Sunday, May 29, 2016

Welcoming the Foreigner
I noticed when I read the texts for today that they all have something to do with the way foreigners are treated. While I was thinking about the texts, I remembered in my teens years reading a book called The Ugly American, a novel by Eugene Burdick and William J Lederer. I’ve always been fascinated with other cultures and languages and the way things are done in other places. So, I was appalled to read how some people treated and thought about other people.
For example, in the first paragraphs of the novel, Louis Sears is an ambassador to a small Asian country. He observes the women bringing their produce and fish to market. “Strange little monkeys,” he calls them. He has not bothered to learn the language or culture, because he always considers himself better than the local people. There is no need to sink to their level.
Yet, such attitudes are still around. In the church, we might call ourselves Ugly Christians. We judge and reject and refuse to understand those who are foreign, different in any way from what we consider “normal”. We assume they are too different to be loved by God.
We read that attitude in some parts of the Hebrew Bible, that the Jewish people keep themselves separate from the Gentiles, and that God has called only them as God’s chosen people.
Yet, we also frequently read the charge from God to care for the widows and orphans and foreign residents. In today’s reading from 1 Kings, Solomon prays to God and urges God to accept the worship of foreigners who hear of God’s name and are impressed by God’s power and glory. He implores God to hear the prayers of such foreigners and respond to them.
We are familiar with the rejection by Jews of all Gentiles, and so we are amazed to learn that these foreigners are welcome among the Jews and included in Solomon’s prayers.
And we are also surprised to hear that a Centurion sent some of his Jewish friends to Jesus to ask him to heal a beloved servant. This Roman – normally thought of as an enemy of the Jews – has turned out to be very friendly, and actually helped build a synagogue. He is such a friend, the Jews are willing to search out Jesus and bring him to their neighborhood for the healing of the Centurion’s servant.
The Centurion learns that Jesus is coming, and he sends messengers to tell him that he doesn’t need to come all the way to his home. The Centurion understands power and command. He knows that if he says, ‘do it’, it will happen. In the same way, Jesus has only to say ‘do it’ and it will happen.
Jesus is amazed by this statement. Up to this point, all the healings have been hands on, with people coming to him, for him to touch them. No Jewish person has thought that the healing could be done simply by Jesus’ command. The Centurion, a Gentile, has figured him out! And of course, the servant is healed instantly.
In Galatians, the situation is a little different. Paul knows this community; he was one of the founding pastors. It was Paul who told these Gentile Christians that they didn’t need to be circumcised or to follow kosher food laws in order to be loved by Jesus. Now some other teacher / preacher has come into their midst and accused Paul of being too lenient with them.
Paul’s letter begins with a tone of scolding. “I am astounded that you fell for that rot! How quickly you have forgotten what I taught you! Did you forget that I received the gospel from divine sources and not from some trumped-up human fool? Have you so easily traded in grace for a lesser gospel?”
In order for non-Jews to accept and understand the power of the resurrection, the rules for living and the theology would need to match the context of those he was trying to reach. Paul made it clear that Jesus welcomes all people, and that cultural rules are not important.
Solomon, Jesus, and Paul all have welcomed the foreigner, in very different ways. Who today are the foreigners? Immigrants, documented and otherwise; Muslims of any nationality; people who are not heterosexual; people who are homeless; for our soldiers, the enemy in the land where they serve. My list could be much longer. …
As we as Americans and as Christians wrestle with how to welcome – or even if we should welcome – these modern foreigners, we do well to remember that God calls us to recognize they are God’s children, all of them.
In our Wednesday morning study of Islam, we have learned a few things, just barely touching the surface of the depth and riches of the religion. We have learned that we all claim Abraham as our father. We have learned that our God is one, and there are no other gods. We have learned that to do God’s will is the best way to live. And we have learned that there are variations in Islam, just as there are variations in Christianity. How well do we welcome Muslims?
As we wrestle in our minds and hearts and courts and legislative bodies about who can use which public restroom, we do well to set aside fear and consider the hearts of those who are different from what we call the “norm”. Do we remember a time, not so long ago, when the color of our skin determined the restroom we would or could not use? If we put ourselves in their place, live in their bodies for a little while, walk in their shoes, can we offer these foreigners a bit of hospitality, a bit of welcome?
n to us. Can we get to know and understand them, and welcome them as they are?
US Army Major Glenn Battschinger arrived in Afghanistan in 2010. As he and other soldiers moved in and out of the base, they were always surrounded by swarms of Afghan children and teens.
He was reminded of his two sons, who were both Eagle Scouts. He understood that these Afghan children would benefit from scouting as much as he and his family had. They needed attention and something constructive to do.
So, he gathered some boys in the village and began to teach them the basics of scouting, beginning with the Boy Scout oath. That one troop has grown to dozens of troops serving more than 10,000 boys and 1,500 girls, in part due to a grant provided by the US Department of Defense.
Major Battschinger has moved on to new assignments, but he still hears from some of the boys in his troop, and says that’s extremely rewarding. “I merely played a hand in introducing something good that would help develop leaders for tomorrow.” He welcomed the foreigner and helped them, just as the Centurion had helped the Jews in his neighborhood.
This week, be aware of the ways in which you welcome or push away some people, even if it’s just people you see on TV. Are you an ugly Christian? Or do you seek often to welcome and include all?

Please pray with me: Lord, you speak many languages and fit well in all cultures, even those we don’t understand. Help us to be willing to learn and adapt and accept with open hands all others, even those who seem like enemies.  Amen