Archives For Leviticus

illegalscrossingfence-1As the Senate passed an immigration bill this week, a bill which faces long odds in the House, I thought it would be appropriate to repost a portion of United Methodist Bishop Will Willimon‘s thoughts on immigration legislation.

Below is an excerpt of a letter he wrote to the Gov of Alabama 2 years ago in response to that state’s harsh immigration law. You can read about it here.

Will Willimon is no one’s definition of a liberal.

Here, his thoughts are challenging, nonpartisan…Christian.

We know that many…well-meaning individuals…are worried about employment in this fragile economy and some feel that the government is strained to pay for services like health care, police and fire protection, and education for those who may be here illegally.

As Christian ministers, however, we believe [anti-immigrant sentiment] contradicts the essential tenets of the Christian faith.

Scripture is filled with examples of God’s people wandering as “aliens and strangers.”

In the Old Testament, God reminds the people, “You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt (Exodus 22:21).”

Jesus told parables about people like the Good Samaritan – someone who was not considered a true Jewish citizen – stopping to help a battered and beaten man while the leaders of the people passed him by.

And the apostle Paul taught us that in Christ there is “no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, but all are one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).”

We believe that God’s call for the United Methodist church is to be a church for ALL people, to be in ministry to ALL people. United Methodists welcome all people, regardless of immigration or citizenship status, to our churches, activities, and programs.

Many of our fastest growing churches are Spanish-speaking, and we do not check people’s immigration status at the door. In response to Jesus’ admonition in the parable of the Last Judgment to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, clothe the naked and welcome the stranger, many churches have ministries to care for those who are poor by providing them with food, shelter, and transportation.

Again, we do not check people’s immigration status before inviting them into our church vans and cars.  We United Methodist clergy will continue to be in ministry to all people and we call on all United Methodists to do the same.

 

 

12EVANGELICALsub-articleLargeThis past Sunday our scripture text was Romans 3.9-20, a passage that begins with Paul reiterating the Torah’s insistence that ‘no is righteous, not one.’

Like much of what Paul writes, that phrase is meant to be a breadcrumb trailing the reader back to a story in the Hebrew Bible. In this case, Genesis 18, the story of Abraham negotiating with God over the imminent destruction of Sodom.

In my children’s story, I retold the narrative of Abraham going back and forth with God, pleading with God to spare Sodom if only 50 righteous people could be found in it…only 45 righteous people could be found…and so forth until…zero, nada.

I left out of my children’s story the actual destruction of Sodom, even I have boundaries. I don’t mind telling kids violent stories as long as its not God doing the wielding.

I also left out, to one person’s mind who was leaving worship perturbed with me, the reason for Sodom’s destruction: homosexuality.

To conflate the issue of homosexuality with the destruction of Sodom is not only a gross adventure in misreading the text, it’s simply anachronistic. It’s true a sordid little confrontation happens in Sodom in the next chapter of Genesis, an encounter from which we now unfortunately derive the word ‘sodomy,’ but that’s actually quite irrelevant as God had already determined Sodom should be destroyed.

And why was Sodom on God’s s$%^ list?

The Book of Ezekiel provides the answer, making it all the more infuriating that people read homosexuality into the passage:

Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy.”  

–  Ezekiel 16:49

Christians can (and do) debate homosexuality but the biblical passages that discuss homosexuality are few and, narratively, incidental.

By contrast, how God’s People relate to ‘the stranger in your land’ is a core confession of scripture.

God explicitly commands we extend compassion and care to the alien. What’s more this isn’t but one command among many but it’s rooted firmly in remembering our core identity. We love the alien in our land because once we were aliens in the land of Egypt.

Much like bread, wine, lamb and bitter herbs, our loving relationship with the immigrant recalls the Exodus story- the story of the Old Testament and the guiding metaphor in the New.

This year we kicked-off a new youth group experience for 4th and 5th graders I developed called Tribe Time, in which every session is playfully grounded in the Book of Leviticus.

While most adults shy away from it, Leviticus’ combination of gross, random imagery and moral stipulations makes it good fodder for training in the virtues.

You can check out the sessions outline for Tribe Time here: Tribe Time Sessions Outline

My point is that we have 80 kids in Tribe Time who all know that God commands us to welcome, love and respect the immigrants in our land because once we were in their shoes. And yet most church-going adults in America do not sense that immigration is in any way a theological or biblical concern.

One hears many warnings that welcoming immigrants will be the undoing of the American way of life. One does not hear many any warnings that failing to love the immigrant will be the undoing of our Christian way of life.

That this is so is but another indication, I think, that most of us are more truly formed not by the story of Israel/Christ but by the story called America.

Here’s a good, fair-minded piece from the NY TImes about how immigration is being rethought in many evangelical circles.

IMMIGRATION reform is not a liberal idea. It is good, old-fashioned conservative policy — at least that’s what its supporters want the Republican faithful to believe.

The Republican Party has “historically been pro-immigration,” Grover Norquist, the anti-tax activist, said after the 2012 election. The conservative National Immigration Forum declaresthat America needs reform that “celebrates freedom and values hard work.”

Some of the most enthusiastic endorsements of the new immigration bill have come from traditional evangelicals, who insist that reform “respects the God-given dignity of every person.” Richard Land, a Southern Baptist leader who was among the 300 evangelicals who went to Washington last month for “a day of prayer and action for immigration reform,” said that once Republicans toned down their anti-immigrant rhetoric, Latino voters would follow.

“They’re social conservatives, hard-wired to be pro-family, religious and entrepreneurial,” he told me. Mr. Land pointed to Senator Marco Rubio as the face of this “new conservative coalition.”

“Let the Democrats be the party of dependency and ever lower expectations,” Mr. Land added. “The Republicans will be the party of aspiration and opportunity — and who better to lead the way than the son of Cuban immigrants?”

The Christian right may be too optimistic about any change in the political sympathies of Latinos. Increasing numbers tell pollsters they favor same-sex marriage, for example. But the real surprise is that evangelicals may be wrong about the unyielding conservatism of their own movement.

Evangelicals’ growing support for immigration reform suggests an important shift in how conservative Protestants — who policed the boundaries of our national identity for almost four centuries — think about what it means to be American. It may also point to the beginnings of real change in how evangelicals understand the problem of justice in a fallen world, and the challenge that Latino and other minority Christians pose to the assumptions of the culture wars.

From the anti-Catholic paranoia of the Know-Nothings in the 1850s to today’s Tea Party tirades about immigrants’ taking American jobs, each wave of nativist hysteria has had its own enthusiasms. But all have feared that newcomers would subvert democracy and sabotage citizens’ claim to the American dream. Racism often inflamed this anxiety (Benjamin Franklin worried about the influx of Germans settling in Pennsylvania and doubted that they could ever “acquire our Complexion”).

Yet the more basic fear — underlying warnings that Irish Catholics corrupted elections by voting in blocs or, more recently, that undocumented Mexicans and their “anchor babies” sponge off the welfare state — has always been this: These foreigners don’t respect our values and if we let them in, they will destroy us.

For much of American history, most white Protestants shared in the belief that immigrants were vectors of anti-democratic viruses like Catholicism, anarchism and Bolshevism. Although by the 1950s liberal mainline Protestants had come around to the idea of relaxing immigration restrictions, the conservative National Association of Evangelicals opposed the liberalizing reform act of 1965, fearing “infiltration by influences subversive of the American way of life.”

Today, the culture wars and the constant skirmishes over the size and scope of the welfare state have convinced conservatives that the country’s direst enemies are not “subversive” foreigners, but homegrown liberals.

International experience has connected more American evangelicals to Christians living in immigrant-sending countries, and they now view them as ideological allies. Organizations ranging from Focus on the Family to Anglican splinter churches have been building relationships in the global south for decades. They have come to see Latin Americans and Africans as defenders of traditional gender roles and Christian civilization.

“We have a very positive ‘immigration problem’ in this country, in that the Latino community coming in, both legally and illegally, generally possesses a value system that is compatible with America’s value system,” Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family, told me.

It’s true that Latino Americans tend to be religious (according to Gallup, 54 percent are Catholic and 28 percent are Protestant). However, even those at the forefront of collaboration with white evangelicals stress that important differences remain. Jesse Miranda is a Pentecostal who founded a national organization for Latino Protestants, Alianza de Ministerios Evangélicos Nacionales (AMEN), in 1992. “We used the term ‘evangélico’ when I founded AMEN, and said we won’t use the word ‘evangelical’ so the media won’t identify us with our white brethren,” he said.

Most Latino evangelicals are recent converts to Protestantism with no stake in the battles between fundamentalists and modernists that divided white Protestants a hundred years ago, or in the more recent campaigns of the Christian right. They care more about education for their children than quarreling over the theory of evolution.

This difference is not just political, but theological, and has consequences for the fate of illegal immigrants. For a Christian, the question of whether an undocumented immigrant is a criminal or a victim trapped in an unjust system depends on how one thinks about sin and human responsibility.

A century ago, preachers of the “Social Gospel” argued that sin was not only a matter of personal depravity: it was also a social problem. Our society, built by flawed human beings, is full of institutionalized sin, of greed and cruelty cemented in the structures that govern our lives.

The theologian Walter Rauschenbusch lamented in 1913 that “as long as a man sees in our present society only a few inevitable abuses and recognizes no sin and evil deep-seated in the very constitution of the present order, he is still in a state of moral blindness.” He urged Christians “to see through the fictions of capitalism.”

Conservative evangelicals decried Social Gospelers as liberals who replaced soul-winning with social work — or worse, socialism. They stressed personal responsibility and argued that genuine social change could come only through converting one sinner at a time to Christ.

Latino Protestants may share the core doctrines of white evangelicals, but not the fusion of Christianity and libertarianism that has come to pervade the right, perhaps in part because they have intimate experience with the inequalities ingrained in American institutions.

They have left their forefathers’ faith, but they tend to retain the common Catholic conviction that being “pro-life” requires combating social injustice and reining in capitalism when necessary. In 2011 the polling organization Latino Decisions found that although Latinos are committed to the American ideal of self-sufficiency and hard work, most don’t believe the free market can solve all problems. “Minority citizens prefer a more energetic government, by large and statistically significant margins,” wrote the organization’s researchers Gary Segura and Shaun Bowler. In 2012, 71 percent of Latinos voted for President Obama.

Americans’ opinions on immigration have always been connected to their broader ideas about the role of government authority. The platform of 19th-century nativists contained more than racist invective. It also proposed strong states’ rights, a smaller standing army and tight limits on government expenses — all to preserve the American ideal of the independent yeoman free to defend his homestead from crowned tyrants and foreign invaders.

White evangelical leaders are loudly rejecting the xenophobia of their ancestors, though most still cherish that old libertarian creed. It

Today at sundown Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, begins. It’s been my experience that Christians know very much about Passover, since the links to the Passion story are explicit in the Gospels, but know very little about Yom Kippur (or the other Jewish Holy Days) and how they interact with and inform what the Gospel writers were attempting to convey.

Another reason why Christians don’t know much about Yom Kippur is that it’s outlined in the Book of Leviticus, probably the most neglected book of the Old Testament by Christians. Recovering the connection is key, though, because many Christians believe Jesus suffered God’s wrath towards us on the Cross in his body. But Yom Kippur isn’t about suffering wrath, it’s about removing sin.

The ancient church fathers believed the Book of Hebrews was originally one long sermon on Leviticus 16, which would make it longer even than one of Dennis’ sermons.

Leviticus 16 details God’s instructions to Moses for the Jewish Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur.

Yom Kippur revolves around the high priest. The person who represents all of God’s people, the only person who can ever venture beyond the temple veil and into the Holy of Holies, where the ark and the presence of God reside, and ask God to remove his people’s sins.

Remember, in the Hebrew Bible God is a consuming, refining fire.

And as much as God loves us and as much as we love God, in the Hebrew Bible no one can come near God’s presence.

And live.

So when the high priest enters the Holy of Holies, he risks his life.

And because of that, every detail of every ritual matters.

The high priest must bath the right way.

The high priest must dress the proper way.

The high priest must make prescribed sacrifices for his sin and his family sin.

When he’s done with the preparation, the high priest is brought two goats.

Lots are cast so that God’s will would be done.

One goat is sacrificed to cleanse the temple of sin. The second goat is brought to him alive. The high priest lays both his hands on the head of the goat and then confesses onto it all the iniquities of the people of Israel. The priest removes all the people’s sins and places them on the goat. And after the priest’s work was finished, the goat would bear the people’s sin away in to the wilderness.

The wilderness symbolized exile and forsakenness and death.

The high priest transfers the sins of the people onto the goat and then the goat is sent away to where the wild things are.  You see, Yom Kippur isn’t about God wanting to punish you for your sin.

Yom Kippur’s about God wanting to remove your sin.

The Day of Atonement is not about appeasing an angry, petty God.  It’s about God removing that which separates us from God and from each other and sending it away so that it’s not here anymore.

While the high priest prayed over the goat, the king of the Jews would undergo a ritual humiliation to repent of his people’s sins: he’d be struck, his clothes would be torn, the king would ask God to forgive his people for they know not what they do.

When the high priest’s work is done, the goat’s loaded with all the sins of the people. Chances are, you wouldn’t want to volunteer to lead that goat out into the wilderness. So the man appointed for the task would be a Gentile. Someone with no connection to the people of Israel. Someone who might not even realize that what they’re doing is a dirty job. That Gentile would lead the goat away with a red cord wrapped around its head- red that symbolized sin.

The name for the goat is ahzahzel. It’s where we get the word ‘scapegoat.’

Ahzahzel means ‘taking away.’

The Gentile would lead the scapegoat into exile while the people shouted ‘ahzahzel.’

Take it away. Take our sin away.

So that it’s not here anymore.

 

The Gospels all say Jesus dies during the Passover Feast not Yom Kippur.

But I’m not sure it’s as simple as that.

Because the Gospels tell you the calendar says Passover, but what they show you looks an awful lot like the Day of Atonement.

The Gospels show you Jesus being arrested and brought to whom?

The high priest.

The Gospels show you the high priests accusing Jesus of blasphemy, placing what they say is guilt and sin upon him when in reality all they’re doing is transferring their own guilt onto him.

The Gospels show you Pilate’s men ritually humiliating this ‘King of the Jews.’ Mocking him. Casting lots before him. Tearing his clothes off him.

And then wrapping a branch of thorns around his head until a cord of red blood circles it.

The Gospels tell you that the calendar says Passover, but what they show you is Pilate holding Jesus out to the crowd and Pilate asks the crowd what to do with Jesus.

And what do the crowds shout? Not ‘Crucify him!’ Not at first.

First, the crowds shout ‘Take him away!’

Then they shout ‘Crucify him!’ (John 19.15)

The Gospels tell you that the calendar says Passover, but what they show then is Jesus being led away, like an animal, with a red ring around his head, with shouts of ‘ahzahzel’ ringing in the air- led away from the city by Gentiles to Golgotha.

A garbage dump.

A barren place where some of his last words will be ‘My God why have you forsaken me?’

The Gospels tell you its Passover, but what they show you isn’t a Passover Lamb but a Scapegoat.

This is what the Gospels show you when Jesus breathes his last and the veil of the temple- the entrance to the Holy of Holies- is torn in two, from top to bottom.

This is what the Gospels show you when they quote the prophet Isaiah:

‘He has born our grief.’

‘He has carried our sorrow.’

‘Laid on him is the iniquity of us all.’ Those are all references to Leviticus.

This is what the Gospel shows you at the very beginning right after the Christmas story when John the Baptist points to Jesus and says he’s the one who ‘ahzahzels the sins of the world.’

This is what St Paul alludes to when he says that because of Jesus Christ ‘nothing can now separate us from God.’

The Gospels tell you the calendar says Passover, but what they show you is a Day of Atonement.

Unlike any other.