A Reflection in Anticipation of Immigrant Sunday

We celebrate Immigrant Sunday, July 5th. Please read Pslam 107.

Psalm 107 is a lament for wanderers, hungry and thirsty looking for a place to call home. Some were enslaved, some were unwelcome, some had to flee by the sea. The psalmist implies that all this happens at the hand of the powerful, “When they were diminished and brought low through oppression, trouble, and sorrow, he [God] pours contempt on Princes and makes them wander in trackless wastes; but raises up the needy out of distress and makes their families like flocks.” (vrs 39-41)

Psalm 107 nudges us from our settled nationalism to imagine the hearts and lives of those in transit - the refugee, the wayfarer, the pilgrim, the immigrant, the sojourner, the alien, the wanderer - all of those journeying from trouble. They come from the four compass points of the north, the south, the east and the west.

The United Nations Refugee Agency reports, “Every 4 seconds someone is forced to flee.” Whether along the border of Mexico, in Syria or Venezuela; the statistics are staggering.[1] Psalm 107 asks us to remember those in transit - in all their fear, their grief, their suffering - and to pray to the Lord to save them from their trouble, and to trust in the Lord who will lead them from places of violence into a story of redemption and liberation.

Psalm 107 begs us to remember those in transit. Whether it’s the 10-12 million[2] “deportable aliens” in America who wait in fear of an ICE raid or a judge’s decision in the Administration’s “war on immigrants”[3] or the sojourners at the Holding Institute in Laredo, Texas comforting an exhausted child or Syrian Christians finding refuge from a deadly bombing or an ISIS sword; we must journey with these pilgrims from north and south and east and west and hold them in our hearts.

The structure of Psalm 107 begins with an intersection of three verses: an imperative of gratitude - Give thanks to the Lord, a narrative of redemption - Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, and a picture of people on the move - Gathered in from the lands, from the east and west, from the north and south.

As the psalm unfolds, with four consecutive narratives of struggle, we hear what Biblical scholar James May, one of my seminary professors, calls “a catalog of adversity” transformed into the powerful liturgy of testimony. Each of the four stanzas begins with a mysterious, but oddly inclusive, “some.” Some wandered (107:4), some sat (107:10), some became fools (107:17), some set out to sea (107:23). Here are four compass points for life’s adversity. They cried, they despised, they loathed, they reeled and staggered. They were, as verse 27 attests, “at their wits end.” Each of these contexts are dire - the desert, the darkness of prison, the depths of affliction, the deep turmoil of the sea - the Psalmist assures us that God has gathered in from the north and the south, the east and the west, each of these wayfarers.

Then, as the wayfarer begins to tell the “wonderful works” of the Lord (107:8, 15, 21,31) and the stories of how their lives are transformed through redemption and deliverance into pilgrim people.

Exodus 20:2, “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage,” is the “foundational memory” all of us in transit need to remember. If we forget that we have been in bondage, then we will have no compassion for all the other pilgrims who are. The liturgy of Psalm 107 builds on this central “act of God” to remember our own deliverance, and even more so, to persist in our prayers for all who are in transit today.

Psalm 107 is a testament to redemption. Whether in the desert wasteland or a prisoner of darkness, whether one who was afflicted and rebelling in iniquities, or lost and staggering out at sea; these landscapes metaphorically name where we once were. Each testimony names a personal deliverance and celebrates redemption. But the power and the purpose of this Psalm lies in its trajectory toward something greater -- a collective that cannot stay put in a particular place but must instead migrate to new locations, standing alongside others who celebrate the same liberation.

Let us look to the north, the south, the east and the west and remember the despair of our neighbor and carry the weight of their load on our shoulders, and their grief of their hearts in our own.

[1] Almost 80,000,000 people are in transit, fleeing for their lives. [2] Brookings Institute, [3] Executive Orders,

40 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All