When I was four or five my parents read me a little book called Henny Penny…. Henny Penny, a hen, was scratching at the ground when an acorn fell on her head. Startled, she said, “The sky is FALLING!” She ran off to tell the king. Along the way she met her friends (a rooster, goose, duck and turkey), told them, and they, in fright, cried, “The sky is falling!” A kind of animal hysteria broke loose. The moral of the story is how easily we become afraid, imagine the worst possible outcome, and rally others to our cause….
Two weeks ago I mentioned the issue of violence. A Gallup poll last year found that almost two thirds of Americans were fearful of being victims of a violent crime—higher than at any time in the last fifteen years. Yet violent crime rates have dropped in half since the early 1990’s and are where they were in the mid 1960’s. Fear of terrorism has risen in the last year to a level not seen since just after 9/11. Fear of immigrants and refugees has risen in the last two years. Rick Wilson is a Republican political strategist and media consultant. He noted, “Fear is the simplest emotion to tweak in a campaign ad. You associate your opponent with terror, with fear, with crime, with causing pain and uncertainty,” and you have a strong chance of winning an election. When people are afraid, they want protection. They want strong borders and walls….
At supper with my friend Glen Miles at Country Club Christian Church, he mentioned something I immediately connected with. He reminded me that among the men Jesus called to be his disciples were Matthew the Tax Collector and Simon the Zealot. The tax collectors worked for the Romans and believed the best way for the Jews to survive was to accept Roman rule and to get along with them. The Zealots were committed to overthrow and defeat the Romans. Talk about political adversaries! The Zealots hated tax collectors and vice versa. Yet Jesus called them both, loved them both, and I suspect both of them saw their political views changed by being with the Master. Jesus seemed to call both liberals and conservatives to follow him and to love one another.
You’ve heard me say people ask me, “Are you liberal or conservative?” My answer is always, “Yes.” As to the historic doctrines of the Christian faith, I lean conservative. As to many social issues I lean liberal. I’m almost always going to come out on the side of compassion, mercy and a concern for the vulnerable and the weak.
How you act and how you treat people with whom you disagree when you disagree is both a test of your faith and a demonstration of it. One conservative woman in our congregation noted that it felt to her that liberals welcome and love everyone—LGBT, Muslims, Jews, everyone, except conservatives. Conservatives are not the enemy, liberals are not the enemy, and we actually need each other. The defining mark of the Christian life is not being right—it is love.
Last Friday, as you know, President Trump signed an executive order with four points:
As of Monday 49% of Americans agreed with the ban. 31% said it made them feel safer. I spent time listening this week to people on all sides. From those who supported the order, I heard things like, “I want to support refugees. I care about people. But I want to make sure we’re safe. We need to protect ourselves against terrorists entering our country.” For those who are afraid or anxious, President Trump intended to provide reassurance. And I’m all for evaluating our security process….
But you may have heard these facts this week: In the last 36 years there’s only been one terrorist attack in the US by a refugee. He was not from Syria. He stabbed 9 people, who all survived. It’s estimated that the likelihood of you getting hit by lightning is 1 in 900,000 while the chances of you being harmed in a terrorist attack carried out by refugees is something like 1 in 3.6 billion. You are 4,000 times more likely to be struck by lightning than to be killed by a terrorist attack conducted by a refugee.
In the Holocaust Museum, among the moving exhibits is one that shows how in 1938 when fears of Hitler’s plans began to spread across Europe, Jews from Germany and Austria sought to emigrate to the US. At the time 67% of Americans opposed allowing them to enter. Most of you remember the story of the ocean liner St. Louis that arrived in Miami in 1939 with 900 Jews. They were not allowed to disembark. They were sent back to Europe where many died in Hitler’s camps.
After World War II, when hundreds of thousands of Jews sought refuge, President Eisenhower proposed receiving 250,000 of them in the US. Even knowing the horrors they had endured during the Holocaust, 59% of Americans opposed accepting them.
In 1975, with the fall of Saigon and the US exit from Vietnam, many refugees fled for their lives. They were called the “Boat People.” America’s compassion has always nurtured the impulse to receive these persons. I remember Vietnamese children in school and youth group who came during this time. Yet Americans were afraid to let them in—it required a president and Congress who had the courage to push it through.
So what would the Lord have Christians think about these refugees? We know Jeremiah said: “The LORD proclaims: Do what is just and right; rescue the oppressed from the power of the oppressor. Don’t exploit or mistreat the refugee, the orphan, and the widow.” (Jeremiah 22:3) Jesus spoke of the Last Judgment, noting that he welcomes those in heaven who welcomed the stranger, and clothed and fed the naked and hungry. Through Moses God called Israel to care for the “alien in your midst.” God says to us, as he said to Joshua, “Be strong and courageous, I am with you!”
My peace when the world seems to be coming apart at the seams and the sky seems to be falling never comes from the President of the United States, or the U.S. Congress, as important as these men and women are. My peace in the midst of the storms of life, including political firestorms, is found in God. One of my favorite Psalms is Psalm 46. Listen carefully to a few of its words:
God is our refuge and strength,
a help always near in times of great trouble.
That’s why we won’t be afraid when the world falls apart,
when the mountains crumble into the center of the sea…
The LORD of heavenly forces is with us!
The God of Jacob is our place of safety…
Be still, and know that I am God!
God is our refuge and strength, not the President and Congress. Because we trust in God, we won’t be afraid when the world falls apart. So be still and know that he is God. Breathe deep. Don’t panic. The sky is not falling. But do continue to speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves. It is our faith that allows us to have courage, and that courage calls us to speak up and to love.
Do you remember how Henny Penny ends? In their fear, they are no longer thinking straight. Henny and the goose, duck, turkey and rooster meet up with a fox, who offers to show them a shortcut to the king’s house. Only the shortcut leads straight to the fox’s den, where he and his family have a marvelous dinner, and Henny Penny is never heard from again! What kind of message is that for children?! But the moral is—when we’re led by fear we often make dreadful mistakes.
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