the one about foreigners...
May 30, 2016, 9:00 AM

Sermon from May 29, 2016

Text: 1 Kings 8:22-3, 41-43 and Luke 7: 1-10

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, recently I was gifted the chance to reminisce a bit about my time abroad. As many of y’all know, I was lucky enough to live in a foreign country for a significant portion of my life. In 1992, my mom – who is a retired navy nurse – was stationed in Naples, Italy. For four years we got to live in a place that people only dream about living. Not necessarily dreaming of living in Naples per say, but living in Italy and Central Europe.

One of my friends and colleagues is soon going to be moving to Stuttgart, Germany because his wife accepted an incredible job to work in the American schools there as an occupational therapist. Naturally, they are very excited and they asked me to come over to talk to their young sons about what life is like living in a foreign country at their age.

One of the more profound things I believe I said – mixed deeply into the myriad of random statements about living in another country – was that being foreigner in a foreign land has helped me not only make me the person I am today, but I think a better pastor. Their oldest boy responded, ‘Yeah, I can see how that could be! Foreigners aren’t bad since you were one too!’

I thought that was pretty good for an 11 year-old to pick up on who is on the cusp of being a distinct ‘outsider’ in a new land and place. There will still be others like him and his family. Fellow Americans to live around, talk, share, and be with. But, they will still be a small minority amongst a vast majority of people who have a different cultural, speak a different language, and have different views on life.

I started thinking about all this again as I read our first lesson this morning.

Here we have King Solomon praying to God before the altar of the Lord. And within his prayer (which quite a bit gets skipped over too I might add) he includes a petition aimed at foreigners in the land of Israel.

Now, I thought that what Solomon lifts up to God about foreigners is pretty incredible – especially in the world and climate we live in today. The views that many take towards those who are not ‘from here’ today were pretty similar to the way that many felt during the early times that these scriptures were written. There is the thought that if things are ‘bad’ in the place we live; it must be because of those people are not from here.

They are the cause.

They are the problem.

They are not like us.

They have to go.

In fact, it is probably the single most-known platform that one of the myriad individuals running for president these past eight months has stood on.

Yet, contrary to that viewpoint – take a look at what King Solomon says again – when a foreigner – a person not of Israel – comes from a distant land – hear them.

When they come and pray. Listen O Lord.

When they come because they have heard of your great name, mighty hand, and your outstretched arm. Do according to all that they call to you.

This is not the typical prayer that would’ve been directed at foreigners – not only during Solomon’s time, but for what appears to be quite a few people during our day and age as well.

Hear, listen, and do according to all that they ask.

That’s just crazy talk right?

Well – God is kind of crazy – in a good way.

The prayer that Solomon invokes is that of a God who cares for those who call and come and seek refuge. God’s great name, mighty hand, and outstretched arm.

Outstretched arms are those images of drawing one in a close embrace, of invitation to join the group, of showing the grand richness shared with all.

Solomon is calling upon God not to shun, drive out, and rid the land of those who are different, but calling and pulling into the lands and people of Israel those who are outside. That the God of Israel hears their prayers and is their God too. That the God of Israel is not exclusive to those who are Hebrews and Israelites.

This thought again pervades even in our Gospel text. This is another story of a foreigner who is not of the people of Israel.

He’s a leader. An authority figure. An occupier. A Roman. Not a Jew.

Yet, he is an atypical Roman figure in this land. He cares and knows. He helped build a synagogue for the people – a place that he himself perhaps worships in. And he calls upon Jesus to help one within his own household. A worker, a slave.

Again – this is not your typical Roman leader. He cares for the lowly – the one who is more than likely – a foreigner too.

This centurion calls upon Jesus – someone different from him; different culture, different values, difference views – and asks Jesus to help his slave. He calls upon Jesus because he knows and has faith in what Jesus can do and who is potentially is.

Jesus is amazed at this man’s faith. This figure of authority who comes to him for help. The foreigner who sees the work and presence of God in our Lord.

Foreigners abound!

As I talked to these young boys as they soon begin their life living as foreigners in a strange land, I cannot help, but remember my time in their position as well. Learning the ability to look and be with someone who is different because you were an outsider once too. That as I looked upon them I could see that they weren’t all that different from me.

We shared, laughed, and liked much of the same things.

Yet, we all introduced one another to the wonders of our own cultures. Never presuming that ‘mine’ was better than ‘yours.’

At the core – as I look back on it now and as I am able to tell and share with these young kids – we remember that though there are those from other distant lands – God, our God, hears and listens.

God has stretched out arms of welcome and invitation bringing all into the embrace of love and relationship that is for all people.

The ministry of Christ shows us and calls us to a life that is lived for others – not just the ones who look, talk, act, and dress like us.

Being with others, not sending them away. Finding grace and love within their lives, not looking for fears or worries. Praying out to God to hear and listen to them too as we pray for God to listen to us. Maybe, maybe – our prayers aren’t as dissimilar as we might think. Amen.

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