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Saturday, June 23, 2018

I Was a Stranger and You Took Me In

I Was A Stranger and You Took Me In
In the Jewish Torah, and also in the Bible, God is calling His people to take in the stranger and the alien.  And to make room for the refugee.  In Leviticus 19:33-34 God commands His people: “When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him or her.  The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born.  Love him or her as yourself, for you once were aliens in Egypt.  I am the Lord your God.” 
Four thousand years ago, when God gave this command to the Israelites, they were living in a society that was very different from ours today.  The ancient Israelites lived in a communal society where everyone was supposed to work for the common good of the tribe.  And God was their ruler. (Later they wanted an earthly ruler like all their neighboring tribes.). The Israelites who had more than enough were expected to share with those who were hungry or needy. At least that was the way God, their ruler, had commanded them to be. 
God spoke to the ancient Israelites through their prophets and taught them that everything they had was a gift from Him.  Their land belonged to God, along with their crops, and their lives.  They didn’t “own” anything since everything belonged to God. Scripture tells us that greed was (and still is) considered a great sin. Down through the ages most of the wars and the miseries that go with war were all caused by greed. When the Israelites followed God and gave Him their lives, He blessed and protected them.  They didn’t need to be greedy for things because God gave them everything they needed.  He even healed their diseases.  But when they became greedy and mistreated the poor and forgot their God, well that was a different story! 
Today capitalism is the way most industrialized nations do business. We value individualism, wealth, power and competition and we find it difficult to understand some of God’s commands to the communal nation of Israel so long ago. We believe in private property and we think that everything we have and own belongs to us.  We believe that we are self-made men and women and we are proud of what we have achieved, often never thinking that God gave us the abilities to achieve. We take care of ourselves first and let the devil take the hindmost. The more luxuries we acquire and the more money we earn, the better!  We compete and show off and we believe that greed is good. The person with the most toys wins!  And we dare to call all of that “Christian”??
When we modern folk experience large groups of desperately poor people trying to come across our borders to live and work in our communities, we fear that if we move over and let them in, we will have less.  We have worked for all we have, and we are afraid that we might have to give up some of our comforts to accommodate these “lesser” people.  We feel we are better than the poor refugee since we have money and they don’t.   
But God calls His people, the “Church” to take up our cross and follow Him.  And following Christ means to do what He asks us to do and to “feed His sheep” (John 21:17). Following Jesus means to give to the poor if we are able. Give up our claim to running our own lives and give our lives to Him.  Trust God to take care of us when we obey Him and open our hearts to the poor and desperate. The “Church,” like ancient Israel, belongs to God, and is called to follow and obey God.  It is a walk of faith, not sight. The things that charm the world so much– money and power, are not to run our lives. We are to be humble as Jesus was humble. Our lives belong to Christ and we will be guided and blessed, as ancient Israel was guided and blessed when they obeyed.
Scripture says that we cannot serve God and money.  Matthew 6:24 says: “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other.  Or she will be devoted to one and despise the other.  You cannot serve both God and money.”  Scripture also says that when we  live for ourselves we won’t be blest.  Jesus spoke these words written in Matthew 10:39. “Whoever finds his life shall lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it.” 
Matthew 25:31-46 records a scene in the future when Christ comes again in glory with His angels.  All the nations of the world are gathered around Him on His throne and He divides them into two groups – the sheep and the goats.  He puts the sheep on His right side and the goats on His left.  Scripture tells it this way: “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘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.’ 
The righteous will answer Him, ‘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 visit You?’  The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did for Me.’ 
Then Jesus will say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels, for I was hungry, and you gave me nothing to eat.  I was thirsty, and you gave me nothing to drink.  I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in.  I needed clothes, and you did not clothe Me.  I was sick and in prison and you did not visit Me. ‘ 
They will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help You?’  And He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for Me.’  They will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”   
Loving others means learning to live for others as well as for ourselves. Jesus calls us to love God with all our hearts and all our minds and all our souls and to love others as ourselves.  (Luke 10:27) Loving others means serving, helping, forgiving and being merciful. Let’s pray and ask God to open our hearts and help us love Him and others the way He wants us to.  To help us be the sheep and not the goats.





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