Welcoming the stranger…

was-stranger-sign

 

“The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 19:34)

Almost a week has passed since the suicide bombs in Syria, Lebanon and the Paris shootings.  A ‘state of emergency’ continues to be declared in France.  Air attacks are being conducted in Syria by the French and their allies, and those that have not joined in on the attacks are at present debating whether or not to join in.  The world is on the edge of another great war once more.  I do not believe that violence achieves anything in life, but I understand the political pressure to do something in response when one group so maliciously attacks another.  I understand that war may indeed be a necessary evil at times, but as Jimmy Carter has said, it ultimately does nothing to help us live together well.

But the impending war is not what I want to comment on.  In the build up to last weekend has been an ongoing refugee crisis.  Literally thousands of Syrian people have left their homes and lives in Syria to seek life elsewhere.  The ongoing civil war and destruction in Syria has put people in a position where they can no longer call their home, ‘home.’ So they have fled on foot to surrounding nations, and have risked their lives by paying gangsters and extortioners to get them across the Mediterranean Sea to mainland Europe.  It has become a world crisis because the countries that these transient people are wandering to, close their doors and state that ‘there is no room in the inn.” The question around what to do about Syrian refugees has created a political storm with different world leaders having different ideas as to how best to solve the problem.  Without critiquing those each individually, it is best to generalize the responses and say that most developed and able countries have made a commitment to receive a certain number of Syrian refugees over the coming couple of years.  The decision by governments, Prime Ministers and Presidents to receive refugees has created another storm of political division country by country.

In the USA,  President Obama has stated that USA should welcome a number of Syrian refugees to its shores, and do its part in response to the aforementioned crisis.  This has not been received well by each state within the union.  In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, it became clear that one of the attackers had made his way to Europe and entered the continent by posing as a Syrian refugee.  The response to this revelation in many states has been to oppose the President and state that the USA should not welcome any refugees because they have now been proven to be a risk to the life and well being of communities throughout the nation.  Of course this is an understandable response to the news reels of the last week.  None of us in our right minds would knowingly welcome a violent Jihadist to stay in our house, right?

Like I said, I understand the “close the doors” response in many people.  But i have to confess that I have struggled with the attitudes of my brothers and sisters in the Christian faith in terms of how we respond.  Ought Christian people to be more concerned with airing a political view and protecting against the fear of a potential attack upon them or their country people?  Or ought Christian people be more concerned with reaching out to those who are without a home, in dire need of a place to rest their heads and ready to start afresh in a new place?

jesus-refugee

Many memes have been doing the rounds about this issue in the run up to the holiday season.  One of note is the reminder to Christian people that the story of the Nativity, which will be enacted by children and churches all over the land, is in fact a story of traveling people who are seeking mercy and a place to stay, but cannot find a welcome anywhere but the animal shelter belonging to an inn-keeper.  It is in this place that the Savior, Jesus Christ, is born.  He grows to become the man who announces the in breaking of the Kingdom of God; a radical and scandalous notion, which throws open the doors of God’s hospitality and welcome to all who call upon God’s name.  And then Jesus also says, “Go and do likewise…”

“Go and do likewise.” Have Christian people forgotten that in all our unworthiness, and even though our lives are mired in sinful ugliness we have still found radical hospitality and welcome in Christ.  Have we forgotten that, in Christ, God no longer looks upon us as stained; that God no longer refuses to have us, and instead lovingly embraces us – just as we are? It strikes me, that the call to look out for the widow and the orphan; the great command to love God with everything and love our neighbors as ourselves has not changed and that it ought to be the guiding factor for Jesus’ people as they make response to the politics of the refugee crisis.

The bottom line is this: God is indiscriminate in God’s love and welcome of all people, and so should God’s people be.  It’s that simple.

I want to close this by employing the words of Brennan Manning, a master of communicating the welcome and embrace of God for all people.  This comes from his book, ‘Abba’s Child:’

Buchner wrote, “We have always known what was wrong with us.  The malice in us even at our most civilized. Our insincerity, the masks we do our real business behind. The envy, the way other people’s luck can sting us like wasps.  And all the slander, making such caricatures of each other that we treat each other as caricatures, even when we love each other.  All this infantile nonsense and ugliness. ‘Put it away, ‘Peter says.  ‘Grow up to salvation.  For Christ’s sake, grow up.”  The command of Jesus to love one another is never circumscribed by the nationality, status, ethnic background, sexual preference, or inherent lovableness of the “other.”  The other, the one who has claim on my love, is anyone to whom I am able to respond, as the parable of the good Samaritan clearly illustrates.  “Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the man who fell in with the robbers?”  Jesus asked.  The answer came, “The one who treated him with compassion.” he said to them, “Go and do the same.”

This insistence on the absolutely indiscriminate nature of compassion within the Kingdom is the dominant perspective in almost all of Jesus teaching.

Compassion is not indiscriminate in the life of many of God’s people in USA and other developed nations.  In fact, the evidence is that many of God’s people are happy to discriminate when it comes to welcome, hospitality and compassion.  This is not good enough.

O, that our hearts might be completely bathed in a fresh understanding of the welcome, hospitality and loving mercy of God.

O, that we might throw ourselves upon the faithfulness of God and the perfect love of God so that we might know no fear.

O, that we might let Jesus in and let Jesus guide our steps.

Have mercy on us, O God, against you and you only have we sinned.  Lay hold of your people and turn them towards you, so that we may be light and compassion and welcome, in a dark, unloving and unwelcoming world.

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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