Posts I Consider to be the Most Important, Social Justice, Uncategorized

Here’s What Jesus Says About Welcoming Refugees

syrian-refugees-opener-615

(This article originally appeared at OnFaith here.)

At last count, 31 governors have issued statements that they will not allow Syrian refugees to settle in their states. Nevermind that governors probably do not have the power to enforce state borders, their statements have come under fire from many, including evangelicals who usually support conservative political leaders.

Why?

Because this latest example of xenophobia conflicts with the details of Jesus’ life a little too closely.

Turning away refugee families right before we put up Christmas decorations is too ironic.
First, Jesus and his parents were Middle Eastern refugees. The nativity scene, after all, is about a Middle Eastern family looking for a place to stay. Matthew tells us that after Jesus’ birth, Mary and Joseph fled with the baby to Egypt. Turning away refugee families right before we put up Christmas decorations is too ironic even for those who often miss the irony of their political views and professed faith.

Second, Jesus gives an ominous description of the Last Judgment in Matthew 25 that directly speaks to the issue of welcoming the foreigner. In Matthew 25:40, Jesus declares, “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

Conversely, “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

While one could argue over the definition of “brothers and sisters,” Jesus is known for universalizing the love of neighbor. It is perhaps one of Jesus’ unique contributions to moral teaching in human history. In his depiction of the Last Judgment, Jesus is the King, and He clearly states that how we treat who He calls “the least of these brothers and sisters of mine” is how we treat Him.

Who are “the least of these?”

Jesus says that those who reject “the least of these” will face eternal punishment.
In verse 28, we learn that one category of “the least of these” is the “stranger.” How does Jesus define “stranger?” Matthew was originally written in Greek, and the Greek word that we translate as stranger is xenos. Xenos can be translated into English as “foreigner, immigrant, or stranger.”

In other words, when we don’t welcome the foreigner, Jesus takes it personally.

Let us acknowledge that even though it’s an unpopular thought in twenty-first-century America, Jesus says that those who reject “the least of these” will face eternal punishment. Needless to say, that statement should give pause to all of those who claim to follow Jesus Christ, yet quickly reject the stranger.

We are wise, of course, to ask questions about public safety and the possibility of terrorists embedding themselves within refugee groups. I understand the apprehension that some feel who are sincerely concerned about the safety of U.S. citizens, and I do not dismiss their concerns as trivial. There is another view, however, for us to consider.

Turning away families in their time of need could prove to be a powerful recruiting tool for ISIS.
In addition to Jesus’ warning about the afterlife, conceivably there are earthly consequences to not welcoming the stranger. Perhaps not welcoming refugees would create more terrorists who would seek to harm the United States. Turning away families in their time of need could prove to be a powerful recruiting tool for ISIS. If a mother and father seeking a safe land for their children are denied hospitality, they will not feel goodwill towards the country that rejected them. Furthermore, if their children were to die because of hardship, why would be surprised if grieving parents were to act in revenge?

Finally, one could easily make an argument that rejecting the refugees allows the terrorists to win. Their most powerful weapon is, well, terror. If we fear an attack so intensely that we are willing to deny hospitality to refugee children, who could argue that the terrorists haven’t won? Not only have they taken human lives, they will have succeeded in taking away our humanity.

Many Christians, including conservative evangelicals, realize that Jesus speaks clearly on this matter. No matter how many governors claim there is no room in the inn, the teaching of Jesus is simply too relevant to the current situation for Christians to ignore.

(This article originally appeared at OnFaith here.)

Standard
Pastors, Sermon Illustrations, Uncategorized

A Company of Thieves Christmas

A couple of friends and I went to the CD 102.5 Holiday Show this year at the LC in downtown Columbus.

One of the bands performing was Company of Thieves, a Chicago-based band. Their biggest single to date is “Oscar Wilde,” named after the Irish writer who critiqued Victorian society. The chorus lyrics simply go like this:

We are all our own devil
We are all our own devil
And we make this world our hell

Merry Christmas.:) I know it’s not exactly heart-warming, at least not on the surface.

The song is about living in a Victorian world of shallow high society and external comfort while trying to ignore our own problems and suffering in the world around us. It’s about pretending and denying reality.

At this time of year, when we read the familiar Christmas story, with metaphors of darkness and light, earthly kings and heavenly kings, we are reminded of the struggle between good and evil and pretending versus reality.

In the Gospels, King Herod lived in a palace, while the real King was born in a feeding trough. It is a very down to earth story, so to speak, acknowledging both the joys and the pains of real, everyday life. Even though we know this, our Christmas celebrations tend to be Victorian, overly sentimental, even downright schmaltzy.

Living in reality is about addressing the falsities in our world, seeing people and life from God’s perspective. We have a tendency to avoid dealing with reality, both globally and in our personal lives, and we pay a high price for it. From international conflict to office politics to family squabbles, we often avoid what would actually solve the problem.

For example, we often avoid the poor and those who are hurting in any way. At Christmastime, we’re reminded of the financially under-resourced, who like the real King, live in meager circumstances, and we know that our world is not as it should be.

During the Christmas season, we’re reminded of the lonely, yet our busyness distracts us from being fully present with those who would appreciate it the most. More personally, how much happier would you be if you dealt with your problems head on without trying to ignore them, even temporarily, in the hopes that they will go away? We can be our own devil.

The Christmas story is a feel-good story, but it’s not nearly as warm, fuzzy and naive as we make it. The birth narrative of Christ is a loud statement about how to live in this world, “See reality as it is, and stop pretending.”

Even though it’s challenging, for a moment this Christmas season, it would benefit us to ask, “What we are denying, how are we playing pretend, what are we covering up, what are we ignoring?” The temporary pain of the answer will be far outweighed by the joy of seeing life clearly and freedom from the problems that cause us greater pain.

The Christmas story shouts the GREAT news that we don’t have to be our own devil.

Standard
Pastors, Sermons and Sermon Series Ideas, Uncategorized

Christmas through the Eyes of a Child- Wonder and Awe

Our 2011 Advent sermon series is entitled Christmas through the Eyes of a Child. We’re rereading the familiar Christmas story and rediscovering for ourselves the excitement and awe that children experience at Christmastime.

It might surprise you to know that what produced wonder and awe in the first persons to hear the Christmas story was not the virgin birth of Christ. It was something else.

To find out more, listen to my sermon from this past Sunday, “Wonder and Awe.”

Wonder_and_Awe_Nov_27_2011_Ryan_Gear

At about minute 28 of my sermon, I show a video that went viral a couple of months ago…

Standard