Immigration

There’s a beautiful song by an artist named Gwyneth Glyn. It’s in another language, but the title, in English, is Home. She sings about the things people have said about home…

…and all of the places she’s been all around the world…

…and how her home is her haven and her homeland her world…

…and how she’s still lost, without a map, or a sign, or a rough guide for the journey.

And the chorus goes like this:

“There’s no place like home,” is what they told me
There’s no place like home, no.
But home… is very much like you.

And it isn’t scripture, but it’s true. We all have our homes and our memories of home. And we’re all a little lost. And, if we’re lucky, there’s someone who we can call ‘home’.

About a year ago, maybe a little less, Hurricane Michael formed off the coast of Guatemala and started heading north. Over the course of a few days, it brushed by Cuba and made landfall near Mexico Beach, Florida. It was the first category five hurricane in recorded history to strike the Florida Panhandle.

We measure the impact of hurricanes in lives lost and property damage. Hurricane Michael killed 59 people in the United States and cost $25 billion.

And after the storm, hundreds of people showed up in Florida. They had no electricity, no drinkable water, and no safe place to stay. And they took away the wreckage, reopened the city hall in Panama City, repaired Florida State University’s local campus, and fixed churches’ roofs. They started cleaning up and they started rebuilding.

They were in New Orleans after Katrina, Houston after Harvey, North Carolina after Florence. And last week, some of them were still in Florida.

Almost all of them are immigrants. Many of them are undocumented. Many of them are seeking asylum in the United States. They came from Central America and Mexico and Venezuela…

…and they travel from disaster to disaster, cleaning and fixing and working to get things back to normal… 

…and sometimes they get paid and sometimes they don’t…

…and sometimes they pay $1,200 a month to live in a gutted house or $250 a month to live in a shack with mildew and no ceiling…

…and sometimes their employers have them deported if they step out of line. 1New York Times. “Hurricane Chasers: An Immigrant Work Force on the Trail of Extreme Weather.” https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/05/us/hurricane-undocumented-immigrants-workers.html.

Today’s reading is from the book of Ruth. If you’ve been coming to Bible Study for the last few weeks, you know the story. You know that there are women trying to make their way in a patriarchal world. You know that there’s sexual intrigue. You know that things end well.

And you know that if you want to understand what’s happening in the book of Ruth, you need to start with the book of Ezra.

You see, once upon a time, there was a Kingdom of Israel, and there were kings of Israel, and there was a temple for our God. And then the Babylonians came, and conquered the kingdom, and destroyed the temple, and sent a lot of the Israelites into exile in Babylon.

But the Israelites held onto who they were. And, eventually, the Persians conquered Babylon. And the king of Persia told them Israelites to go home, and build a new temple, and live in peace. And they did.

And one of those Israelites was Ezra, the priest, the scribe, the expert in the law.

And when Ezra got to Jerusalem, he learned that some of the Israelites had married other people: Canaanites and Hittites and Perizzites and Jebusites and Ammonites and Egyptians and Amorites… and Moabites.

And he said, “I see what happened. I understand why God let Jerusalem be conquered, and let the people be taken into exile, and let the temple be destroyed. We were a faithless people. We married foreigners, with their strange gods and their strange customs. We need to get rid of them.”

And they did. The people took their foreign wives and their children and sent them away. And they rededicated themselves to the purity of the covenant. And they banned the Ammonites and the Moabites from ever being part of the people of God. And they condemned mixed marriages.

Because Ezra said, “We need to stay pure and clean and godly. And keep the outsiders, out.”

Today’s reading is from the book of Ruth. Today, we are at the beginning, long before there was a Kingdom of Israel or kings of Israel or a temple to our God. We are in the days of the judges.

There was a family who lived in Bethlehem, in the land of Judah. Now, there was a famine in the land of Judah, so they did what families do when there’s a famine. They moved to a place where there wasn’t a famine. They moved to the land of Moab.

And while they were living in Moab, the father died. And the two sons married Moabite women. And then the two sons died. And then it was just the mother, Naomi, and her two daughters-in-law: Orpah and Ruth.

Now, Naomi heard that the famine in the land of Judah was over, so she decided to go home. And she said to her daughters-in-law, “Things are going to be hard for me at home. You should go back to your families, and get remarried, and get on with your lives.”

And Orpah did. But Ruth did not. Instead, she delivered one of the most famous speeches in scripture.

Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die; there will I be buried. May the Lord do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!

She did something brave. She renounced and abjured all allegiance and fidelity to any other prince or potentate or nation or sovereignty; she promised to bear true faith and allegiance to Israel and the God of Israel; and she did that freely, even while her mother-in-law was telling her to go home.

Ruth, this Moabite, said, “There’s no place like home, no. But home… is very much like you.”

I have moved a fair number of times in my life. Not as many times as other people have, and certainly never as far as other people have. And while I’ve had little cultural shifts to get used to, I’ve never had to go through big things.

I’ve never had to flee famine or flood or violence or corruption.

I’ve never had to get used to different holidays or learn a new language or figure out foreign-to-me customs.

I’ve never had to find a different career because my qualifications didn’t transfer.

I’ve never has someone make fun of my clothes or my accent or my religion. I’ve never had some suggest that I didn’t belong somewhere, or that I wasn’t welcome,

I’ve never had someone tell me to go back where I came from.

I’ve moved a fair number of times in my life. I’ve never emigrated.

Except once. When I was a baby, someone held me in their arms in a sanctuary in a church and sprinkled the waters of baptism on me. And my parents made promises and the people of the congregation made promises. And, together, they started carrying me through the wilderness towards the Kingdom of God.

And every day, I try… I try… sometimes I fail, but I try… to say to God, something like, “Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and you shall be my God.”

Every day, I try to say to Christ, “There’s no place like home, no. But home… is very much like you.”

Every day, I try to step into the kingdom where there are no walls or borders or guards; where no matter who we are or where we are on life’s journey, we are welcome and more than welcome; where no one is told to go back to where we came from… because this is where we belong.

Every day, I try to be at home in Christ.

About a year ago, maybe a little less, a hurricane hit Florida. And right after that hundreds of immigrants showed up to start cleaning up and start rebuilding. And last week, some of them were still there… and some of them had moved on to other disasters.

And sometimes they get paid and sometimes they don’t.

And sometimes they pay $1,200 a month to live in a gutted house or $250 a month to live in a shack with mildew and no ceiling.

And sometimes their employers have them deported if they step out of line.

And I know that immigration is a big, scary, complicated issue. And I know that I don’t have a nice, easy, simple answer.

But I know that long ago, Ezra—the priest, the scribe, the expert in the law—said, “We need to stay pure and clean and godly. And keep the outsiders, out.” And someone responded with the story of Ruth, the Moabite widow, who followed her mother-in-law to Israel, and met a new man, and got married, and had a son named Obed… who had a son named Jesse… who had a son named David, who became the greatest king of Israel.

And I know my story—our story—of traveling through the wilderness towards the Kingdom of God… of relying on Christ’s hospitality for our very salvation, for our very lives.

And I wonder if maybe, just maybe, we could search for an answer that looks a little more like that… if we could forge the bonds of home wherever race and gender and age and nation and all of those other things dare divide.

If we could look a little more like the kingdom we’re going to.

Footnotes   [ + ]

Right now, there is a movement in churches and nonprofits arguing that charity is toxic, that helping hurts, and that the entire nonprofit sector needs to be reformed to truly lift people out of poverty. These charity skeptics are telling Christians that traditional charity deepens dependency, fosters a sense of entitlement, and erodes the work ethic of people who receive it. Charity skepticism is increasingly popular; and it is almost certainly wrong.

Now available from Wipf and Stock’s Cascade Books imprint, Radical Charity: How Generosity Can Save the World (And the Church) weaves together research and scholarship on topics as diverse as biblical scholarship, Christian history, economics, and behavioral psychology to tell a different story. In this story, charity is the heart of Christianity and one of the most effective ways that we can help people who are living in poverty. Charity—giving to people experiencing poverty without any expectation of return or reformation—can save the world and help make God’s vision for the church a reality.

Pin It on Pinterest