Worship April 25, 2021
The Lord our God is God of gods and Lord of lords —
The God who is mighty and awesome,
The One who has no favorites,
The God who extends justice to the orphan and the widow.
How do we show our love for God? How do we show we are God’s people?
By loving the stranger for we were once strangers of God!
Loving God, you invite us again and again to redefine what love looks like among us. Continue to expand our understanding of you. Expand our sight to see each person as one who you love. As you welcome us, help us to show your expansive welcome in our community and beyond. Amen.
Hymn UMH #526 What a Friend We Have in Jesus
Scripture Deuteronomy 10: 17-19
17 For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, 18 who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. 19 You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
Meditation R.E.S.P.E.C.T. the Stranger
This is week three in a four week, plus a review week, digging into a sermon series titled “I See You”. I am reminded of the children’s little ditty – I see London, I see France, I see Debbie in her under pants. What a dumb saying, a saying used to tease or get under someone’s skin, maybe even used to bully someone. Certainly not a saying to get to know a stranger.
Our focus has been to see the people on the margins of society, and when we see them to listen to them. To really listen and not interject what we think they are saying or what they need but to listen as God listens.
Last week we talked about listening and then being compelled to act. As followers of God, our actions must always be based on God’s view of the stranger and how God calls us to love the stranger.
Have you ever felt like a stranger – out of place, felt like you did not “fit,” felt different from others around you? Perhaps you were new to a community. Perhaps you were new to a job or a classroom. Maybe you were new to a church. In these moments, how have you experienced God’s unconditional love and justice?
I have felt like a stranger a few times. Once while I was traveling in Japan. I went for an early morning walk at a park across the street from my hotel. It was a beautiful spring morning. The air was fresh, and the sky was clear. And I was a stranger in a beautiful land.
First of all and unbeknownst to me I was walking on the wrong side of the path. You see the cultural norms are different and what I thought was the correct side of the path was actually the wrong side for the direction I was going. Second my inclination while on any early morning walk is to greet others – a smile and good morning are my usual greetings no matter if I know someone or not.
Here I was with everyone moving to the opposite side of the path when they met me, and my greetings were met with silence.
I was a stranger in a land with a culture and norms that were new and different to me. Soon I felt out of place, I felt like I didn’t fit in, in fact at times I felt like I wasn’t even visible. My walk continued to the top of the hill where I found a beautiful temple type setting. It was clear that the people I met on my walk had been to this place to meditate. Not wanting to interrupt anyone I just stood back for a bit and observed and then walked back down the hill and across the street to my hotel. These fine Japanese folks and their customs were strange to me.
The Bible is clear: as children made in God’s image, we are to treat the foreigner/immigrant the stranger with empathy, compassion, justice, and inclusion. Deuteronomy 10:17-19 is not an isolated passage; it is part of a major theme throughout the Bible starting in Genesis 1 and continuing through the book of Revelation. Time and again throughout scripture God blesses those who treat the stranger with kindness, and curses those who do not.
Our scripture today says God is “not partial” and brings justice and love for all. Christians might think, “That’s more like it!” It is all about me or is that just our selfish culture. God has elected the Israelites to be God’s chosen people. This does not mean that God does not love everyone else or that we can justify division. Rather, God chooses the Israelites to be the people that reveal the character of God to the whole world and show the world what it’s like to live in covenant-faithfulness. That is precisely why they must show God’s love to the stranger. Our scripture both illustrates the foundation of God’s law and nature – unconditional love and justice- and also models specific ways to treat the foreigner: with dignity, with empathy, without partiality, and by advocating on their behalf.
In the New Testament this theme is given even greater emphasis through Jesus’ call to welcome the stranger, his ministry outside the borders of Palestine, and Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles. As God enters into human life in Jesus, God includes more and more people in the work of showing the world who God is. This does not erase the special covenant God has with the Jewish people; it is evidence of it – the world increasingly comes to know the God of Israel. As people who have been incorporated into the “new covenant” of Jesus’ blood, we too are called to treat the stranger with dignity, empathy, impartiality, and by advocating on their behalf.
In our modern society we often advocate the fear of strangers. “Stranger Danger” is what we pass on to children to warn them to be aware that people they do not know might not have their best interests at heart. … And I am certainly not advocating placing children in danger. However, perhaps we ourselves take the idea too far. God asks us in these verses to love the stranger, as he does. I do not think that necessarily means accepting candy or rides from them right away, but I submit that there are many ways to love others without placing ourselves in danger.
One of the ways we define “stranger” is people that we do not know, and another way suggested by the verses above is people who are not from our own country, or who are “not like us” in some other way, as the Hebrews and the Egyptians were different. Even when Joseph was second only to Pharoah, it tells us that the groups ate separately: “the Egyptians might not eat bread with the Hebrews; for that is an abomination unto the Egyptians.” So, even living together in the same nation, they were strangers in many ways, being different and having differing traditions and practices.
How do we love the stranger? Leviticus tells us 34 The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. (19:34).
Matthew 25:44 says then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ These verses seem to advocate treating strangers just like we treat everyone else and loving and serving them as we would a friend or a brother. The last verse especially suggests that God is a stranger to us in many ways, and that as we serve him and think about him and consider his desires, we get to know him better. And that is probably a good way to approach all non-kidnapping stranger interactions. 🙂 One of the ways to love strangers is to get to know them and consider their perspective. This helps us turn strangers into friends, even when they remain strange to us in some way. 🙂 And, honestly, aren’t we all a little strange sometimes? 🙂
The core motivation in this passage is empathy “…for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Are there any stories from your own family’s history that might help you relate to the new immigrants among us? Prof. Arthur Sutherland points out the centrality of hospitality to God’s plan. Since God will always be a stranger to us, receiving God is receiving a stranger, someone different from us (I was a Stranger: A Christian Theology of Hospitality, pg. 206). Receiving God, therefore, is an act of faith and so is receiving others.
Over time, how welcoming has our church been to the stranger? My history is short so I cannot answer this question. But many of you have been here for a long time.
If our neighborhood’s demographic has changed, does your congregation reflect that change in its make-up. If not, why? How can this passage inspire our church to become more welcoming to the stranger?
We must start by listening to those on the edge, in the margins. Once we have carefully listened, really listened we must act on what we heard and welcome the stranger into our midst.
Today, let us remember that God does not ask us only to love our families or the neighbors that live on the same street, but that he asks us to love everyone, including strangers, and even beyond strangers, enemies (Luke 6:27). Let us reach out to those that might be strange to us, in whatever way, and get to know them and work to understand their perspectives. Let us love and minister to those we come into contact with, learning to appreciate and serve people who are different than we are. Let us keep God in our thoughts so that he will not be a stranger to us, and let’s turn all the strangers and even enemies that we come in contact with into friends where possible, and even when we can’t, let’s treat them with love and respect.
Pastoral Prayer and The Lord’s Prayer
O God, in a world that seems to have gone crazy and lost its way, we come to you this morning, not just seeking answers, but seeking strength and courage for the days ahead. We pray for courage to be the people who you have called us to be –people who seek justice and peace through your love for all your people.
We struggle with questions that seem to have no answers and problems that have seemingly impossible solutions. We seem to be a deeply divided people. But as we look and listen to people around the world, so many seem divided and at war with one another either through words or worse, through guns and killing. Surely, we humans must test your patience, but we know that your love is all encompassing, never ending, always forgiving. This is our hope – that you love us unconditionally.
For we know and struggle with our imperfections and our shortcomings, know all the while that in the end it is you who loves us the most and is always there waiting for us. You are our hope for the world, and it is in this hope that we live and move and have our being.
Give us strength and courage for the days ahead. Help us to find ways to not alienate people, but to affirm all your people. Surely, we know that you love us all and consider each one of us important and a part of your creation. Help us to be more like your son who you sent to show us how to live and respect others.
Today we lift us those who are sick or hurting in any way. Give them peace and strength to face their situations. Give strength to the addicted, comfort those who are victims of violence, help us find ways to feed the hungry. But God we also lift up those who are bullies, persons who cause harm, those who feel the need to put others down through name calling and jokes. For these to need your love.
Use people in their lives to show them a different path, a path of goodness and hope. God, we ask you to help us be change agents in this world. Give us courage to speak out about our faith, to teach those around us about your love for all people, and to lead by example showing and speaking with respect to others. All these things we ask in the name of the Prince of Peace who taught his disciples to pray saying …
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen
God shows us through scripture and in our own interactions the ways being in relationship with one another changes us and blesses us along our faith journey. As God pours abundantly into our lives, we thankfully and cheerfully respond with our gifts back to God.
Special Music Praise Team Our Great God Medley Arranged by Russell Mauldin
Prayer of Dedication
Loving and merciful God, we give you thanks for your unconditional love. Help us to receive your grace and extend it to others. We offer to you all the resources you have provided, seeking their multiplication and wisdom in using them to serve all your people, regardless of their race, skin color, language, culture, socio-economic status, gender, or abilities.
As we use these offerings to serve the children of God, may we also share with them the unconditional love you so freely give us. Grant us the understanding that we may be the only Jesus some people ever meet and reflect him to others. In Jesus’ precious name, amen.
Hymn UMH #572 Pass It On
Hear this: the Lord our God is the one and only Lord.
Therefore go out into the world and love the Lord your God
with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love others as you love yourself.
And may God give you justice and freedom;
May Christ Jesus set you free for love;
and may the Holy Spirit go where you go and protect you on your way.
We go in peace to love and serve the Lord,
…In the name of Christ. Amen.