Sunday, June 24, 2018

Who do you think you are?

Scripture Job 38:1-11

38:1 Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind:
38:2 "Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?  38:3 Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me.
38:4 "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.

38:5 Who determined its measurements--surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it?  38:6 On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone  38:7 when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?  38:8 "Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb?—  38:9 when I made the clouds its garment, and thick darkness its swaddling band,  38:10 and prescribed bounds for it, and set bars and doors,  38:11 and said, 'Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stopped'?

When everything was going wrong - I’d lost my job, I was getting evicted, I had no where to go - I cried out to God and said, “Why me?  What have I done wrong this time?  I’m really trying to do all the right things.”  People said to me, “Read these very uplifting Psalms.  They will help.”  So I tried that, and the nice uplifting Psalms people suggested just made me more angry and more upset.  I wasn’t in the mood to listen to people saying how wonderful God was when I was in the depths of depression and despair.   I told my pastor and she said, “Read Job.”   So I did.  And OMG - Job was exactly what I needed.  I mean, compared to Job, I was doing very well indeed.  My problems were nothing, compared to his.

All those terrible things happened to him.  He lost everything - worldly possessions, family, health - even though he hadn’t done anything wrong.  And his friends all decided he must have been guilty of something or all these awful things wouldn’t be happening to him. They, of course, had no way of knowing that this was a test - because Satan didn’t think anyone would remain faithful to God unless they received rewards for their fidelity.   He was wrong.   In chapter 26, Job had finally had enough of his friends’ assumption that he must be guilty of something and he began to defend himself.  He listed all the possible sins and his innocence of each and every one.  He boasted of his generosity to the poor, of his care for the oppressed and the afflicted.  He spoke proudly of his devotion God and to his family.  When he finished (6 chapters later), having made it pretty clear that he believed himself to be totally righteous and blameless in every way, and never, by the way, blaming God in any way for his current situation, his friends had nothing to say, but another man, a younger one named Eliju, did.  He had sat there silently, listening respectfully, as his elders spoke, but when they were silent in the face of Job’s words, he called Job to account for having such pride in his own righteousness, exalting himself instead of God.  

And when Eliju was done God spoke, out of a whirlwind that suddenly appeared before the men, saying:
Just who do you think you are, Job?   You think you know so much about me and what I will and won’t  and can and can’t do  . . tell me, how did I contain the oceans?   And where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?   Was it you who caused the stars to sing, and the residents of heaven to shout out with joy?    I don’t think so.   You sit here bragging about your righteousness, about how good you are, about your obedience to the Law, as if it’s a big deal, somehow.  You brag about how faithful you are to me, your God, and I appreciate your fidelity, I really do, but let me tell you something, Job.  You are only doing what everyone is supposed to do - you are not all that and a bag of chips.    

There has been a great deal of uproar lately over the separation of children from their families when the family has been caught crossing our southern border illegally.   There have been demonstrations resulting in many arrests, including a number of my friends and colleagues here in the Northern California region and around the country.  There have been horrible things said on Facebook and other social media, and lots of “fake news” coming from both directions.  The cages holding children we have seen pictured are not in use by Immigration anywhere - they were pictures taken at a demonstration and then mis-used on Facebook.  The 2,000+ children being held in detention facilities have not all been kidnapped to help criminals cross the border.  Anyone trying to point out a middle path in the argument gets attacked from both sides of the issue - as has happened to me.  I have been called a hate monger from the right and a defender of immorality from the left, mainly because people made assumptions not backed up by the actual words I used.  This, by the way, is why I mostly just post cat pictures.  The middle position is rarely appreciated.  Both sides are happy to use scripture to make their points.   And I find myself wondering where “love one another”  fits in.  

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is a lifetime United Methodist, a Sunday School teacher and leader in his local United Methodist congregation, and some years back even a delegate to the General Conference.  This week over 600 United Methodist clergy and laypersons have signed a letter charging him with: child abuse, immorality, racial discrimination, for his implementation of these policies, and “dissemination of doctrines contrary to the standards of doctrine of the United Methodist Church” for his citation of Romans 13.   I will point out that it is usually a bad idea to use one sentence which appears one time in one of Paul’s letters to defend anything. This is called proof texting and has been used to defend everything from slavery to the internment of the Japanese to jailing people for being gay.  It is an especially bad idea if you happen to be a Sunday School teacher, because you should know better.  For although Paul did say “obey your government” once (and not without some limitations as to what that obedience entailed), God said ‘take care of the widow and orphan and alien among you” repeatedly.  

Deuteronomy 27:19 says “Cursed be anyone who deprives the alien, the orphan, and the widow of justice.” All the people shall say, “Amen!”

Jeremiah 22:3 Thus says the Lord: Act with justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor anyone who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place.  
Exodus 22:21 You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.

And yes, there is a difference between a resident alien and someone just arriving.   I think that detail may have been overlooked by some.  

Regardless - I believe it is wrong to separate children from their parents.  I have seen what happens to children here in the US who are removed from their parents and end up in the system for whatever reason.  Most of them end up in much better situations than those the immigrant children are living in right now. But no matter how good the living situation in foster care or whatever, they are still adversely affected by that separation for the rest of their lives.   I don’t have any solutions.  I’m not really sure why families without documentation can’t simply be returned back over the border when they are caught.  I’m not sure why the courts decided that it was unlawful to detain families together, as they did when the previous administration implemented that particular policy.  I’m certain  there are reasons I don’t understand, and may never understand.  I’m not sure what the absolute right way to go forward might be - right for the people seeking a new life, and right for the United States.  I’m simply going to pray for a solution that doesn’t include lifetime psychological and spiritual damage to the children involved.  And that doesn’t force women and children to return to situations where their lives are at risk daily.  I’m going to continue writing letters asking our leaders to find that solution - quickly.  

One thing I am sure of is that God will walk with us toward the solution, if we let him.  If we don’t decide we know more than God does. If we don’t decide that God loves some of us more than others.   If we don’t draw a line in the sand that makes coming together to find the best way forward impossible.   I am afraid we are really close to that point - the point where conversation is impossible, where listening to one another is impossible, where we have no interest in anything but defending our own rightness and our own righteousness . .  like Job.   And we know what God said to Job.  

I believe that we will find a solution if we work together, if we use our eyes and hearts to see Jesus in every person - not just the people we love, not just the immigrant children and their families, not just the people who agree with us.  But also those with whom we disagree, especially those in leadership, who themselves may well be hurting in these situations but see no other way forward.  We do not know what is in the hearts of others, but we do know that our Lord is present in each and every one of us.  

My brothers and sisters, please stand with me and sing:  "Open Our Eyes, Lord"  
Open our eyes, Lord. We want to see Jesus
to reach out and touch him, and say that we love him.
Open our ears, Lord, and help us to listen.
Open our eyes, Lord.  We want to see Jesus.

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