Amenhotep II and the Creative Use of Foreigners (NEW SERMON SERIES, Sermon One in “Lessons from Political Leaders in the Bible”)

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I.
     David Weissbrodt is the Special Rapporteur on Non-Citizens at the United Nations.  The following statement is his:  “The architecture of international human rights law is built on the premise that all persons, by virtue of their essential humanity, should enjoy all human rights.”  It’s a noble sentiment and a grand goal; Amnesty International, however, believes that our country, among several, is falling short when it comes to upholding the human rights of immigrants.  In a very recent report by Amnesty International, the following observations were made, and I am quoting verbatim from the report:

 

  • Recent immigration policy in certain border areas has pushed undocumented immigrants into using dangerous routes through the US desert; hundreds of people die each year as a result.
  • Immigration enforcement in the USA is a federal responsibility. Federal immigration officials are increasingly working in collaboration with state and local law enforcement agencies but improper oversight of state and local law enforcement has led to increased racial profiling.
  • Increasingly, state laws and local policies are creating barriers to immigrants accessing their basic human rights, including rights to education and essential health care services. While these laws are targeting non-citizens, these policies are also impacting US citizen children.
  • Recent legislation enacted or proposed in several states targets immigrant communities and places them, Indigenous communities and other minority communities at risk of discrimination.
  • Immigrant communities also face a range of barriers to justice when they are victims of crime such as human trafficking, domestic violence or bias crimes.

 

     Though it wasn’t planned this way, given the reality of how much work immigrants do for this country, not their own, a sermon related to them seems perfectly in order.  I guess we’ll see soon enough if my assumption is correct.
     One of our citizens recently said this to a reporter:  “I don’t want my kids picking fruit, mowing other people’s lawns, or working as chauffeurs for the wealthy so I think there’s a place for immigrants here.”  What a humanitarian!
     Some of those who decry the receiving of any immigrants have the sense that letting a few in, only lays the foundations for what eventually will us overtaken by floods of foreigners.  The numbers don’t seem to support such fears.
     In the last ten years, according to CNN reporter John Cookson, an average of 700,000 people each year became naturalized US citizens.  That’s about one immigrant each year per 500 residents.  If you’re a clock watcher, then you would want to know that we add a legal immigrant to our rolls every 79 seconds.  In the 1990s, the annual average was an addition of 500,000 legal immigrants annually.  In the 1980s it was 200,000 annually. Because of population growth, however, the change in how many legal immigrants we have received has grown from 0.1% annually to 0.2%.
     For many years, most legal immigrants came from Mexico followed by new citizens originally from India, the Philippines, and China. Gradually, Asia has become the leading region of origin though most of us who worry about immigration still think the Mexicans are about to overtake us.
     Governor Romney’s staff has outlined his perspectives on the subject of immigration.  Here are the points he stresses:

1) Securing our borders is the number one priority for immigration policy.
2) Those who have come into the US illegally should not be given amnesty or an easier pathway to citizenship that puts them ahead of those who followed all the rules to have their requests considered by the proper authorities.
3) An employer verification system is an absolute necessity if we are going to be certain that available jobs are not given to illegal immigrants.
4) Illegal immigrants should be required to return to their home country.
5) Giving tuition breaks to the children of illegal immigrants cannot be tolerated.
6) Federal funding for cities that function as “sanctuary cities” should be reduced.
7) The United States needs to be made more appealing to legal immigrants.
8) Ending illegal immigration strengthens legal immigration.

 

     In fairness, I must now tell you something that President Obama has said on the same subject; otherwise, the IRS could accuse me of using my pulpit to encourage my congregants to vote for the candidate I personally endorse in which case they have the authority to fine me and deny the church its nonprofit status.  They are serious about such crackdowns and have called out a handful of churches; shockingly, all of the outspoken pastors cited and fined had spoken against Bush the younger while he ran for a second term.  By the way, not a word of warning has ever been uttered against the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, which constantly lobbies political leaders and tells Roman Catholics which candidates to support.
     Anyway, I’m not going to cost Silverside it’s nonprofit status so here’s a statement from our Commander in Chief, but not the one that got him the most praise as well as condemnation this week:
quote from the President:

Our failure to act responsibly on immigration at the federal level will only open the door to irresponsibility by others.  And that includes, for example, the recent efforts in Arizona, which threatened to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans, as well as the trust between police and their communities that is so crucial to keeping us safe.  I’ve instructed members of my administration to closely monitor the situation and examine the civil rights and other implications of this legislation. But if we continue to fail to act at a federal level, we will continue to see misguided efforts opening up around the country.

 

 

 

II.
    There are many favored stories from the life of the Hebrew, Joseph, and chances are that more people in modern times learned about Joseph from one of Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musicals than from their Bibles.  It was a high-powered production with lots of heart and a fine story line, pretty much following the biblical chronicle–including use of the flawed description of Joseph’s prized clothing item (in some translations of the book of Genesis) that has a key part in the plot.  
    Many of us learned as children from our Bible stories or as adults from Sir Andrew that the piece of clothing Joseph loved most, a gift of favoritism from his father, Jacob, was a coat of many colors–thus, the name of Sir Andrew’s rendition of the pivotal biblical story, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat.”  Alas, the coat was not multicolored.  The coat was not multicolored, but long-sleeved.  This was a lovely gift from father to the son who worked in the house rather than out in the fields under the relentless sun.  Truthfully, Weber, brilliant person and musician that he is, might well have known the biblical story was about the gift of a long-sleeved coat, but if you’re going to try to sell tickets on Broadway and in London’s West End, what musical title is going to draw in larger crowds–“Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat” or “Joseph and his Long-Sleeved Coat”?  Well, the answer is clear.
    Still the biblical story is about, in part, a special closeness between father Jacob and two of his twelve sons, the youngest two, Joseph and Benjamin, and particularly the strong connection between Joseph and his father recognized materially, before the eyes of many jealous brothers, with this long-sleeved coat that said as a symbol, “Joseph may not work outside and raise crops and livestock to feed us give us products to sell at market, but he keeps the household going; and we all benefit greatly from a well dusted home and healthy meals on the table day in and day out.”  
    Eventually, Joseph’s brothers sold him to slave traders and told their heart-broken father that he’d been mauled, then eaten by a wild animal.  Joseph ends up in Egypt, foreign but eventually fair-haired boy of the Pharaoh, and he moves up the ladder of success and responsibility until he is the powerful nation’s chief financial officer.  When there is a drought in his homeland, his father sends some of his brothers to Egypt to negotiate or beg for food, whatever it took.  They did both before an official whom they didn’t know to be their own flesh and blood, their brother whom they’d wished dead–a humorous and poignant episode.   
     From all indications, it was the brothers of Joseph going into Egypt originally to get food for their families and taking it back to Canaan who eventually decided to stop the back and forth thing  and stay in Egypt. From all indications Egypt welcomed Joseph’s family members certainly in part because Joseph himself had been a model legal immigrant.
     There they stayed, and there they flourished.  Over the years there were many persons of Hebrew origin living and working in Egypt. And for the longest time the Egyptians, including their Pharaoh, believed that the Hebrews were a fine addition to Egyptian communities and the nation’s economy.
    Finally, one day when, as the biblical writer tells the story, a Pharaoh came to power who knew not Joseph. When this new Pharaoh came to power, the Hebrews frightened him.  He did not know about the reason that they had initially come into Egypt. He did not know why they they had been given positions of responsibility and authority.  All he could see was a day coming when there would be more Hebrews than Egyptians in the land. He feared that the Hebrews would take charge and require the Egyptians to become subservient to the Hebrews. The only solution he could come up with was to beat them to the punch.
     Significant numbers of Egyptians were not favor of this change.  This would have been tough for several reasons.  One, their friends were Hebrews.  Second, their children had married Hebrews so they had Hebrew in-laws and grandchildren.  Third, few Egyptians failed to recognize the countless positive contributions the Hebrews had made.  Four, the Pharaoh’s policies would undo a way of living that had done away with racism and cause it to hit full blown.
     We are not talking democracy here, though.  Of course, the Pharaoh’s wishes were enforced.  Suddenly, the most highly regarded Hebrew scholars in universities were sent into the fields to make and tote huge bricks for the Egyptian building programs; life was turned upside down.  Only the Pharaoh was pleased with life as it evolved into what he had demanded.
     They are more problems than anyone can count when trying to identify the Pharaoh of the Exodus. The Exodus was the escape from Egypt by the Hebrews who detested the conditions of slavery that they endured so long because of the Pharaoh’s hunger for power and/or his paranoia. After suffering for years at the Pharaoh’s hand Moses shows up as the leader appointed by God to bring the people of Israel, that is the Hebrews, out of Egypt to lead them to a place they will eventually know full freedom, though not permanently.  
     It doesn’t really matter to the value of the story to know exactly which of several pharaohs was the one who determined that the most creative use non-citizens was to enslave them.  A good candidate, though, is Pharaoh Amenhotep II.  What a place history has reserved for him!

 

 

 

III.
          I’m sure you’ve heard from various sources that one of fates of female illegal aliens in this country is sexual abuse or sexual enslavement.  I saw the following paragraph in the Huffington Post:

Globally, more than 100,000,000 women live outside the country of their birth, more than double the number in 1960. Migrant women face additional barriers to access to justice for violence committed against them, including lack of awareness about local laws and procedures, language and cultural differences, geographic isolation from authorities and services, fear of retaliation against family members in their home countries, and discrimination by law enforcement authorities. For migrant women who lack authorization to live and work in their country of residence, the possibility of deportation can be manipulated by abusers to trap them in violent relationships and insure their silence.

 

     Years ago, I was visiting with a friend in Galveston, Texas. He was taking me out to see the Strand, which was Galveston’s area for artsy types, the place you went to see stage productions, the work of artists of all sorts including photographers and potters, and so on.  Almost to Galveston, still aboard the ferry with Jhoel’s SUV as I recall, we realized that there was a commotion just ahead of us, and when we got close enough to see what was going I immediately became sick to my stomach.  
     The border police had intercepted some kind of small boat filled with illegal immigrants. The ones they were dealing with in our sight were all male so either all the passengers on this boat were men or else women were being dealt with at some other nearby area. There probably were 25-30 men, not a huge group, and they were corralled in a grassy area pretty much surrounded by border police. Each of these men was in handcuffs, and apparently the police gave them the option of being in either of two positions while they waited for who knows how long to be put in jail.  The men could either lie on their stomachs with their faces more or less in the grass, or they could be up as far as to be on their knees.  
     I thought how humiliating and frightening this was for them. I knew nothing about the situation, and I realized then as I realize now, that they might have been very dangerous criminals, perhaps people trying to smuggle dangerous weapons into our country or people working somewhere along the drug link.  The visual was enough to create a permanent impression in my consciousness, and I was aware that even if these were dangerous, many who were not dangerous–those seeking asylum or those seeking food like the Hebrews risking their lives going into Egypt in search of food–were often treated in the same manner since the border police have no way of knowing initially who is harmless and who would do us harm.

 

So, did you know that Canada has more foreign-born nationals than we do? And Australia has more immigrants than we do? Those societies have become, in 10 to 15 years, genuinely pluralistic, diverse, immigrant societies. And here’s the kicker: They have figured out a way to do immigration right, where they take smart, hardworking, talented people whom their economy needs.

 

Non-citizens do not have to become our servants or people we use for our pleasure.  They shouldn’t be moved to the bottom of the list of those who could be considered for citizenship if they can’t do anything for us, even if they are skill-less.
     Did the writer of the book of Leviticus understand the words attributed to God correctly?

When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.

     Jesus most certainly had immigrants in mind when he used the word “stranger” in his teachings.  For example, he once praised people who lived in a morally upright manner without any real awareness of it.  They told Jesus that they appreciated his words of praise, but that they didn’t think they’d done anything out of the ordinary.  Jesus insisted that they had, and they wanted to know how.  This is what he told them:

I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.  Whatever you did for any struggler, without knowing it, you were doing it for me.

 

 

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