Isaiah 16:1-5

January 29, 2023
Joanna Harader

Several years ago I preached on immigration and noted several Bible passages that admonish God’s people to care for immigrants—to provide food and shelter and justice. I remember that a couple of you commented afterwards that you hadn’t realized how much the Bible had to say about immigration. I guess that’s part of my job as your pastor, right? To show you what the Bible says, especially as it relates to our lives and our society today. It’s a part of my job I think I’m pretty good at (as opposed to, say, managing schedules or running audio-video equipment). I mean, after all, I have mastered biblical studies.

And yet, when I opened up A Women’s Lectionary (by Dr. Wilda Gafney) and read these verses from Isaiah, they felt completely new. I had no idea they were there:

“Make your shade like night at the midpoint of noon, daughter.
Shelter the outcasts, the fugitive, do not expose;
let the outcasts of Moab settle among you;
be a shelter to them from the destroyer.” (translation by Wilda Gafney from A Women’s Lectionary for the Whole Church)

My friend in Tucson, Arizona, said she is moved to replace “Moab” with “Mexico”: “Let the outcasts of Mexico settle among you.”

As we say in pastor circles, “That’ll preach!”

God tells Daughter Zion—who stands for the nation of Israel–to “make your shade like night at the height of noon” (v. 3) for the daughters of Moab. Isn’t that a beautiful image? “Make your shade like night at the height of noon.” Here in church, and maybe especially during the season of Epiphany, which we are in now, we like to talk a lot about darkness and light. And that’s usually in the context of how great light is and how terrible darkness is, which can be a problem when these ideas get transferred onto human bodies and re-inforce racial stereotypes of light skin being good and dark skin being bad.

I’m not saying we do this consciously. But these light/dark images can be a problem. Which is one reason I really love this image of the shade like night being a safety, a shelter, a protection for the migrants from Moab; of the shade like night being the good thing while the bright light of noon poses a threat.

That’s how it is, of course, for migrants in the desert at the US/Mexico border. The bright heat of day can be deadly. Shade—and water—can save people’s lives.

I imagine many of you have heard of the organization No More Deaths. One of many ways they seek to care for migrants on our southern border is by leaving jugs of water in the desert for thirsty travelers who might pass by. In fact, last year they placed 14,500 gallons of water on migrant trails.

“Make your shade like night at the height of noon.”

No More Deaths latest newsletter contains a piece by a desert aid worker talking about the beauty of the desert as well as the death it brings to so many migrants who face the journey through it. In August, volunteers found the remains of four recently deceased migrants near Arivaca, AZ. The author writes of the care that people offer to each other in the desert, the risk many migrants take to report bodies they see, and the comfort it can bring to grieving families to know where their loved ones died and that their bodies were treated with respect.

“Make your shade like night at the height of noon.”

Daughter Zion is also told to “shelter the outcasts” and “not expose the fugitives.”

One way No More Deaths helps to “not expose the fugitives” is by providing a Missing Migrant Hotline that allows those without U.S. citizenship documentation to report missing loved ones and bodies they have found in the desert without having to expose themselves to law enforcement.

And while our government seeks to “shelter” people in detention centers, there are many shelters near the US/Mexico border that provide care and hospitality for migrants. Last year I had a conversation with Sandra Montez-Martinez, one of our Western District associate conference ministers. She told me about a new church plant some people in the conference were hoping to start near the border. She said it would be a church designed especially for migrants, and I started thinking about what a church structure, worship, Christian formation might look like when people are moving in and out of the area frequently. But I soon realized I was way off base—she was not concerned with logistics having to constantly replace worship volunteers. Sandra was talking about a church that has apartments for people to stay in, a church that provides food and medical care and legal assistance for those who are fleeing desperate circumstances and have few material resources here in the United States.

“Shelter the outcasts, the fugitive, do not expose.”

In terms of the daughters of Moab crossing the fords of the Arnon into Israel—because of some disaster in their homeland that we do not know of—Daughter Zion is told to “let the outcasts settle among you; be a shelter to them from the destroyer.” (v. 4)

Those who come to the US from their home countries do so for different reasons, to be sure. But all who risk the dangerous migrant trails, the life-threatening desert journeys, the often violent border patrols, the complex immigration system—they are all seeking shelter from a destroyer of one type or another.

And so, the command from God is to let the outcast settle among you. There are ways we can, and do, help those settling among us—like through the financial contributions we made to Centro Hispano for our Christmas giving tree.

There is also much to be done at the policy level to “let the outcasts settle among” us. I know that immigration policy is complex and figuring out how to be a faithful advocate is pretty overwhelming. If addressing migrant justice at the policy level is something you feel called to, one place to start is with Mennonite Central Committee’s Peace and Justice Ministries.

On the MCC website you can find educational materials, learn about ways to contact your elected officials, and sign up to receive updates. Currently, they are asking people to urge Congress and President Biden to oppose the expansion of Title 42 asylum restrictions—severe restrictions put in place in 2020 in responsive to the COVID crisis.

“Make your shade like night at the midpoint of noon, daughter.
Shelter the outcasts, the fugitive, do not expose;
let the outcasts of Moab settle among you;
be a shelter to them from the destroyer.”

These words give clear direction about how God wants us, as individuals and as a society, to treat those who migrate to our country. It strikes me that this passage also carries implications even beyond the migrant context. Many people, in various ways, are outcasts, are fugitives, seek shelter from all types of destroyers.

How can we, as individuals and as a church, provide cool shade for those at risk in the desert heat?
How can we provide a safe space for those cast out of other spaces?
How can we shelter people, in God’s faithful love, from the destructive forces of the world?

It is a high and holy calling, to care for each other as best we can. I know you all do that already in so very many ways; and maybe you feel inspired to take another step toward supporting those who need care.

And maybe you are feeling the noon-time sun beat down on you. Maybe you are feeling cast out—separated from places and people you once considered home. Maybe you are up against a destroyer in your own life right now.

For the times when, for the places in your life where, you identify more with the daughters of Moab than with daughter Zion:

May you rest in the dark, cool, shade of Divine refuge.
May you find a true home with God’s people.
May the faithful love of the Holy One offer you secure shelter from all that destroys. Amen.