By Gordon Barbosa, Lay Leader
Based on Psalm 138 & Matthew 25:31-46
I tend to stick with topics about the relationship God desires with us and the commandment to love one another and our neighbors. Today, I feel God urging me to speak up about what is happening throughout our society today.
Many people today believe our country is in danger from immigrants and refugees seeking to enter our country. They would have us believe that all of these people are coming here to cause terrorist acts and that gang members are streaming over our southern border because we lack the security that a wall would provide. However, our own government admits that illegal immigration into our country is at a 40-year low.
Our current President has given orders to separate parents from their children when they cross our borders illegally AND even if they are fleeing from oppression in their own nation and legally ask for asylum… – little children are taken from their parents and put in foster care. News reports tell us that last year at least 1,400 of these children have gone missing.
Our current President has also reduced the number of immigrants and refugees who may come to our country legally.
This administration, and past administrations – both Democrat and Republican, and state houses throughout our nation, have put in place policies that have put over 2 million of our citizens in prisons, more than any other country in the world. Of all U.S. prisoners, about 67 percent are people of color, although people of color make up only about 30 percent of our population.
As faithful people it is our responsibility to consider these policies and see if they are in sync with the policies that our God gave us in our scriptures.
I’ve heard many Christians say they don’t care for the Old Testament, but I want to focus today on a few of our oldest scriptures because these are the books that inspired and guided Jesus.
In Leviticus 19:33-34, we read…
When immigrants live in your land with you, you must not cheat them. Any immigrant who lives with you must be treated as if they were one of your citizens. You must love them as yourself, because you were immigrants in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.
Now, some people may argue that this was only meant for the people of Israel before Jesus’ time. But Jesus said in Matthew 5:17 & 18 “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”
So, even if immigrants are here illegally, Leviticus says, “Any immigrant who lives with you must be treated as if they were one of your citizens.” Even if our current Christian President wants to ignore this, at the very least, he should treat these immigrants and refugees with dignity.
In today’s reading from Matthew, Daniel J. Ott, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies, at Monmouth College in Illinois teaches us that Matthew’s vision is an important reminder that what we do matters. That the least of us in our society are also members of Christ’s family.
The story of the sheep and the goats is a story about us as people of faith, but it is not faithfully told when it is told in order to incite fear.
Fear paralyzes, but Jesus didn’t tell this story to scare you. He told it as a means of resisting the ways of this world. Robert McClellan, Pastor at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Tiburon, California says if Jesus was about anything, it was motion, moving us into a different reality called the kingdom and the Spirit of God who moves constantly through the world.
Fear is used by those who want to dominate the world. Leaders use it for political advantage. Businesses use it for private profit. McClellan reminds us that when read with faith rather than fear, this passage actually moves the reader into a space of holy assurance that empowers action more fitting in the kingdom.
When read with trust in the faithful God, the focus shifts from a prospect of damnation to the possibility of participation in the kingdom of heaven and eternal life. When read with faith, the simplicity of our responsibility to one another as humans becomes clear. Food, water, clothing, hospitality, companionship: these are not only the most necessary elements for communal life; they are the most readily available gifts one can give. This passage calls each of us to serve in ways that are in your grasp.
Barbara K. Lundblad, Professor of Preaching at Union Theological Seminary in New York believes that the “righteous” ones in this passage do not simply show up at the end of time; they are living the kingdom life now. From the beginning of Matthew, Jesus has been passionate about righteousness. His passion for righteousness is abundantly clear in his first teaching session, the Sermon on the Mount. Not once but twice he blesses those who yearn after righteousness (5:6, 10). Jesus’ passion for righteousness in this Gospel is far from passive. He calls us to active righteousness in his first teaching session: Go and be reconciled with your brother or sister before you bring your gifts to the altar (5:24). Do not seek revenge (5:38–39). Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (5:44).
What Jesus is saying in Matthew 25 is that judgment is happening all the time, and righteousness is happening all the time, and Jesus is with us all the time.
Lundblad reminds us that no matter where we live in the United States, we can visit someone in prison because we have so many of them.
These sisters and brothers in these passages are not metaphors, and neither is Jesus. This teaching by Jesus compels us to resist policies within our country and around the world that try to remove the face of Christ from those in need within our society!
For those of you who are the least in our society or who are going through struggles in your life, today’s Psalm is one of thanksgiving. It reminds us that if we call upon our Creator in times of trouble God will answer. Now, we may not always like the answer or the time it takes for God to respond, but He will answer. And God does it with steadfast love and faithfulness for those who put their faith in Him. The stories of our scriptures are about relationships – whether it is between God and her people or God and an individual or relationships between people.
The writer of this text is thanking God for answering his call for help. He bows down toward the holy temple because during this time it is where God resides, whereas today She resides within those who choose to become a part of the Body of Christ.
Psalm 138:6 “Even though the LORD is high, he can still see the lowly, but God keeps his distance from the arrogant.”
This view is expanded upon in Psalm 113:7-8… "God lifts up the poor from the dirt and raises up the needy from the garbage pile to seat them with leaders—with the leaders of his own people!"
In the final two verses of Psalm 138 the writer articulates his belief that God stands with those in trouble, and that God’s purposes will be fulfilled, despite appearances to the contrary.
"Whenever I am in deep trouble, you make me live again; you send your power against my enemies' wrath; you save me with your strong hand.
The LORD will do all this for my sake. Your faithful love lasts forever, LORD! Don't let go of what your hands have made."
This last verse is a reminder that God supports us, loves us, and created us! This is why Jesus loved the Old Testament! This is what He taught.
People of the Way of Jesus, when you go out into the world, go forth in power, full of the Spirit of God. Let love be genuine, hold fast to what is good, rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering and persevere in prayer. And may God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit be with you always. Amen.
Diana Hunter is our Senior Pastor;