The Refugee Gospel

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We sit at the juncture of history, with millions fleeing oppression and seeking refuge. Our overcrowded News Feeds, ‘grams, and Tweets only begin to grasp the desperation of overcrowded ferries, squalid camps, and packed buses that have come to define the lives of millions of Syrians. What is happening now has come to be called the largest mass-migration since World War II.

There is a pain that I cannot even begin to know, as I sit here and type in my climate controlled livingroom of a house that I own on a computer I own with electricity that works impeccably and with a world-class internet connection. I can’t even begin to guess at the depths of pain, the cries of fear and anxiety that become the night-song of so many young kids stripped of home.

And yet I know we’re getting the answer wrong. I can’t understand the complexity of the situation, but I can certainly know that our solution fails miserably. With 4 million people fleeing each other for their lives, we extend lip-service aid: as a nation, we’ve committed to help a mere 0.25% of the refugees. The most shocking relevation is to read the comments (always a bad idea, I know) at the ends of any given article about the Unites States helping Syrian refugees. Sadly, it seems the common public is less inclined toward grace than even our tepid and cumbersome government.

Thankfully, there has been a growing call from Christians to welcome refugees. But why? Is it simply popular moralism that drives this position? Or do we do it “because the Bible says so”? [it does, by the way] Or should we do it because it aligns us with the larger narrative of Scripture, since the nation of Israel was often refugees and Jesus himself was both homeless and a refugee?

While I agree that all of these motivations are good – doing the right thing, obeying Scripture, honoring the narrative of Biblical history, and following Jesus’ model – this isn’t the root motivator for the Jesus follower to hold open arms toward refugees!

A Gospel Response: We are all refugees

The Gospel does not compel me to love refugees because it is the most morally upstanding thing to do. Nor does the Gospel compel me to welcome the refugee because it follows a certain heritage, or even because it follows in the footsteps of Jesus. The Gospel compels me to love the refugee because I am a refugee, and Christ is my Refuge.

The Gospel says, we are all destitute and without a home; we are all desperate for shelter, and Jesus alone welcomes us in from the cold, clothes us with his riches, and adopts us as his very own. In one parable, the Jesus-figure tells his servants: “Go get all the good and the bad people; bring them to my table.”

I am so glad Jesus invites those who don’t deserve to be at his table to break bread with him! It is only because Jesus opens his invitation to the unworthy that I am able to come – I am unworthy! It is his work of grace that gives me worth – this is my admission ticket to the banquet of history.

Jesus goes further

The Gospel makes it clear that we weren’t just refugees fleeing an oppressive system – we both created and perpetuated a system of oppression: we were enemies of God, actively working against his plan and working for our selfish ambition. The Gospel makes the work of Jesus clear: that at the right time he rescued us – while we were still enemies!

Here is the journey Jesus walks with us, both in a single instantaneous moment of salvation, and also for our entire lives:

He made peace with us while we were his enemy;
…not only this, but he invites us into his Kingdom;
…and he not only invites us in, but makes us citizens of his Kingdom;
…and not only citizens, he invites us into his Throne room;
…and not only are we ushered in, but adopted as sons and daughters;
…and not only adopted, but made co-heirs with Christ in the Kingdom;
…and not only co-heirs, but collectively we are the Bride of Christ, experiencing deepest intimacy with God himself.

At the moment of Rescue, we are fully and unequivocally Reconciled to God: given the full rights and welcome of sons and daughters. There are no reservations on God’s part – the citizenship received at salvation is a full citizenship. No temporary visas, green cards, work permits, or probation periods. I am a citizen of the Kingdom of God.

Counter Deportation

The crazy thing to me – and the deepest motivation for welcoming the refugee among us – is that Jesus extends to me full citizenship while full well knowing that I will STILL rebel against his Kingship, abandon his ranks, defy his laws, secede from his rule, defile his sanctity, defame him publicly, tarnish his reputation, and generally cause a whole lot of bollocks.

Jesus, knowing my propensity to sin, offers me full-rank citizenship! When I wander off, well outside the borders of his Kingdom, he doesn’t deport me back to the domain of darkness from whence I came – he comes, finds me, picks me up, and carries me back! Donald Trump is racist for calling Mexicans rapists, but when I act as a rapist in the Kingdom of Jesus, he doesn’t strip me of title, ship me off, and deny my attempts of re-entry — he washes me in his blood and welcomes me into his Throneroom!

This is not a free pass to wander. This is an invitation to wonder. Wonder at the goodness of our kind rescuing King!

The Gospel Motivates us to Love

Moralism, tradition, and even following the model of Jesus’ life are not bad things – but they are not complete; they are not the deepest roots from which the truest motivation rises to love the marginalized, needy, and oppressed. We love the refugee because we are refugees who have experienced the True Love of the King of kings. We extend refuge to the refugee because we have found our Refuge. We love because Jesus loved us, loves us, and will always love us. He served us then (by making a way to Refuge possible), serves us today (by keeping us in his Refuge), and will serve us (by being our Home) – and it is from this Gospel posture that we extend a scandalous love to the sojourner among us.

We simply cannot call ourselves citizens of Jesus’ Kingdom and deny compassion to the refugee among us! We cannot claim to love the ways of God and not extend love to the oppressed. We cannot embrace the moralism of Jesus without embracing his radicalism in loving those the politicians, pundits, and populists loathe. We cannot honor the traditions of our faith without honoring the foreigner and refugee. We cannot model the life and ways of Jesus without the Gospel gripping our hearts for an affection toward the broken, the lost, the wandering refugee in desperate need of Shelter.

As we move forward as the people of God placed in the midst of such momentous history and called to point to the King, how then shall we live?

K Livingston
K Livingston
I believe in dreaming big, working hard, cheering loud, standing tall, bowing deep. All of it because I believe Jesus = life.
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