Sadly, the plight of refugees has worsened since these readings last came up in our lectionary. I repost this sermon to inspire others to continue to speak out for sanctuary. Three years ago, I chose to extract two readings from the lectionary to reflect upon sanctuary for refugees. Splitting the prescribed gospel text into the first and second readings and using the epistle text as the Gospel: Mark 6:30-34, Mark 6:53-56, Ephesians 2:11-22. The video which was shown during the sermon, along with the English translation, can be viewed here, listen to the sermon here
Come away with me. To the Apostles Jesus said, “Come away with me, by yourselves to someplace more remote where you can rest awhile.” It’s summertime, and we are blessed to live in a land of remote places where we can rest awhile. Come away with me to someplace more remote could describe so much of this great land. Vast stretches of trees and rocks, open prairies that stretch for miles, epic shorelines where waves crash roll in from open seas, long winding rivers, tall majestic mountains, open tundra, ice covered land and sea that stretches farther than the eye can see. Come away with me to someplace more remote where you can rest a while; we are positively spoilt for choice. Come away with me to someplace more remote, to the lake, to the riverside, to the park, to the beach, to the woods, to the prairie, to the mountains, to the great white north. Come away with me to someplace more remote where you can rest awhile, each one of us has our favorite spots; places where we can find sanctuary from the cares and woes of life.
Sanctuary is such a beautiful word. Sanctuary from the Latin: sanctum, sanctus, sacred or holy. Sanctuary – a holy place, the word has come to mean a place of safety. We are so very blessed with sanctuaries- safe places where we can hide away from the cares and woes of life, sacred places, holy places, places that revive our very souls.
Come away with me by yourselves to someplace more remote where you can rest awhile. Jesus says this to his new appointed Apostles right after they had returned to him from the big bad world into which Jesus had sent them to proclaim the good news. The Apostles came back to Jesus and reported all that they had done and taught, and Jesus said to them, “Come away with me by yourselves to someplace more remote and rest awhile.” So many people wanted and needed them. So many people were coming and going, and the apostles hadn’t had time to eat. So, they went away to a deserted area. They sought sanctuary so that they could rest. Most of us take sanctuary for granted. We have our safe places, our sacred places, places where we can rest, recharge our batteries, get ready for what lies ahead. From the safety of our sanctuaries we know that the world is still out there, needing us, wanting us, calling upon us. But we have the luxury of time and place and we take our rest. We live in the second largest country in the world – over 4 million square miles. We also have one of the smallest populations in the world. This is a very big, very empty country. There are just over 34 million people in Canada. That’s just under 9 people for every square mile in Canada. Such a vast empty country, most of us are crowded down here in the south, but even along our southern border there are so many places where we can drive for miles and miles and not see another person. Finding remote places in which to seek sanctuary is not a difficult task in this vast country of ours.
Finding sanctuary is not so easy in so many places in the world. Take Syria for example, tiny little Syria, just over 185 thousand square miles with about 23 million people, that’s about 315 people per square mile, 315 people versus less than 9 people per square mile in Canada. Think how much more difficult it is to find a remote place in Syria. Now imagine that there’s a civil war going on. Think about loosing your home and needing to find sanctuary, where do you go, what can you do??? This is the plight of the almost 4 million refugees who have fled Syria and are seeking sanctuary. Not since the Second World War has our planet seen so many refugees desperately seeking sanctuary. The lucky ones have escaped the refugee camps in neighbouring countries in the Middle East. Thousands more have died trying. The really lucky ones, the ones who survive the perilous journey across the Mediterranean are seeking asylum in Europe.
European nations are awash with refugees seeking sanctuary. Take Germany for example, tiny little Germany with a population of about 594 people per square mile, last year alone Germany accepted over 173,000 refugees. So far this year, (2015) Germany authorities expect that total to double. Remember the United Nations estimates that there are 4 million refugees from Syria alone, add to that the refugees who are fleeing from other places where Canada is actively involved in the war against ISIL and there are millions and millions more. Hundreds of thousands of these refugees will die. Millions more will languish in refugee camps, which if we think about it we know these camps will raise up a whole knew crop of recruits for groups like ISIL.
Our world is in a dire situation, the numbers are staggering. The numbers are mind numbing. But each and every one of those numbers represents a face, the face of a person seeking sanctuary. I’d like to introduce you to one of those numbers, her name is Reem, Reem is a refugee who found sanctuary in Germany, but who is facing deportation. This week the most powerful woman in the world came face to face with one of the numbers of refugees seeking sanctuary in Germany. Angela Merkel the Chancellor of Germany was engaging in some politics and like many politicians she decided to speak in front of a small group of people for a sort of town hall meeting. A bit of background here, Angela Merkel is indeed the most powerful woman in the world. She leads the wealthiest nation in Europe and her influence holds sway in the European Union. Angela Merkel was raised in what was once known as East Germany. Angela Merkel is a PK – a pastor’s kid, her father is a Lutheran pastor and Frau Merkel is the leader of the Christian Democratic Union. This week the wise and powerful Chancellor Merkel met the young refugee named Reem. Reem understands that she and her family are about to be deported from Germany. Here’s what happened (show the video)
The Good News is that since that story aired the authorities have assured Reem that because of changes enacted by Chancellor Merkel just last year, children who have been in Germany for at least 4 years will not be deported. Reem can stay in Germany, her family will be deported. I showed you this video because it illustrates the dilemma in which we find ourselves. The numbers suggest that we can’t provide sanctuary to everyone and yet when we move beyond the numbers to the faces of the individuals, we are confronted by the person, the sanctuary seeker and suddenly the powerful chancellor, the former research scientist, the politician famous for her wisdom, and no nonsense approach remembers who she is, a child of God confronted by another child of God and compassion rears its inconvenient head.
Jesus said to them, “Come away with me by yourselves to someplace more remote, and rest awhile.” For there were many people coming and going, and the apostles hadn’t had time to eat. So, they went away in a boat to a deserted area. The people saw them leaving and many recognized them, so they went together on foot from all the cities and got there ahead of the apostles. When Jesus went ashore, there was a large crowd waiting for him, and he felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So, Jesus began to teach them many things.
Our first reading ended there with the crowds of needy people demanding something from Jesus and the apostles. All afternoon Jesus had compassion on them and taught them many things. Do you remember what happened when night fell? A multitude of needy, hungry people???
Jesus fed the multitude. Just a couple of loaves and a few fish not nearly enough for a multitude and yet all were fed. And after all were fed, Jesus and the Apostles try to get away by boat, and our second reading tells us that, “No sooner had they stepped out of the boat than people recognized Jesus. The crowds started hurrying about the countryside and brought the sick on stretchers wherever Jesus went. Wherever he appeared, in villages, in towns or in the country side, they laid down the sick in the open places, begging him to let them touch just the fringe of his cloak, and all who touched Jesus got well.” The gospel story-teller wants us to know just how needy the people were and that Jesus and the Apostles met that need with compassion, and healing.
Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, Holy, Holy, Holy….when Jesus encountered need compassion was the response, this is sanctuary at its very essence. Sacred, holy, compassion, sanctuary. Now we all know what the numbers say, right??? We can’t simply let all the refugees into the country, right???
Well, last year tiny little Germany admitted about 175,000 refugees. Canada, well, our current government steadfastly refuses to release the numbers…but the estimates indicate that just under 20 thousand refugee claims were processed, most of those from refugees who have been in Canada for up to 12 years of those 20 thousand just under half were granted asylum. So, the government managed to clear up some of the backlog of applicants who are already in the country. As for the 4 million Syrian refugees, well Canada pledged to take 13,000 over the course of three years. That was last year and to date the estimates are that about a thousand Syrian refugees have actually made it into Canada. This despite the fact that there are more than enough church’s, mosques, and charities that are willing to sponsor more than 13,000 refugees this year. We have the means but as yet we don’t appear to have the will to meet the commitments we have already made. So, the question remains, what about the 4 million Syrian refugees? Will Canada this big, wealthy, empty nation step up to the task of providing sanctuary. Well, if we aren’t motivated by compassion, perhaps enlightened self-interest will do the trick.?
In preparing for this sermon, I discovered that the economic experts are worried that Canada’s population isn’t growing fast enough to sustain our economy let along to allow our economy to grow. It seems that immigration to Canada has been decreasing at an alarming rate. If we want our economy to grow, we need more people. If we want to support the folks we have in the style to which we have grown accustomed, we need more people. The numbers would suggest that refugees just might be able to help us out here, here in this place that so many of us came to for a better life.
I know that my family brought me here to escape the rising troubles in Northern Ireland and to provide better economic opportunities for me. I’m sure that most if not all of you can look into your own family’s past and find similar stories of how your own families found sanctuary in this big empty country that we love. So, what will it take for compassion to be our guide? Can we move beyond the numbers to the faces and the lives behind the numbers?
The writer of the letter to the Ephesians speaks to a people who were refusing to see that they shared a common humanity: “you were strangers to the covenant and its promise; you were without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus, you who once were far off have been bought near by the blood of Christ. For Christ is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of hostility that kept us apart. In his own flesh, Christ abolished the Law, with its commands and ordinances, in order to make the two into one new person, thus establishing peace and reconciling us all to God in one body through the cross, which put to death the enmity between us. Christ came and announced the Good News of peace to you who were far away, and to those who were near; for through Christ we all have access in one Sprit to our God. This means that you are strangers and aliens no longer. No, you are included in God’s holy people and are members of the household of God.”
Reem is our sister. Our sisters and brothers are seeking sanctuary. We are overflowing with sanctuary; we have plenty of sanctuary to share? What can we do in the face of so much need? We can begin by asking our leaders to step up to the challenges? We can begin by demanding to know what has been done and what will be done in the future to provide a compassionate response to the millions who are desperate for sanctuary. We can begin by seeking ways to share our wealth with those in need. We can begin by seeing the faces beyond the numbers, the faces of our sisters and brothers who are seeking sanctuary. We can begin to live into the response that was modeled for us by the one we profess to follow:
“Come away with me by yourselves to someplace more remote, and rest awhile.” We can follow the compassionate way and begin to feed and heal the multitudes. This dear sisters and brothers is the Gospel of our God. Amen.