WHF Home

This message is from September 9, 2007

Scripture Reading:
Leviticus 19:33-34 & Matthew 25:34-40

Care for the Alien

Whenever I'm on the bus, I like to take stock of the people around me. On any given day, I can see high school students and office workers and Muslim women in brightly colored head scarves. Their clothing tells a story. If they hold something in their hands, then the story becomes a little more complex. People walk onto the bus holding paperbacks and skateboards and shopping bags from Victoria's Secret. Sometimes, the accessory is just what you would expect. Sometimes, it comes as a complete surprise.

I'm especially interested in what people are reading. It's not enough to see that someone has a book. A book is ambiguous. A book could mean anything. Is it Plato's Republic? Is it the owner's manual for a new toaster oven? What is it? When someone steps onto the bus with a book, I always try to catch a glimpse of the cover.

A few weeks ago, I was riding the bus toward home. The man in front of me was reading a book. He looked to be about my age, but his brown hair showed no signs of gray. Nothing about his appearance suggested a particular line of work. He could have been a student or a teacher, a craftsman or business owner. His book would be my only clue. So I glanced over his shoulder to see what he was reading. The page was formatted like novel. But the words were completely incomprehensible to me.

After a minute or two, I decided the language was Czech.

I had mixed feelings about reaching this conclusion. Part of me was triumphant. It felt like I had uncovered some mystery. On the other hand, I have to confess: I only know about 5 words of Czech. By most objective standards, I have no expertise whatsoever. When it comes right down to it, I was only guessing. Maybe it was Czech. Maybe it was some other Slavic language that looks like Czech.

I made myself a deal. I decided: If this guy gets off the bus at my stop, then I will greet him in Czech and see what happens. This isn't quite as cowardly as it sounds. My bus stop is at the end of the line. If he was still on the bus for a couple more stops, then he would have to get off at my stop. The odds were pretty good.

Mostly, I wanted to wait until I was off the bus, so I could run away if things went badly. If I tried to talk Czech on the bus, I would have no way to escape a disaster.

When the bus stopped on the campus of PCC, we both stood up. We walked single-file toward the exit. I took my premeditated risk. I said, "Good Day" in Czech: "Dobry Den." At first, he looked startled, then he grinned. "Dobry Den," he said in reply.

I asked, "How are you?" ("Jak se mate?")

Then, he did something I could not. He started speaking Czech like a native. He rattled off a paragraph or two before I could stop him. "I'm sorry," I said. "I don't really know very much Czech. I just wanted to say hello." He was so happy. He said, "It is so nice to hear someone speak to me in Czech."

This was a great experience for me. I took a risk, and it paid off. It was just what I wanted. I was able to greet someone in his native tongue. I welcomed the stranger. And it felt like a gift to both of us.

* * *

Hospitality is a big deal to God.

God told the people of Israel, "The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love that person as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.

Love the alien.

You know, some aliens are just harder to love than others. It was easy to love ET. ET had a glowing finger. He could make bicycles fly across the face of the moon. He talked like Bea Arthur. ET was a cute, cuddly alien.

Not every alien is like that.

We are a couple of weeks away from the release of Halo 3. Halo 3 is a video game. And it's not just any video game. Halo is the 500 pound gorilla of video games. It has already sold over a million copies. Over a million people have already bought a game they won't see for two more weeks. Right now, Halo 3 is the Holy Grail of video games.

Since December of last year, I have been watching a cinematic trailer for this game. The preview plays like a movie. Two young children are laying on their backs beneath the glittering canopy of a night sky. A gentle breeze stirs the tall grass around them. As the two children gaze up into the fathomless mystery of stars, one of them asks, "Do you ever wonder what's up there?" He speaks quietly. The darkness gives his voice a sense of intimacy. He continues, "Maybe someone up there is wondering what it's like here."

Full of wonder and possibility, the other child replies, "Do you think we'll ever meet them?"

"I hope so, says the first boy. "Don't you?"

Then the tranquil scene is interrupted by the scream of an incoming missile.

There is an explosion, and the scene has changed. A soldier retrieves his helmet from the bleached earth of a desert. We hear the sounds of battle. The soldier races toward the enemy line. They are aliens. In the game universe of Halo 3, this is what we found in the stars. We meet a stranger who wants to kill us. They want to burn our planet until the surface is polished glass from pole to pole.

Aliens like that are hard to love.

You know that alien that attaches to your face, then burst out of your chest and eats everyone on the starship? That sort of alien is hard to love.

Hard-to-love Aliens appeared on an old episode of the Twilight Zone. These aliens came to earth and started packing people onto space ships. Eventually, a translator figured out that their book, "To Serve Man" was a cookbook. People were getting served alright, but not in a way that many of us would find appealing.

* * *

I saw my Czech-speaking friend one other time. One morning last wee, we got onto the bus together. It gave us a chance to become more acquainted. He's from a neighborhood in Prague called, Zizkov. He does research up at OHSU. Meanwhile, I am a pastor. He really doesn't believe in God, because religion has done so much harm over the years. Meanwhile, I am still a pastor. And he thinks that war is inevitable. Meanwhile, I am a Quaker pastor.

By the time I got off the bus, we had been chatting for 15 minutes. It was only 15 minutes! In that short time, we became aliens to one another. When we first met, we shared a greeting in Czech. Now, we couldn't share anything. He was alien to me.

He's not the worst kind of alien: he didn't try to eat my face or anything. But he's no ET, either. To continue this relationship will take work.

This is the sort of work that God calls us to do. God instructs us to love the alien. For the sake of love, we are to take a risk. For the sake of love, we are to reach beyond the boundary of what is comfortable and familiar.

We are to love the alien alien.

There are real aliens all around me. They ride my bus and buy onions at Winco. These are the aliens that I am called to love.

* * *

As a culture, we have grown very suspicious of aliens. On a Tuesday in September, Halo 3 will continue a long tradition in science fiction. Aliens will try to kill us.

This Tuesday, in September, we will remember the events of September 11. When aliens tried to kill us.

Some aliens are hard to love.

And so we must be prepared to work hard.

* * *

"Love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God."

Jesus goes one step further. When we see a stranger and invite them in, we are giving welcome to God. In this equation, the alien occupies an even more exalted place than we can occupy ourselves. The alien becomes a stand-in for God.

Some aliens are hard to love.

And so we must be prepared to work hard.