e-letter 6/22/18

“Owe no one anything, except to love one another, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.”
Romans 13:8-10

For the last couple of weeks, scripture has been in the headlines, which is not something that happens much these days. This could be a good thing. Bringing scripture to bear on the everyday issues that we face as individuals and as a nation is a good thing. As followers of Jesus, we are called to view the world and the challenges we face through the lens of scripture so that we might discern how God in Christ is calling us to respond to the questions we face. But how we use scripture, how we apply it to our current context is important. Scripture must be interpreted within the wider context in which it is found. It is not always possible to make a direct connection between what a verse or two of scripture may appear to say and the issue that needs to be addressed. Furthermore, for Christians, all the “words” of scripture must ultimately be filtered through the lens of the “Word” made flesh, Jesus Christ.

In the most recent case, U.S. Attorney Jeff Sessions, who is himself a United Methodist, quoted Romans 13:1 to support the policy of separating immigrant children from their families.

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God.”

He is correct that the Apostle Paul wrote these words to the church at Rome. However, he wrote them to a particular people, Roman Christians, during a particular time, the 1st century Roman empire, dealing with a particular set of circumstances. Interpreting Paul’s words today is tricky business. In fact, one biblical scholar I consulted wrote simply that anyone seeking to interpret Paul’s words for a specific context today should this text with great caution.  It is also dangerous to take a single verse out of context.

Putting this verse in context we see that Paul writes these words in the context of several chapters that speak again and again of the necessity of love. “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good.” (12:9) “Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.” 12:13 “Overcome evil with good.” 12:21. And finally, as mentioned above, “love is the fulfilling of the law.” 13:10

What is clear from these passages taken as a whole; what is clear throughout the Old and New Testaments; and what is clear from the witness of Christ in the Gospels, is that God has called us to love and care for our neighbors, for the stranger, for those who are most vulnerable. Children certainly fall into the category of the most vulnerable no matter who their parents are, no matter what their parents have or have not done. In fact, Jesus was very clear that children have a special place in God’s Kingdom. (Matthew 19:13-15)

That said, I was very grateful to hear that the President has signed an executive order ending the practice of separating children from their parents at the US/Mexico border. This is good news and it is a start. Now we need to be concerned about where we go from here. How are these children going to be reunited with their parents? How are they going to be assisted in dealing with the trauma of separation that they have experienced? I vividly remember the time when I was about 5 and was shopping at Webb’s City (at one time the World’s Most Unusual Drug Store) with my grandfather. One minute he was right next to me and the next minute I looked up and he was gone. I was absolutely panicked, sick to my stomach and sobbing. Fortunately, a kind and safe person saw me, asked me why I was alone, took me to a manager and they paged my grandfather over the loudspeaker. (Boy was that embarrassing!) The whole incident lasted only about 10 minutes but I will never forget it! I also remember the time one of my children was lost for about 30 minutes – the most agonizing 30 minutes of my life! Another story for another day. Both events are seared in my memory and they are rather mild on the trauma scale. We need to pray for these children and for their parents and continue to hold our officials accountable until this issue is fully and finally resolved. 

I realize the US government must deal with the issue of immigration, a political football that has been tossed back and forth for too long. I know it is the responsibility of our government to protect US citizens. I also believe that we can and must be merciful and just in the ways we treat our neighbors in distress. This need not be an either/or choice. As citizens of a global, complex world, we can and we must do both. And as citizens of God’s Kingdom, we must encourage our leaders to lead with mercy, care and love, for love is the ultimate fulfillment of God’s law. And as Christ’s followers, we need to be careful that the ways we use scripture reflect the overarching character of the whole tenor of scripture – that God is love and we are called to love as God loves. As we say here at Suntree, we are called to love God, love each other, and love our neighbors in extraordinary ways.

This Sunday in worship we will be celebrating the ways this church loves our neighbors as we celebrate Youth Mission Sunday. We will be hearing testimonies from our students and adult leaders from all 3 of their summer mission experiences. We are so proud of these young people and their amazing adult leaders and look forward to worshipping and giving thanks to God for all that God has done through them as they shared the love of Jesus with neighbors in need.  So, see you in worship!

Grace and Peace,


PS. I’m grateful to the work of the United Methodist Church through “Justice for Our Neighbors” (JFON), an agency which works to support a just immigration system and provides legal support for immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers. Imagine trying to navigate our immigration system with no resources and no representation? In the days to come, I’ll be contributing to JFON to assist in this important work. If you would like to know more, visit fljfon.org for more information.