July 2, 2017
Romans 6:12-23, Matthew 10:40-42
It is wonderful to have the freedom to walk outside and not worry too much about our safety. Sure, we are not immune to violence and terror in our country. However, in most of our cities, we are not surrounded by it daily. Our sisters and brothers around the world are not always as fortunate.
Diana and Julio and their daughter Elena fled violence in Colombia and were on their way to seek refugee protection in Canada when Diana was arrested in Detroit because she could not show her passport, which had been stolen. Alone in a strange city, Julio happened to meet a local store owner who told him about Freedom House, a Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service partner that provides temporary housing for those seeking legal protection in the United States or Canada. The staff of Freedom House, which is partially funded through LIRS’s Asylum and Immigration grant program, was stunned by the story and immediately offered shelter to Julio and Elena. They facilitated phone calls and visits while Diana was held for four months at a women’s prison three hours away. A Freedom House attorney arranged to represent Diana and helped the family navigate the legal channels to get to their destination in Canada. When Diana was finally released, staff and other residents gathered excitedly in the Freedom House kitchen. When she entered the house, everyone began to clap and cry as Diana held her daughter and embraced her husband again.[i]
Rehema Ngoka has had the opportunity to come to the United States, specifically Northwest Arkansas. In this, he has experienced the grace of God. He came to the US from Congo and said of the US, “We are free. We are free. There is no genocide here!”
The United States has been a country of welcome and that is what the Statue of Liberty symbolizes. This long fourth of July weekend gives us the opportunity to not only give thanks for our independence, it also is an opportunity to celebrate the diversity and welcoming nature this country was built on.
While we have turned caring for the stranger into a political issue, it truly speaks to the heart of the gospel. The gospel in which Jesus Christ lived out for each one of us present here this morning. Every one that is not with us. Every one that has been created in the image of God. The gospel is for all of creation.
In Paul’s letter to the Romans this morning he brings a message of hope. First, we must face the reality that we do live in sin as a called people of God. We are far from being perfect and as I preached last week, we will go right out and commit the same sins we did the week before. That is part of human nature. We can grow in our relationship with Christ as much as we want, however, we will still sin. It will help, but we will once again slip up and do the things we know we shouldn’t.
The problem as Paul underscores in this selection from Romans is that we are not to be slaves to sin. To be honest with ourselves, we are all slaves to something. This is a hard truth to digest when we live in a country that has had such a negative connotation to slavery. Another possible translation is servant. What are we serving in our lives? Are we serving our own personal desires, or are we caring for others and sharing when the opportunity presents itself?
The amount of support that came together for the recent Iraqi Christians that were detained in Detroit reflects the gospel. To send these undocumented immigrants back to Iraq in the current environment of their home country would most likely equate to a death sentence.
The question that we should be asking ourselves is to whom or what are we being a servant? Are we serving God through our words and actions, or are we serving something else that does not represent Christ in this world? Are we truly living out our calling as people of God in this world, or are we bowing down to those ideas and material things that benefit us most?
Christ has called each of us into a relationship with him. A relationship in which we become servants for Christ. We are called to become servants of obedience as we listen for God’s word in our life. It is this calling and Christ’s action on the cross that we have been freed from sin.
Will we still commit sin? Of course, we will. But through the grace of God, we are promised eternal life. A life that is fulfilling in this world as well. God is calling us to live into this promise today. To welcome the triune God into our daily tasks and to begin living into our true selves. This is the hope Paul brings to u in his letter.
In Matthew’s gospel this morning, we hear the promise of welcoming Christ into our lives. To welcome Christ means to welcome grace. A grace that moves beyond our sins and makes us new. This grace grows as we reach out to our brothers and sisters, for “whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”
On July 18 at 3:00 pm here at Trinity, we will begin a journey with our sisters and brothers in the UCC and Methodist churches. We will listen and learn how we can bring the presence of Christ to those in the Immigrant Detention Center in Port Huron. You are all welcome to come and find out more.
As a church, we are called to welcome. What is stopping us from living this in the rest of our lives?
Let us pray…
God of all creation, be with us in this time and place as we struggle to find ways that keep us safe, yet welcome the stranger. May we place our faith in your love and grace alone that to welcome in is to also welcome you. Amen.
[i] Story from Welcoming Families bulletin insert, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service