In a recent Sound-Off item in our local paper, a caller said: “I read...where another church is collecting food and supplies for Haiti, but I have not seen one church or one group collecting for the people of Louisiana or the fire victims out in California. Shouldn’t we be taking care of the U.S. first? I’m an American citizen and I watch out for Americans first, not other countries.”
When I read that in the paper I cut it out because I wanted to think about it for a while. First, I know of several local churches and organizations that are helping both Haiti and Louisiana, so it’s possible to do both.
But I think the Sound-Off caller’s “America and Americans first” is something that I’ve heard a lot from people. Maybe people have always said or thought that? I don’t know the answer to that.
But I do know that the inscription on the Statue of Liberty famously says: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
“Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” At least one time in history, America, meaning Americans, thought of others beyond our borders and eagerly welcomed them.
That said, I can absolutely see the caller’s point, the desire to take care of oneself first. However, that’s not to be true of the church and of Christians. Jesus said those who want to be first will end up being last. It’s a hard thing. I am all about me first, and I have to fight against that all the time.
Jesus taught that his followers are to love others as they love themselves, to be welcoming and gracious, giving to others sacrificially, to be forgiving and merciful and to offer hospitality, even to people who are different, even to those we don’t like. Or maybe we like them, but we don’t want to include them.
My pastor sometimes reminds us about when our church was young, when we got to a certain size that was comfortable, and some people started saying they hoped the church would stay that size — no more, “just us.” I can understand that.
But the Christian life is never about “just us,” but about “them,” about the tired, the poor, the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” the “wretched refuse of your teeming shore.” It’s about opening up our doors, our hearts, our wallets, our lives to the refugees and immigrants, the outcasts and the sinners, because that’s who we all are apart from Christ.
Another thing my pastor sometimes says: “We are chosen, but we’re not ‘choice.’ We’re chosen, not because we’re good, but because he (God) is good.”
If we who call ourselves Christians would remember that we are “chosen but not choice,” I think we would have an easier time loving others the way Jesus would have us love.
I’ve heard preachers say we are “blessed to be a blessing,” and it’s true.
God gives to us so we can give to others and not hoard for ourselves. Likewise, he has welcomed us so we can extend welcome, mercy and grace to all who need it, regardless if they’re from Haiti or Louisiana, Mexico or Mars.
Jesus said: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you invited me in...Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it for me” (Matthew 25:35-40).
We do it for him, because he did it first for us.