By Rev. Matt Koerber
Week 1: Foundational Thoughts
Week 2: Immigration Policy
Week 3: Voices of Immigrants (City Reformed)
Week 4: Refugees
Week 5: Engaging Islam
Week 6: Reaching Across Barriers
Last week, we discussed immigration policy. This week, we will turn our attention to the voices of the immigrant community in our midst. Because City Reformed is located in the university community of Pittsburgh, we have a large number of international students in our midst. We will be interviewing members of City Reformed to discuss their own experience with immigration.
“You shall not oppress a sojourner. You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 23:9)
There are a couple of things that we learn from this commandment. First, the command to “not oppress a sojourner” assumes that it would be tempting to do this very thing. A sojourner or an immigrant is a person who works and lives in a foreign country. They do not have extended social networks to help them in times of trouble. They also may have difficulties speaking the language or navigating the culture. They may not have access to all of the legal protections that native born citizens would have. For that reason, it is easy for them to be oppressed.
Secondly, this commandment was given by God, through Moses, to an exile community. The tribes of Israel had been recently delivered from bondage in Egypt. They came as guests to live with their brother Joseph, four centuries earlier. But the favorable policy changed. A new pharaoh was on the throne and things were hard. They had been severely oppressed in Egypt. Moses speaks to this experience and reminds them that they know what it is like. As an exile community they knew what it was like to be a sojourner. They could easily relate to the situation because of their own experience. The problem that we have is that our experience is often quite different. Our own individual experience does not allow us to know the “heart of a sojourner” from personal experience.
In this matter we are different from the original audience (those who experienced the exodus first-hand), but we are similar to many of the people who have read this text down through the ages. Together with the four other books of Moses, this forms the Pentateuch, which is the foundational law for the nation of Israel. The laws which God gave were given in the context of the Exodus, but they continued to carry weight for all of the following generations. It is clearly not the intention of Moses to suggest that the command would no longer apply once people forgot their own personal exile experience. We are left to conclude that the way in which this command was meant to be applied is through appeal to the “collective experience” of the community and not individual experience. That is, if we want to know about the heart of the sojourner we can either experience exile or immigration… or, we can listen to the experience of others in our community. With that in mind we will spend this week listening to the voices of immigrants in our church. Through that we may be better equipped to understand “the heart of the sojourner.”