Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Why turning away the immigrant/refugee/Muslim is actually turning away God

My sermon for this week was based on Mark 9:30-37.

To download a podcast of my sermon, click here.

There are a couple of things that have happened in the last few weeks that really demonstrated to me both the power and the danger of social media.

The power was demonstrated by using Facebook to help a dog and his owner be reunited within 45 minutes.

The danger of social media has been demonstrated by the irrational, ignorant and quite honestly bigoted waves of anti-immigration, anti-refugee and anti-Muslim memes and articles being put on Facebook.

I say this is dangerous because it is always easier to sow fear, mistrust and suspicion than it is to sow hope, trust and acceptance.  It is dangerous because it is always easier to "them" people than it is to "us" them.

Yes, I am using "us" and "them" as verbs, and the grammar of that last sentence is horrible as a consequence.  English majors, please bear with me.

It seems in light of the Syrian refugee crisis that many people are drawing a line in the sand.  Some people are saying, "You are not of us.  You are not my race.  You are not my skin tone.  You are not my religion or language.  You do not eat the same food as me.  You are an other, you are them.  You are not of my tribe".  And what often goes unsaid, but the message is as clear as day, is "You are therefore unimportant".

Although I am generally reluctant claim that anything is un-Christian, I will say that if you hold this attitude and call yourself a Christian, you need to go back to your Bible, but this time read the black symbols on the pages of this book.

Am I getting on my liberal high-horse?  No.  Unequivocally.

The reason why is in this Gospel for today.  In this Gospel, Jesus and his disciples are traveling from A to B, and along the way the Disciples are arguing about who among them is the greatest.

(This may be a sermon for another time, but perhaps we ought to be alarmed at the sickness of the Disciples given the fact that immediately prior to this argument, Jesus states that he will be killed and in three days rise again. So either A: Jesus dropped this bomb and the disciples didn't care, or B: they got it, and immediately started to argue about who was going to be in charge when Jesus snuffed it)

When Jesus and his crew arrive at their destination, Jesus asks (likely knowing full well) what they had been arguing about.  They remain silent because they know full well they ought to be ashamed of their themselves for being so self-centered and petty.

There is a child in the place they are staying, and in response to the Disciples' silence, Jesus invites this child into the midst of them.  He then makes an announcement that is perhaps not shocking to us, but would have staggered his audience.  He says, "Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and welcomes not only me but the one who sent me".  Basically, whoever welcomes a child welcomes God.

We aren't shocked because we love our children, but many historians point out that ancient peoples often had a much different attitude towards their children.

In an agricultural or nomadic culture, a young child who could not fetch water, sew clothing, chop wood or plow a field was not a joy, but a burdensome liability.  I once read that names were not given to children before their eight day because infant mortality was so high in the first week of life, parents were not encouraged to get too attached.

This young child that Jesus drew into their midst was not even regarded as fully human by some.  Remember the old saying, "Children should be seen and not heard"?  Well, it would fair to add in Jesus time, "...and the less, seen the better".

But Jesus takes this child into the midst of them and basically says, "This child is a person.  This person is important.  This person is the most important person in the room".

Here's the thing: Jesus made it a deliberate point to be with, to minister to, to show love and respect to those people that his Jewish culture deemed "them", "the other", "less important than us".  Be they children, prostitutes, tax collectors, the elderly, the sick, Jesus zeroed in on them,

Try looking at a complete stranger.  Try reminding yourself that this person has a life, maybe has children, parents, a spouse.  This person laughs, cries, makes loves, has fears, ambitions, hopes.  This person has been crushed by failures and elated by accomplishment.

Just.  Like.  You.

Don't get me wrong, I am willing to go farther for my family and close friends that I might be for a complete stranger.  This is only natural.

But when we start building literal walls between countries and hating the people on the other side, when we fear others because they don't share our religion, when we tell people they are not welcome in our country, our neighbourhoods or our workplaces because of the shade of their skin, when we ask people to leave our church because they have a mental illness, we are falling so short of the bar that Jesus asked us to jump over that may as well not even bothered lacing up our shoes.

And that bar is actually so low, you wouldn't even have to take a running start: just know that everyone is a child of God and that they are part of your human family.  You can be damn sure they are part of God's family.

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