Sunday’s Sermon: Worthy of a Welcome?

  • Signs from Murrieta
    • “Return to sender”
    • “Taco Tuesday is cancelled”
    • “Stop rewarding, start deporting”
    • “Send them back with birth control”
    • These are just some of the signs that greeted busloads of mostly unaccompanied undocumented minors in the small town of Murrieta, California just a few weeks ago. The vast majority of these children were traveling alone, and some of them were as young as 6 years old. They had traveled thousands of difficult, dangerous miles. They were fleeing violence fueled by drugs and gangs. They were fleeing poverty like you and I cannot even imagine. They had already survived the natural perils of the desert and the human perils of the coyotes – those opportunistic, ruthless, and often abusive people who traffic desperate men, women, and children across the border. Some came with a plan to meet up with family in America. Some came with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Some came only with a hope and a prayer.
      • July 4 – bussed from southern Texas where they crossed the border to Murrieta where they were supposed to be processed → met by …
        • Angry crowd blocking the road
        • Shouting slogans
        • Holding signs
          • Both expressing vicious, ugly sentiments (read opening signs again)
        • Now, I realize that there are all sorts of opinions about immigration – what we should or shouldn’t do, policies that should or shouldn’t be in place, etc. I know it’s political. I know it’s a touchy subject right now. I know that there are some people who are angry and frustrated and maybe even afraid about what is happening and what’s been happening along the border.
          • Not here to tell you what you should believe about immigration
          • Not here to sway you politically one way or another
          • This morning, what I’m asking you to do, as human beings, is to think about what it must have felt like for those hundreds of frightened, exhausted, depleted children.
            • Angry faces surrounding buses
            • Angry voices filling your ears
            • Angry eyes glaring in the windows
            • These children had already fled the only homes they’ve ever known. They’d already been torn from their families and everything familiar to them. And one of their first encounters here was one of being despised – being told they weren’t wanted, weren’t good enough to stay.
              • Imagine feeling so undesirable, so unwelcome, so worthless
    • Can you think of a time in your life when no one – maybe even yourself included – could recognize your worth? I’d guess that most (if not all) of us have felt that way at some point. But in our Scripture readings this morning, we see and hear God’s truth spoken into the midst of that pain and isolation – the truth that, no matter what the world thinks of us, God will always see our true worth and welcome us into arms of purest love.
  • Few in Scripture whose worth is more underestimated than Leah
    • Jacob’s first wife … You know, the one he never intended to marry in the first place. – text: Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. … Jacob loved Rachel; so he said, “I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.” … So Jacob served seven years for Rachel … [And] Laban gathered together all the people of the place and made a feast. But in the evening he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob; and he went in to her. … When morning came, it was Leah! And Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? Did I not serve with you for Rachel? Why then have you deceived me?”[1] → I don’t know about you, but I can’t help but wonder about Leah throughout this whole exchange.
      • Did she even want to marry Jacob?
      • What did she think when her father sent her in to Jacob instead of her sister? Spur of the moment? Planned all along? Did she know?
      • Imagine Jacob’s reaction in the morning – disappointment, anger, disgust? → What about Leah’s reaction to this? – pain, disappointment, maybe even fear of retaliation
        • At this point, no one wants Leah. Her father obviously doesn’t want her. He’s callously and thoughtlessly passed her off to another man, Jacob. And Jacob makes it abundantly clear that he doesn’t want her either. – anyone would find it hard to find worth in the midst of all that
    • But you know what? God sees Leah’s worth. – just after today’s text: When the Lord saw that Leah was unloved, he opened her womb; but Rachel was barren. Leah conceived and bore a son, and she named him Reuben; for she said, “Because the Lord has looked on my affliction; surely now my husband will love me.” She conceived again and bore a son, and said, “Because the Lord has heard that I am hated, he has given me this son also.”[2] → goes on through conceiving and bearing two more sons, Leah always hoping that giving birth to these male heirs (so coveted, such a source of pride) would earn her husband’s love while continuing to recognize God’s presence and love in the face of it all
  • NT text this morning touches on other e.g.s of times when we feel our value diminished: I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.[3] → You see, our society has placed such a huge emphasis on being self-made and self-reliation – on being able to provide for yourself and your family with no help, on pulling yourself up by your bootstraps and living the most perfect life possible.
    • But what if you have trouble providing that crucial nutrition or the clothes your family needs?
    • What if you end up in a strange place where no one knows your name let alone whether or not you can be trusted?
    • What if you find yourself ill and in need of care or in trouble and in need of love and support?
      • Dominant thought in society: needing help affects your worth
      • Dominant thought in God’s heart: needing help makes you my own → scholar: [Theologian and Princeton professor] Elaine Pagels says Jesus’ words are the basis for a radical new social structure based on the God-given dignity and value of every human being.[4]
        • Hear this in Jesus’ words this morning: Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.[5] → “When you looked into the eyes and heart of those whose worth was in question,” Jesus says, “I was there.”
          • Scholar: Jesus said, God is here, in the messiness and ambiguity of human life. God is here, particularly in your neighbor, the one who needs you. You want to see the face of God? Look into the face of one of the least of these, the vulnerable, the weak, the children.[6]
    • World is full, FULL of people who need to hear this message right now
      • Those immigrant children in the busses chased out of Murrieta and the 52,000 other unaccompanied minors who have crossed the border in the last 9 mos.
      • Elderly men and women who have been forgotten by their families, left to languish in nursing homes
      • Thousands of LGBT teens who have been thrown out of their homes by families after coming out
        • 10% of general population (teens) is LGBT but 20% of homeless teens are LGBT
        • Higher risk for assault than straight homeless teens
        • Twice as likely to commit suicide
  • Last week, we talked about how it’s not our job to judge who is the good wheat and the evil weeds. That’s a job for God alone. Today’s question runs alongside that theme: Who are we to tell someone (with our words or our actions) that they are unworthy – unworthy of happiness, unworthy of love, unworthy of faith, unworthy of life itself? Who do we deem unworthy simply by overlooking them as we go about our days? Who do we actively try not to see?
    • Homeless person holding a sign at the intersection?
    • Parent at the grocery store holding up the line because there’s something wrong with his/her SNAP card (food assistance – updated version of food stamps)?
    • Man in the hospital bed? Woman behind bars?
    • Teenager struggling with addiction or behavior issues or the law?
    • Friends, it doesn’t matter who crosses our path or whether or not we want them there because we are called to try to see the world through God’s eyes – to see the worth in people that society has already written off, to see the value in those who have long since lost faith in themselves.
      • Syracuse, NY = given us great e.g. of this → In the wake of all the cities like Murrieta that have provided a less-than-warm welcome for these busloads of unaccompanied, undocumented minors, the city of Syracuse has offered to welcome them with open arms.
        • Bishop Robert Cunningham (Syracuse Roman Catholic Diocese): They’re somebody’s children. They’re loved. Parents made a great sacrifice, let them go, sent them here. I think that the parent that sends a child into such a situation like that is hoping that their child will be received warmly and welcomed. Treated hospitably, and shown compassion.[7]
    • Ways that we can embrace this type of attitude
      • Find an organization that speaks to your heart and give of yourself
        • Animals? Children? Substance abuse/other addiction recovery? Elderly? Hospice? Cleaning up green space? The possibilities are endless!
        • E.g. – Service Learning opportunities at UWEC
          • Could give finances
          • Could give time
          • Could give attention/awareness (spreading the word)
      • Speak up when you notice someone’s worth being taken away – workplace, home, [school] → As much as I hate to say it, bullies don’t just exist in the school cafeteria and on the playground. When you see someone being belittled, being marginalized, being shamed, speak up. Stand up for them to let them know that their worth isn’t determined by the mistreatment or ugly remarks of one person.
      • Wider context of society – speak out! → Those causes that tug at your heartstrings … is there legislation surrounding some aspect of that issue? Can you get your local government involved? Can you do something on the [conference/presbytery] level to get involved on the denominational level? Can you make your voice heard with state or national congress people?
        • Write a letter, send an email, make a phone call, join (or even start!) a committee that is working for a change
          • Scholar: Loving those for whom Jesus gave his life, particularly those who are undervalued, is a primary expression of our love for God and of our experience of God’s love for us.[8] → When we have experienced the love and joy and comfort that we find in God – when we have felt our own worth affirmed and reaffirmed in God’s loving embrace – how can we do anything but try to reflect that love and affirmation of worth for the world around us? Amen.

[1] Gen 29: 16, 18, 20, 22-23, 25.

[2] Gen 29:31-33.

[3] Mt 25:35-36.

[4] John M. Buchanan. “Proper 29 (Reign of Christ) – Matthew 25:31-46 – Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year A, vol. 4. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 334.

[5] Mt 25:40.

[6] Buchanan, 334.

[7] Jazz Shaw. “Syracuse, NY Mayor to Obama: Send Those Immigrant Kids Up Here.” http:/// Written July 19, 2014, accessed July 21, 2014.

[8] Lindsay P. Armstrong. “Proper 29 (Reign of Christ) – Matthew 25:31-46 – Homiletical Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year A, vol. 4. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 337.

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