And Jesus replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?”
The pertinence of this question came home to me in a powerful way in these last few days.
I received a text from a young colleague. He had picked up a rumor that a road was blocked in the east part of town for, in fact, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) was conducting raids there and all over town.
This came to me as no surprise in the climate you and I currently inhabit. To be sure, the community I serve is one richly marked by diversity of all kinds. And while I serve a congregation that is predominantly Caucasian, my work in the community has put me in conversation with people for whom ICE would be a real threat.
My colleague went on to say that he was going to be driving by the place where he had heard the activity was taking place. If the road block was up he was going home to put on his collar and intended to go and stand there as witness. I told him to stay in touch and I would join him.
While I waited, I put a call in to a neighboring priest. They have a Spanish Mass and I thought he might have a better sense of who was impacted than I. When I left a message I specifically spoke of the children who would surely be affected. And I offered the assistance of my congregation in doing what we could. (At this point, forty-eight hours later I am still waiting to hear back.)
It turns out there was an ICE raid yesterday afternoon in the community next door to ours and that yes, families from DeKalb were affected. Rumors about other raids all over town turned out to be entirely unfounded. Even so, as you might expect, fear ran rampant and people went into hiding, seeking to protect the families, the family members, God had given them.
Now to be sure, this is a difficult conversation to have, regardless of where we live and serve. The current political atmosphere with its accompanying policies and rhetoric feed into our fears and into our own seemingly innate sense of scarcity. It is so tempting to simply side with ‘the law,’ whatever that may be and whether we fully understand it or not, and forget the implications of how it is being enforced for real human beings who are neighbors and co-workers and yes, children, in our communities. Indeed, I find myself wondering these days how it is that we forget or simply ignore the fact that Jesus did not define family by blood, or by race, or by citizenship, or by culture. Indeed, in our Gospel words this week we are reminded that ‘family’ has nothing to do with all of these, but with our relationship to our Creator. And in how we live, in what we do, as a result of that.
And yet, it seems that here and now, too many of us and yes, and in particular, too many of us who are followers of Jesus, have forgotten this. Perhaps we are afraid. Or maybe we feel helpless, overwhelmed by it all and do not know where to begin. Even so, I do not, I cannot believe that but a small minority among us actually believes that God loves these neighbors any less. No, I have to believe that the vast majority of us hear Jesus’ words today as a call to see one another through the lens which says that we are all bound up with people who on the surface may differ greatly from us, but who beneath it all are seeking to simply live their lives under the umbrella of God’s great love for them as well. With all that this means. Even as we do.
This morning in worship I briefly spoke of all of this at the end of my sermon about the call of Samuel (and Hannah, and Eli, and Eli’s sons, and all of us.) I mentioned having a call in to our neighboring priest. During coffee hour a member approached me to tell me that the attorney representing the families is a former student of hers. If I liked, she would give him a call to see what is needed. And so she will. Of course, I cannot yet know where this will lead us, but I am confident that through all of this, God is calling us into deeper conversation about what ‘family’ looks like for us here and now. Even as Jesus did so long ago.
In the meantime while I wait, I will be listening to see when and where and how I am, how we are together, called to stand as ‘witness.’
And also this. I am gathering resources so as to be able to share this important conversation more deeply and fully alongside those I serve. Here is just a start:
Explaining Policies Separating Children and Families (a blog posted on May 321, 2018)
AMMPARO (Accompanying Migrant Minors with Protection, Advocacy, Representation and Opportunities: And ELCA Strategy) (If these do not speak to your denominational context, I’m sure it wouldn’t be hard to find ones which do.)
Yes, it is so that I am starting with the children, for that is the most obvious ‘common ground’ I can see. But of course, children always lead us to consider the families which protect and nurture them.
And yes, I will ground these conversations in the certain truth that in his teaching and in his living Jesus continually broke down that which would keep us apart from another, literally forming new understandings of ‘family’ based on the wondrous, surprising, challenging, gifts and promises of God who shapes and reshapes our identity, separately and together, over and over again.
How about you?
- How do you hear Jesus’ words today speaking in the context where you live and serve? Does his redefining his own family have you rethinking who is included in your own family? In the family of your community? In your family of faith?
- If you are rethinking, what implications does this have in your place? Indeed, how might you be called to act in your place? How can you lead with your presence? How might you lead others into deeper conversation and learning about these important matters?
- Who are the brothers and sisters and mother of Jesus and what does that make them to you? And what difference does that make?
- Certainly there are other pieces of Scripture which speak to the dilemma of immigration in our country. What comes to mind for you? How does it inform your understanding of our collective witness in these critical times? How might it shape your conversation with others?