We are coming to the end of the season of Epiphany, the revealing of whom this Jesus is who we worship and follow, and by association, whom this God is who we worship and follow. What we discover is that this God is not one that we can easily pin down or pigeonhole, and certainly not one who validates our politics of fear and exclusion. In his book, Deep Memory, Exuberant Hope, Walter Brueggemann gives this insightful description, based upon scripture, of who this God is:
“It has occurred to me that the Old Testament is essentially de-privileged testimony that construes the world alternatively. It is de-privileged because it the evidence offered by a community that is, early, nomads or peasants, and that is, late, a community of exiles. Either way, as peasants or as exiles, Israel lives a great distance from the great hegemonic seats of power and the great centers of intellectual-theological certitude. Israel always comes into the great courtroom of public opinion and disrupts the court in order to tell a tale of reality that does not mesh with the emerging consensus that more powerful people have put together.”
“At the center of this odd account of reality is this character Yahweh, whom Pharaoh does not know (Exod. 5:2) and whom the winners in the world by and large ignore. It is this strange God – so this testimony asserts – who comes among barren women to give births (Gen. 21:1-7), who comes into slave camps to set free (Exod. 15:20-21), who sends bread from heaven into wilderness contexts of hunger (Exod. 16:13-18), who governs the rise and fall of great powers (1 Sam. 2:6-8), who places widows, orphans, and illegal aliens at the center of the economic-political debate (Deut. 24:17-22).”
Our nation’s leaders are currently debating our nation’s policies toward immigrants and undocumented aliens. Whatever they decide, I believe it will not be the last word on the subject. The reason I believe this is because I follow this strange God called Yahweh, and I believe that this God will have the last word.
In times of fear and anxiety, there is the temptation to choose exclusion rather than inclusion, to be preoccupied with self, to look out only for number one, to forsake neighborliness for the sake of private well-being. Against such an inclination, the tradition of Deuteronomy insists that life must be organized for the benefit and well-being of widows, orphans, and undocumented workers.
“You shall not deprive a resident alien or an orphan of justice; you shall not take a widow’s garment in pledge. Remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this. When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be left for the alien, the orphan, and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you.” (Deut. 24:17-19)
A society that cannot be generous to strangers and outcasts will not be blessed. God will not be mocked. The reason often given for clamping down on immigration is that we are letting terrorists into our country. This is a falsehood that preys on our fears. Our real enemies are not the terrorists. Our real enemies are the fears that we allow to control our actions. We believe in a God who tells us, “Fear not.” We follow a God who comes to us in the form of a stranger and asks us to welcome him or her (Mt. 25:35).
It is not always easy to follow this God. It is much easier to forsake the truth that this God tells us and to believe in a more attractive, more palatable, less costly truth. That is why, during the season of Lent, we gather to support and encourage one another to hold on to the story and the truth of the one who died and gave his life as an example for all who would follow him.
Blessings and Peace,