Psalm 105:12-15, Leviticus 19:33-34, Ephesians 2:15-20
If you have ever been hiking in a forest you will probably remember that the trail often changes. At times a trail is more like a road. Perhaps it was an old railroad bed turned into a bike path. At other times it might be a single track—a narrow groove of bare ground which weaves through the forest. On several occasions I’ve been on such trails which are not used often and it takes careful observation to detect the path and keep on track. In most of cases there is some sort of marker on rocks or trees. Most typically these are swatches of paint which correspond to the particular trail. Yesterday morning I was running on several types of trail. We set off well before sunrise and so were carrying lights. The trails were muddy from the rain—very muddy. Since this was a race they put up temporary markers on the trees which corresponded to the race you were running. We started on a paved road in the park, then switched to gravel road after a mile, and then hit the real trail. Because the terrain was flat and often muddy the trail had become quite wide from people trying to get around the puddles. I couldn’t really see the markers because my flashlight’s batteries were pretty weak but also because my eyes were attentively watching the trail so as not to trip or slip or otherwise wreck. While the markers led the way, on this path we still needed to find the best way forward. There was certainly a path, but unlike a single track trail there was still discernment needed on the way forward.
As I was running yesterday I was thinking about this Sunday’s reflection (I imagine I may have been the only runner out of several hundred thinking about a sermon). As I sloshed along and followed my color ribbon (orange), I thought that these passages are markers for us. They are markers which set a direction. The markers set a direction but do not provide a detailed outline which cannot be interpreted in different ways drawn up precisely for this context. These markers do, however, set a direction. So when we read in Leviticus 19:33-34
33 When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. 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.
When we read this we see a very particular instruction which shapes our direction. God values welcoming the “alien”—that is, the one who is from somewhere else. This is more complicated because it is written to the people of Israel which were both a religious and political entity before the formation of the modern nation-state and before Jesus came and called a people which crossed such ethnic, linguistic, regional, and cultural boundaries. None-the-less the passage points to God valuing and commanding a position of welcome and a position of not oppressing.
Another marker which we read today was Ephesians 2:15-20,
15 He [Jesus] has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16 and might reconcile both groups to God in one body[a] through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.[b] 17 So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 18 for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20 built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.[c]
In this passage Jesus is theologized as the one who broke down the dividing walls between people. This is what I was referring to when I noted how the Leviticus passage about welcoming the stranger is somewhat complicated. Whereas God’s people were limited in scope Jesus broke this open. The 3 verses before our passage read, 12 remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.
“he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.”
These passages are markers which guide and shape our thinking. As we hear Mehmet sharing about the situation of Syrian refugees in his home country of Turkey let us consider how we live in light of the markers and his testimony.