Deuteronomy 10:17-22

A sermon preached by Stephanie Arnold

July 8, 2007

Deuteronomy 10:17-22

For the LORD, your God,
is the God of gods, the LORD of lords, the great God, mighty and
awesome, who has no favorites, accepts no bribes; 18 who executes
justice for the orphan and the widow, and befriends the alien, feeding
and clothing them. 19 So you too must befriend the alien, for you
were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt. 20 The LORD, your
God, shall you fear, and him shall you serve; hold fast to him and
swear by his name. 21 God is your glory and your God, who has done
for you those great and terrible things which your own eyes have
seen. 22 Your ancestors went down to Egypt seventy strong, and now
the LORD, your God, has made you as numerous as the stars of the
sky.

* * * * * * * * * * *

I love the comments that the children make during the Time With
Children. They often make me think, catch me off guard and even
set me straight.-(Amanda reminded me that grape juice can't be eaten).

If you were here last Sunday, I had a bunch of grapes in my hand.
Innocently, I asked the children "where did these grapes come
from?" I'm thinking that they come from vines or seeds or maybe
even from California. Quite honestly one of the children answered
"you got them from the store" – and that was right-I bought
them at the store.

I then asked, "what does it takes to get grapes?" I was
thinking sunshine, rain, etc. But a bright child gave me a different
answered– "money, money is what it takes to get grapes."
Another right answer that I wasn't expecting. As I was reminded,
you do indeed get grapes from the store with money-they certainly
set me straight.

But, when we think that money and stores are the only places that
our food comes from, we miss a large part of the puzzle.

Most of us in today's society are a few steps removed from where
our food begins and what it takes to get it to our plates. Somewhere
out there,
the seeds are planted,
they are watered and then harvested,
they are washed,
some are canned and shipped and
sometimes even prepared for us.

Often this happens without our knowledge. Out of sight, out of
mind.

It was after a late night-movie in school that I found myself with
some friends near a Taco Bell. While we pondered the wisdom and
(possible repercussions) of a late night Taco Bell experience, a
seminary colleagues explained that she would not eat there. She
explained that the PCUSA was boycotting Taco Bell, though she wasn't
exactly sure why… something about tomatoes. That was the last
I heard about it for a while. I guess I was too busy to find out
more information.

Later, I head of another initiative… the PC(USA) along with
other denominations and groups helped organize and support the efforts
of another boycott-this time cucumbers were the target. As a denomination,
we took a stand particularly against Mt. Olive pickles. "The
Great Pickle Boycott" was on.

These stands and initiatives were taken not because we don't like
tomatoes or cucumbers, though that might make us very popular with
many children, and even some adults. Instead we are in favor of
protecting those who work to bring us our food.

The decision to support the farm workers was not without a great
deal of debate, particularly here in our presbytery. The whole denomination
wanted to boycott a corporation that is right here in our own backyard.
I'm told it was a heated discussion on our presbytery floor. But
in the end, we decided to join the nation-wide effort.

I am proud to say that agreements were made in both cases that
were in everyone's best interest-both the farm workers and the corporations.
By March 2005, both of the multi-year boycotts were over.

Agreements were made with the business owners and the farm worker
coalitions. They increased the wages and improved the living conditions
of those who provide the vegetables that are used in making pickles,
nachos and tacos were afforded better circumstances. And as a result,
at least one church in our presbytery was spurred to action, creating
ministries of hospitality for migrants and farm workers.

The increase that was given to the farm workers was certainly not
huge. I imagine you haven't even noticed it at the grocery store
or restaurant. If you were like me, you may not have even realized
that there was a pickle or Taco Bell boycott. But now the farm workers
earn about one cent more per bushel. There are not many farm worker
who will get rich on that scheme, but it is the first raise in almost
20 years. In fact, here in NC, to earn $50, a person still has to
pick over 2 tons of tomatoes or sweet potatoes. That's two tons
of vegetables. That's a lot of veggies.

Why would the Presbyterian church get involved-
isn't it a purely political problem?
Isn't it "not our problem"?
Isn't it possibly divisive issue?
Aren't there more important things to do?
What does our treatment of farm workers have to do with the gospel?
Why would we even take a Sunday to even think about farm workers?

I believe that it is a deeply theological issue. The way we treat
others- whether they are farm workers, doctors, lawyers, migrant
workers, musicians, teachers, business-owners, waitresses or anyone
else, and particularly those who serve us is indeed an important
theological. The way we treat others is a theological issue.

I know that today the issue of immigration is huge in our country.
Immigration issues have been discussed in the halls of Congress,
all of the media outlets, some of the water-coolers, many Sunday
school classes and in quite a few homes across the nation. I admit
that I do not envy our political leaders. The issue is extremely
complex. I wish I could tell you "the" answer– the one
that extends hospitality, justice, legalism and grace. If you've
come today hoping to find "the" answer, I'm afraid I can't
give it.

I do believe that there are faithful Christians who take a wide
variety of positions on the issues. If I surveyed the congregation,
I am convinced that if there are 362 people in this sanctuary, I'll
find that there are at least 425 different understandings and opinions
on this issue. Wherever you stand on the immigration debate is beside
the point.

What I do know is what Christ has called us to do-and that is to
love our neighbors. -the guest workers, farm workers, the strangers,
those in our midst, we are to care for them and about them. While
not all farm workers are immigrants, we are called to care for and
offer hospitality those who harvest our food.

Our Christian story is deeply rooted in the story of both migrants
and, of course, food. Ours is a story of a people without a home,
seeking an identity. For the Israelites, the most pivotal story
was that of liberation from slavery in Egypt. The people had been
enslaved, making bricks, working in the fields for over 400 years.
They were strangers in a strange land, wanting a different life.

But God heard the cries of the people and empowered Moses to lead
the people from bondage. For 40 years after that they wandered-a
people without a home. God led them to the Promised Land. During
their time in the Promised Land, there were many ups and downs.
They lived, sometimes in prosperity and sometimes in want. Sometimes
they followed God's laws and sometimes they forgot to listen to
God. Sometimes they treated strangers with hospitality and they
treated strangers with contempt.

Eventually, they were invaded and enslaved by the Babylonians. Yet
again, they were a people without a home, longing to go home. Yet
again they were strangers in a strange land.

They were ultimately released from bondage from the Babylonians
and returned back to Jerusalem.

Throughout it all, God continued to remind them – over 30 times
throughout the Old Testament, that they were to have compassion
and hospitality for the strangers among them. In today's text we
hear God reminding them again, "So you too must befriend the
alien, for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt."
This is a refrain that is heard over and over again. It is by the
grace of God that you are where you are-don't forget that. "There
but by the grace of God go I."

Similarly, food plays a huge part in the story of our faith. Jesus,
himself, was not a farmer, but he lived in an arid, struggling land,
a rural nation. He understood the daily life of the ones who toiled
hard to provide enough food for family tables. He saw the essence
of life in the basic physical elements necessary to support life.

Jesus also knew the importance of food-food nourishes, but more
than that, it creates hospitality and welcome. Jesus uses food as
an example or context over 80 times in the gospel stories. Food
is the second most talked about topic by Jesus-second only to money.

We hear stories with fish,
loaves of bread,
grapes and vineyards,
mustard seeds,
fruit trees and fig trees,
elaborate wedding feasts
and, of course, sharing private Passover meals in upper rooms with
his disciples.

Today, it's easy to tell the health of a church by the way it eats.
By those standards, we're doing really well around here!

On a mission trip in rural Maine, many years ago, I was charged
with supplying the evening devotion/lesson. Instead of making them
listen to me rattling on for a while, I thought it would be fun
to play a game. The whole group was divided into 3 smaller groups
by tables. I pointed to some of the corn on the serving line that
we would be eating later.

I told them that Martin Luther King said, "Before you finish
eating breakfast this morning, you depended on half the world."
In 5 minutes, they had to list as many people who were involved
in getting the corn to the table. The group with the longest list
got to eat first-nothing like a little motivation to get the creative
juices flowing. In the end, they listed 115 different people involved
in getting the corn to their plates….
The farmer who owns the land
The cook who prepared it
The farm worker who picked the corn
The person at the canning factory who ran the labeling machine
The person who made the tractor that tilled the land
The person who sold the gas to power the tractor
The factory worker who made the tires for the tractor
The factory worker who made the car that got the person to the factory
in order to make the tractor-(I'm pretty sure I didn't count that
one.)

Perhaps it was the reward at the end, but I was impressed with
the list of people that they came up with. One of the girls said,
"you know, with all of those people touching my food, it almost
seems dirty. It's amazing how many people are involved in getting
my food to the table. I'd never thought of that-it really is a big
world." I prayed and blessed the food and gave thanks for the
many hands involved in the preparation.

I encourage you to do the same.

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