Refugees, Trump and the Light of the World

Several months ago a team of people went into my heart and fixed it. They, in fact, probed with wires right up through both an artery and a vein in both of my upper thighs, right up into my heart, and burned a number of clusters of cells that were giving off electric signals that caused premature contractions and irregular heartbeats.

The team was large. I believe there were more than 15 or 20 people involved altogether, and they were a true United Nations of a team. I was in Loyola University Hospital near Chicago, but the members of my team were from all over the planet. The drugs they gave me smoothed out my memory quite a bit, but I do remember that the Philippines, South Korea, Brazil, India, and Belarus, and many other nations were represented.

I was amazed, and terribly grateful. Immigrants are no threat to me. They are a great blessing.

We are often tempted to think that people want to come to the United States for the things that glitter: for Hollywood or a nice car or plush carpet. But there is ample evidence that it not for glitter, but for a steady light. People testify all of the time that they long to come here because it is a land where they have the basic freedom to be who they are. They will not be hunted down or punished or killed for their race or their religion or their political ideas.

And many who come, and who want to come, are those who indeed have been beaten down and are desperate. They know there is, in our busiest port, a lady holding high a torch, and an inscription that reads,

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!


This Sunday, many Christian congregations around the world, listened to an appointed reading from the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 5 which included this charge of Jesus to his followers: “You are the light of the world.”

It is popular among many white, evangelical Christians, who are busy rationalizing their support for President Donald Trump, to say the values Jesus proclaimed are personal and not political. They come close to echoing atheist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who thought Christian values terribly weak, and who favored the virtue of a raw will to power. But surely it goes to the heart of our Lord’s message that his followers must be converted so that they would begin to see the invisible and love the unlovable all around them. Jesus certainly treasured the people Lady Liberty invites: the wretched refuse, the homeless, the tempest tossed.

If Jesus touched them, ate meals with them, and invited them to enjoy a front-row seat at God’s Great Party, then, at very least, Christians should not be shutting them out ourselves, or applauding our President when he does it in our name.

Martin Luther commented on this passage from Matthew by pointing out that Jesus was charging his apostles with an essential ministry. Luther notes that the purpose of this ministry is to “instruct souls and guide them to eternal life.” He says that

All the people in the world—kings, princes, lords, learned men, wise men, holy men—have to sit down while the apostles stand up, have to let themselves be accused and condemned in their wisdom and sanctity as men who know neither doctrine nor life nor the right relation to God.

I don’t believe for a moment that real people can be neatly categorized, but, for the sake of argument here, let’s say that those who believe strongly in social improvement through good government, need to consider that good government can only be sustained by people with good hearts. So Jesus’ “You are the light of the world,” means that Christian spokesmen have to not only talk social change, but also shine the light of the gospel. They need to call people to a relation to the God whose love is powerful and whose love is for all people–especially the “wretched.”

Again, for the sake of argument, those who believe government should get off our backs, need to admit that all life is bound up with politics. We are constantly involved with decisions about who gets to sit at the table and who shares power. And if we begin to say that Jesus was instructing us in personal values that have nothing to do with politics, and have nothing to do with good government, then we are pushing Jesus out of our lives completely. This sort of dishonesty turns us into hypocrites–into people who use God to get what they want. Or it turns us into enablers of the bullies of this world. It turns us into people who can denounce Donald Trump one month for his womanizing, greed and vulgarity; and then turn around, when he is about to come into power, and declare that he is heaven sent to be our savior.


That is, true Christians must acknowledge that the only way we can take up our cross and follow Christ, is to care for the powerless. And the only way to care for the powerless is to share in power. We cannot preach the coming kingdom of God without noting who will be first in that kingdom. They are not the ones who build walls to keep the refugees of the world out because of a vague fear. The foreigners, prostitutes, sinners, tax collectors, etc. will be at the table in God’s kingdom. Not the ones who have closed their hearts and closed their worlds to these people.

What Jesus did not exactly say, but what history has surely proven to be true, is that these wretched, when they come to our welcoming land, go on to make our universities, our hospitals, our society the very best in the world. Praise the Lord.

Jesus did point to a coming kingdom. But he also said it is at hand. He even said it is now. He urged us and urges us still through the proclamation of the gospel, to practice the politics of this rule of God right now as we ready ourselves for God’s future. Practice it now, with every breath and every step we take.

Jesus said the world needs apostles who join Lady Liberty in holding this torch up high. For the sake of our nation, our values and our faith, never put it under a bushel.

About John

John is a retired pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America who has served congregations for over 40 years, including in rural, suburban, campus ministry and urban settings. His love of Border Collie sheepdogs has been fortified by his many friendships with shepherds all around the world. Nothing he has ever or will ever accomplish is as significant as the patience God, his wife and his friends have shown in putting up with his deficiencies.
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