“It is…the task of Christian preaching to say: here is the church, where Jew and German stand together under the Word of God; here is the proof whether a church is still the church or not.”
– Dietrich Bonhoeffer
These words were penned by Dietrich in the middle of the 20th century, when the social tides in Germany were swelling with a tragic hatred stemmed from a manipulative sect that targeted the Jewish people and attempted to cast them as objects of national fear and spite. Bonhoeffer saw the crucial need for the church to remain undefined by such pressures which had begun to invade the nation’s congregations and distort their teachings. Far from being a dusty chapter in church history, this need is one that we are faced with today. Allow me to borrow and modify his phrase to reflect the present scenario:
It is…the task of Christian preaching to say: here is the church, where native and foreigner stand together under the Word of God; here is the proof whether a church is still the church or not.
What do you think? Christians, what do you believe? Are we the church or are we not? Is the church the hands and feet of Jesus Christ who gave his life for all and spent it with not only the immigrant and the foreigner, but also the poor, the criminal, the prostitute, the unchurched, the politically-opposite? Or is it not? Are we a part of the church Jesus founded and is continuing to build or are we not?
Today is the day we must face the fact that “faith without works is dead.” These are not the cold words of some ancient proverb. Read the fuller context and see how inescapably relevant these words are to us today: “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works is dead”
– James 2:15-17
This is the day when we come face to face with the refugee and the immigrant. We gaze over their bent shoulders to a tattered past and the war-ravaged lands from which they seek asylum for their children. We behold the dreams that they, just like you, are trying to achieve and the crippling memory of a home and a history that was stolen from them. These precious people are before us today and we must make a decision.
Now is when we find ourselves echoing the question that Jesus told us we would all ask of him at the end of all things: “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?” And it is now, right now on our very doorsteps, when his response to that very question takes on present-tense bodily form and refuses to be just some faraway prophecy for a faraway time in the faraway reaches of our theology: “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'”
– Matthew 25:31-46
With the recollection that we too have personal or family histories of crossed borders and foreign roots, we must endeavor to give substance to the words engraved on the doormat of our nation: “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 door”
– Emma Lazarus, “The New Colossus”
What do we preach? Forget words for a moment. What do we preach with our actions? Much of the world already knows our Sunday school lessons and can recite them just as well. There are too many empty words out there; society is glutted with phrases and proverbs but starved of the actions to back them up.
The words of Jesus matched the doings of Jesus. Do ours?
There are far too many opportunities to engage, love, and serve out there for us to keep making excuses. Give food, time, money, shelter. Buy someone a meal, donate to a relevant cause, join hands with people that are ethically and righteously standing against injustice. No act is too small. Break chains with every word you write, shatter darkness with your art, lead the way with your voice. Do something lovely because you can and because this is what you were made for. Open your home, your hands, your heart. Do not let silence close your lips when the oppressed are bullied or mocked in your presence. Do not let fear filter your eyes such that the dark crimes of a select few stain the innocence of the masses. Do not let your mind become a warehouse of false propaganda. Your whole body is an extension of God’s home, refuse to let anyone else live in it: “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own”
– 1 Corinthians 6:19-20
Jesus calls us into the messiness of the world to bring something into it that wasn’t there before. Lights in the darkness, water in a dry land. With our words, we boast of a faith in God and his love, forgiveness, protection, and trust. Do we attempt the impossible task of reconciling this with our lives of silent distance and neglect? Or do we join him in this work for which we were made? Are we not his church?
“…Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter- when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?”
– Isaiah 58:6-7