Morning Worship: ‘Our citizenship is of God’

As I became immersed in the immigration issue in preparation for this week, I had to go deep to remember what it was like to be a stranger in a strange land,” said the Rev. Katharine Rhodes Henderson at the 10:45 a.m. Sunday service of worship and sermon in the Amphitheater. “My dilemma may be yours, but the answer is right in our text — don’t oppress the alien, treat them as natives, love them as yourself for you were a stranger in the land of Egypt.”

Her sermon title was “Being IN the Way,” and her text was Leviticus 19:33-37.

In going deep to remember, Henderson told a story of going to Germany with her parents when her father was on sabbatical. They arrived in Göttingen, and after a few days she went to school.

“I walked into that classroom with German children and a German teacher, and I had no German,” she said. “I don’t know if it was cruel or benevolent or necessary, but it was clear I had to sink or swim.”

What was key in the Scripture lesson, she said, was memory — the memory of having been a stranger in a strange land and to remember that God said, “I am the Lord, your God.”

“This passage presupposes memory, to remember the poverty, the lash, rape at the hands of the slave master, and hiding a child in the bulrushes so that he might have a life,” Henderson said.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said society needs to see the great events of history from beneath, from those who struggle and suffer.

“So many times we lop off the struggle and lift up the success,” Henderson said. “We need to immerse ourselves in the reality of the immigrant, right now.”

Henderson shared two stories about the realities of immigration. Ray, a young contractor with a good business, came to this country illegally when he was 12. He married a U.S. citizen, and they had five children, who are U.S. citizens. Ray was stopped for a routine traffic violation and was then deported to Guatemala, where he could only earn $5 a day. His wife and children received government assistance. Ray was lucky; his church asked that he be granted asylum, and he has since returned to the United States.

“There are 11 million undocumented workers who contribute 15 billion to the Social Security, which many of you are living on and which I hope to live on,” Henderson said. “It costs $12,000 per person to deport thousands of immigrants every day.”

Another story was closer to home.

A woman, Astaire, works with Henderson at Auburn Seminary. Astaire is working on immigration issues, and Henderson found out that she was brought here as a child from Spain by her parent who had converted to Mormonism. They overstayed their visitor visas, and it is only now that Astaire is in the process of resolving the issue. Her case will be reviewed for the next two years.

“She was one of the dreamers who fought for the DREAM Act, for young people brought here as children and have lived here their whole lives,” Henderson said. “But she has given up that title because it designated her and others as special. They did not want to be separated from their families and from others who live in the shadows.”

She told one more story about the unaccompanied children who sparked a crisis in 2014 at the borders.

“With the hope of Moses’ mother who sent her child down river, a Honduran mother sent her child to have a chance to live a full and fruitful life,” Henderson said. “Jose, as we will call him, rode the beast train — so called because of its danger — and got to the border and crossed the Rio Grande.

“He crossed onto private property and he and that family are eternally connected because he came out of the water and died of exposure and malnutrition,” she said. “As one person said, ‘The tears of the border patrol brought more humanity to that border than had been seen in a long time.’ It was only at the funeral home that they found a message under his belt about who he was and where he was going.”

Henderson said, “Beloved of God, how can we allow this to happen on American soil? When did the alien become suspect and a criminal? These are people who work for wages we would not accept, they are separated from their families and live at the margins. We post guards at the gates and treat them as disposable people who get in the way.”

In Ephesians, Paul says Jesus came to preach peace to those who were near (the Jews) and those who were afar (the Gentiles). The Ephesians were no longer strangers and aliens but citizens and members of the household of God: “Our citizenship is of God.”

She said the early Christians lived in the light of Jesus, and the movement was most alive in the margins of Roman society.

“We offer sanctuary,” Henderson said. “When we are our best selves we have served on the Underground Railroad, been part of the resistance to the Holocaust and part of the Sanctuary Movement.”

MountainTop is a program of Auburn Seminary that brings together 80 faith-based justice leaders. There were people of all faiths, all races and all sexual identities.

“Our border-crossing, category-messing God became real for me at MountainTop this year,” she said. “We were focussed on race in America and what we could do together. It was the hardest work we had ever done and it was irresistible, fun and healing.”

On their last evening together, William Barber, founder of Moral Mondays, was the speaker.

“He called us ‘misfits in the upper room’ and the cornerstone of what God is doing in the world,” Henderson said. “We had been rehearsing for the reign of God and we left ready to lead change. We were ready when Charleston happened, and four of us drove to Charleston and delivered 8,500 prayers from people of faith.

“My hope for this week is that we will sit at tables and listen to one another,” she continued. “We will hear stories of joy and stories that will break our hearts. We will find an immigration policy that aligns with the truth of our given values and at the end we will be ready to answer the call to build the reign of God. We have so much power. We are misfits in the upper room working on God’s time. God will dwell with us and wipe away our tears by the river of life for healing of all nations. May it be so and may we all be part of making it so.”

Robert M. Franklin Jr., director of  the Chautauqua Institution Department of Religion, presided. Christine Nairne Brueschke, a member of the Chautauqua Institution Board of Trustees, read the Scripture. Peter Steinmetz served as the cantor for Responsorial Psalm 16, “Shelter Me, O God” by Bob Hurd. The anthem was “Kyrie,” from Mass by Steve Dobrogosz. The choral response to the pastoral prayer was “Dona Nobis Pacem” by Giulio Caccini, arranged by James A. Moore. Barbara Hois was the flute soloist. The offertory anthem was “The House of Faith Has Many Rooms,” music by Craig Phillips and words by Carl P. Daw, Jr. The organ postlude was “Toccata” from Suite, Op. 5 by Maurice Duruflé. The Harold F. Reed Sr. Memorial Chaplaincy provides support for this week’s services.