholy living.  Those were surely in the mix, but what sin was prevalent when the angels came to visit Lot?

The people did not only fail to receive the aliens—the strangers—and provide hospitality to them.  They tried to abuse the strangers.

God reminded his people frequently that they were slaves and aliens in Egypt.  Your ancestors lived with the shoe on the other foot.  God’s chosen people entered Egypt at Joseph’s invitation and those few Hebrew people survived a regional famine that Joseph had prepared for as the most powerful man next to the Pharaoh. 

And then came a Pharaoh who did not remember Joseph and these people who were flourishing in the hill country of Goshen were perceived as the threat to the government and enslaved.  For over 400 years God’s Chosen People lived as slaves and aliens in Egypt.

God reminds his people that they too were the strangers once.  That nation made them slaves.  You are to show compassion.

The foreigners who came into Israel had to obey the law.  There could have been no such thing as an illegal alien.  Entering the country was not a crime then or there.  Failing to obey the law would not be tolerated.

Entry into Israel did not make one an illegal alien.  There was just no such term.  There was no law against such entry.

So we look at our country today.  This is the time and place where we live and we are trying to make sense out of God’s decrees. We have laws and regulations out the wazoo.  Some of them make it illegal for some people to enter our nation.  Entry by itself puts them in conflict with our nation—with our laws.

Here’s the theological term.  It’s a big mess.  But it is not a big mess for us—for the disciple of Christ.

You can have whatever opinion you want on the national law and policy regarding immigration, but our direction is at the personal level.  We are people of compassion.

The people who are here and their presence here violates the law will be dealt with or ignored by those commissioned to enforce the law.  As God’s people, we are to respect those in authority, pray for them, abide by the law—written authority, and we are even told to pay our taxes.

For us, we show compassion.  We show mercy.  If people are here legally or illegally, and they are hungry; we feed them.  Which is the governing condition?  Legal or illegal?   Neither, the hunger governs.  They have a need and we feed them.  If they have no clothing, we clothe them.  We know this.  We have done this.

I have talked with some who have come to see me for help who by the nature of the answers they gave me as I was trying to help with some long-term solution to their problems, revealed they were not in this country legally.  I counseled them that they would not have peace with this issue that they did not bring up, until this issue was resolved, but we wouldn’t let them go hungry.

We understand just how blessed that we are, and we do what we can to help those that we know need help.  We are not called to violate the law of this land and hide them from authorities.  We are called to abide by the law.

We can encourage these people to obtain citizenship.

We can pray for them.

We can challenge our lawmakers to come up with something better.  We should hold their feet to the fire to fix the problem.  They are supposed to be working for us.

But God has called us to have empathy for the alien among us.  The life of God’s Chosen People in the Promised Land and our life in the USA are vastly different, the laws are different, borders are different, manner and means of enforcement are different, but what is the same is this.

We love the alien as we do our native-born neighbor.  The instructions to the God-fearing people are to love your neighbor as yourself without qualification.

The government—and yes you have a voice in that government—will do what it must do, but you are always to be people of mercy and compassion in your direct dealings with those who are considered aliens in our land.

We are to be people of mercy and compassion.

We are learning to be holy as God is holy.

There is a whole big spectrum of things that our nation may or may not do with regard to immigration.  I am not going to get political here, but I think if I took 535 God fearing people to Washington and sent the entire Congress—Senate and House members—home for a week, we could fix this immigration mess and still have 5 days left to go to the monuments and Smithsonian Museums.

That’s not likely to happen.  Until the kingdom of the world gives way to the Kingdom of God, things will never be quite right.  Except that the Kingdom of God lives within us and we are called to be holy as God is holy.

In our personal relations, we are called to love all of our neighbors as we love ourselves without regard to citizenship and nationality or any factor of race or nationality or those things that seem so important in the secular world that pretends to have an ethical compass.

We who belong to the Christ are to love one another.


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