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The Church’s Obligation to Welcome the Stranger in Need

nativityDevotional Thought of the Day:

41  “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Away from me, you that are under God’s curse! Away to the eternal fire which has been prepared for the Devil and his angels! 42  I was hungry but you would not feed me, thirsty but you would not give me a drink; 43  I was a stranger but you would not welcome me in your homes, naked but you would not clothe me; I was sick and in prison but you would not take care of me.’ 44  Then they will answer him, ‘When, Lord, did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and we would not help you?’ 45  The King will reply, ‘I tell you, whenever you refused to help one of these least important ones, you refused to help me.’ 46  These, then, will be sent off to eternal punishment, but the righteous will go to eternal life.Matthew 25:41-46 (TEV)

In short, thievery is the most common craft and the largest guild on earth. If we look at mankind in all its conditions, it is nothing but a vast, wide stable full of great thieves.
229 These men are called gentlemen swindlers or big operators. Far from being picklocks and sneak-thieves who loot a cash box, they sit in office chairs and are called great lords and honorable, good citizens, and yet with a great show of legality they rob and steal.
230 Yes, we might well keep quiet here about various petty thieves in order to launch an attack against the great, powerful arch-thieves who consort with lords and princes and daily plunder not only a city or two, but all Germany. Indeed, what would become of the head and chief protector of all thieves, the Holy See at Rome, and all its retinue, which has plundered and stolen the treasures of the whole world and holds them to this day?
231 This, in short, is the way of the world. Those who can steal and rob openly are safe and free, unmolested by anyone, even claiming honor from men. Meanwhile the little sneak-thieves who have committed one offense must bear disgrace and punishment so as to make the others look respectable and honorable. But the latter should be told that in the eyes of God they are the greatest thieves, and that he will punish them as they deserve.  (and then a few paragraphs later)
247 If, when you meet a poor man who must live from hand to mouth, you act as if everyone must live by your favor, you skin and scrape him right down to the bone, and you arrogantly turn him away whom you ought to give aid, he will go away wretched and dejected, and because he can complain to no one else, he will cry to heaven. Beware of this, I repeat, as of the devil himself. Such a man’s sighs and cries will be no joking matter. They will have an effect too heavy for you and all the world to bear, for they will reach God, who watches over poor, sorrowful hearts, and he will not leave them unavenged. But if you despise and defy this, see whom you have brought upon yourself. If you succeed and prosper, before all the world you may call God and me liars

There is a struggle in the church today, one that is neither simple nor easily solved.

It is dealing with the issues of social justice, and how we treat the homeless, the needy, the stranger in our midst, that comes to us, asking for help, crying for a place of refuge.

And far too often the church looks at the situation as if the problem is them  How do we solve their problem, how do we help them live within what the laws (federal, state, local) demand of them, at the same time,  helping them as we ought to.

The words I encounter in my reading in the Large Catechism, and in the gospel show me the problem isn’t with them, but with us.  It is them we look at as if they were the disgrace, yet our lack of love is more disgraceful.  It is their cries, unanswered byt the world of the church, that rise up as prayers to God.  It is our hearts that need to be confronted, broken, and restored by God’s mercy.

Hear that again, it is those that have, and especially those who are in positions where their actions take what little the needy have to rely on, that are more in need of mercy, God’s mercy, than those who cry out to Him.   For if they understood that mercy, it would result in their caring for those whose situations may indeed be shameful, or disgraceful, even such that in desperation they turn to crime.

And then what is to be said for those who vote for those people, or invest in their companies, or work with or for them, or do business with them?  DO we not bear a burden for those sins as well, and thereby need God’s mercy?

The other day I was touched by a friend, one who doesn’t have much herself but gives what she has and even buys somethings intentionally to give to the homeless that live between her work and her home.  She wondered where the homeless had gone to, for she had a trunk full of food and water for them.  What a wondrous thing, someone who understands that while she can’t do much (in the world’s eyes) she can do something!  And she hurt because she couldn’t find those she regularly helped.

Jesus tells us we will always have the poor and needy and the alien among us (Stranger in the Greek is Xeno – alien, those not of us,) but that doesn’t negate our responsibility to love them, to assist them, to defend them.  For in doing so, we encounter Jesus, and in doing so, we encounter the mercy we ourselves need, as we find forgiveness, and restoration, and the power of Christ in our lives..

Lord, have mercy on us!

 

 

 

 

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959).( Explanation of the 7th commandment of the Large Catechism), The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 396). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

The Glory of God and the Alien

Devotional/Discussion Thought of the Day:

17 lYou shall not deprive the resident alien or the orphan of justice, nor take the clothing of a widow as pledge. 18 For, remember, you were slaves in Egypt, and the LORD, your God, redeemed you from there; that is why I command you to do this. Dt 24:17–18 NABRE

43 yThe resident aliens among you will rise above you higher and higher, while you sink lower and lower. 44 They will lend to you, not you to them. They will become the head, you the tail. Dt 28:43–44 NABRE

This song sets a standard; it helps us understand what Christmas is all about. It contains the key word, which, in our time especially, commands people’s interest more than just about anything else: peace. The biblical term shalom, which is usually so translated, implies much more than the absence of armed conflict; it means the right order of human affairs, well-being—a world where trust and friendship prevail, where neither fear nor want, nor treachery nor dishonesty is found. The song of the angels first lays down a precondition, without which there can be no lasting peace: God’s glory. This is the message of peace at Bethlehem: peace among men results from God’s glory  (1)

In my daily devotions, I am presently reading four very different things.  Scripture, on a yearly reading plan, two doctrinal works, and this devotional quoted in green, taken from the writings of Pope Benedict, but done while he was a cardinal.

Often I look to see the connection between the works, often between the two theological works. Today I knew there was a connection between what is quoted above from scripture and Pope Benedict, but it takes some thought to see it.  It takes prayer, and meditation on the blessings of God in our sacraments to see it come to reality.

And it is necessary today.  Very necessary among the people of God that is the Church.

You see, we want the shalom, the peace of God which Benedict XVI writes so powerfully about.  We are tired of living in broken and anxiety laden lives.  We want peace, but like so many other things, we are only considering peace for ourselves.   Real peace, though, the kind of peace that is found in dwelling in the glory of God, is communal. It is more than the absence of conflict, more than compromise so we can get along.

Peace, serenity, harmony is what we are talking about, and as I said, it is impossible through human manipulation or negotiation.  It can only happen when we are aware of the work of God, reconciling us to Himself.  When He is present. When His glory overwhelms us enough that He can heal us.

So what does this have to do with the alien in our midst?  (not to mention the widow and the orphan)

Simple, they are part of the peace.  Our loving, benevolent actions toward them, which are commanded by scripture, are well thought out.  They are neither blind charity, nor ignoring the needs of those who desperately have them.  Those who need a new life, a new place to live, who need to be delivered from the bondage they lived in, just as we were, or, at least, our ancestors were.

There is the connection, the one we don’t want to make.  These people that are scorned mocked, who often invest all they have in coming into our presence are looking for the peace, the shalom that can only come from being in the presence of God. The very peaceful, glorious presence we desire for ourselves.  The very peace-filled, glorious presence we are called into, together.

Lord have mercy on us….  AMEN!

 

 

(1)  Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (p. 409). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

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