The Rev. Jennifer Adams - January 29, 2017 - Epiphany 4, Year A: Micah 6:1-8, Matthew 5:1-12
So one of the somewhat seductive options available to those of us who have privilege in this world (and while there is a range of privilege among us for sure, in the global sense we all have it…) one of the options for those of us who have privilege in this world is distance. On any given day, I can step back and I can step out. I can turn off my television, my radio, step away from my newsfeed. I can close my front door, or go for a walk in the woods, or go look at the lake, or immerse in a good book that carries me far away.
Now I do want to encourage all of us to do all of those things, or some semblance of them on a very regular basis. Woods are good for us. Large bodies of water that can quiet our minds and still our souls are good too and being faithfully discerning about input is an increasingly critical skill these days. Creating time that is “separation from it all” is healthy and serves us well, and ultimately allows us to serve better than we otherwise would. So I urge all of us to do those kinds of things on a very regular basis. And I promise to focus in a little more on that dimension of faith in another sermon.
But today I hear the prophet Micah, I hear Jesus teach the Beatitudes and I hear the cries of this world and the option for distance is one that I need to faithfully surrender. And I invite you to surrender a bit also. “What does the Lord require of us?” the prophet asks, “To do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.”
For over three months now we have been waiting for the Garang family to come and live in our Parish House. The announcement of this refugee family’s pending arrival has run in our bulletins for all these weeks. We are set to be hosts through Bethany Christian Services and in partnership with St Francis Catholic parish who has taken the lead on this important ministry.
The Parish House was made ready – it’s beds have been made, furniture donated from St Francis and Grace folks. The kitchen is set up with dishes and utensils; there are spoons and forks and cups and plates and teams are waiting to help in areas such as education, language support, transportation, health care needs, employment, food. Our youth group put together a very thoughtful and educational power point that we’ve run in the Commons and shared with various Grace groups. Even the neighborhood has a group of folks prepared to welcome and serve this family as they arrive and begin to settle in.
The Garang family is a family of five. Grandmother, Tabitha, Mother, Awak. They are an 18-year old boy, Deng, 16-year old girl, Abuk and 7-year old boy Ajang. They also have numbers on the printouts we’ve received. In the system they are known as “Aliens Numbers 212-895-605 through 609”. They have numbers. They are people. They are Sudanese refugees. They have lived in a camp in Kenya for years and years and years and they have been participating in a very thorough and unsettling resettlement process for a very long time. And they have names.
When the Garangs were asked the question that we’ve been asking ourselves these last couple of weeks, “What are you looking for? What is it you seek?” They responded. They are looking for safety and they seek a place to call home. And so they took the risk of entering the refugee process. They took the risk of hoping for and looking forward to a new place to be.
And this week we got word not only that they still await one visa, but that they will very possibly not be allowed into our country. I am grateful for the calls and emails I got from many of you this week indicating your awareness and your concern. They were among the most frequently asked questions as you arrived at Grace this morning. And I’m grateful for that.
Now I realize that this is a very complicated issue, with many layers and levels. I know that there is much that I do not know sitting in my distant place here in Holland, Michigan. But I also believe, we can do so much better than this. I and thousands of other Christian leaders and bodies around our country spanning a wide breadth of denominations and non-denominational organizations signed on to letters to Congress in support of refugee resettlement. Bethany Christian (which for the record is not exactly a bastion of extreme liberal politics) issued a similar statement too.
We believe that rather than enhanced separation at this time, we need to faithfully surrender our distance. We need to be sanctuary in the sense of “safe place,” because of our faith. We need to offer home-away-from-home for those who have been unsettled for long enough. These people have names. And we can offer them what they seek.
I would add that a Grace member and I are directly in touch with our congressman’s office and with their immigration specialist. They’ve been responsive, indicated a willingness to listen and to help if they can, at least with this family. And so, we’ll see.
“Blessed are the poor,” Jesus said. “Blessed are those who mourn and the meek too for theirs is the kingdom of God. They will be comforted and they will inherit the earth. Blessed are the hungry, the merciful, the pure in heart and the peacemakers,” Jesus said. “For they will be fed, and receive mercy; they will see God and they will be called not by number but by the name given us all – ‘children of God’. Blessed are those who are persecuted and those who are reviled for they are like the prophets who came before. Their reward will be great.”
In the midst of very disorienting times, (no more or less disorienting by the way than the time of Micah or the time of Jesus…) in the midst of our disorienting time, Jesus orients us in the direction of the hurting of this world. So a good basic principle to guide us is that we can’t go wrong if were looking in that direction. We can’t go wrong if that’s where we’re looking, where we’re listening, where we’re working. We can’t go wrong if that’s where we are settling ourselves. If we orient toward the hurting, ourselves included – along with those who are “them” to us – there are blessings to be had.
Now our local community is not lacking with regard to need. It’s true. But as a very talented and resourced Body of Christ, we can multitask. I’m sure of it. I’ve seen it happen. We have the ability to respond to ourselves, those next to us in the pew, to those in our local community AND to those who are camping out differently than we, but every bit as human as we in the camp in Kenya. Contrary to what is becoming far too popular thought, there is enough mercy to go around. And when it’s lacking we can muster even more.
Distance in this instance will not heal. It will not heal them nor will it heal us. Mercy and kindness and justice will. And it is our responsibility as people of faith, with other people of faith to stand up and say so.
There are blessings to be had, blessings to be shared and according to Jesus those blessings abound! They abound in surprising ways and among those whom the world would tell us are the least likely to bear them.
And so I invite you to learn names of some “others” these days. Together we will continue to pray for and to work for the Garang family. Do take time in the woods and don’t forget the beauty of the Lake that is our neighbor too. Through it all may we find the strength to surrender some of the distance that comes with the lives we lead. May we hold our doors open, our hearts and our minds too. May we gather utensils, make beds, pull of a chair and set tables for those who seek home as we seek to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God.