Last week we began a two week talk on the 10 commandments. Even though this list of rules is an important foundation to our faith, many of us don’t often take a look at the scripture and when we have an occasion to do so, it can sometimes be jarring. The language is straightforward and gets right to the point. “Here is what you cannot do.” Sometimes it even comes off as a little too straightforward. After church last week, my daughters even said to me that the 10 commandments make God seem jealous and mean. I can’t really deny that. It’s true. The black and white nature of the way the commandments are written can seem pretty harsh. As with all scripture, we need to spend some time with it, look at it in the context of God’s wider story and of our experience with God.
These 10 commandments can often seem like a strict parent laying down the rules. But are they simply a power play by God? Is God saying “do this just because I say so?” No. These commandments are not just to satisfy the whims of a jealous god, they are set out as a guiding path for our lives, and especially as guidelines for all of the relationships in our lives.
The first few commandments that ones we looked at last week have to do with our relationship with God. We’re encouraged to keep God at the center of our lives and to not put other gods in place. With God at our center, we can focus on love and hope and forgiveness. Otherwise, we may be tempted to fill our minds and hearts with more tempting but less fulfilling gods like wealth and power and retaliation.
Having a right relationship with God sets the foundation for how we relate to others. These commandments that we look at today give us boundaries on our relationship with our neighbors, helping us to focus more about caring for our neighbors and less on worrying that they have things we want.
These commandments, like all scripture, are meant to give us a lens to view our world. When faced with difficult questions, we can use them to search for answers.
Last week, I mentioned the crisis of unaccompanied children from Central America coming to the southern border of the United States. When I first heard these stories on the news, I wasn’t sure what to think about; I wasn’t really even sure what was going on. I thought this was just part of the normal influx of immigrants looking for a better life in our country.
It turns out I was wrong. This is a new and unusual situation. In 2013, authorities reported that they apprehended 26,206 kids trying to enter our country. That’s a staggering number. But that was for all of last year. So far in the first 6 months of this year, they have already taken 52,193 children into custody from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Mexico. That’s a 99 percent increase in only six months. These numbers are incredible.These children are not trying to sneak illegally into the country, they are surrendering, turning themselves in to authorities at the border. Coming from countries so far away is a dangerous journey. The children face theft, violence, human traffickers, starvation, just in the hopes of getting to our border. Are they taking a journey they may not survive simply to come the US in search of jobs and better schools?
No. The truth is much more terrifying. The fact is Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador are so overridden with gang violence and police corruption that the children have no choice but to flee their homes. Many are being recruited to join violent gangs – reportedly as early as kindergarten . If they refuse, they are intimidated; they and their families are marked for death and retaliation. Young girls are kidnapped and raped on the whims of gang members. Honest police are killed and corrupt police ignore the crimes. In 2012 the murder rate in Honduras was 30 percent higher than UN estimates of the civilian casualty rate at the height of the Iraq war. In other words, it was more dangerous for civilians in these central american countries than for civilians in Iraq. The children who have made it to the US tell horror stories of being sent away by their families to take a dangerous journey simply because it is the only option.
So we are faced with a daunting situation. What are we called to do. What have we done? Well, the President said to the parents in Latin America “Do not send your children to the borders. If they do make it, they’ll get sent back.” And he’s asked congress for billions of dollars to help speed up the processing of the children so that they can be sent back faster.
As busloads of children were brought to an immigration center in Murietta, CA to be processed and sent elsewhere, they were met with protesters. These children, who had risked life and limb to get here because the alternative was much worse, were met with signs saying “return to sender” and “America has been invaded.”
Sometimes the God presented by the authors of the Bible looks mean to us… but when we -we who would call ourselves followers of God through Jesus Christ – when we are seen defying God’s laws by defiling God’s children, greeting refugees with protest signs, when we tell their parents that we will simply send them back to a dangerous land, when we do nothing, how must we look to God?
Jesus said “when I was hungry, you fed Me. And when I was thirsty, you gave Me something to drink. I was alone as a stranger, and you welcomed Me into your homes and into your lives. I was naked, and you gave Me clothes to wear; I was sick, and you tended to My needs; I was in prison, and you comforted Me….whenever you saw a brother or sister hungry or cold, whatever you did to the least of these, so you did to Me.
What churches are doing
– a faith-based delegation that will travel to the Port Hueneme facility on the Naval Base Ventura County in Port Hueneme, Calif., that is currently housing hundreds of migrant children. They will seek entrance into the naval base to ensure transparency and oversight at the facility, assess its conditions, and advocate for the children being held inside.
– The Southern California Nevada Conference of the UCC is urging its congregations to send supplies to the San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium, which is collecting donations to distribute to the young refugees.
– University City United Church UCC in San Diego is collecting supplies to be distributed while the children are receiving basic care at the detention centers, as they leave the facilities to meet family members or go to foster homes.
– Members of Silver City UCC in Silver City, N.M., are rallying to assist the migrant women and children who have arrived in their state. The Federal Law Enforcement and Training Center in Artesia, N.M., is currently housing more than 700 refugees, and another center in Las Cruces, N.M., is housing 200 more. Silver City UCC is spearheading its community’s effort to collect supplies and seek volunteers to support the work of N.M. Communities in Action and Faith (CAFe).
– Fort Sill in Lawton, Okla., is another U.S. military base housing hundreds of migrant children, ranging in age from eight to 18. The Oklahoma Conference of Churches, of which the Kansas-Oklahoma Conference of the UCC is a member, has established a task force to determine specific ways churches can respond to this crisis, and has partnered with several state and national organizations.
The Psalmist wrote “The Eternal looks after those who journey in a land not their own; God takes care of the orphan and the widow, but frustrates the wicked along their way.”
Jesus Christ, a man whose own life, according to Matthew’s Gospel, was threatened as a child, said to us “whatever you did to the least of these, so you did to Me.”
The same God who is reported to have said “I am a jealous God” is also reported in Leviticus 19:34 to have said “The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.”
If we are to call ourselves followers of the God of Moses and of Jesus Christ, we must do something. Whether it’s contacting our representative and calling for adequate funding for the Office of Refugee Resettlement; donating to organizations such as Lutheran Legal Services which provides legal assistance to unaccompanied minors in immigration court proceedings; or even considering becoming a foster parent to allow the release of a child while he or she waits for their immigration court date, we must do something. Because our God of love has cared for us so deeply and truly, we must care for others with our whole hearts and minds and bodies and souls. So we turn to scripture for help, we look to the stories of our faith, look deep within our hearts to see how we’ve experienced God, and we turn to prayer for guidance.
O God of the sojourner, we ask you to be with the tens of thousands of children who have crossed or will cross our borders. As they flee violence and fear, help us to greet them with peace and love. In this difficult, delicate situation, help our leaders to work together to find real solutions so that no child is placed in harm’s way. Give us the strength to follow in the footsteps of our ancestors of faith; courageous people who made difficult choices, especially in the name of the one who calls us; your son, our brother, teacher, and Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
UCC response to crisis of unaccompanied minors from Central America including ways you can help: http://www.ucc.org/justice/immigration/ucc-response-to-crisis-of.html