We live in a time of instability and uncertainty. It seems that with the passing of each week, some new terrible act of violence emerges, whether it is in San Bernardino, California or Paris, France. Of course, it would be wrong to assume that all acts of violence come at the hands of foreign terrorists. In the United States, the perpetrators of the violent acts in places such as a Planned Parenthood Center in Colorado Springs, a community college in Oregon, a movie theater in Aurora, CO, and Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, as well as others, reminds us that terrorism exists closer to home than we might want to admit. These terroristic acts, as well as others, have led to the loss of hundreds of lives. Survivors of the attacks have been left with physical and emotional wounds. Families and friends of victims wrestle with disbelief, the heaviness of grief, and, many times, burdensome guilt. These horrific acts leave us with feelings of distrust and a lack of security.
In some parts of our world, hatred and violence is not a weekly occurrence, but a day-to-day reality. The violence in Syria and Iraq by the Islamic State has resulted in hundreds of thousands of people fleeing their countries for safety. Countless refugees have chosen to take the few belongings they could carry and travel to new and distant places. Some cram themselves and their families into rubber boats putting themselves at the mercy of the sea knowing they cannot expect mercy in the land they once called their home. Arriving on foreign shores, they hope to find safe harbor. In Messtetten, Germany (population 10,000) over 3,000 refugees are being given hospitality and aid. Rev. Rolf Held, the pastor of the local United Methodist Church, says that local volunteers numbering 150 people have made hosting the refugees run as smoothly as possible. Recently, an appeal was made for warm clothing for the refugees. The response was so overwhelming that the amount of donations exceeded the needs (“Room at the inn? Syrian refugees hope for hospitality,” The Christian Century 12-13, 9 Dec 2015.) What a powerful testimony of the gospel! Isn’t that the exact response to great need that Jesus would affirm? Matthew’s gospel records Jesus as saying, “I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me” (25:35-36, NLT).
Since the acts of terrorism in Paris, and then the more recent act of terrorism in San Bernardino, there is growing resistance to allowing refugees from Syria and Iraq into some European countries, as well as into America. I don’t pretend to have a policy solution for this crisis. We are well aware that many governors oppose allowing refugees into their states for fear that they might inadvertently be hosting terrorists. Given the recent acts of terrorism, this is a valid concern. I must admit, I do not know the intentions of every other human being towards my family, church, country, or me. These are things I simply cannot know. I cannot live faithfully from what I do not know, but I can live faithfully from what I do know. As followers of Christ, we ultimately answer to the Lord, not the government. An inspiring example of this is taking place in Hungary, where desperate refugees were greeted with blasts from water cannons and razor wire as they attempted to enter the country. Yet, the people of God have showed up in massive numbers to offer hospitality. Roman Catholic bishop Andras Veres of Szombathely, Hungary says, “Christians in Hungary have been very eager to assist the refugees, providing them with food and shelter. There has been a wave of solidarity to match the wave of refugees” (“Room at the inn?” 13).
The Apostle Paul encourages the church in Galatia, “Let’s not grow tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith” (Galatians 6:8-9, NLT, emphasis mine). If we give fear permission to control whether or not we show compassion, we will grow weary in doing what is good and right. If we give fear permission to control us, we will have allowed the terrorists to dictate whether or not we will live into the reality of God’s Kingdom rule. Thank goodness the early Church didn’t allow terrorism, persecution, and oppression to keep them from proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ and living out God’s Kingdom rule. Instead, they preached the Good News in word and deed and day-by-day the Lord added to their numbers. I don’t see how we can live any differently. In the midst of uncertainties, let’s not grow tired of doing what is good. Let us be certain that we have great opportunities to do good to everyone in the name of Christ.
Senior Associate Pastor