Just Announced: Philippians Sermon Series

Summary: For Prayer Breakfast given by a Francophone African church. We must respond to immigrants because God commands it, our history demands it, it serves our own best interests, and the Gospel includes it.

Valentine Michael Smith was born on Earth, raised on Mars, and returned to Earth. He never felt fully at home in either place. But his interaction with Earth, when he returned as a young adult, transformed Earth culture and impacted many lives. His most important contribution to Earth was the founding of the Church of All Worlds, which taught its members how to rise above suffering.

You may already have guessed that Valentine Michael Smith is a fictional character, the central figure in a science fiction novel called "Stranger in a Strange Land." The author of the novel, Robert Heinlein, published his story about fifty years ago to critique the America of consumerism and selfishness. He imagined what it would be like for someone to have been dropped off on Mars by astronaut parents, then raised by Martians according to their customs and standards, and finally dropped back into this world, this Earth. What might that have been like?

Well, for one thing, because water is so scarce on Mars, the sharing of a glass of water is sacred there. Merely presenting a cup of water to someone makes the two of them "water brothers." It is no idle thing to share a cup of cold water, in Valentine’s Martian value system. But on Earth that seems to matter very little.

As the novel "Stranger in a Strange Land" proceeds, Valentine finds much that happens on Earth just incomprehensible and unacceptable. He does not understand clothing, for example; he much prefers to be free of that burden, but of course finds that there is no way for him not to fit in around that issue. I expect that today, with the chill winds blowing, Valentine would be grateful that he gave in on that point.

And then there is faith. For Valentine, as for the Martians, the creed is, "Thou art God." It means that all life is sacred … plants, animals, people … all life is sacred, and so things like war or jealousy or hatred are completely incomprehensible. He cannot deal with the petty problems Earthlings pose to one another. And so Valentine creates the Church of All Worlds to teach and promote care-free living.

But wouldn’t you know it? The Church of All Worlds is attacked by another religion, the Church of the New Revelation, and is destroyed. All that Valentine can finally do is to teleport himself back to Mars and leave his friends to remedy the mess that he is leaving behind. The message of "Stranger in a Strange Land" seems to be that it is futile to bridge the gap between cultures, that to bring one’s insights and values to someone else’s world will be pointlessly painful, and that we would do better just to stay in our own little worlds and leave one another alone. A sad commentary on Earth life!

But now the title of the book, "Stranger in a Strange Land" comes from the Bible, specifically from Exodus 3:22. There you find an element in the story of Moses, who was born a Hebrew when they were enslaved in Egypt, born at a time when the fear and cruelty of Egypt had decreed the death of all the Hebrew male infants, lest they multiply and become too strong. Another sad commentary, this time on the fears that sometimes prey on immigrant people! But Moses was saved from the destruction, he was raised in the household of the king, a child of privilege; yet Moses knew who he was, and when justice demanded that he act, Moses acted in accordance with who he was – he took vengeance on an Egyptian overseer who had mistreated a Hebrew. Moses became a refugee.

So Moses, the child born in one culture and raised in another, found his way to another place, to Midian, where they took him in, where he married, and where he brought up children. And Moses summed up his experience as a Hebrew-Egyptian-Midianite in a pungent sentence, "I have been a stranger in a strange land." That’s where Heinlein got the title of his novel.

This is a theme that the Bible uses to provide us insights and offer us directions as we consider the question that has been put to me, "Why and how should American churches respond to issues facing immigrant communities?" The Bible provides both example and exhortation to move us toward an answer to that question. "Why and how should American churches respond to issues facing immigrant communities?"


The first and most basic answer is that God wills it! Plain and simple, clear and straightforward, God wills that we should respond to immigrants and their needs as we would to the needs of our brothers and our sisters.

Moses’ pronouncement that he has been a stranger in a strange land comes upon the heels of the hospitality extended to him in the land of Midian. There Jethro the priest, a spiritual leader, insists that his family embrace Moses. Eventually, in fact, Moses and Jethro’s daughter Zipporah marry. Here is the point: people of faith serve a God who wills hospitality.

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