I’ve noticed something this season of lent - I’m not sure if I’ve just never payed attention before or if this is the result of being in seminary – and that is an overarching theme of covenants.
The Old Testament scripture lesson from the Lectionary for the first week of Lent this year comes from Genesis 9: 8-17, God’s covenant after the flood. Old Testament Professor and Genesis whiz Dr. Ted Hiebert preached this text at last weeks Wednesday worship service. In his sermon he pointed out that in this covenant, the first covenant, God doesn’t just make a promise to Noah or even to humanity, but ALL the earth. This doesn’t just mean me and you, but the whole creation! Dogs and cats and worms alike (oh my)!
When we think of being in relationship with God - what does this mean for us?
When our relationship with God is not just a personal one, but one connected to the rest of creation - what does it mean?
Do we continue to destroy God’s creation, knowing that God has made a covenant with it, just as God made a covenant with us? Even if we don’t want to recognize other parts of creation, what about the rest of the people? They belong to God too. Why do we purposefully leave out those who we don’t want to be in relationship with? What if we laid politics aside and lived in this covenant? What would that mean?
This past Sunday I went to Milwaukee to hear McCormick’s president, Rev. Dr. Frank Yamada, preach at Immanuel Presbyterian. He preached on another covenant, God’s covenant with Abraham found in Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16. In this covenant God promises Abram that he will make him the ancestor of “a multitude” and changes his name from Abram (meaning “exalted ancestor” according to the CEB) to Abraham (“ancestor of a multitude”). Just after renaming Abraham, God tells him in verse 6, “I will make you very fertile. I will produce nations from you, and kings will come from you. 7I will set up my covenant with you and your descendants after you in every generation as an enduring covenant. I will be your God and your descendants’ God after you. 8I will give you and your descendants the land in which you are immigrants, the whole land of Canaan, as an enduring possession. And I will be their God” (Gen 17:6-8 CEB).
Did you catch it? The Lectionary stopped in verse 7, but God keeps going. In verse 8 God says that God will give us a land where we are immigrants. We don’t like to hear that, because we don’t like wrestle with it to figure out what that means.
Immigrants. In our culture immigrants has become a dirty word. Immigrants, in our culture, are worthless dirty criminals. We treat them with disdain. We perceive them as less than us, as somehow sub-human.
Last Friday I went to a prayer vigil for those immigrants who are being deported out of Illinois’ Broadview detention center. Between 75 and 100 undocumented immigrants are deported here every day.
Before even making it to a facility like Broadview to wait for deportation, they will go before a judge, not in person but by closed circuit television or without benefit of a lawyer, and there it is decided whether or not they will get deported. Everyday immigrants are shuttled in and out of Broadview and other detention center, sometimes hundreds of miles from their homes – the places where they have built relationships, families and purpose – in the United States. Their families, if they want to visit them (if they can even make it to see them, depending on their own status) they have to come between the hours of 4 and 6 am. If a family member makes the journey to the detention center in time and finds the unmarked building, then they don’t get to share in their loved one’s warm embrace, but they get to see each other via camera.
When they’re bused to the airport the US Department of Homeland Security packs the immigrants in like sardines; “We’ve got room for [pick a number] more bodies.”
Bodies. They don’t even get the consideration of being a person.
And then when they’re released if they’re from Mexico they’re taken to the border and told to walk across, many times without money or the opportunity to connect with someone to arrange to be picked up; if they’re from elsewhere they’re left at the airport, in the same situation. This is how we treat the spiders we find in our house – capture and drop. But immigrants aren’t spiders, they’re people. They are God’s creation. They are part of God’s covenant.
I understand this is a nation build on laws – but immigration law as it stands is broken. It is exclusive and makes near impossible legal ways for decent, hard working, children of God to enter in and join in community with us. If we remember God’s covenant with Abraham – God blessed Abraham as the ancestor of a multitude, and God said that he would enter a land as immigrants, and it would be his home. The story of the Jewish and Christian journey is one of immigration. Time and time again we are reminded not to mistreat the immigrant, because we were once immigrants too.
Our politicians like to profess their Christian faith – sometime even their fundamental Christian faith. But these same politicians create immigration policies where we baseslessly harass those with brown skin out of fear that they might be an immigrant, we imprison them, we treat them as sub-human.
When will we remember what God has promised us? During this Lenten season it is fitting that we remember and reflect on our immigrant roots and God’s covenant with us and with all creation.
Ted left the McCormick Community with this benediction last Wednesday and it has stayed with me since:
“May God be with us all in our own particular places, The God who is not just worried about us, but about our neighbors and about every living thing, The God who is in fact in the air we breathe, In the highest standing trees on your street, And in the dark clouds of the strong and driving thunderstorm on your horizon, The God who promised once —but hasn’t been able— To save every little living thing from disaster, The God who is that present and that invested in the world.”
Until next time!