Matthew 25 came rushing back to me as I read the news this morning. It seems there is a controversy in Murfreesboro, Tennessee regarding the expansion of a mosque there. For two years now, all sorts of folks have been attempting to halt its expansion by legal means and by illegal means, including arson. And as I read this I found myself thinking about other places here in the United States where such things have happened or are happening - including the opposition to the building of the mosque at Ground Zero, which by the way, isn't even at Ground Zero, but a few blocks away.
As I read the news this morning, all I could think about was that twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew which is so packed with what would amount to a condemnation of the behavior that leads people - many of whom consider themselves to be good Christians - to forbid the building of these mosques. When Jesus taught us that the people who were invited into his kingdom, were those who could recognize that "I was a stranger, and you welcomed me." (25:35), he knew exactly what he was talking about.
A stranger is threatening to so many people precisely because, occasionally, they might be dangerous; and very often because they are different from us and therefore we lack understanding of who they are: they don't look like us, they don't act like us, they don't speak like us, they don't worship like us, they don't believe or think like us. That's why it is an act of Christian love and charity to welcome the stranger. To welcome someone just like yourself is, frankly, not that big of a deal.
But to see Christ in a Muslim is a big deal. To see Christ in anyone you think is so different from yourself that you don't want them around is among the greatest acts of Christian love. It is behavior worthy of God's Kingdom which is what Christ calls us to do. It is not easy because each of us have our own group of people that are "other," that are "stranger." It might be a person of a different religious background, or of a different race, or different nationality, different sexual orientation, different politics, etc. But they, we, are all God's children - created in God's image and likeness. To welcome the stranger is to welcome your brother or sister, it is to be welcomed yourself.
It takes guts to be a good Christian. It is a faith that calls us to lay down our lives and our treasure to follow Christ. It is a faith that calls us to welcome the stranger even if he happens to be Muslim. God gives us the strength to have those guts in prayer, in the reading of Scripture, and in worship, so that we can live up to -and into - Matthew 25. Pax.