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1 Lent - Deuteronomy 26:1-11

The spokeswoman for Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services pleaded for patience because the staff is so small for a situation so big.

The need, and also the generous response, were overwhelming.

That was four months ago, shortly after the United States left Afghanistan.

The long process of resettling immigrants from Afghanistan is really only beginning, and it is complicated by other ongoing commitments and issues at our southern border.

All of this before the invasion of Ukraine.

Now millions more are fleeing, or trying to flee, a homeland ravaged by war.

The Shepherd of the Valley Foundation has committed $1,000 to Lutheran World Relief, which will be matched by an ELCA congregation in Wisconsin, meaning $2,000 given toward

food, shelter, medical supplies, quilts, and care kits in Ukraine.

Thank you for your generosity and foresight, which have positioned us to respond so quickly.

The legacy of Deuteronomy lives on.

I look forward to a day when an Eastern European farmer brings a fruit basket to his priest and says, A wandering Ukrainian was my ancestor.

He escaped into Poland and lived there as an alien when the Russians treated us harshly.

We cried to the LORD, the God of our ancestors; the LORD heard our voice and saw our affliction, and so did the LORD's people around the globe.

With a mighty hand and an outstreteched arm, the LORD brought us through fires and fears to this place where now we live in abundance and peace.

So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O LORD, have given me.

Then, together with family and refugees from somewhere else, the farmer celebrates the tenuous and tenacious miracle of life.

We're not there yet, of course.

Neither were the people in Deuteronomy.

Moses talks fruit and milk and honey to refugees living on manna.

They are no longer in their homeland, they are not yet in their promised land.

They are still in the wilderness, still in between, still on the run for their lives.

But Moses will not let them be imprisoned in the present.

The horrendous now is still only one scene in a much bigger story.

Moses lifts their heads to look forward to the past and to remember the future.

The LORD made a promise to your ancestors.

Do not forget the words of the past that guarantee the future.

Prepare today for a better tomorrow.

Practice your gratitude for fruit and milk and honey now, with only dust and manna in your teeth.

Memorize your speech at the altar before you occupy the orchard.

In the iron grip of war and pain, practice for inevitable peace and joy.

That is the crazy, beautiful wisdom of Lent, which comes once a year to remind us who we are.

We are mortal: we are dust, and to dust we shall return.

We are tested, and tempted, in times of wilderness.

We are baptized and beloved.

We are sinful and suffering the disastrous choices of ourselves and others.

We are on our way to an Easter hiding behind doomsday.

We are making the slog to the promised land.

And today Lent reminds us that we are refugees on the run who cannot go back.

What is true to one degree or another for all of us metaphorically is also true literally for so many, many souls treasured by God.

Before the Ukrainians, and the Afghans, and the Central Americans, there were the Chinese, and Italians, and Irish, and the pilgrims fleeing oppression and bloodshed, and the Africans trapped, chained, and dragged across the world against their will.

If you are a white American, a wandering European was your ancestor.

If you are an African American, you recognize and feel the unconscionable cruelty.

If you are a native American, your ancestor's homeland was violently invaded and occupied without provocation.

The horror we are watching in Ukraine is a mirror revealing who we are.

Deuteronomy uses the word wandering, which in Hebrew also has the connotation of perishing, like a lost animal whose survival is unlikely and in immediate danger.

The fact that any of us is here is a miracle.

What then shall we do with our baskets of fruit?

Look forward to the Hebrew farmer centuries ago, and remember the Ukrainian farmer years from now.

Look around at the aliens, the refugees and immigrants, the tired, the poor, the huddled masse yearning to breathe free. (Emma Lazarus, The New Colossus)

Give thanks to God and also pass some of your plenty to another wanderer.

You shall set it down before the LORD ... then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the LORD your God has given to you and to your house.

Share what you have with someone who cannot go to their own house, either because it is now ash and memory, or it was seized by an enemy or a bank or a relative, or it is under siege in a war zone, or maybe, because the one you share your bounty with left behind an absolutely heavenly home to live in a tent with people on the run in the desert, and in human flesh and hunger with no place to lay his head until they pulled him off the cross and laid him in a borrowed tomb.

Bring your basket of bounty and your story of gratitude to the hungry, homeless alien who turned down bread and power and walked directly into a violent death ... in order to shepherd us all to safety and resettle us home.

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