For You Yourselves Were Foreigners

I've led four trips to the Holy Land over the last few years, and each time I have had the opportunity to visit Israel's moving and inspiring Holocaust museum, Yad Vashem.  

The name Yad Vasehem comes from the prophet Isaiah chapter 56:4-5.  The verse reads, "I will give them in My house and in My walls a yad veshem (a place to memorialize their deeds), and thus their name." 

One of the many things about Yad Vashem that wounds my spirit deeply is an exhibit of all of the countries of the world that either actively participated in the Holocaust, or who passively participated because of their general antipathy toward Jews.  

The United States is among the latter group of nations.  In fact, one of the darkest moments in U.S. History during the World War II era was the sad tale of the refugee ship, the St. Louis.  

The U.S. government refused to receive nearly 600 Jewish refugees from Germany, who were on the St. Louis, and who fled that country just prior to the Holocaust.  Most of them ended up in concentration camps, and over half of those did not survive.  

There is so much turmoil in our society right now regarding foreigners, refugees and immigrants---so much anxiety about who should be welcomed, and who shouldn't.  I don't pretend to be an expert on any of this.  Truthfully, I often find myself torn between fear and compassion.  

But I also don't want to have to explain one day to my grandchildren how the country I love ended up on the wrong side of history, not even eighty years after the painful and terrible lesson of the St. Louis.  

In the Hebrew Scriptures there is a teaching from Deuteronomy 10:19 that reads, "And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt."  

I think this teaching was a God-given gift to not only the Hebrew people, but to all of us. It draws our focus away from politics, rhetoric and outrage, and focuses it on something beautiful and distinctly human.  

No matter who we are, we all know what it's like (at least to some extent) to feel lost, and to wander.  We all have immigrants and refugees in our family tree.  And we are all children of God--loved by the Creator and given the same opportunities for grace, mercy and redemption through Jesus Christ, God's Son.  

As Christians, we need to set aside partisan politics, and the overwhelming desire to place everything into "either/or" categories.  We should focus instead on what we believe Jesus would actually do in these kinds of circumstances.  

And in all things, we should err on the side of the radical love and grace Jesus shares with us, and calls us to share with others in return. 

Now, may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always.  Amen. 


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