May 1, 2011
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A Resurrection Response to Immigration
Before we start, Id like to read you a piece from a reflection written by the Rev. Delle McCormick. Rev. McCormick is the executive director of BorderLinks, a faithbased,binational organization in Tucson, Ariz. and Sonora, Nogales that seeks to address the crisis along the U.S.-Mexico border. She also works with the Samaritans, a group of people who bring food, water and medical aid to distressed migrants in the Arizona desert.
When I first encountered the tiny handprint of a small child in the middle of
nowhere in Sonoran Desert that vast stretch of land bordering Arizona and Sonora,Mexico I knew I was called to work here. Since then, I have been to the desert many times and witnessed evidence of many lives left behind. The once pristine paths through the desert are now littered with the precious stuff of peoples lives.
I recall one desert visit with some professors from Chicago, when we came upon
what is known as a lay-up site, where migrants who have crossed the desert must leave behind anything that identifies them as a walker. We sat and wept as we were confronted with tons of trash baby bottles and diapers, womens make-up, toothbrushes, bibles, bikes, high heels, clothes, and love letters.
Even the most tender and private possessions lay open to our strangers gaze.
Trophy trees draped with pretty panties and bras commemorate the place where
womens bodies and souls are raped. Sanitary products, bras and panties, birth control pills, even breast cancer medicine were strewn about as though some tornado had picked their people up and carried them off from their things.
Another day a Samaritan volunteer found a worn walking stick with chord attached and two little nooses at each end, perfect to fit the tiny wrists of a child.
The desert is a dangerous place and the pace that migrants must keep in the dark of the night is brutal. This was one womans way to keep her children safe in the unsafest of circumstances.
Temperatures in the desert can vary over 100 degrees between morning and
night. Perilous terrain, snakes, wild animals, sharp thorns, shallow underground tunnels all make night travel a nightmare. Women carry a shawl or plastic bag to shield them from the elements, but far too many have died there, unable to keep up, lost, dehydrated and hot. Their bones are all that are left after a few days.
Yet they keep coming because, like the women at Jesus tomb, they know that life must go on. Women who migrate are incredibly creative, resourceful, and tenacious.
How far would you walk to feed your child?
So from the reading today, you probably thought I was going to preach on Thomas.
No such luck. Today, the first Sunday in May, is a day that many churches acrossthe country are dedicating to a discussion of Gods Good News for the Alien and Stranger among us. I did some reading, did some research, did some arguing on Facebook.
I thought about how to formulate a Christian Response to Immigration, or a
Biblical Response to Immigration. Then I read the reflection that I just read to you and realized that christian or biblical responses dont cut to the heart of the matter.
Whats needed is a resurrection response to immigration.
At this moment, across the globe, there are 200 million people across the globe
who are migrants. Government leaders, pundits, human services professionals, social scientists try to categorize them, give them labels: undocumented, immigrants, displaced persons, refugees, asylees, migrants. Perhaps these labels do help, but perhaps they also obscure the human beings behind the label, human beings living a story as old as our earth and as old as our faith.
From the wanderings of Abraham to the displaced Hebrew people migrating to
find a home of their own; from the story of the immigrant Ruth to the Babylonian captivity, migration is a thread that stretches throughout the Biblical narrative. Over and over again in the Old Testament, God tells Gods people be good to the strangers in your land. Dont treat them poorly just because they come from somewhere else.
When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien,
Leviticus reads. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.
The story of migration is the story of Jesus, who crosses the border between Divine and Human, and indeed between Death and Life, in violation of every natural law.
Who migrates into the territory of human brokenness -- Stranger in a Strange Land
Who takes on the form of an infant fleeing as a refugee to Egypt.
Who, an alien amongst humanity, is detained and executed by the government.
Whose words those who seek to save their lives will lose them, and those who lose their lives will save them caption the images of migrants wandering in the desert, casting off the things that link them to their former lives in hopes of a life of dignity, a way to feed their family, even if that means dying alone in the wilderness. For if we take Jesus seriously, if we seek to worship and obey the God to whom Jesus points, we must see the face of our Lord in the face of Tunisian refugees streaming across the mediterranean to Italy. We must see the face of our Lord in the face of a Salvadoran
mother separated from her children. We must see the face of our Lord in the
face of a Sudanese man trying to make a new life for himself and his family. We must see the face of our Lord in the faces of Devon Ave., of Albany Park, of Pilsen, of Rogers Park, of Uptown. We must see the face of our Lord in the faces of Skokie, of Berwyn, of Niles, of Aurora. We must see our Lord in the faces of the day laborers lined up at the Cicero Home Depot. We must see our Lord in the faces of the housekeepers and nannies on the Purple Line early every morning. We must see our Lord in the pediatrician who cares for
our child and the nurse who tends to our parents.
I got into an online argument this week when I mentioned on Facebook that I
would be talking about immigration justice, and at one point the other person asked what solutions my sermon would offer, what people would walk away planning to do. In other words, Whats a Christian response to immigration?
So were back to that.
Theres nothing wrong with articulating Christian responses. Let be very clear,each and every Christian has the responsibility to pray, study and discern in community what our responses to the issues of the day ought be. A Christian responses is for the church and individuals to spur our elected officials to just and compassionate immigration reform. A Christian response is to give our support to the work of our denomination at home and abroad with displaced persons, refugees, immigrants and victims of trafficking.
A Christian response is to support and prayers to the work of healing and recovery that end demand for human trafficking and illegal drug use, key causes of violence and degradation. A Christian responses is to commit to fair labor standards in our own business dealings, and to demand that all others we do business with adhere to these same standards. Christian responses are good, compassionate, powerful.
Theyre that work that James talks about, that work that we like because were do-ers, by golly.
But theres another response that people of God are called to make. We are an
Easter people, called to practice resurrection everywhere we find ourselves. Resurrection responses are about letting our own lives and attitudes be transformed and praying the power of transformation into being in this world. Resurrection responses are about realizing that God tears down fences and walls, shows no regard for the borders that we set up. Resurrection responses see migrants in the desert for who they are: those scraping to climb from death to life. Resurrection responses arent afraid to give a cup of cold
water to a person that the government labels illegal. Resurrection responses storm the massage parlors and gentlemans clubs of the city and suburbs and break the chains of human trafficking. Resurrection responses bring the refugee family into our hearts and
You know how to practice Christianity, you know how to practice resurrection.
There is one thing I know to be true, a truth that bursts forth in the resurrection story. God meets us in the midst of our deepest fears, and wishes us peace. God meets us in the midst of our deepest fears and breathes upon us the Holy Spirit, a Holy Spirit that gives us the courage to walk into the desert and find Jesus, offer him a gallon jug of water, pick him up when he is fainted from heat exhaustion. A Spirit that walks us out into the desert and says Human one, can These Bones Live? and then in answer to her own
question begins to rattle those bones, brings the lost ones back to life, brings the migrant home, brings those fainting in the desert into a Good Land.