Here’s the audio: What We Love.
Hear what the Lord says:
Rise, plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice. Hear, you mountains, the controversy of the Lord, and you enduring foundations of t he earth; for the Lord has a controversy with his people, and he will contend with Israel.
“O my people, what have I done to you? In what have I wearied you? Answer me!
For I brought you up from the land of Egypt, and redeemed you from the house of slavery; and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. O my people, remember now what King Balak of Moab devised, what Balaam son of Beor answered him, and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the saving acts of the Lord.”
“With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of youbut to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border when
you see the whole city running as well
your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.
no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
and even then you carried the anthem under
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilet
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.
you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
mean something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten
no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
beg, forget pride
your survival is more important
no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
leave, run away from me now
i don’t know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here
-“Home,” Warsan Shire, Somali poet (b.1988)
Listen, I’m usually not one to pick a fight but Friday the president signed an executive order banning refugees from entering this country for one hundred and twenty days, banning those coming from Syria – arguably the most dangerous place in the world right now – from seeking refuge here indefinitely – and people in those countries who had been trying for years to get here were blocked from boarding their planes. Or people who were in the air as the order was signed were detained at the airport. People coming here to study, to work, to reunite with family, people who have college dorms rooms and jobs and wives and children waiting here for them, suddenly were treated as criminal threats.
You’ve seen the news. You’ve read the stories. And, as I’m sure you know, there was an outcry. The ACLU mobilized. A judge in New York City issued a stay. Lawyers came and sat down on airport terminal floors and offered up their time and skills to work through habeus corpus petitions with people who’d recently landed in this country. Protestors flooded airports with handmade signs welcoming those Muslims and other refugees and one man in Chicago brought a trombone to play “This Land is Your Land” for those arriving.
And Franklin Graham, one of the most influential Christian leaders in the country, son of the admired Billy Graham, said to his huge following, “This is not a Bible issue.”
About immigrants he said that. About refugees he said that. About those who are hungry, and thirsty, and strangers, those who are naked, and sick, and imprisoned, he said, “This is not a Bible issue.”
Progressives sometimes are stereotyped as not knowing their Bibles, not caring much about scripture, but that’s just not true. Lots of us do. Lots of us come from more conservative backgrounds where we grew up memorizing verses. Lots of us are drawn to scripture precisely for the way that in it we hear prophets speak truth to power, the way that in it Jesus’ own life is told as story after story of revolutionary acts of love.
And if this wasn’t a Bible issue, ok. Then we could have a debate about how some things are important, even if they’re not explicitly addressed in scripture. It was written at a long-ago time and in a far-away place and while some of its truths are timeless, we have to consider who we are here and now and make some allowance for that. Our moral code changes with the context and each new era gives us new challenges to which we bring all our compassion to bear, and about which we draw conclusions based on the scriptural principles that endure across time and place.
But this, that we’re talking about right now? Immigrants, and refugees, and the most vulnerable among us? This is THE Bible issue.
Our text for today comes from a frustrated prophet. Micah is a contemporary of Isaiah, the prophet we were with for all of Advent and have been with some this Epiphany. He’s harsher than many of the others, and has strong words especially for the leaders he’s addressing. “Is it not for you to know justice?” he asks them. “You who hate the good and love the evil, who tear the skin off from my people, and eat their flesh from off their bones?” This is Micah, who tells his listeners over and over that God loves justice, and that God cannot abide their treatment of those in need.
He says to them, “God has told you, O mortal, what is good, and what’s required of you.” God has told you! It’s a tired statement. An exasperated one. “You know this!” he’s saying. “We’ve been over this before.”
And it’s true.
In Leviticus 19, the people are instructed, “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt.”
And as it gets more specific, the people are told, “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner.”
And in Deuteronomy, we’re told that God “loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.”
And to any who would say the story of the destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah was about something else, scripture itself explains, in the book of Ezekiel, “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.”
And by now it’s kind of a tired trope, but in Exodus, back where this story begins, when the people of Israel are first really becoming a people, they’re told, “Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.”
When Job, whom God calls the most righteous man in the land, is explaining his devotion, he says, “No stranger had to spend the night in the street, for my door was always open to the traveler.”
So here in the book of Micah, when the prophet is saying, “God has told you,” he means that the whole history of this people is filled with teachings about how to treat the vulnerable ones among them, and over and over and over again the refrain is: Open your gates. Open your doors. You were on the other side once. You know that pain. There is no fundamental difference between you and the ones you would keep out. And God will not abide the manufacturing of fear to create conditions and justifications for exclusion. This is not who God’s people are.
The call could not be clearer. And some days, I think, it could not be harder.
Do justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly.
The doing justice part, I’m actually encouraged about. When I see the groundswell of energy; when presumably privileged people sit cross-legged on an airport floor to donate hours to ensure that basic human rights are preserved for the most vulnerable among us, I know that justice for people has a chance. When those entrusted with protecting our land for generations to come work to make sure we have access to the science that will help us preserve it, I know that justice for our environment will continue to press on. I know that I can find ways, we all can, in the work that we do every day, to orient ourselves toward justice.
And the walking humbly with God – what an invitation! I hear in this not a direction, not a “bow before this mighty one” but just a great reassurance, that God is here, that God lives and moves among us, maybe quietly sometimes, maybe needing to be sought out sometimes, but when we find God, when we find those people serving as God’s hands and feet here, the invitation is to slide in alongside them, and be a part of that good work. That is where we meet God, who is already and always here.
But the loving kindness. This is both what I want to do and what I think will be the most difficult.
James K. A. Smith suggests that the central question of Jesus is “what do you want?” Not so that, knowing the answer, he might give it to us but so that, knowing the answer, we might know ourselves. Jesus doesn’t ask, “what do you know?” or “what do you hope for?” or even “what do you believe?” but his interactions with people most often involve him asking them some form of “what do you want?” which is the same question, really, as “what do you love?”
Smith writes, “Our wants and longings and desires are at the core of our identity, the wellspring from which our actions and behavior flow. Our wants reverberate from our heart, and so Scripture counsels, ‘above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it’ (Prov. 4:23). Discipleship, we might say, is a way to curate your heart, to be attentive to and intentional about what you love.”
And what we love, he argues, becomes who we are. That’s the power our loves have. They shape us.
This is dangerous, at least for me, because when I think about where my energy goes, what I pay attention to, there’s probably a long list of things I love before kindness. Like, today, I love righteous indignation. I love cleverly-worded slogans and cutely-drawn signs. I love poetry and art and song and all sorts of things that do good in the world. Or I love my own anger. If I think about where a lot of my energy and attention goes, these days, it’s to anger and fear and disgust. But that is not what I want to love. That is not what I want to shape who I am.
So what does it mean to love kindness? To desire kindness, to long for kindness, pursue it? What would it look like to direct our energy toward kindness?
Maybe it looks like the veteran of the Iraq war who drove two hours to an airport in Texas last night and gave his purple heart to a woman who finally made it through security after hours and hours of interrogation. He handed her the medal and told her, “This” – meaning what she had endured – “this is not what I fought for.”
Maybe loving kindness looks like his recognition of her struggle. Maybe it looks like his bringing a gift, a sacrifice, to offer her. Maybe it looks like her meeting his eye, unafraid; maybe it feels like their hands touching as he gave and she received; maybe it sounds like the thank you spoken between them. Maybe loving kindness just means recognizing these small moments where we might really recognize one another, and seizing them, to infuse them with all the love, all the humanity, that we can.
God help us. Amen.