What sort of religion does God our Father accept as pure and faultless?
James 1:27 has the answer: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
These are core concepts in biblical ethics: God's people are called to live holy lives and God's people are supposed to take care of the vulnerable. It's this idea of "care of the vulnerable" that I want to focus in on tonight.
The Bible doesn't just leave us with a vague prescription to care for the vulnerable (though the principle can be expanded later, if you want). The Bible gets specific with three classes that God singles out for special charitable attention.
What are those three classes?
Widows and orphans, to start off with. #1 and #2. Right off the bat.
So, what's #3?
You've read the title to this post. You know the answer.
Widows and orphans and immigrants.
Now, we often ignore this third protected class. In part, this is because of the above-mentioned verse. If God has a special concern for immigrants and wants his people to go and do likewise, why do we hear about widows and orphans but not immigrants in James 1:27?
The answer is quite simple: James 1:1. James address his entire letter to "the twelve tribes scattered among the nations." People debate whether this means that this letter was only written for Jews or for Jewish Christians or whether the "twelve tribes" language is metaphorical for the church.
Whatever you believe, James was writing to people who were scattered. James was writing to people living "among the nations." He was writing to immigrants.
In fact, throughout the Bible, God seems to pay a lot of attention to immigrants. He noticed the oppression of a group of immigrants in Egypt and set them free (through immigration). He arranged the laws of Israel to protect immigrants. He intervened in the lives of immigrants to bring healing and life.
But why? Why does God care about immigrants?
The immigrant experience resonates with the bigger story of humanity. We are all living in exile, refugees, trying to make our way in a dry and thirsty land. The frame of the biblical narrative tells a story of a people who left their home and returned to it after many, many generations. Your ancestors may have left Cuba or Mexico or China, but before that it was Eden. We fell and how great was that fall!
This idea extends to all of the protected classes: a woman separated from her husband, a child separated from parents, a person separated from home. These all stand in for the human condition: separated from relationship with God, from his protection and from his presence.
Few, in our society would encourage the abandonment of widows. Instead, we extend the category to include single moms and folks who have experienced divorce and abandonment. We go out of our way as a Christian community to take care of them, to show them love and compassion.
Likewise with orphans. You'll never hear a pastor say "Let those orphans take care of themselves." Instead, we have Orphan Sundays and celebrate adoption.
And all this is well and good and pleases God. Because God cares for these people.
What would it look like for us to go and do likewise with immigrants?
This is the fifth post in a Short Series: A Biblical Perspective on Immigration. The next post in this series will be ... God the Immigrant.