June 18, 2018

A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But [Jesus] was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and [the disciples] woke him up and said to him, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" 
[Mark 4:37-38]

The assigned lectionary readings for this coming Sunday, the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, are as follows:
"Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" 
The question leaped off the page as I read our Gospel lesson for this coming Fifth Sunday after Pentecost.
I don't know what more can be said that hasn't already been said about the latest immigration controversy, but I can't let another week go by without acknowledging publicly that it is troubling to me, for a number of reasons.
It's troubling to me that we have allowed the immigration debate to deteriorate to the most inhumane of levels, with children being separated from their mothers and the government using scripture to justify such action.

It is troubling to me because for the first nine years of my ministry, beginning while yet in seminary, I served a mission congregation that did outreach to the emerging Latino community in the greater Canton area. When one serves among an immigrant population, the relationships developed are nearly as close as family. They are strangers in a strange land with unfamiliar customs that required getting used to. There is not a one of us who would not help a family member.
Thus, my ministry was a literally a ministry of accompaniment. I spent as much time, if not more, in courts, hospitals, chauffeuring, translating, and serving in many other ways as I did preaching and presiding at worship.
However, in light of recent developments, I imagine that immigrant communities may feel God is asleep, unaware of the storms of their lives. Like the disciples on that boat, they must also be asking, " Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?"
Many immigrants come to our borders fleeing stormy conditions that no longer make it possible for them to live in their native country; poverty, persecution, violence, wars and natural disasters. They are seeking the calmer waters of asylum or a better way of life for themselves and their families. Yet when they arrive here, instead of being welcomed, they are swamped by winds of fear and waves of marginalization, depriving them of any sense of hope.
Currently there are 11-million people living in the United States without proper documents. While the overwhelming majority are from Latin American countries, there are others from such wide-ranging areas as Ireland, Russia, the Middle East, China and other Asian countries, and the nations of Africa. Some enter the country with proper documents, such as a visa, but overstay their allotted time and are thrown into unauthorized status. Some who have been living under Temporary Protective Status, have found those protections eliminated, adding to the anxiety of their already uncertain existence.
I agree that we are a nation of laws, but I'm troubled that the current and proposed legislation stresses enforcement over the humane treatment of people.
Consider the following:
It's very likely that the fruit that you had for breakfast, or the vegetables in your salad, were picked by an undocumented immigrant farm laborer.
The landscaper who mows your lawn or trims your hedges may also not have appropriate papers.
The room where you stayed or the bed you slept in at your last hotel stay was probably cleaned and made by a maid without status.
These are jobs that few of us would ever consider doing and usually take for granted without giving a second thought.
"Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" 
Several years ago, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) published a document titled, Who is My Neighbor?
It states very clearly that: "As Lutheran Christians, we believe we practice our Christian love within a secular society and that God has called us to have concern for the whole human society in which we have been placed. The person in need is our neighbor, to whom Christ sends us in response to his love, without regard for any human wall of separation."
LIRS goes on to suggest things we can do as congregations:
  • Pray for refugees - Recognize the wonderful gifts they bring to our communities by setting aside one Sunday in the year to celebrate Refugee Sunday. (Usually the Sunday closest to June 20)
  • Educate other Lutherans - Organize a Bible Study or sermon series around immigrant or refugee issues.
  • Be a church in community - Explore opportunities to engage with refugees and immigrants.
  • Create and foster relationships with a local immigrant congregation.
I'm very aware that we are not all of one mind on this issue and I acknowledge the feelings of those who don't share the same views. I may not be able to change your mind, but I will continue to pray that even as we disagree, we do so respectfully, and continue in conversation without malice or rancor or insult.
Thanks be to God that no matter our differing opinions, we serve a Creator who loves us all in equal measure, and invites us to go and do likewise.
I will be in Houston Texas all next week with the 530+ youth and adults from Northeastern Ohio who will be attending the ELCA Youth Gathering, under the theme of "This Changes Everything."
By now regular readers to this weekly reflection know how much I value the young people of our synod. They will be returning with marvelous insights and ideas and how I ask that you open your hearts and minds and give them a chance to lead. You may be surprised and blessed by the gifts God has given them.
This week and always, may you give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.
+Bishop Abraham Allende