(The world is not always safe., and the Bible knows it. In Matthew's story of the incarnation, Jesus is born into a land ruled by a paranoid despot, people live in fear of his irrational and murderous policies, and Jesus' own family is forced to flee for their life. In the Letter to the Hebrews, the later followers of Jesus are encouraged to be among those in the world who create and offer safe space and warm welcome for others.)
According to the United Nations there are now over 65,000,000 refugees and asylum-seekers in the world. It’s a human crisis of migration and flight-for-life on a scale the world has not seen before. And it affects all the world.
In time, we are told – maybe as soon as our children’s and grand-children’s lifetimes, even greater human migrations than this will be brought on by climate change, as parts of the world we now inhabit suffer rising sea levels and the devastation of ever-more extreme drought, famine, and hurricane. Humanity will re-align and reposition itself on the face of the Earth, and learn to live differently as a species.
But for now, a significant part of the migration that humanity is suffering is the result of human cruelty and evil – governments turning against their citizens, military forces misusing their powers and weaponry, despots turning oppression into exterminations, demagogues encouraging genocides.
Causing masses of people to fear and to flee for their lives.
Louai, Israa, Sham and Zain, we are glad you are here. We give thanks for your safe arrival. We celebrate your life among us. We lament your losses, the sorrow you suffer, the struggles and challenges you face. With you, we pray for the well-being of your wider families, your friends, the people you work to stay in touch with. And for the 65,000,000 others across the face of the Earth.
In the story of our faith and the way the story is told, when Jesus is born he is a refugee. His father is forced by political circumstance and led by God to take his infant son and wife away from their homeland, and flee for their lives. Leaving behind all they have known and had, just to survive, live another day, and have a chance to grow and grow up to be what they were meant to be.
And we believe this is a story of God – of how God is on Earth and within human life. When humans are cruel and when cruelty becomes our politics, even God – at least, the life of God on Earth, is at risk.
Or is it? Is God’s life on Earth at risk when in danger? When exposed? When vulnerable?
Or is this maybe exactly when God, and the real nature and will and purpose of God become all the more evident, committed, active, visible, public and strong?
Just over two years ago the world was shocked by a terrible image of a three-year-old boy drowned and washed up on a beach in his family’s fevered and ill-fated attempt to cross the Mediterranean to safety, and eventually maybe to Canada. And the world responded.
And we responded. I remember the announcement one Sunday in worship a few weeks after all the world saw that image for anyone interested in talking about what we can do as a church to stay after worship, the number that stayed back and gathered in that corner and discussed, the small working that was formed, the invitation that came to join with four other congregations also wanting to do something … that has led to where we are, and who is with us today.
In the Letter to the Hebrews, we are advised to not neglect to show hospitality to strangers and to people beyond ourselves, because through such hospitality some have come to entertain angels.
The reference, of course, is to the ancient story of Abram and Sarai who welcomed and provided a meal and a safe place to rest to three strangers who happened by their desert encampment, and who turned out to be three angels – or maybe even two angels and God, who at that point began the blessing that changed their life and the life of the world forever.
So who are – or who may be, the angels in our story? In our humble adventure into hospitality?
Is it Louai and Israa – doing all they can to find a safe place in the world to raise their family, and enriching our community and the lives of all they meet, in the process? Is it Sham or Zain – in their childish happiness at what they see, in their simple joy of life, in their need and weakness stirring up the muscles of love and protective joy in the hearts of all who encounter them? To us, each may be an angel in their own way and at different times along the way. Just as any of the other 65,000,000 may be where they are.
And might the angels also be the number of our members who gathered in that corner, the five churches that joined forces, the co-ordinating committee that steered the work through, the volunteers and helpers and supporters who have appeared along the way and are still doing whatever is needed and whatever they can? Angels each in their way?
Might it be that when we give ourselves to the work and opportunities of hospitality to strangers and to people beyond ourselves, that we all – humanity as a whole, and we as we participate in it, grow up just a little bit more towards what we are called and created to be?
That as we open our country and ourselves to refugees that we live up to our calling to be the image of God, and to live in the likeness of God on Earth?
That as we offer safe space and support to others in need of home and care and a safe place to be, we find ourselves living in and living out God’s good will and purpose, and becoming in our life together the Word made-flesh and made-alive on the face of the Earth?