Jesus, the young Jesus, has just returned home and preaches his first sermon in his home synagogue. He reads scripture and says little. Yet, something he says makes the people in that synagogue that day so angry that they want to throw him off a cliff. What made those first century worship attenders so enraged that preacher-cide was on their minds?
What Jesus did was suggest that their God, the God of the Old Testament, often spoke to non-Israelites, like the Syrian Naaman and the widow of Zarepath. His listeners were not happy to think that God was God to others as well as themselves. Of course, this is not just a first century idea. We humans have often fashioned God into ourselves. We are heirs of a tradition that has historically claimed God as Western European. Imagine a God that speaks Spanish, or Urdu, or Quechua. That is God–still speaking, and not necessarily in English. How do we, as congregations, open ourselves to a multilingual God? How do we deepen our relationship with that God of all people? One way is to become an Immigrant Welcoming Congregation.
Just as churches became Open and Affirming and grew spiritually in their understanding of who God includes, welcoming those culturally different from us and listening to how God speaks to them in their traditions expands our understanding of God and of ourselves as human beings. It all begins in the Bible, a book that some have called the immigrants handbook because so many of its stories are about immigrants. Its stories teach about welcoming strangers and foreigners and how such relationships deepen people’s connection with God.
Your church can do more than Bible study on this issue. Some churches reach out to immigrant communities and churches, and plan programs to share food, and culture and ministries. Some congregations read books, take trips, watch videos and listen to the stories of immigrants in their communities. Getting to know this changing world and letting in those who are different is all part of God’s plan for the world. A world made of many kinds of people from many nations. All of us are born a life created by the same God. All of us are trying to make a Just World.
If you want to know more go to ucc.org and search for becoming an Immigrant Welcoming Congregation. It’s time we all did this. God has called us to open our hearts to the stranger. God has called us to welcome the foreigner in our midst. It’s part of being the church. It’s yet another way to show your love of neighbor.