In George Washington’s Farewell Address, recently made famous by the Broadway Musical “Hamilton,” he quotes scripture saying, “Everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree.” What does he mean? What did the prophet Micah mean when he first wrote them? And how does this tie to our call to “welcome the stranger” and “love the immigrant”?
Nghiep Ke Lam, a speaker with The Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity (IM4HI), joined us this Sunday. Ke was born in Hai Phong, Vietnam. His family fled Vietnam in 1978 and were granted visas to the USA from Hong Kong Refugee Camp in 1980. He currently works full-time as the Reentry Coordinator of Asian Prisoner Support Support and assists the formerly incarcerated with gaining a CA ID, accessing medical assistance, peer support, and getting them engaged with community events.
He shall judge between many peoples, and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more; but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.
A PDF of the sermon as distributed at Calvary is available for download and printing.
Back in April, my husband Mike and I were lucky enough to watch the hit Broadway musical Hamilton. I didn’t quite know what to expect, but we loved it.
There are so many great songs and quotable lines from the show, but of course, the pastor in me, keeps coming back to George Washington’s farewell address captured in the song, “One Last Time” because in it, he quotes the scripture we just heard.
“Everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree
And no one shall make them afraid.’
They’ll be safe in the nation we’ve made.”
It’s this moment when this huge hero, a commander in the revolutionary war, the first president of the United States, just wants to enjoy the fruits of his labor and be at peace and safe in this new country he’s helped create.
When the prophet Micah wrote these words nearly 3000 years ago, it was this same sense of wanting to find peace, in every sense of that word: that nations would stop waging war, and people would end their violent ways, turning their swords into ploughshares. And that everyone should have what they need to live life and live it abundantly.
Jesus says in the gospel of John, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly,” or to the fullest (John 10:10). And that’s what “your own vine and fig tree” represent, the ability to have access to adequate food (the fig tree) and drink (the vine), and then of course respite from war and fear.
The kingdom of God, as Micah portrayed it is just that simple- the ability to eat, to drink, and be not afraid. It is just that simple, and yet, it is just that hard.
Because consider the last few months:
We’ve undergone a horrifying hurricane season, with damage to homes and entire islands, sometimes met with little or severely delayed relief. There are those who still do not have access to adequate food or water.
We’ve witnessed yet another deadly, tragic, and senseless shooting in Las Vegas; we live in fear of these terrorizing acts.
And we continue to live in a country with immigration laws that have not been reformed in over 30 years, often making it impossible for some immigrants to live at peace, let alone abundantly. The laws we have on our books date back to when the Soviet Union was still on the maps, apartheid was still the law in South Africa, and the Berlin Wall separated East and West Germany.
So, as we consider the reality of living in the United States in 2017, I think how elusive it actually is for everyone to sit under their own vine and fig tree.
I don’t doubt that this country offers opportunity and hope. That’s why my own parents were drawn to emigrate here thirty years ago and why immigrants continue to come.
But we can do better still.
As people of faith who live in this nation, our call is to help create a country and a world where all may have access to their own vine and fig tree, a world where each and every human being has enough, enough to eat and drink, and can do so without fear.
Creating this world, making it possible in this global society, involves education, housing, and accompaniment of those who just want to be safe in this nation we’ve made. It will require changing policies, advocating for justice and fair trade, and considering fair and humane immigration reform. Several years ago, this church made a commitment to help break cycles of poverty. We alleviate immediate needs when we give to those who are living in poverty. But we help break cycles of poverty when we address deeper, systemic problems that keep people in that situation.
We are willfully negligent if we ignore how migration and immigration impacts cycles of poverty.
As this congregation considers becoming a Sanctuary Church and as we consider what it means to live into this vision cast by the prophet Micah and by Jesus himself where all have access to enough, we are lucky to have partners who are doing some of this work on the ground and to learn and hear the stories of migrants in the Bay Area.
Today, we have Sarah Lee and Ke Lam here with us from the Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity which is faith-rooted advocacy organization with a vision that all human beings are sacred across all borders. So please join me in welcoming Sarah Lee and Ke Lam.
Sarah Lee & Nghiep Ke Lam share.
Brief Bio for Ke: I was born in Hai Phong, Vietnam. We fled Vietnam in 1978 and granted visas to the USA from Hong Kong Refugee Camp in 1980. I currently work full-time as the Reentry Coordinator of Asian Prisoner Support Support. I assist the formerly incarcerated with gaining a CA ID, accessing medical assistance, peer support, and getting them engaged with community events. One thing I really enjoy dedicating my time to is helping repair and distribute bicycles to formerly incarcerated people because once they come home they need a form of transportation. In addition, I am promoting good health and a cleaner environment.