Syrians, Samaritans and Mustard Seeds

by Ross Decker Sr

He proposed another parable to them. “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a person took and sowed in a field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants. It becomes a large bush, and the ‘birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches.”

As the middle east continues to be a troubled, unsafe place, thousands of Syrian immigrants pour into Europe daily. Estimates place the number of displaced people at nearly 400,000. We’ve seen the pictures and heard the stories. The photograph of the three year old who drowned on his way toward hope is burned into our minds. Although the wealthy Gulf States have displayed amazing lack of compassion for their Islamic brethren, Europe is responding to the crisis with kindness and care. Germany has set itself at the center of the gracious acceptance of these displaced people. At this point, though, the crisis shows no signs of abating.

The Pope has called for each Catholic parish in Europe to take as many refugees as possible. He has extended the compassionate arm of Jesus Christ toward these afflicted people and welcomed them. It is, he reminds us, our duty as Christians. More than that, it is our great calling. We are to love the world and to love our neighbor in Jesus’ name. It is an honor to do so, regardless of the personal costs. The disciple James advises us of our responsibility on this. He writes, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?  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 goo is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”

Quite a few Christians, Catholic and Protestants alike, have questioned this call. Some think it isn’t safe to do this. They worry that terrorists will slip into our society, arriving as refugees. I have heard others say that, being the same nationality as our enemies, they should be left to suffer and to perish in this horrible predicament. This may even seem to be the sensible thing to do if we are afraid of those nations. Some say that they would prefer to protect what they have and let this poor mass of humans find it’s own way through. But this solution is political expediency, not religion.  But it isn’t a following of the calling given to us by our Lord. Our religion, if co-opted by fear and hatred, is no religion at all.  And, if we turn to our faith only when we’ve exhausted “reasonable” options, we’ve only a comforting philosophy. Not a faith. We pollute our faith when we fold politics into it. Combining those ingredients ruin the recipe. Religion plus politics equals politics.

Let’s look at the parable of the Good Samaritan. This is one of the most famous parables of Jesus. People with absolutely no connection to faith have all heard of it. A certain man went down the very dangerous Jericho Road. On the way, he was mugged. The muggers beat him very severely, robbed him and left him for dead by the side of the road. His own people, a priest and a Levite, passed him by. They were in a position to help. As religious people, you would reasonably expect that they would. But, they didn’t. It took a Samaritan, in this situation the enemy, who gave the comfort. This stranger, this enemy, went out of his way. He cleansed the wounds, he brought him to an inn, and covered all the expenses.

Well, it isn’t a very big stretch to apply this parable to the immigration crisis. The influx of immigrants is represented by the man beaten on the roadside. The priest and the Levite are the Persian Gulf nations who will not help. And we? We have the opportunity to be the Samaritan. We shouldn’t wish to play the role of the Levite.

It makes sense not to help. It’s safer. It feeds into our anger and revenge instincts. It’s the easy choice to make. But it isn’t what we are called to do.

The Scripture overflows with exhortation to be kind. To do good. To love our enemies. We are to love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our strength and with all our mind. We are to love our neighbor as ourselves. We are to be kind to the stranger in our land. Do these people, so desperately in need of our help, possibly have ties to the terrorists who seek to kill us? Yes. But we are to love our enemies, do good to those who hate us. We are to bless those who curse us and pray for those who mistreat us. No, it doesn’t make sense. But we are supposed to do it.

Through the centuries the Church has handled difficult situations with supernatural bravery. Are we always delivered in the way that Daniel was delivered from the lion? No. We are not. But brave Christians have preserved and advanced the faith through the years. Tertullian wrote “the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.”

Recent events in Paris have made this a harder choice. And, it has place a solemn burden on our government to thoroughly vet refugees.  Maybe there will be terrorists hidden within the masses who seek asylum. But, if something horrible happens, it will have happened while we were doing good. While we were serving the Lord. While we were loving our enemies and washing their feet.

The parable tells us that the mustard seed is one of the smallest of all seeds. And Jesus says it is an example of our faith. And to follow that illustration, it’s fair to say that our faith, when it is fully grown, should be expansive. It should be welcoming. The birds of the air and the people of all nations should find the mustard tree of our faith to be a safe harbor from the harsh reality of this world. They should find comfort in our branches and stability in our rooting. This is our calling.

Trump, Steinbeck and Jesus Christ

by Ross Decker Sr

“Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” John Steinbeck

I had a life changing encounter with Jesus Christ in April of 1976. It was the traditional way, the pastor said that anyone who wanted to give their lives over to Christ should raise their hands. I did. Liz did. So we, pretty much simultaneously and altogether independently, raised our hands. That, as I believe it should, forever changed the way we looked at everything.

Liz asked me repeatedly if I fully understood what I’d done. I assured her that I did. That Tuesday night (pastors are off on Monday) the Pastor used the “pop in” to shore up our decision. And he immediately brought up tithing. If Liz had any doubts about my willingness to follow fully, my agreement to tithe must have put an end to them right there!

Sometime very shortly following that night, I began to see a push to have Christians involved in politics. Christians were taking back the culture! From my limited view, the vehicle they were using to reclaim that culture was the Republican Party. And, over the years, that Republican Party gradually hijacked Evangelical Christianity. Evangelicals fell in line with Republican “doctrine” even when it contradicted Christian teaching.

It seems only fair, though scarily so, that the Republican Party should be hijacked today by a rich white man with an aggressive position. Donald Trump entered the race for the party’s presidential nomination with inflammatory words directed against minorities, the poor, and immigrants. He has virtually no political experience, he has been associated with the Democratic party as well as flirting with a third party candidacy. But, he has surged to the top of the polls by loudly saying what Republican Christians quietly believe. He seems to embody the values they treasure.

What do the Republican Christians treasure? Well, poor Republicans seem to love any law that can make rich Republicans richer. They love anything that will help rich Republican businessmen hold onto their wealth. They love a small government that stays out of their business, but not their Liberal neighbors’ business. They love when law enforcement goes after a few kids wearing their pants too low or selling loosies on the corner but they don’t want the government regulating their boss’s salary. They love to tell dissenters to go find a better country, a revival of the sixties’ “America, love it or leave it,” but the ones who resent the government the most wave the biggest flags.

Trump infuriated Latinos (and all thinking people) by describing Mexicans who come to the United States illegally as “killers” and “rapists” in his June campaign announcement speech. He added some days later, “What can be simpler or more accurately stated? The Mexican Government is forcing their most unwanted people into the United States. They are, in many cases, criminals, drug dealers, rapists…. ‘. He promised to both build a wall and to have Mexico pay for it.

On deporting the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants, Trump boasted “Politicians aren’t going to find them because they have no clue. We will find them, we will get them out, It’s feasible if you know how to manage. Politicians don’t know how to manage.” It’s a problem for America, he said, because “We have a lot of bad dudes, as I said. We have a lot of really bad people here, I want to get the bad ones out…And by the way, they’re never coming back.”

Christians! We can’t be like this. We can’t confine our Christian lives to the inside of church walls each Sunday, living by a different world view once we are back in the secular world. There is no secular world for the Christian. My pastor, speaking about tithing, once said that “god’s math is different than ours. Ninety per cent goes farther than One hundred percent when the first tenth goes to God.” His reasoning was that when we “obey God in the tithe” it works out better for us in the end.

Well that’s not how it works. We don’t obey God so that we get more in the end. We obey God because we are supposed to.We aren’t checking out His program and following it if it makes sense. We follow it because we’re supposed to. We follow it whether it works or not. It certainly hasn’t worked for those who have been imprisoned, tortured and beheaded for the Gospel.They didn’t do it to see their bank account swell. They followed God because they were supposed to.

That’s what we are supposed to do regarding our neighbors to the south. Sure, we set up an immigration policy but that policy must be kind, fair and realistic. We are to follow the words of Jesus when he says to love your neighbor as yourself. He seems to think it’s a pretty important ‘suggestion.” In tandem with loving God with all your heart, loving your neighbor as yourself sums up the law of the prophets.

The remarks Trump made about Megyn Kelly after the debate are beyond the pale. His defense  of his remarks was even worse. For a man whose fans claim “he tells it like it is,” he seemed to be unwilling to do just that.  In true politician fashion he sidestepped what he really meant and accused those who were offended of perverse thinking. His Christian supporters claim he was “baited.” Perhaps he was, but so what? “He hit me first” has never been, nor should it ever be, an acceptable excuse for paid behavior. And Christians should never rejoice in someone who attacks the human dignity of another. God made us in His image and when we revile another, we revile Him.

And why do Republican Christians have such a love affair with successful businessmen?

James admonishes us, “But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court?  Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?” (James 2:6,7), 

“I’m not using the lobbyists” boasts Trump, “I’m not using donors. I don’t care. I’m really rich.”