Proverbs 14:15 MSG
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
It had been agreed by the two governments of France and the United States that the French people would pay for building the statue that would become known as the Statue of Liberty and shipping her to the U.S. The Americans would raise the money to have her reassembled and erected, to create an appropriate location, and to build a pedestal for her to stand on.
But, in 1885, just a year before the work on the statue was to be completed, fundraising in the United States was going poorly. Publisher Joseph Pulitzer of the New York World started a drive for donations to complete America’s end of the project. It attracted more than 120,000 contributors, most of whom gave less than a dollar, but it was enough.
As part of that drive, poet Emma Lazarus penned the sonnet above. Once the money was raised, however, the poem was largely forgotten. Then, in 1902, the family of Lazarus, who had died in 1887, sought to memorialize her work and her dedication to the statue and all that it stood for. To that end, the last five lines of the poem were inscribed on a bronze plaque and placed inside the pedestal upon which the statue stands.
For over a hundred years the poem and the statue in which it now hangs has been a symbol of hope and possibility for the world, but now, sadly, the lamp beside the golden door has gone out. The door, itself, closed. The tired, the poor, the huddled masses, the wretched, human refuse, the homeless, the tempest tossed are being turned away.
Well, say those who have dimmed the glow of her torch, it’s only for a few months, and that was a fine sentiment back in 1886, but things have changed. Those people are potentially dangerous. There are people in the world, out there, who want to see the United States destroyed. So we have to shut the door to immigrants, to refugees, and especially, to Muslims.
One cannot help but wonder how Isaiah might have responded to their fear and cowardice.
You invoke the name of God when you pledge allegiance to your flag but you turn away the tired and the poor?
You pride yourselves in the religiosity of your people but you turn your back upon the huddled, fearful, mistreated masses who yearn to breathe free?
You claim to be the most generous nation on earth but you make people wait and jump through hoops for a long as three years before you let them wade ashore? And now you want to extend that another four months?
Dangerous? Of course it’s dangerous. What act of charity has ever been without risk? When has generosity ever been totally free from danger? Where has hospitality ever been safe or empathy ever secure?
Name one person of faith in the Scriptures who didn’t live dangerously, in a constant state of threat, and the possibility of imprisonment or death. Did Abraham take the safe route when he picked up his family to start walking until God told him to stop? Did Moses do the safe thing when he said to Pharaoh, “Let my people, go?” Was David safe when he stood before Goliath or when he challenged Saul? Did not Esther take her life into her hands and agree to go before the king saying “…and if I die, I die.” Did Daniel waver even when faced with a den of lions?
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego said, “Our God can save us from your furnace of blazing fire, but even if he doesn’t, oh, Nebuchadnezzar, we will not bow down to your image.” Jesus new full well the dangers when he set his face toward Jerusalem. And Paul, well, I’ll let him speak for himself:
“Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked. And, besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I am not indignant?
In Damascus, the governor under King Aretas set a guard on the city of Damascus in order to seize me, but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and escaped from his hands.” (2 Corinthians 11: 24-31,33)
Being the People of God is, by definition, a dangerous business. Count, if you can, the number of Christians who have perished at the hands of nature or human persecutors, having committed no greater crime than sharing the good news off a loving God. Number, if you can, those who have been and are, even now, imprisoned for simply breathing Christ's name in places where it is forbidden. Yes, the work of the gospel is no less dangerous now than it was two thousand years ago, and it is to that very dangerous work that we are called. But we are not called to it alone. The promise of God is that an army of saints and martyrs will go with us. We will stand with the legions of righteousness and be named among the throngs of the faithful.
And God, the creator of the universe and master of all that is, will walk beside us and dry every tear from our eyes.
Dean Feldmeyer is the author of 5 novels, 4 non-fiction books, three plays, and over 100 essays, articles, poems, and short stories, some of which can be found on this web site.