In the Promise Land Justice is Extended to All [Immigration in Scripture 2]

I started this series to briefly look at six ways scripture talks about immigrants and immigration.  The treatment of migrants and asylum seekers in the US, especially along the southern border, is a daily conversation in the media and among friends.  Several excellent books have covered these topics more extensively than I can here; a few recommendations are listed at the end.

Theme 2: There Shall Be for Both a Single Statute

Migration has been a part of human life since before recorded history.  We move around.  We get pushed out by drought or famine; we flee war; we trade goods; we seek better weather; we get curious about what’s on the other side of the mountain/river/canyon/forest.  As we discussed last time, the ancestors and people of Israel were themselves, migrants.

It is while living as aliens in Egypt that Israel grew from a clan to a nation, a people.  When that people was oppressed, God led them out of Egypt and back to the land that was promised to their ancestor Abraham.  It is during the sojourn in the wilderness between Egypt and Canaan, that the Law of the Israelites began to take shape.  Many Christians will recognize Exodus 20: 1-17 as the Ten Commandments.  These are the gateway into the law that would form the basis of the Mosaic covenant. (so called because it is made under Moses).  The entire section is comprised of chapters 20-23 and sets the conditions by which Israel will be the people of God.  In Exodus 23:9 the law gets around to the question of how immigrants and strangers should be treated.

You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.  In the promise land justice is to extend to all.

In the promise land justice is to extend to all.  That theme of equality under the law continues through Leviticus, Deuteronomy and Numbers.  As the law is retold, expounded and interpreted, the status of immigrants to the land remains the same.  Leviticus 19 lays out what it means to be ritually and morally holy.   According to verses 33 and 34, to be holy means to treat the stranger and the alien the same way you would treat a citizen of the land.  That command is echoed again in Numbers 15 and Deuteronomy 1.

An alien who lives with you, or who takes up permanent residence among you, and wishes to offer an offering by fire, a pleasing odor to the Lord, shall do as you do. As for the assembly, there shall be for both you and the resident alien a single statute, a perpetual statute throughout your generations; you and the alien shall be alike before the Lord. You and the alien who resides with you shall have the same law and the same ordinance.
– Numbers 15:14-16

Distinctions between citizens and aliens would develop over time (more on that next time) but the intent of the law seems to be that Israel’s special status as a chosen people did not entitle them to a higher class of rights, but rather placed on them the burden to treat all people as creations of God.

It is interesting to see how the New Testament writers sometimes picked up the metaphor of strangers in a land.  The idea of being a resident alien came to describe how the Church–whose home was the kingdom of God– operated in the world.   For instance Ephesians 2:12-13 reads:

remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

This metaphor serves the dual purpose of strengthening the Church against outside pressure and uniting formally distinct people into a single Body of Christ.  The identity of “Christian” comes to trump nationality or ethnicity especially in regards to how we treat a brother or sister in Christ.   We are no longer strangers or aliens to one another but citizens of the Kingdom of God and members of Christ’s family.  This does not erase whether one was born Jew or Greek, but eliminates the notion of privilege status for either.  In an extension of the Law, we treat all our brothers and sisters as creations of God, redeemed by Christ and therefore entitled to our love.

What It Means Today:

All due respect to Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Paine, but the truth is a stateless person is a rights-less person.  Without a government, an individual’s rights exist only as far as their fellow humans are willing to recognize an obligation towards them.  This theme of scripture argues that because the people of God (first Israel and now the Church) know what it is to be foreign and alien, we must honor–and even fight for– the basic dignity of every person regardless of race, nationality, or immigration status.  The issues surrounding immigration and the law may be more complicated, but that does not change the Biblical assertion that all people are created by God and should be treated with a measure of equality.

There are people who will argue that if someone crosses the border illegally, that to be arrested and separated from your children is equal to the treatment a citizen would receive if they broke a law.  This is less than have true.  Yes, if I as an American citizen broke a law, I could be arrested, imprisoned and, if I had children, they would not be imprisoned with me.  However, the conditions under which migrants are detained at our Southern border, the way that children are treated and the lack of a coherent system for tracking and returning children who are separated makes this a false equivalency.

While the treatment of children with incarcerated parents is far from perfect, the first attempt is often to place them with family as soon as possible.  In the event they do enter the foster care system, records are kept.  Their location is known and (at least in theory) their welfare is monitored.  They are not housed in tents or overcrowded barracks.  They are not frequently taken across state lines without a parent’s knowledge.  When parents leave prison, there is a process by which the can locate and be reunited with their child.  The fact that our Department of Justice and HHA have no records connected children to parents and attempted to require parents to pay for DNA testing to recover children the DOJ stripped from them and lost in the system speaks volumes about how unequally we view migrants and citizens.

The central question Christians should be wrestling with is not, “What did they do?” but “Who are we?”.  Are we a people who enshrine inalienable rights as an endowment by our Creator; or do we hold rights humans rights to be a part of the rule-of-law contract and thereby forfeit if a law is transgressed?

For Reflection:

  1. Take a look at news stories about immigration from the past two months.  Where do you see scripture or faith invoked?  Is it used to argue for equality or distinction?
  2. In the letter to the Colossians, Paul writes:  

But now you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive[d] language from your mouth.  Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!

What bearing might those words have on our present struggles?

3.  Are there recent immigrants in your family?  What was the experience of their first few months in America like?

For a more in-depth look at migration in general, check out Global Migration: What’s Happening, Why and a Just Response by Elizabeth Collier and Charles Strain.  For reflections on immigration to America specifically, pick up Christians at the Border by M. Daniel Carroll R. or Welcoming the Stranger by Matthew Soerens and Jenny Yang.

 

For You Were Strangers [Immigration in Scripture 1]

The treatment of migrants asylum seekers and families crossing the border illegally has become a national conversation of late.  Christian scriptures have been invoked by politicians and protestors to justify a variety of positions.  As people of faith, we should try to understand America’s immigration policies and call for appropriate action to fix broken systems.  But, to define “appropriate” we need a working knowledge of what the Scriptures say about immigrants and strangers.

This series of posts is a VERY brief primer on six themes.  Several excellent books have been written on immigration through the lens of Scripture. For a more in-depth look at migration in general, check out Global Migration: What’s Happening, Why and a Just Response by Elizabeth Collier and Charles Strain.  For reflections on immigration to America specifically, pick up Christians at the Border by M. Daniel Carroll R. or Welcoming the Stranger by Matthew Soerens and Jenny Yang.

Theme 1: You were once aliens

Deuteronomy 10:19 says “You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt”.  Any discussion of immigration and scriptures has to wrestle with the fact that the people of God were, more than once, aliens in a foreign land.

Deuteronomy is framed as a retelling of the sacred Law before the people of Israel enter into the promised land.  The promise of that land was first given to Abram (later called Abraham).

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.  I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.

-Genesis 12:1-2

Abram leaves Ur, his homeland, and comes to reside in Canaan.  God’s promise that this will be the land of his descendants is reiterated, but for three generations the family lives like perpetual migrants.  They reside in tents, they move from place to place with their flocks.  They leave and go to Egypt when there is a famine.  Isaac and Jacob, Abraham’s descendants, each return to Ur for a time.  Even when Sarah, Abraham’s wife and Isaac’s mother, dies and Abraham must secure a place to bury her, he speaks of himself as an alien in the land.

 “I am a stranger and an alien residing among you; give me property among you for a burying place, so that I may bury my dead out of my sight.” The Hittites answered Abraham, “Hear us, my lord; you are a mighty prince among us. Bury your dead in the choicest of our burial places; none of us will withhold from you any burial ground for burying your dead.”

-Genesis 23: 4-6

For the first five books of our scriptures, God’s promise of the land is stable, but the people’s residency is fluid.  Through the end of Genesis, the migrant experience is primarily a positive one*.  But then there comes another famine, and Isreal (Jacob) once again takes his family to Egypt because his son Joseph has become a court official.  That whole generation resides in Egypt until their deaths.  The Israelite community grows.  And then Exodus makes this ominous transition:

Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.

-Exodus 1:8

The Egyptians come to fear the Israelites living among them.  Out of that fear, they become ruthless and cruel.  The lives of the Israelites become so bitter and oppressive that they cry out to God for salvation.  God raises up Moses, does miracles and signs, and finally leads the Israelites out of Eygpt.  But God does not want the people to forget what it was like to be aliens in Egypt.

Deuteronomy chapter 10 recounts Moses receiving the (second) tablets of the Law and God summarizing their essence.  Core to what it means to be Israel is this understanding: that God is just, that God provides for the widow, the orphan and the stranger, and that, having been strangers yourself, you should reflect God’s love for strangers among you.

The call back to the Hebrew’s time as residents and then slaves in Egypt will show up time and again across the scriptures of the Old Testament.  Generations later, when David recaptures the Ark of the Covenant (with the tablets of the Law) from the Philistines, the people sing a song recounting the great deeds of God, including how God protected the people when they were immigrants:

When they were few in number,
    of little account, and strangers in it,
wandering from nation to nation,
    from one kingdom to another people,
he allowed no one to oppress them;
    he rebuked kings on their account,
saying, “Do not touch my anointed ones;
    do my prophets no harm.”
-Psalm 105: 13-15

As we’ll see later, the people do forget.  Later prophets will cite the treatment of strangers and immigrants as one of the reasons for the downfalls of Israel and Judah.  When the people forget what it was to be alien and oppressed, they are cast into exile.  They become immigrants in a strange land once again.

What It Means Today:

It is both presumptuous and risky to rob a Biblical narrative of its context and conflate it with the modern day.  However, these stories have been told for millennia because they contain important lessons.  America has often described itself as a nation of immigrants.  98% of us have at least one ancestor who arrived in the territory in the last 500 years.  The stories of those ancestors are varied.  Some fled persecution, others were destitute and seeking a better life, some came for higher education, some brought desirable skills, some were criminals, some did not come here by choice.

We, like Israel, have to wrestle with our own history of being aliens and strangers.  That does not mean open borders and unrestricted immigration.  In the next two posts, we’ll look at how the law of Israel set boundaries and privileges for immigrants in their midst. However, if we are taking the Biblical witness seriously, our history should instill in us a desire to act justly and with mercy towards present immigrants and asylum seekers.

Yesterday, the Administration missed a deadline to return very young children to their parents.  They have laid out no clear plan for how families will be reunited.  They changed the policy for dealing with asylum seekers and migrants without a way to humanly hold people in detention.  They are turning their backs on immigrants who willingly offered their lives in the service of this countryThey are delaying or denying asylum seekers due process and creating an environment of uncertainty and fear even for those who have abided by the law.  There is no mercy in these acts. Is there even justice?

When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God…
-Deuteronomy 8:12-13 

For Reflection:

  1. Where does immigration play a role in your family’s history?
    • How did your ancestors come to the country?
    • How where they received when they arrived?
    • How has their experience shaped your story?
  2. Read the first chapter of Exodus and imagine you are an average Egyptian.
    • As the Pharoh’s attitude toward the Israelites changes, what language is used to describe Israelites?
    • How is the treatment of the Israelites justified?
    • Do you agree with their treatment?  Why or Why not?

Feature Image by Joel Tanis and available for sale online.

*Arguably the experience worked better for Abraham than Sarah and it was not without its compromises.  Read the whole story in Genesis 20.

A Letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions

**Update: for ways to assist families affected, see this post.

Dear Mr. Sessions,

You seem to be having a bad press week, sir.  I can imagine that is frustrating.  You are enduring a lot of criticism for what you believe is doing your job.  To make it worse, much of the criticism is coming from the Southern Christians you have counted on as a loyal base for so long.  It has been pointed out, Mr. Sessions, that you are a United Methodist.  I am a United Methodist pastor, so in this time of struggle, I feel it is incumbent on me to offer a couple of pastoral words.

You gave a speech today in Fort Wayne.  The prepared text is posted on the DoJ website. In that speech, you attempt to make a case for recent actions as right enforcement of established law.  I will leave questions about the logic and politics of your argument to those more qualified to assess them.  But, a little more than halfway through, you invoke Romans 13.  To be more specific, you seem to be referencing Romans 13:1-7

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but too bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; 4 for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience. 6 For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, busy with this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is due them—taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.

I understand the appeal of these verses for your argument, especially when they are taken in isolation.  However, I fear, Mr. Sessions, that you have not done the best exegetical work possible.  Three things are problematic in the way you are using these verses.

Context Matters

First, context matters, and you have not acknowledged the context of Paul’s letter.   You are attempting to justify the policies of one of the largest and arguably most powerful nations the world has ever known.  Paul is writing Romans to a marginalized, sometimes persecuted, minority trying to survive in the very capital of the largest most powerful empire the world had known to that point.  It is important to remember that is the same empire that would eventually behead Paul himself for his faith.

Paul’s comments here stand in line with the prophet Jeremiah’s call to seek the welfare of the city (even if you are an alien) and the words of Jesus.   When those in power are hostile to the people of God, we have to pick our battles.  However you, sir, are speaking for those in power about those who are the definition of powerless.  These might not be your words to borrow.

Romans 12 & 13

Secondly, if you are going to borrow Romans 13:1-7, you need to be reading it as part of the whole letter.  Stepping back just 11 verses or adding the next 3 verses into the conversation colors the meaning of your passage. For the whole of the letter, Paul has been building an argument about the character of a disciple of Christ.  In Romans 12:9-21, we get a climactic list of marks.

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Disciples are marked by love.  Love shows itself in affection, zeal, patience, and hospitality.  Love approaches relationships from a stance of humility and peace, and above all, it holds to good and trusts God to overcome evil rather than taking matters into its own hands.  This emphasis on love is echoed in Romans 13: 8-10.

8 Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.

Taken between these two bookends, I think it is clear that Paul does not intend respect for political authority to overrule love of neighbor.  You do Romans 13:1-7 a disservice if you read it as a justification for rule of law devoid of compassion.  Part of the reason so many Christians are reacting to the treatment of migrant people on our borders is that it feels utterly devoid of compassion.  It is also worth noting that the reason many Christian leaders are reacting badly to your speech is we’ve read  Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  The German government of his day used this exact passage to rationalize many of their most heinous policies to the church.  Now, I am not calling you a Nazi, sir; there is far too much of that nowadays.  But you should be aware you are walking a thin thin line.  I would recommend Bonhoeffer’s Cost of Discipleship as well as Hannah Arendt’s On Totalitarianism.  They both have excellent reflections on the risks of co-opting the church into the work of the State.

The Role of the Church

Which brings me to the last point.  In your speech, it felt like you wanted the Church’s support. I know its hard to be out on a limb alone and harder still to field attacks from a quarter you did not expect.  But here’s the thing: it is not the job of the Church to sanction the policies of rulers. It is our job to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ.  At times we will do this by supporting legislation or advocating for marginalized people.  We will also do it by criticizing laws and policies that violate our principles.  The Church does not solely align with any political party because our first allegiance is to God; our work and our witness are devoted to God.  If you ask us to twist the words of the Jesus to suit the policies of any administration we are going to balk.  The God we serve ate with tax collectors and prostitutes. He welcomed gentiles, and the unclean, and children. He told us we would be judged, not by the prestige of our nation or the security of our borders, but by the way we treated the orphan, the widow, the poor, the alien, and the imprisoned.  It is not our job to concoct justifications for your actions, even if they are lawful.  Law and order, peace and security, those are your job.   It is the Church’s job to proclaim the kingdom of God.  I’m sorry that very little of what you have done lately lines up with that kingdom.

As a fellow United Methodist, I respect that you are trying to ground your moral decisions in Scripture.  I’m told you are a Sunday School teacher, so I suspect at some point you’ve walked through the Wesleyan Quadrilateral with folks.   I see what you’re trying to do here.  Taking a text and reading it with Reason.  But Tradition and Experience are also crucial parts of the process.  I think the pressure you are feeling, is the weight of the Christian traditions of hospitality and grace and brotherhood/sisterhood.  I think the outcry you hear is an echo of the Church’s experience with German concentration camps and Amercian internment camps.  The bishops of our denomination along with other faith leaders are calling to you and our Methodist understanding of community and moral reasoning ought to compel you to listen.

I understand that the policies you are implementing are lawful. (Though that does not make them good)  I understand they are a campaign promise fulfilled.  I understand that you may be acting out of the best of intentions for what you think is right for the country.  So plead your case on law, and politics, and intentions, but I would suggest leaving faith out of it.  Scripture will not support you, sir.  And if you are troubled by the outcry from the Church, then listen, heed our wisdom and relent.

You are in my prayers, Mr. Sessions, along with every family detained and separated at the border and every officer asked to enforce these policies.  I hope that you find both peace and wisdom.

In Christ,

Rev. Walker

 

PS:  Mr. Sessions, you and I both grew up in southern Methodist churches.  So I suspect that you know this truth: you do not cross the UMW.  Even today as a grown pastor I know when the UMW shows up in my office, they will walk away with what they want.  Partly because they are a powerful lobby, but mostly because for generations they have represented our tradition at its best.  They are the beating heart of our mission in the world and have often been the UMC’s voice of conscience.  There are excellent reasons you do not cross the UMW.  So I point you to their words:

We know the harm we are doing to children with this policy, which makes this deliberate separating of children from their parents for the intent of punishing the family particularly vile. This must stop now.

[Beyond Sunday] Washed by Grace 3

Right then, Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead to the other side of the lake while he dismissed the crowds. When he sent them away, he went up onto a mountain by himself to pray. Evening came and he was alone. Meanwhile, the boat, fighting a strong headwind, was being battered by the waves and was already far away from land. Very early in the morning he came to his disciples, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified and said, “It’s a ghost!” They were so frightened they screamed.

Just then Jesus spoke to them, “Be encouraged! It’s me. Don’t be afraid.”

Peter replied, “Lord, if it’s you, order me to come to you on the water.”

And Jesus said, “Come.”

Then Peter got out of the boat and was walking on the water toward Jesus. But when Peter saw the strong wind, he became frightened. As he began to sink, he shouted, “Lord, rescue me!”

Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him, saying, “You man of weak faith! Why did you begin to have doubts?” When they got into the boat, the wind settled down.

Then those in the boat worshipped Jesus and said, “You must be God’s Son!”

-Matthew 14:22-32

In the midst of our storms, God always shows up.  But sometimes we have trouble recognizing the Spirit at work.  We might be too focused on our own faith and feelings; or we might be looking for a bigger miracle than God has planned.  Yet if we reach out, Christ is still there, waiting to catch hold and bring us to safety.  [hear sermon audio]

This week, take some time to go deeper.  Ponder your own baptism, or what being baptized could mean for your life.  Read and reflect on these scriptures and questions.

Texts to read:

  • 1 Kings 19: 11-13
  • Romans 8:26-39

Questions to ponder:

  • What storms are raging in your life right now?
  • How have you asked God to be present?
  • Taking a hard look, where might God have already shown up?

Do and share:

  • The news is full of weather related stories right now.  Share a story about God showing up in affected communities to our twitter: @dpumc.
  • Is God calling you to be present for someone else in turmoil?  Tell us about it on our Facebook page (dpumctx)

 

[Beyond Sunday] The Good Samaritan

But the legal expert wanted to prove that he was right, so he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
Jesus replied, “A man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. He encountered thieves, who stripped him naked, beat him up, and left him near death. Now it just so happened that a priest was also going down the same road. When he saw the injured man, he crossed over to the other side of the road and went on his way. Likewise, a Levite came by that spot, saw the injured man, and crossed over to the other side of the road and went on his way. A Samaritan, who was on a journey, came to where the man was. But when he saw him, he was moved with compassion. The Samaritan went to him and bandaged his wounds, tending them with oil and wine. Then he placed the wounded man on his own donkey, took him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day, he took two full days’ worth of wages and gave them to the innkeeper. He said, ‘Take care of him, and when I return, I will pay you back for any additional costs.’ What do you think? Which one of these three was a neighbor to the man who encountered thieves?”
Then the legal expert said, “The one who demonstrated mercy toward him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

-Luke 10:29-37

This week we heard several versions of the parable of the Good Samaritan.  In God’s kingdom, “neighbor” is not defined proximity or by affinity but by the capacity to show mercy.  [hear sermon audio]

This week, take some time to go deeper.  Talk with God about how this story challenges you to grow as a disciple.  Read and reflect on these scriptures and questions.

Texts to read:

  • John 13:31-35, 14:15-21
  • 1 Kings 178-24 (Elijah stays with a Phoenician widow)

Questions to ponder:

  • Who could be your modern day Samaritan?
  • What would it mean to accept their help?
  • Our country is currently wrestling with divisions over politics, race, and faith.  How do you read this story differently than in the past?

Do and share:

  • Go out of your way this week to offer mercy to someone you don’t know.  Do it without any recognition.
  • Check out this story of two Good Samaritans from the concert bombing in Manchester, England. Share another story from the news or your own life on our Facebook or to @dpumc on Twitter.  #jesusstory

 

[Beyond Sunday] The Workers in the Vineyard

image from Agnusday.org  check it out from more great comics from the lectionary.

For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. 10 Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. 11 And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?  14 Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

-Matthew 20:1-16

This week we talked about the parable of the Workers in the Vineyard. Mercy is wonderful when we need it. But when it is extended to others, we, like Peter, can be tempted to resent God’s grace.  God does not withhold liberation to protect the privilege of a few.  Instead, all are met with love and an invitation to life. [hear sermon audio]

This week, take some time to go deeper.  Talk with God about where you see yourself in this story.  Read and reflect on these scriptures and questions.

Texts to read:

  • Romans 15:1-6
  • Mark 10:17-31

Questions to ponder:

  • Compared to the first disciples, any believer today is coming late to the party.  How does the parable feel from this perspective?
  • Grace is not a zero sum resource.  Was there ever a time you were frustrated by forgiveness or opportunities extended to others?

Do and share:

  • Take a picture of grace in action.  Tag @dpumc on twitter.
  • Share a story of fairness that felt unfair on our Facebook 

 

[Beyond Sunday] The UnMerciful Servant

For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents[c] was brought to him; 25 and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. 26 So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii;[d] and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 31 When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35 So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister[e] from your heart.”

-Matthew 18:23-35

This week we talked about the parable of the Unmerciful Servant. Forgiveness is such a gift when it is offered to us.  But it can be a burden when it is required from us.  Yet as heirs of God, we are called to behave as God has behaved toward us. [hear sermon audio]

This week, take some time to go deeper.  Talk with God about where you see yourself in this story.  Read and reflect on these scriptures and questions.

Texts to read:

  • Matthew 18:15-20
  • Matthew 7: 1-5, 21-23

Questions to ponder:

  • When have you needed forgiveness?  What was it like to ask for it?
  • When have you felt wronged by the choices of others?  How did you respond?
  • If having all the Father has, also means behaving as the Father would, how would it shape our interactions with others?

Do and share:

  • Write a note this week to someone you need to forgive, or with whom you need to be reconciled.  Share it with God, and if you feel led, send it to that person.
  • Share a story of forgiveness on our Facebook 

 

[Beyond Sunday] The Lost Son

Then Jesus[b] said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. 13 A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16 He would gladly have filled himself with[c] the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17 But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ 20 So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21 Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’[d] 22 But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.

25 “Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27 He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ 28 Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ 31 Then the father[e] said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”

-Luke 15:11-32

This week we talked about the parable of the Lost Son, sometimes called the Prodigal Son.  It is part of a set of stories Jesus tells about things that are lost.  In the end, there is no one so far gone that they are lost to God.  Whether we are more like the younger son seeking a way home, or the older son trapped in our own judgments, still the father loves us and beckons us to the party. [hear sermon audio]

This week, take some time to go deeper.  Reflect on what it means to be “lost” or “found” through these scriptures and questions.

Texts to read:

  • Luke 15: 1-10

Questions to ponder:

  • What does it mean to call someone “lost”?
  • For whom, if anyone, in your life do you use that label?
  • What do you think the Church’s response to “Lost” people should be?
  • How does this church engage with “lost” ones?

Do and share:

  • Tweet us a picture that means “Homecoming” for you. @dpumc #beyondsunday
  • Share a story about getting lost, or finding something on our Facebook 

 

[Beyond Sunday] The Great Banquet

 Then Jesus said to him, “Someone gave a great dinner and invited many.  At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for everything is ready now.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my regrets.’ Another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my regrets.’ Another said, ‘I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.’ So the slave returned and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his slave, ‘Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’ And the slave said, ‘Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.’ Then the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled.

-Luke 14:16-23

This week we talked about the parable of The Great Banquet.  Jesus proves to be a challenging dinner guest when he calls his host (and us) to invite all to the table, even those who cannot repay the favor. [hear sermon audio]

This week, take some time to go deeper.  Spend some time in scripture and reflect on how inviting you are to others.

Texts to read:

  • Matthew 22:1-14
  • Luke 14:1-14

Questions to ponder:

  • When have you felt like an outsider and longed to be welcomed?
  • When you hesitate to welcome others, what stops you?

Do and share:

  • Share a meal with others.  Take a picture and tweet @dpumc with #beyondsunday
  • If you took a mana bag last week, share the story of giving that away on our Facebook 

 

[Beyond Sunday] Lip Service vs Life Service

“What do you think? A man had two sons. Now he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’
“‘No, I don’t want to,’ he replied. But later he changed his mind and went.
“The father said the same thing to the other son, who replied, ‘Yes, sir.’ But he didn’t go.
“Which one of these two did his father’s will?”
They said, “The first one.”
Jesus said to them, “I assure you that tax collectors and prostitutes are entering God’s kingdom ahead of you. For John came to you on the righteous road, and you didn’t believe him. But tax collectors and prostitutes believed him. Yet even after you saw this, you didn’t change your hearts and lives and you didn’t believe him.”

-Matthew 21:28-32

This week we talked about the parable of the Two Brothers.  Neither brother is completely in the right.  Through the story, Jesus challenges the disciples and authorities of his day to be both proclaimers and doers of the will of God. [hear sermon audio]

This week, take some time to go deeper.  Set aside some time to reflect on the will of God and how it is reflected in your own life.

Texts to read:

  • Philippians 4:4-9
  • Amos 5:23-24
  • Jeremiah 7:3-7

Questions to ponder:

  • When was a time that you made a commitment and then struggled to follow through?
  • When you look at the scriptures above, what about the will of God is exciting?  What is intimidating?
  • How wide is the gap in your life between lip service and life service?

Do and share:

  • Find another scripture about the will of God and tweet us @dpumc with #beyondsunday
  • Share a story of a time you went out of your way to do the will of God on our Facebook with the #jesusstory

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