Once, a man named Abraham, who loved God and was beloved by God, found himself facing a choice. Three strange men were approaching his tent. He was vulnerable — alone, in the wilderness, responsible to protect his wife. He did not know if the strangers meant him harm.
He was also called — by his culture, and by his faith — to respond with extravagant welcome to these strangers, whose well-being depended on his hospitality.
When Hebrews 13:2 refers back to this foundational story, it describes these three strangers as “angels.” They brought good news to Abraham — news so nuts that Sarah burst out laughing. News about God’s promise of abundance, of covenant, of faithfulness. These strangers had been sent by God to bring a blessing.
But perhaps the story would be much different, and our story much different, if Abraham had allowed his fear to eclipse his faithfulness that day.
I believe the facts are clear: refugees are not a danger to us. I think there’s overwhelming evidence to support that belief. And I’m aware that there are plenty of Christians who believe the opposite, and they’re ready to fervently defend their views. And while I’m alarmed at what this standoff seems to mean for us — this choose-your-own-source, there’s-nobody-we-can-trust, everything-is-spin-so-let’s-just-shut-up-about-it situation we find ourselves in — I’m more concerned about what we are sacrificing by allowing security to be the focus of our Christian conversation about refugees.
For Abraham, assessing the threat was not the primary task at hand when the strangers approached his tent. His role, as he saw it, was to embody faithfulness. And that looked like hospitality. Even though it made him vulnerable.
Friends of Jesus Christ: I do not recognize us right now. I see us hurling partisan talking points at one another, parroting cable news pundits, frantically drawing lines of “liberal” and “conservative” and mocking those who we think have been duped by the wrong side. I see us framing this issue as though it’s primarily about politics, and in so doing we are pushing aside Scripture’s loud, consistent, non-negotiable proclamations as irrelevant to the times we live in.
This is not who we are.
The notion that my Dutch Reformed sisters and brothers would be nodding in agreement with the shutting down of refugee resettlement would have been unthinkable just a year ago. For decades it has been our little denomination — the Christian Reformed Church — which has found its identity in welcoming refugees from around the world. My mom tells stories of sitting behind “the Hungarians” in her 1950s congregation, passing the long minutes of the sermon by imagining their life half-way around the world. My best friend at Christian elementary school told me about exotic-sounding foods she had tried, because her family was helping Salvadorans who were seeking asylum in the 1980s. Our pews are full of refugees who fled Cuba in the 60s and Asia in the 70s and Africa in the 90s. We are a church who welcomes refugees.
And that is because we are a church that takes faithfulness seriously.
Even if it were true that terrorists were scheming to sneak into our country through our refugee resettlement program (and it is not), I would still believe that we are not a people who elevate fear over faithfulness. I believe that we are a people who, like Abraham, are called to extravagant welcome as our primary identity.
We serve a God who points us to an abundant life. And maybe that’s not a safe life, or a comfortable life, or a life that makes no demands on us. But if we have learned anything from Scripture, it’s that this God loves to hide the good news of that abundant life in the face of a stranger. In the face of an “angel,” though we are unaware. In the face of a refugee. In the face of Christ, who proclaimed, “I was a stranger, and you welcomed me.” I don’t want us to miss that.
Once, a man named Abraham, who loved God and was beloved by God, found himself facing a choice. I am so grateful that it was faithfulness, and not fear, that he clung to that day.