Today’s Scriptures remind us that the One we call God has been revealed to us with rich fullness of being.
Awesome- and intimate, our history with God is studded with frequent surprises, tender assurances, and at times great demands for those who believe.
In today’s gospel Jesus echoes God’s words to Abram “Do not be afraid!”
Who ever says that, if what follows is not unsettling?
We hear first of Abram agreeing to set out to places unknown and longing to father an heir. God promises him the star- studded heavens, and in time he has not one, but 2 sons: Ishmael, and Isaac. When their 2 mothers quarrel, Hagar, a slave woman, is sent into the desert with Ishmael. Despite this rocky start to his family, Abraham sees that God blesses both sons, and the descendants of Isaac -who we call Jews – as well as the Muslims who claim Ishmael as their ancestor in faith, multiply abundantly.
So begins the story of the 3 Abrahamic faiths, the third being Christianity. Embedded in that huge promise to Abraham is an inherited challenge for all worldwide followers of these traditions: to respect one another each as beloved and blest by the same God; and to live in peace. Despite remarkable centuries of fruitful coexistence, recurring paroxysms of bloodshed between us still stain human history. This year the BBC reported that Christians are now the most targeted group in the world, at nearly genocidal levels in several countries. * Iraq, Syria, and now Sri Lanka, China, Pakistan and the Coptic Christians in Egypt.
And yet the Spirit of God renews and inspires people of good will. I read with joy early this year “A Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together” created by Pope Francis and Sheik el-Tayeb, a leading religious authority to many Sunni Muslims around the world. In it they call upon themselves, and” upon the leaders of the world, as well as the architects of international policy and world economy, to work strenuously to spread the culture of tolerance and of living together in peace.” They also urged religious and political leaders to “bring an end to wars, conflicts, environmental decay and the moral and cultural decline that the world is presently experiencing.” It is a substantial and historic document widely welcomed by many Muslims as well as Christians eager for healing and productive dialogue.
Can we dare imagine what a true coming together of the major world religions could mean for the future of this earth and its residents? The Middle East and Europe have seen stretches of relative peaceful diversity in the past, which contributed to flourishing in the arts, mathematics and sciences.
St. Paul, writing to the Hebrews, stated that We have faith in a God who can ever bring life where none was. Asi sea; may it be so!
Today’s epistle speaks of our life-by- faith as living as strangers, not only in a land but on earth as well.
We – or our forebears – global billions of Jews, Christians and Muslims and others, have set out for millennia. People set out in search of better lives, to find food, to preserve their lives from violence and discrimination, for their children. Even if done in desperation, unless it is forced, moving is almost always an act of hope. A belief that some place holds safety, opportunity, a future.
All of us had in some generation of our family a person who packed up a few basic possessions, embraced and bid farewell to familiar people, habits, and landmarks of their homes. Departures both searing and promising are part of the human experience and of the faith we inherited. The ancient wide journeys of human migration are literally etched in our DNA.
The stories of the First Testament include ancient desert customs that require hospitality to the stranger in the form of water, shelter, food. These traditions continue among desert tribes from the Middle East to Northern Africa. The Sonoran Desert, which many crosses from Northern Mexico into southern Arizona or California has no Bedouins tribes to maintain this practice, and some 3000 persons are believed to have died in that desert attempting the passage. Churches, individuals and other concerned groups have long provided water and emergency help to immigrants there. However, In the last 2 years, offering that hospitality has been criminalized on our side of the border. Clearly, this legal prohibition is cruel, and given the mandate of all the Abrahamic religions to provide for the stranger, the poor and vulnerable, this is an infringement of religious practice.
4,500 people were arrested last year and charged with “harboring” migrants for sharing water or food, or for transporting persons found ill or wounded to medical care; at least one has been threatened with a 20-year sentence.
I am humbled and grateful for the risks many continue to take to save God’s beloved.
Sadly, in direct reverse of mainline Protestant and Catholic churches, 68% of white evangelicals agree that Americans have no responsibility to refugees. Luke’s Gospel is certainly missing from the Bibles in their hands! Because Luke consistently upholds God’s preferential love for “the little flock”, those to whom God delights in giving power. Luke uplifts the marginalized in countless vignettes and is nicknamed the “The Gospel of the Poor” with Jesus placed ever in their midst.
In this passage when we are told to BE ALERT, the parable reveals that we need to be attentive not only to danger, but to surprise as well. Jesus modeled servant leadership, When the master returned, he rewarded those who kept vigil with a meal he prepared and served! Paying attention, we might see the tables turned in all sorts of unexpected moments of grace.
We don’t need the hypervigilance of constant disaster updates, alerts and tweets, which bring stress and fear, but watchfulness that helps us identify the movement of the Holy Spirit, and the opportunity that prompts us to take action.
Like the Evangelical Lutheran Church last week!
For this year’s Churchwide Assembly, the ECLA met in Milwaukee and voted to approve a memorial that declares the ELCA a sanctuary church. This vote makes it the first North American denomination to declare itself a sanctuary church body. As a sanctuary church, the ELCA is committed to serving and supporting migrant children and families in communities across the country. Their initiative, called Accompanying Migrant Minors with Protection, Advocacy, Representation and Opportunities commits them to work toward just and humane policies affecting migrants in and outside the U.S. Way to GO! Against the strong tide of other white evangelicals, on the side of faith, they proclaim their witness: Love is our first Law!
Jesus in Luke impresses on us a responsibility to challenge power that oppresses the marginalized, and to find real solidarity with the poor, the vulnerable. and the immigrant. This is where we find our treasure: meeting Christ in the sharing of our daily life and bread, in welcoming any outcasts into community. We commit to live as in the new creation won by his life and death, and we are surprised by joy.
Holding faith that God’s power is sufficient to the greatest threats of our time, we make ourselves available to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
We acknowledge that our security is not in the future we planned – and we are not afraid! We don’t have to keep such a tight grip on our security, plans and money.
Because God has proven faithful – beyond our wildest imagination – we can live in trust and spend our lives for our One, our only, our shared home.
Let us pray:
For the courage and discipline to relinquish possessions, fixations, and habits that distract us from the call of the Spirit…
For endangered migrants, and for all who assist them on their way. Especially -having last week shared our bread with Rodlyn of Doctors without Borders – we pray for those who go into danger and serve in ways we could not…
For endangered Christians in Iraq, Syria, Sri Lanka, China, Pakistan and Egypt, and for the safety of all churches, mosques and synagogues.
For the humility to walk together to secure a future for all God’s people…