The Lord is gracious and full of compassion,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
When I am invited to visit a congregation, I first check the readings for that Sunday. On occasions such as anniversaries, the selected readings are usually not the assigned lectionary texts. Therefore, I am not preaching on the Gospel lesson for this coming Sunday on the parable of the
day laborers waiting to be hired
. But oh, would I love to!
There are a myriad of commentaries on this reading, so I will try to avoid repeating what others have already written with the advantage of far more scholarly research. What I want to offer are a few random thoughts on the images this reading calls up in my mind.
Immediately, what leaps to the forefront is the sight of men waiting on a corner somewhere in the world, for work that will help support them and their family for that day. There has always been a need for temporary labor everywhere, so these scenes are not unique to our nation.
What is also common in most countries is that the bulk of these day laborers are foreigners. When I was in South Africa in 2016, I was told the bulk of the men I saw waiting on street corners were from Zimbabwe. Foreign-born workers, especially from Mexico and Central America, are currently the core of the low-wage workforce in southern California (see photo), as well as other parts of the United States.
Our ELCA Social Policy Resolution, Toward Compassionate, Just, and Wise Immigration Reform (2009), commits our church to protect the rights of people at work. It goes on to state that: "New legislation should facilitate an orderly, regulated future flow of workers, consistent with America's labor needs and obligations, to contribute to the global common good."
Of course, those type of commitments require legislation which our representatives in Washington seem to lack the will to propose.
At the risk of generalizing, the people one sees on a street corner are mainly male, young, and low skilled. What is also to be expected is that they will earn low and uncertain levels of income and work under less than ideal conditions. They are also vulnerable to theft of wages, employer abuse, and lack of insurance in the case of a work-related accident or injury. Since many lack documentation, their work sites are also targets of aggressive immigration enforcement.
In recent years, there has been an increase in efforts by labor unions, and community action groups and agencies to organize these workers so that they will not lack these benefits. However, there still exists a level of distrust of these organizations, no matter how reputable they may be. So, the day laborer on the corner is not bound to go away anytime soon. The fear of taking jobs from people who need them is overstated.
Yet those of us with a steady job and a suitable income tend to look down on such persons. Our reaction is either one of resentment or silence.
The resentment stems mostly from the fact that they are foreign-born, mainly, Latino. The last Presidential election campaign gave rise to an anti-immigrant rhetoric that has had the intended results - the Muslim ban, the vandalism of synagogues, the repeal of DACA, among others.
Is it possible that questions raised about immigrant issues have a deeper source than we are willing to admit-not our needs, but our wants and desires?
reading asks us to search our hearts for our inner motivations. Note the words with which our story begins. Jesus said, "For the kingdom of heaven is like..."
When Jesus speaks of God's kingdom, he's not talking about some geographical faraway place beyond the here and now, but rather, about life lived under the reign of God - a God who is generous to a fault, a God whose generosity offends us and baffles us; a God who is inclined to show special generosity to the poor and outcast; a God who makes the so-called "respectable" people to become anxious and nervous.
So, if I were preaching on Matthew's Gospel this week, this is what I would be wrestling with.
My weekly wanderings will find me at Emmanuel Lutheran Church, in New Philadelphia on Wednesday, September 20, for their Wednesdays Alive service.
I thank God for the innovative ways that congregations are reaching out to make Jesus known to those in their communities who are seeking to make spiritual connections.
Emmanuel is one of many. I welcome an opportunity to visit these ministries and would encourage your congregation to share what you are doing so others may learn from you and we all may learn from each other.
Thursday, September 21
, I will be with the rostered ministers of the Cleveland East Conference for our annual gathering to at Trinity Lutheran Church in Clinton. As usual, we will worship together and have informal discussion about the goings-on in the Northeastern Ohio Synod and the wider church.
Saturday, September 23
, I will be at Martin Luther Lutheran Church in Youngstown, where we will hold the first of two Fall Bishop's Gatherings. Our gathering will encourage and resource leaders to share the Word through building relationships, reaching into and throughout the community and effective use of social media.
Sunday, September 24
, in the morning, I will be with the people of God at Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Elyria, as they say goodbye to their longtime pastor, the Rev. Paul Jaster, who retires at the end of the month. Deacon Judy Hoshek will be preaching and I will preside.
That same Sunday, in the afternoon, I will join the good people at Trinity Lutheran Church in Girard, as they celebrate their 175th anniversary.
This week and always, may we be empowered by the Spirit of God's love, that we may be willing to speak for what is right, act for what is just, and seek the healing of all of God's creation
+Bishop Abraham Allende