I usually find there are two valid sides to most issues (with limited exceptions). When I see people, especially followers of Christ, being so abrasive and arrogant about their point of view, it disturbs me. It bothers me when I fall into that trap. The last two weeks I have preached from John 1:14-17 where it describes Jesus being full of grace and truth. Full of both. Two things which at times the church seems to be only on one side or the other. When the two are combined, it brings a certain messiness to the situation. Most things we consider black and white suddenly become some other shade.
The people of Syria are facing a real dilemma. A civil war is ravaging their country and terrorists are using large portions of their country as a base. Millions of Syrians are fleeing their homeland looking for a place of safety for their families. At the same time, there are terrorists blending in with innocent refugees looking for cover to carry out their evil plans. This creates a real problem for the rest of the world. It is not as clear as anyone would like to make it. Grace and truth, compassion and expectation, create a tension that we struggle to manage. In this refugee discussion, most of the comments I read are all or nothing. I have not arrived there yet. I am wrestling with this. Somehow I hope this expression of writing will assist in clearing my own understanding.
My compassion pushes me to make room for everyone. Grace, or unfailing love, is inclusive not exclusive. I am reminded to love the poor and care for them. The New Testament teaches that true religion involves the care of orphans and widows. I have been challenged recently as I have grown to make an attempt to understand people and their situations better. I did not get to choose where I was born. I was favored to be born in the United States. Frankly, that was a measure of grace in itself. My heart breaks for these people who are only looking for a safe place to raise their family. I passed through the airport in Moscow recently and there was a family from Syria living in the airport that had a problem with their visa and could not clear customs. They had spent 50 days of living in a terminal the day I came through. My heart broke for them, but I was limited in what I could do. We are a nation of immigrants. My grace wants to help those that are in need.
The tension I have is that I also have some expectation. With my compassion comes certain caution. There are those that do not want to assist anyone because of someone. I refuse to take that position. I am a preacher, but I am not Jim Jones. I am an American, but I am not Timothy McVeigh or Jeffrey Dahmer. I am a North Carolinian, but I am not Velma Barfield. I cannot join the camp that puts all Syrians in the same basket. However, I can’t eliminate certain caution or expectation for those coming to our country. I do have an expectation that we are making reasonable attempts to keep our country and it’s people safe. I am not looking for perfection, but I do believe their should be reasonable vetting.
Grace and truth get messy. My experience tells me that it is impossible to offer grace without experiencing pain. To remove the chance of being hurt would mean to eliminate grace. I know some of you will read this and you have already settled this issue; many of you are all or nothing. I just hope to encourage some people who are not finding it as cut and dry as many want it to be. I don’t think this is a tension that can be eliminated, but it is one I have to manage.
I generally am not a person that lives in fear. I would rather suffer for making a difference than to accomplish little while remaining safe. Just to put things in perspective, I am traveling to Turkey in December to train leaders and pastors, some of which are probably fleeing Syria. There are millions of Syrian refugees flooding Turkey. I am taking my son, son-in-law and Family Pastor with me. We are going to make a difference. I am not afraid of going to them. I am working through my tension of them coming to me.
This Sunday I will finish the sermon series where we are covering the first 18 verses of John. John says that God is revealed to us through Jesus Christ. One of the supporting passages that we will take a look at is found in 2 Corinthians 5:16-19. It has many applications, but here are two: 1) we have to stop evaluating others from a human point of view, and 2) he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. My goal is to learn to live both of these out. This seems like a good place to start.