Greet a stranger to celebrate Calvin

A monthly column for the church by the GA stated clerk

July 21, 2009

Gradye Parsons

Gradye Parsons

LOUISVILLE

Here is my suggestion for celebrating John Calvin’s 500th birthday on July 10: Greet a stranger.

Let me explain.

In addition to his huge theological legacy, Calvin left many practical ethical imperatives. One imperative had to do with the treatment of immigrants — perhaps, in part, because of his life experience.

Calvin never forgot that he was from France, not Geneva. The powers-that-be did not make him a citizen of Geneva until 1559, which was eighteen years after his return to that city. He proceeded to create a social safety net for the many immigrants in Geneva, and he convinced the city leaders to allow worship in more than one language.

In Harmony of the Law – Volume 3, Calvin commented on Lev. 19:34 — “[God] recommends strangers to them on this ground, that the people, who had themselves been sojourners in Egypt, being mindful of their ancient condition, ought to deal more kindly to strangers; for although they were at last oppressed by cruel tyranny, still they were bound to consider their entrance there, viz, that poverty and hunger had driven their forefathers thither, and that they had received hospitality, when they were in need of aid from others.”

I think the first three words of that quote are powerful and very Calvinistic. In essence, God recommends strangers to us. God, making the first move, commends to us the giving of hospitality to strangers. This is not a qualified recommendation, nor does it ask for measured hospitality. We are to give hospitality freely and generously, mindful of the hospitality we ourselves have received.

We are not to adjust our handshake based on the nature of the hand offered.

It moves me into the deeper spiritual realm in Eph. 2:19, where Paul writes, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God….” Because of Christ, we are citizens with the saints.

So, go ahead and greet a stranger to celebrate Calvin. It will be okay. The person you greet has God as a reference.

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