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We are all Immigrants

Pentecost 19, Common Lectionary Year C

Deuteronomy 10:12-22

©2019 Rev. Dr. Elisabeth R. Jones


We pray Holy One, that we find ourselves
in this ancient text,
that your heart touches ours,
that your life and love inspires our living and loving,
in the words we share this morning.
We pray as your people and followers of the Way
of Jesus Christ. Amen.

“Before you enter into the land God has given you,
remember these things:
Remember God, who God is.
Remember who we are.
We are all immigrants.”

That’s the sort of statement guaranteed to
get a reaction from the gut, from the heart,
from memory of experience.
And it was meant to.
The writers of Deuteronomy were deft
in casting Moses’ teaching into the most persuasive
rhetoric they could muster,
to persuade new generations including our own
of the deep truth of his wisdom.

So let me begin by connecting to the text via my own heart-felt
experience as an immigrant.
When Norman and I landed at Calgary airport on
Friday September 13, 1985,
with two large suitcases, a pack-n-play travel crib,
a two year old son, and another child ‘on the way’,
I remember walking across the airport parking lot thinking,
“Wow, those cars are huge!”
And then being completely flummoxed by the sight of this:
(a block heater plug !)
We were welcomed to Canada by a couple who helpfully
stocked our hotel room with tea – “because you’re British.”
Except the teas were weird concoctions of hibiscus
and who knows what flowers and fruits,
not your “bog standard” black Typhoo.
Within days I had learned to my shame that
erasers and rubbers are not the same thing,
and if I wanted my son to live,
I’d better teach him that cars, not pedestrians, used the pavement.
We were no longer “home” where everything makes sense,
but strangers in a foreign land.

Others of you have shared with me stories of your first days
in a new country,
or province, where the accent, or the syntax,
or vocabulary immediately set you apart, either humorously,
or awkwardly, or shamefully, as one “from away.”
Some of you remember days, weeks, months,
when cardboard boxes and plastic plates served as dining room and dinnerware.
And food! Missing tastes, and smells of home.
And familiarity: Realizing that NO one on the bus or the train
or in the corner store knew your name,
not like the “home” you’d left behind.

On Friday at F4, I heard more stories from families
who have come to Canada as refugees;
of generations being separated for decades
as war leapfrogged from their homeland
to their refugee land and back again.
I’ve heard about teenagers hiding in the boot/trunk of a car
to escape the bombing in Lebanon.
We know about the shelling of the Mohammeds’ home in Syria.
People at F4 speaking to us in fourth or fifth languages.
Physicians and scientists taking unskilled labouring jobs
to make a new start in a strange land.
Not knowing how to clothe their children for a Canadian winter.

But before we distance ourselves from the text by
searching out the most exciting or excruciating
immigrant experience,
we’d better remember this text is actually a plea
to everyone of us, native born, or immigrant,
to connect at the level of the heart,
at the level of personal experience,
however and whatever it takes to connect me with
what it means to be “the other,”
the disadvantaged, the stranger, the foreigner, the immigrant.

Even if you’ve lived in Pointe Claire all your life,
you’ve had experiences of being vulnerable,
or of being “othered”
outed, ostracized, bullied, shamed…..
(just think first day of Junior High, that grad school seminar,
first day of retirement, of being diagnosed with a life-changing illness…)

Brené Brown would say that most of us want to forget
these experiences that brought us profound embarrassment, or shame. [1]
We want to stay in the realm of hard-won comfort or security,
but Moses knows that’s not the place from which we live fully into
our identity as God’s People, God’s Dream team.

Compassion- loving like God- comes not from a place of power,
but from the place of heart-felt identification with vulnerability.
Moses’ code for this work of identification is “we are all immigrants.”

This is a plea from God, through Moses,
imploring us to become involved from the heart
in the lived vulnerability of others, as if it were our own experience,
of being the widows, orphans and strangers, of our own culture and generation:
refugeed people, homeless people, underemployed people, the people displaced from security by their gender, religion, or race,
and to do so for the sake of the world’s redemption.

I’m aware that this is the day before an election,
concluding a campaign that had dredged rock bottom,
where identity politics, fearmongering, misinformation,
and scarcity-thinking has eroded our sense of
the abundance of what we have to share here in Canada,
with one another and with the world.
It’s been a campaign that’s wanted us to forget who we are
and where we’re from, whose we are,
to forget that we are all immigrants,
as well as being citizens of the realm of God.

And that identity that dual citizenship, demands something of us.
It demands that we live, vote, work, from a paradigm of God’s
utter sense of justice,
not top-down justice,
but lift-up justice.
Rachel Held Evans reminds us that this
Almighty God who claims us as Beloved,
is one who stoops, perpetually,
stoops to the point of incarnation and crucifixion alongside all God’s beloved ones. [2]

If we are the beloved of a God who stoops
then we need to too.
We need to identify, from the heart,
with what it means to be without a home,
without a sense of belonging,
without an anchoring past, or a possible future,
we need to identify, from the heart
with what it means to be othered, outed, and ousted,
we need to remember, against all the voices telling us otherwise,
that it’s not only in UN Declaration 14
that the refugeed man, woman, child, has the right to seek asylum,
the right to seek safety, [3]
it’s sacrosanct, written on the heart of God,
written on God’s two tablets of the Law,
that we remember we are all immigrants,
we are all pilgrims in this earthen life,
here to walk the mile and bear the load with one another,
to hold the Christ-light in the night time of fear,

(and again from your stories shared with me this week)
it’s to share strange tasting tea,
to give a warm coat, and snow boots,
to lend a hand, to lend a car,
to share a seat in the pew, at the F4 table, on the bus,
to pass the bread of hope and the wine of belonging
along with the pumpkin pie and samosas,
to teach a toddler how to make a snowball,
to find a job for a refugee,
and mend a bike for her kid,
to give dignity along with the sandwich and clean socks,
to remember that under God,
the other is our brother,
the stranger is our sister,
the foreigner is not only our friend, she is us.
We are all immigrants.
Thanks be to God.

Invite congregation to let this flow around heart while the choir sings from the heart.

While playing on screen, the instructions for sharing imagining with the children at connection time…

[1] Brené Brown, I Thought It was Just Me. “Shame is the intensely personal feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging.” p. 29.

[2] Rachel Held Evans, Inspired. Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again. p.12.

[3] United Nations Declaration of Human Rights #14. “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.”

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