Jesus is coming to your city. How do you feel about it?
“My fear just fuels the hate machine.”
These lyrics from Thrice’s song, The Sky Is Falling, run over and over in my head when I sense fear and bigotry rise in my spirit. So often it is my fear that leads me to judge others and paint with an extremely broad brush. Is this what many of us are wrestling with as we process the fear of last weeks events?
Did we forget, “The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt.” (Leviticus 19:34)
Of course, one Leviticus passage is not helpful since God was doing something very different at that time than now. But what about the many other passages of the Old Testament that call us to be kind and welcoming to the foreigner.
It seems as if God has been quite consistent on the issue of welcoming the stranger. Yet, we see multiple state representatives declaring that they will not accept Syrian refugees in their state. Keep in mind these are the same Syrian refugees who are fleeing from terrorism and are equally, if not more, heartbroken over what ISIS has done. And keep in mind that many of these representatives are the same ones who ran on a platform of faith, reminding us of their Christian values along the campaign trail.
The problems in our world are substantial and they produce real fear. Yet, as followers of Jesus, we have to find direction in the midst of terror, remembering that a spirit of fear is always the wrong direction. (2 Timothy 1:7)
Texas governor Greg Abbott said this in defense of Texas not accepting Syrian refugees, “Security comes first.” This is a fine statement for a politician to make, but the Christian community should be the first to challenge it, not become an echo chamber for it.
In the Kingdom of God security does not come first. It never has. The early church didn’t pray for safety and security, they prayed for boldness in the face of evil. A boldness that went as far as loving an enemy and praying for their forgiveness in the midst of being martyred by that very enemy. (Acts 7:59-60)
Jesus comes first.
And Jesus is clear on this issue.
In the parable of the sheep and goats, Jesus gives us a glimpse of how important welcoming the stranger is to our faith. Jesus starts by reminding us there will be a day of judgement. God will separate. The King will say to one group, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” (Matthew 25:34-36)
The people come forward shocked and ask, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?” (Matthew 25:37-39)
There is a real confusion because they can’t remember a time they ever served Jesus in these spaces.
The King is not silent, answering their question this way, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40)
It is as if Jesus is saying, “When you handed the cup of water to the thirsty person, you were actually handing it to me.”
You can conclude that this is simply one of the many metaphoric teachings of Jesus that calls us to action. Or you can consider the reality that we are all image bearers of the Almighty. Everyone. And that Jesus is calling us to see his image in all people, especially those who are suffering.
The story doesn’t end well for the other group.
They cannot believe they ever ignored Jesus in his suffering. They cry out, “Lord, when did we see you…?” (Matthew 25:44) The response of Jesus is to remind them that they saw him many times. Each time they ignored the person in suffering they ignored him. Those who ignored Jesus were promised punishment, and the ones who saw the need and met the need were promised life.
What group do we find ourselves in as we process welcoming the stranger?
Are we fueling the hate machine by our fear or are we looking for Jesus in every opportunity to serve the suffering?
The face of the Syrian refugee crisis is not Isis, it is Aylan Kurdi, the 3-year-old boy who drowned and washed ashore because his family’s boat capsized as they attempted to escape the war zone they once called home. It is unfortunate that fear fuels our thinking, and then our rhetoric, until eventually Aylan becomes someone we would never consider opening up our home or community to.
We want to live in a black and white world.
They are bad.
We are good.
It is that simple.
If we continue to see the world as only black and white, we are neglecting our ultimate calling, love. Our heart breaks for the Kurdi family. How can we even consider the potential of turning that child and his family away?
Fear will get you there.
Fear is the fuel that will drive a person to become paranoid enough to be on the wrong side of history.
Just like many were gripped by fear in the days of Martin Luther King Jr. and objected to the marches and sit ins.
ISIS is fearful. They are fueled by fear on some level, because the opposite of love is not hate, it is fear. Fear is the catalyst for all hatred in our world.
John noticed this when he said, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18)
Our call is higher. Our call is to love. With a Jesus-centered, self-sacrificial love.
We stand with our Syrian neighbors, because all of humanity is our neighbor, and we are called to love our neighbors as we love ourself. Or have we forgotten that those words came from the mouth of Jesus? (Mark 12:31)
May we drop our paint brushes that broadly stroke, and instead open our hearts. Because when we paint with these broad brushes we are giving ourselves an excuse to ignore the suffering of others, we are reminding ourselves that it is ok to look away from Jesus when we see those in need.
ISIS represents Syria the way Westboro Baptist Church represents Baptists.
Terrorists represent Muslims the same way the KKK represents Christians.
You can paint with a broad brush when it is convenient, but make sure you use the same brush as you look inward.
I am ashamed and appalled at the things that have been done in the name of Jesus throughout history, but that doesn’t represent the Jesus I follow. I am confident that most Muslims are ashamed of the things that have been done in the name of Allah throughout history, but are we listening?
Because people who are afraid don’t listen.
We are not called to a spirit of fear. We are called to a spirit of love.
And so we call for Jesus to reorient our spirit.
May we be moved to a place of love for all who are suffering.
May we see the image of the Almighty in even the worst people.
May we stand with our Syrian neighbors in their time of suffering, opening our hearts, communities, and homes to the refugee.
Jesus is coming to your city. How do you feel about it? How will you respond?