Todays readings for 2nd After Pentecost Genesis 18: 1-15 Psalm 116: 1-2, 11-18 Romans 5: 1-11 Matthew 9: 35-10:8
Transcript of the Sermon given by Reverend Roberta Hamilton.
Today marks the beginning of Refugee Week. As you are aware I am passionate about the plight of refugees and asylum seekers, and very concerned about the way that we as a nation respond to the needs of people who have had, for whatever reason, to leave their home. The world at this moment has more refugees than ever before in its history, even the period after the Second World War. The causes are multiple, the primary one being war, either civil or international, but there are also many repressive regimes, intolerant of difference, and a legacy of stateless peoples who have no official home. There is also the effect of global warming, which has already and will continue to create many refugees.
This morning I would like to consider what our Lectionary readings have to say about this issue. Last week when we were considering the Trinity the passage from Genesis was mentioned in connection with Rublev’s Icon. We talked about the notion of relationship, and hospitality as being at the heart of God, God’s-self. Abraham is the original goyim. He is a stranger in the land, he is a wanderer, looking for a place that God will give him in order for the blessing that God has promised, that is children. Abraham, who comes from a nomadic tribe who settled in his father’s generation is told to leave that land and go to a place that God will show him, and make of him a great nation, so at the age of 75 years he takes his possessions and sets forward for the land of Canaan. I won’t tell you the stories of Abraham’s wanderings but they involve being run out of Egypt, and many other adventures. Abraham, unlike many refugees, is blessed with great wealth, but not blessed with the children that God has repeatedly promised. And while he has a child, Ismael, by his concubine Hagar, Sarah remains barren. In this chapter three ‘men’ come by and Abraham and Sarah offer them hospitality, which is a sacred duty. The ‘men’ promise them a child and Sarah laughs. She has given up on the idea of security that comes from family, even though the promise of place is tied inseparably to the promise of kin. God’s promise comes true and the family is made. Sarah’s who laughs in disbelief learns to laugh in joy. God’s promise to these two is not conditional on their faith, or obviated by a lack of faith, God’s promise is about God’s grace freely given. Abraham, the goyim, the stranger, the one who is “other”, is blessed by God, and given a place to raise the child of laughter, Isaac. It is not the permanent home of the family of Abraham, but a place where they sojourn. This is the story, of the world, people moving around, from nation to nation, or within a tract of land while they seek God’s blessing. We all want a place to lay our heads and a degree of security for our children. It is the story of our nation, inhabited first by a nomadic people and then by wave upon wave of incomers seeking security to raise families and to transition from goyim, or strangers, into sojourners.
So this passage from Genesis tells us a lot about the human condition, and helps us to recognise that we all have the same desires and aspirations. This is a passage about coming in, the stranger being welcomed, hospitality being extended and the covenant being cemented in the gift of life, and the relationship offered to human kind.
The passage from Matthew is about going out. Jesus goes out to teach, proclaim the Kingdom of God, cure every disease and sickness. Jesus has compassion on the crowds because they are harassed and helpless, so he sends out his disciples to meet the needs that he can see so clearly. To equip his servants he gives them authority over the unclean spirits that they are confronting, in order that they might be able to cure disease and sickness. They are sent, at this moment, into their own world, rather than out into the larger world. We know, however, that Jesus will send them ultimately into the whole world. And they are sent to, “proclaim the good news, ‘the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.” And they are to do this not expecting any return.
If we think about our society, what are the unclean spirits that we are called to drive out? There are many, of course, but racism, the kind of nationalism that blinds us to the needs of those not of our nation, misogyny, a sense of entitlement, greed, spring to mind. The good news of the Kingdom is that we are all valuable to God, we are all welcome in God’s Kingdom, in relationship with God, and with each other. The dis-ease of being homeless, of having no identity because you are stateless or have left or lost your papers, the disease of feeling as if your desperation is going unheeded is part of what we are called to cure. We who were once goyim, but now have found our identity as followers of Christ need to go to the lost and marginalised, those sheep without shepherds for whom Jesus has compassion. And you know, this sending is not optional. Those twelve disciples who are named, along with all the unnamed, don’t get a choice. Jesus sends and they go. And if we were to read on, we would discover that it is not an easy task, there is rejection and a lack of hospitality, just the same as Jesus himself experienced. But regardless of this they are to go and BE Christ for these people, the healer, the bringer of relief from their sufferings. And just incidentally in verse 15, which we didn’t read, Jesus says that the town that fails to show hospitality, will be in a worse position than Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgement. And the great sin of Sodom and Gomorrah, contrary to what you might think, is the sin of a failure of hospitality. Strangers were treated very badly in Sodom and Gomorrah, and I ask you were does that leave us, as a nation?
I believe that as Christians we have no choice but to go to the aid of the refugees, and asylum seekers that are asking for hospitality in Australia. These are people who are in desperate need and are knocking on our door. These people, seeking asylum, come from many different places, and each person or family has a different story. I have met many of them, and have never met one whose story did not move me to compassion. People have fled repressive regimes where they experienced the terror of not knowing when they would be arrested and tortured or killed, others have fled war, or the marauding of armed soldiers who kill seemingly just for pleasure, and there are those who flee the desperation of starvation as well. I have met people who have seen family members killed in front of them, or have suffered the terrible pain of not knowing what has happened to someone they love. Some of them are permanently scarred by their experiences, and that can make us frightened of them. They are all suffering with the dis-ease, that has come upon them and caused them to flee. As Christians, we are sent to them.
We, here in Camberwell, are distanced from the problems that refugees and asylum seekers face. When we are moved with compassion we wonder what we can and should do. The problem is a national one and Australia’s response is controlled by our government, which leaves us often, feeling powerless. There is much we can do, however, ranging from practical help, both for those who have obtained visas and are resident in the community, and also for those who are languishing in off-shore centres. We can help those who are desperately, right at this moment, scrambling to fill in paperwork for visas that they haven’t yet obtained, particularly by funding visa services and lawyers. We can become advocates, both for individuals and more generally by petitioning the government on behalf of those who so desperately need our help.
When we look at ourselves as Christians in the light of the word of God, expressed first in the covenant to Abraham and then in the life of Jesus and his disciples, we can see that faith without works is dead. We are called to be light in our world, to be the healers of our society, to be those who offer hope. We must go out and proclaim that the Kingdom of Heaven has come near.