Monday, May 17, 2010

Gentiles and Immigrants

Monday, May 17 2010 -- Week of 7 Easter
William Hobard Hare, Bishop of Niobrara, and of South Dakota, 1909

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 965)
Psalms 89:1-18 (morning)       89:19-52 (evening)
Joshua 1:1-9
Ephesians 3:1-13
Matthew 8:5-17

First, a note about our observance today from the new proposed calendar Holy Women, Holy Men:  William Hobart Hare [May 17, 1838-Oct. 23, 1909] Bishop and missionary to Native Americans, he was the grandson of Bishop Hobart. He was the first missionary bishop of Niobrara (now the Diocese of South Dakota) which served many tribes. (May 17)

Our culture debates the status of immigrants within our nation.  There are various classifications of immigrants.  Some have successfully negotiated the complex and restrictive immigration system and live here legally.  For the most part they are welcome, facing only the garden-variety prejudice of racism and of projected guilt-by-association imputed to them by those who might assume all "like them" are illegal. 

Some arrived here legally on a work or student visa but their visa expired before their work or their degree program finished and they chose to stay, many because of the fear that they would not be able to return. 

Some intentionally violated our immigration laws and came here illegally seeking a better life for themselves and their families.  They would have loved to have immigrated legally, but for non-professionals and for those who are not wealthy, legal immigration is virtually impossible.  Legal immigration takes sixteen years according to the latest information I've seen.  For some families, the risk of coming to the US illegally seemed more hopeful than waiting sixteen years without any guarantee that one's immigration application would ever be approved.  The immigration system only awards a few thousand visas annually for laborers.  For decades American businesses have welcomed willing workers who help create their prosperity.  These workers often do work that American citizens will not do.  Studies show that they contribute to our economy more than they cost in education or other benefits.

Many of those who live in the US without documentation are innocent in the sense that they were children when they were brought here by their parents.  Some have grown up speaking English as their primary language.  Some have excelled in our schools and on our athletic fields.  Some have completed college degree programs, and some have advanced professional certification.  All live with the shadow that they could be deported at any moment to a country they may not know, a birthplace that they left as a child.  (I recently heard about a student who finished his architecture degree at the U of A and had to move to Mexico, a country he was unfamiliar with, because he lacked the documentation he needed to work as an architect in the US.)

Our culture debates the question:  How will we regard our immigrant neighbors?

The early church had a similar question.  How will regard our Gentile neighbors? 

We have several stories from Jesus, including the one today where Jesus commends the faith of the Gentile centurion in Capernaum and cures the centurion's servant.  Jesus performed many of the same miracles for Gentiles as he did for Jews, including the feeding of the multitudes.  (He did not expect them to become Jews before he would heal them or eat with them.)

The church began as a movement within Judaism; all its initial members were Jewish.  There were two distinctive markers of Jewish identity:  (1) circumcision for males, and (2) obedience to the laws of the Torah.  All early Christians accepted these markers as givens for their religious identity and practice.

But then some Gentiles entered into the fellowship of the church.  They heard the Good News of Jesus and they responded.  Would they have to become Jews in order to be included?  That was the biggest question facing the early church.  Would Gentile converts be required to be circumcised and to observe the Jewish Torah?

In its most important early decision, the Church decided in favor of inclusion.  Gentiles would be welcomed into the Church.  Our reading today from Ephesians speaks to that inclusion as a "mystery (that) was no made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to (Christ's) holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit:  that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel."  The new "immigrants" into the church would not be required to follow the traditional paths of inclusion into the Jewish tribe, but would be welcomed as equals to share in the fellowship and good work of the Church.  I count myself and my family among those who benefit from being welcomed into the Body of Christ without having first to become Jewish.

I think our nation could learn something from our ancestors of faith.



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About Morning Reflections
Morning Reflections is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
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The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

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Our Rule of Life
We aspire to...
worship weekly
pray daily
learn constantly
serve joyfully
live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas


At 9:38 AM, Anonymous Seoc Dughlas said...

Peace to you, Father Lowell and blessings. I really like what you said this morning. It gives me a chance to pause and think about things for awhile.

I am reminded of my ancestors, who immigrated to this country. On the one hand, I have Scottish ancestors that were here way back in the early 1700's, before there was anything like the United States of America. On the other hand, I have Irish, German, French even Greek and Russian ancestors that came here in the mid 1800's to the early years of the 20th century. The laws of immigration have vastly changed since then, because if they (my predecessors) had to deal with the problems facing today's foreigners... well, I wouldn't be able to see how my forefathers would have become American citizens!

Truly, I must also look at the causes of these immigrants trying to come into this country. I know options might be limited in what our nation can do concerning the injustices, prejudices and oppression that could go on where some people are from, but I wonder if we ourselves are the cause of this immigration climate? Notice, farm subsidies from our federal government would enable American farms to underbid any international competitor inside their own borders, resulting in the loss of those farms and the consequential loss of local jobs over there. I wonder if there is such a connection.

Would you also see the inclusion stance of the early church to apply to any other factor that may be different from me, such as sexual gender and/or orientation? Perhaps it is time for the church to open her doors of leadership to women, or to those who are openly intimate with another of the same gender?

Father Lowell, you have given me much to ponder over and I am grateful for that. I think it is time for things to change for the better, but now, I must figure out what this reform should entail and what I can do to help enable the change.

--Seoc Dughlas


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