January 25, 2017
Then, standing there in front of the place of worship, you must pray:
My ancestor was a wandering Aramean who went to live in Egypt.
There were only a few in his family then, but they became great
and powerful, a nation of many people. Deuteronomy 26:5
Of all the descriptors God could have chosen for Abraham, and his descendants, why did God choose this one? Ironically, Abraham's homeland, the place God commanded him to leave, is the region now identified as Syria.
Why was it important for the Hebrews to remember that their story began with immigration?
This passage of scripture has spiritual and contemporary relevance for me as President Trump prepares to sign executive orders this week related to a border wall, sanctuary cities, and restricted travel to the U.S. for refugees and some visa holders of the Middle Eastern countries of Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
I am reminded that the descendants of Abraham, the father of all Abrahamic faiths, were at one time the Syrian refugees of Egypt. Why did they flee to Egypt? For many of the same reasons people from all over the world have fled to America. Facing dire consequences in their homeland, they sought a better life.
Throughout the history of this nation millions of people have left their homelands and come to America. Over the past 400 years, people have come for many reasons. Some came by a capitalistic force so inhumane that its consequences still manifest in policies and practices today. The evil reality of slavery reminds us that not all came voluntarily. Many African people were brutally transported here against their will for the exploitation their labor without pay. Others came to escape the ravages of war in their native lands. Still others have come in search of freedom from religious, ethnic, gender, and sexual persecution. And some came seeking opportunities to escape poverty and make a better life for themselves and their families. Yet no matter why or how we came to America, any greatness realized within our borders is because we are all here.
The words of President Barack Obama ring resoundingly in my heart today, "We were strangers once, too," he said. "And whether our forebears were strangers who crossed the Atlantic, or the Pacific, or the Rio Grande, we are here only because this country welcomed them in, and taught them that to be an American is about something more than what we look like, or what our last names are, or how we worship."
Hebrew scripture reminds us that the Egyptians grew in their disdain for the refugees in their midst. They treated them poorly and subjected them to unfair labor laws. The Egyptians Empire unfairly targeted the Hebrew refugees with propaganda campaigns designed to turn the Egyptian people against them by portraying the Hebrews as evil and a threat. Such narratives are always necessary to move the masses to act inhumanely. It is difficult to consciously oppress people we do not first detest.
So God, in God's infinite wisdom, cautioned those preparing to come and offer the first fruits of their bounty to God in worship to always remember. To remember that though they became a powerful nation, their ancestor was a homeless Aramean, who sought refuge in a foreign land.
My prayer today and always: "He who has ears, let him hear."
Rev. Traci D. Blackmon
Acting Executive Minister of Justice & Witness
The United Church of Christ
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