"This is the adoration that I desire: loosen the bonds of injustice! Remove the burdensome yoke! Free the oppressed!" (Isaiah 58:6)
Yesterday, our family joined hundreds of our closest friends at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta to send a clear message: we demand that our nation to be a place of welcome and refuge for all who seek it. For me, this conviction comes from both personal experience and from the roots of my faith.
Elizabeth and I spent three and a half years living in the Middle East in a majority Muslim culture. We counted Muslims among our friends and colleagues. We traveled across the region, including three of the nations that are now included in the Executive Order banning Muslims from traveling to the United States, including those who have already undergone the intense vetting process to get visas, green cards, or residency permits. And throughout that experience, we were embraced in warm hospitality that puts the South to shame. We ate so much food that our bellies became more stuffed than the grape leaves we consumed. We drank so much coffee that there's no reason I should ever blink again. Now, when I read of Abraham's extravagant hospitality to the three visitors (Genesis 18), it is no longer a story - it's a memory of those times. In short, we were strangers who were welcomed.
On a personal level, this commitment to welcome is an attempt to pay back a debt of gratitude which I will owe for the rest of my life. And yet, that's not even close to the heart of it. I stand firm on my conviction to be hospitable because I learned it from Jesus. From Genesis to Revelation, Scripture is full of reminders to welcome the stranger, the alien, the refugee, the foreigner, and to treat them with equality. And it all boils down to Jesus' simple words: "I was a stranger and you welcomed me." (Matthew 25)
My new reality as a pastor without a pulpit, exploring new ways of gathering new worshiping communities, means that our family worships in different contexts. Most Sundays, that means church. Some of them we attend because I have professional obligations (e.g. preaching, teaching). Others we join because we hunger for that variety of experiences of the church at work in the world. Yesterday, our protest against injustice was our worship of The Just.