Jun18MonA sermon for World Refugee Sunday June 18, 2018 Pastor Sebastian
“Love the refugee as yourself”
Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father. Amen.
Stories of Refugees, and their perilous escapes by boat along the Balkan route from Turkey via Greece gripped the headlines in 2015 and 2016.
Since then the plight of global refugees, other than what’s happening right now at the US-Mexico border, has seemed to be less prevalent in the media.
Perhaps we have gotten sick and tired of hearing these tales of woe,
or perhaps we’ve become desensitized to disturbing pictures of people fleeing with their meager possessions on their backs.
In any case, the Balkan Route is closed, and it seems the media has moved on,
and the astonishing tales of President 45 are far more entertaining.
I doubt we understand how many displaced persons there are in the world.
Some estimate at this time there are more than at any point since the second World War.
Just this week 900 refugees were rescued off the coast of Sicily.
Hosein is an Afghan Civil Engineer student. He was born in Iran and along with his mother and sister, they sailed off from the Turkish coast heading for Samos Island in Greece. Their boat sunk at high seas on 11 July 2014 and his mother and sister are missing. Hosein and his three other sisters, two in France and one in Germany, have left no stone unturned in trying desperately to find a clue that would lead them to their beloved ones:
Here is a story Hosein told the UNHCR in 2014:
The past ten days were the most agonizing days of my life. On 10 July, along with with my mother Fatme and my sister Shokou-feh, we sailed off in a 12 meter boat after having paid 9,000 Euro for the three of us. It was overcrowded as the smugglers had crammed around 40 men, women and children on that little boat.
After several hours at sea, the captain informed us that he was no longer in command of the boat which suddenly started taking in water.
Among terrified screams, I tried to elbow myself to reach the small cabin where my mother and sister were, but I was hurled overboard by panicking passengers. I was very desperate. In the sea, the currents were so strong that I could hardly swim.
It was only until several hours later, namely on Friday 11 July at noon, that I along with another, almost unconscious passenger, were spotted by an Italian sailing boat and were transferred to Chios Island. Other survivors were brought to Samos. Fifteen Syrians and Afghans have been rescued. The shipwreck so far claims the lives of six persons who were found by the Greek and Turkish Coast Guards while the rest are still missing.
Other family members of missing people with whom we were in the same boat, are in Germany and in Denmark while I am currently in France with my two sisters and their families.
I traveled legally on a travel document issued by the French Embassy in Athens. All the families of missing people are appealing that the search and rescue operations of the authorities continue unabated. We urge the Greek authorities to bring up the boat as there were women and small children in the cabin who may have been trapped.
As for my missing mother and sister, another passenger who left the boat after me told me that they were not trapped in the cabin. Since they had very good life jackets, they must have survived. I am sure they are alive. I will not abandon the search. I expect and hope for good news. But even if the news were bad I still want to know!
Hosein’s story is familiar for those of us who follow the news.
The stories repeat themselves, whether its 2014, 2016 or 2018.
And such stories have come closer to home for those in the churches who have gotten together to help refugees come to Canada.
And churches have been exemplary in stepping up to the plate to help.
Over 550 refugees were sponsored alone by ELCIC Churches for the Reformation Challenge in the past 2 years.
Caring for refugees is nothing new for people of faith.
And our readings from the Bible this morning underscore this (Jeff Sessions notwithstanding)
Our first reading today, from the book of Leviticus,
comes from a part of the Bible that concentrates on the question:
What is holy living? how does one lead a good and God-approved life?
And it outlines proper behaviours and commandments,
many of which are still applicable today:
don’t steal, don’t lie or commit fraud, don’t hurt your friends.
The passage is quite clear, as a commandment, and it says:
Don’t oppress the alien, that is,
the refugee, the immigrant (whether legal or illegal) in your land.
The alien should be seen as having the same rights as a citizen.
Love the alien as yourself.
Now this is quite astonishing.
Normally we’re used to the more popular saying that Jesus quotes
(which comes from a few verses prior): love your neighbour as yourself.
But here it gets a little more specific, a little more challenging.
Love the alien, the refugee, the immigrant as yourself.
And this refugee,
might have a different language or ethnicity or religion than you.
Just the same, love them as yourself.
We are all part of the human family, and we have an obligation,
to love the refugee as ourselves.
There is no 2nd tier human citizen.
because you were refugees once too.
you were aliens in the land of Egypt…
The Judeo-Christian story has at its roots the story of us being refugees or exiles too.
We remember the story of Moses and the slaves in Egypt
(which is our story too), groaning under the persecution of the Pharaoh.
We were slaves and refugees too.
not only in the period of slavery in Egypt,
but also in Babylon after the destruction of Jerusalem
in the 6th century BCE,
which our Psalm today alludes to.
The Psalmist cries out:
how can we sing our songs from home, our familiar, comforting songs, when we are in captivity and exile?
The tunes that were so harmonious back home sound so discordant and out of tune in this foreign land.
The psalm is a lament,
where those crying out in pain and loneliness vent their loss.
I have talked to World War 2 refugees who said they cried every night for 2-3 years after moving to Canada,
the stress of having to leave your home country is unimaginable for most of us who haven’t gone through it ourselves.
One never forgets one’s home:
one’s language, identity, culture, family, mindset, food…those are always part of oneself.
These losses are hard enough, but if one cannot return to one’s homeland, that loss is even greater.
That is the case for many political refugees. They can never return.
And so their song of lament is so much more distressing.
The psalm further tells us: when you are in a position of power and privilege: remember your weakness and don’t be haughty
or abuse your power.
Remember the common solidarity you have with suffering humanity:
the hordes of people on the move, just seeking a little bit of peace, security and freedom for their family,
remember the fraternity you share with all who seek a safe place to raise their children.
Remember that most people on the globe long for those things
we take for granted here in this affluent and peaceful country.
We are all refugees or immigrants at one point…except for First Nations.
Whether we arrived in Canada 6 generations ago or yesterday.
My grandfather immigrated to Canada in 1929,
fleeing poor economic conditions in Germany,
but the conditions he was escaping from were far milder than the horrific conditions in Syria or Afghanistan or Eritrea today.
We need to help refugees and to oppose policies that degrade human rights of refugees and immigrants (for example the current inhuman practices along the US-Mexican border, and the immoral and wicked separation of children and parents).
We need to educate ourselves about refugee situations in various countries, like how some people in the Middle East have been living for generations in camps.
We need to pray for refugees and peaceful resolution in conflict areas.
We need to pray for disarmament and for equitable sharing of our globe’s resources, which would lessen the reasons for people to flee in the first place.
We need to counter myths and misconceptions about refugees and visible minorities and respond to racist jokes, comments and policies.
For you were an alien in Egypt once:
therefore love the alien, the refugee, as yourself.