(This excerpt comes from a sermon preached in April of 2006 by Gregory Lee, a United Methodist minister from Valdosta, Georgia. At the time, the nation was embroiled in a contentious debate over immigration after President Bush had introduced legislation that drew bipartisan resitance. This sermon will soon be relevant again, as Obama is set to introduce immigration legislation of his own in early 2010.)
We are being faced with a situation in our country that is demanding a biblical response from the church — a situation that is requiring us to deny ourselves, to pick up our cross, and to follow Christ in ministering to the poor and oppressed regardless of the consequences.
As I’m sure most of you know, our country is embroiled right now in a controversy over immigration rights — it started back in December, when the House of Representatives in Congress passed the Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act. This bill tried to address the problem of illegal immigration in this country, but in doing so, expanded the definition of smuggling so broadly that anyone who aids undocumented immigrants by giving someone in need food and water and clothing and medicine — things that Christ clearly commanded us to do in this passage — could be legally prosecuted. In verse 35, when Christ said that He was a stranger and we invited Him in — the word "stranger" there is the Greek word "xenos," which literally means a foreigner, an alien, an immigrant…
I have come to the conclusion that God is calling for His church to take a stand on this issue — to minister to the immigrants in our midst and to show them God’s love by sharing with them the message of the cross – both the message of salvation and the message of sharing with those in need, regardless of the cost.
In Leviticus 19:33-34, we read, "When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God." Granted, this was a command to the Israelites, but I think this principle is reflected in the life and ministry of Jesus and is clearly dictated to us in this passage from Matthew 25.
God’s command seems clear to me: we are called to minister to poor and the oppressed — the hungry, the thirsty, the sick, the needy, those in prison, and also the immigrants — the aliens in our land — even if doing so is in conflict with man’s law…
… Passing a law that declares illegal aliens to be whole-sale felons and unable to receive aid from American citizens is unAmerican and unChristian. As the church, we need to take a stand and petition our lawmakers to defeat bills that are unjust. We need to recognize that these people are individuals with individual stories and life histories and reasons for immigration that may include political, religious, and economic asylum. To simply export such people as criminals would be tatamount to sending them to their deaths.
We need to develop a way to identify those illegals who wish to become American citizens and create a way for them to become citizens. Those who are identified as criminals in their country of origin or who are criminals because they broke a law of our land should be tried in a court of law and extradited back to their country. Those who don’t want to become American citizens but who wish to work here for a limited time should be given the opportunity to do so through a guest worker program for a limited number of years. Then, once their time is up, they should be given the option of becoming a citizen or going back to their country.
Bottom-line: in the midst of the immigration crisis, the Christian response should be to offer hospitality to these foreigners, aliens, and strangers first and foremost. This means that we should treat them as Christ called us to treat them: with love and mercy and grace. We have a responsibility as Christians to care for them.