It was a simple sermon.
I pointed out the many texts throughout Scripture about the need for God’s people to care for refugees, because we ourselves are refugees, aliens and strangers on the earth. I pointed out some practical ways our members could care for Syrian (and other) refugees today.
Afterwards, one conversation with a visitor did not go well.
She told me that Americans should not welcome Muslims to this country. I told her I understood where she was coming from, in light of terror attacks by extremists. But, I told her, Jesus tells us to love our neighbors and he takes it a step farther and says to love our enemies. Numerous passages tell us to welcome the stranger.
She said, “Well that’s just not practical.”
I said, “practical” isn’t the way we make decisions in the Kingdom of God. We follow a Lord who did the impractical and died on our behalf. And he tells us to take up our cross and follow him.
She paused for a moment, and then said: “Well, he may have called you to that, but not me.”
That conversation comes to mind so often because she is not a bad woman. She is a really godly woman. Studies her Bible all the time. Generous. Compassionate.
She is just scared. Afraid. I understand that. I am, too. We all are.
Paul understood a thing or two about fear. Had some close calls in life. Spent some time in prison. Was on a shipwreck for goodness sake. And yet he says this:
Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have. (Phil 1:27-30)
When I stumbled upon this the other day, it seemed so timely.
The message (notice the bold text) is simple as well. Paul is saying that when Christians face the world without fear, the world will realize Christians have something they don’t, and they will want it.
Evangelism by fearlessness.
I like the sound of that, but it is hard to be fearless. Especially these days, when both terrorists and politicians seem to believe the only way to get our attention is to make us afraid. Afraid of them, afraid of others, afraid for our safety, afraid for our future. Afraid.
But some people are doing it.
A year ago, a group from our church raised $8,000 to relocate a Syrian family of six to Memphis. A father and mother, and their four little kids. They had owned a restaurant in Syria, and lost everything including their home and that restaurant.
They arrived here a little over a year ago. We filled their apartment with beds, a table and chairs, and toys. Just a few weeks ago, the father asked if he could say thank you to us, by preparing a Syrian meal for us. He doesn’t have much money, but he fed about 40 Americans out of his own pocket.
And I know some were thinking: is this safe to eat? But they ate it. It was good.
There was a lot of hummus.
Has he been converted? Well … no.
But he knows that at least some Christians are fearless.
Eric and his wife Lindsey have been at Highland Church in Memphis since 2012. You are likely to find them walking the local Greenline with their sons Noble, Foster, and dachshund Tucker. Eric cares deeply about preaching and social justice. He has a BA in Biblical Text and a Master of Divinity from Abilene Christian University. Eric is a board member for HopeWorks, an organization that provides hope and job training to the chronically unemployed and formerly incarcerated in Memphis.