Fifth Sunday of Epiphany – Sunday, February 4, 2018

February 4, 2018  

1 Corinthians 9:16-23

They began immigrating to the United States in the 1670’s (“German Americans” in “WWI Anti-German Sentiment” online).

By the early 21st century, their population in the United States has grown to almost 50 million (“German Americans” in “WWI Anti-German Sentiment” online).

During WWI they were accused of being too sympathetic to U.S. enemies. The Justice Department created of list of them, calling them “aliens.” The list contained 480,000 names. “More than 4,000 of them were imprisoned.” (“German Americans” Wikipedia).

“A Minnesota minister was tarred and feathered when he was overheard praying with a dying woman” [in his native language] (“German Americans” Wikipedia). And so they began limiting the use of their native language, “especially in churches” (“German Americans” Wikipedia).

11,000 were placed in internment camps between 1940 and 1948 (“WWII” “German Americans” Wikipedia).

“Homes were raided and many were ransacked” (“German American Internees in the United States during World War II” by Karen E. Ebel). “Fathers and mothers…sometimes both were arrested and disappeared” (Ebel). The “children left… had to fend for themselves. Some were placed in orphanages” (Ebel).

This is how we treated German American immigrants in the United States.

This hits close to home. Fort McCoy was an internment camp during WWII. They mostly housed Japanese Americans (many from Hawaii), but the fort was also home to German “aliens” and later on, German prisoners of war. (Ebel).

My father’s mother’s baptismal name was Meta Martha Bertha Recknagel. My ancestry is half German.

I’m talking about over half a century ago. But I could just as well be talking about 21st century immigrants. Legal. Illegal. The folks who work on area dairy farms. In area restaurants. The people who have roofed our houses.

How quick we are to label “them” aliens.

History just keeps repeating itself…

St. Paul wrote to the church in Corinth:

For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I might share in its blessings.” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).

A scholar wrote “As Paul depicts his evangelical efforts, his voluntary slavery to all involves a fundamental and exemplary accommodation to people as and where he finds them” ( The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 10, p. 907).

Why is this so difficult?

Why do we (like most people) want other people to be like us, to speak like us, to do what we do the way we do it? Why can’t people be more accommodating to other people?

I’ve described the conflict in Paul’s church in previous sermons. There were knowledgeable people who cared only for what they knew. There were traditionalists who wanted everyone to practice their traditions. There were the newcomers, the Gentiles who didn’t follow the same laws, eat the same food, or worship the same way. As I said last week, the newcomers were the “weakest.” So Paul tended to be more accommodating to them—he did not want them to be hurt.

What Paul wanted was for everyone to know God’s love. He wanted everyone to know they were loved by God. If having them know God’s love meant becoming like them, well then, he would become like them. He would speak their language. He would restrict the food he ate. He did this “for the sake of the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:23).

I knew my Great-Grandma Recknagel when I was a child. She lived across the street from my Grandma and Grandpa Richmond. When we visited my grandparents, I loved going over to my Great Grandma’s house to visit. She never remembered my name. She had lots of kids and so lots of grandkids and even more great-grandkids. She couldn’t remember anybody’s name so she just called us all her “Dollies.” “Come here, Dolly” she would say. “Hi Dolly.”

I loved my maternal Great Grandma Ottovie Capner.  She was German, too. They both lived during both World Wars, here in Wisconsin. I wonder how they were treated. I wonder if they had to register as aliens. I never thought of my great-grandmothers as aliens. I loved them.

That’s how it goes. When you know someone, when you love someone, you know they can never be alien.

This is God’s call to us.

To know and to love.

Amen.