Sermon on the Refugee Crisis

Proverbs 22:1-2,8-9,22-23
James 2:1-10,14-17
Mark 7:24-37

Someone very famous – so famous in fact that I’ve forgotten their name – said that to do theology you had to hold a bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other.
Our reading of Scripture has to be informed by what is going on in our world today.
For it to be relevant to us, this book written two thousand years ago, can only be meaningful when we place it in our own context and in light of what is going on in our world.

So I wonder what you thought of when you heard these words from our first reading this morning:
The rich and poor have this in common:
the Lord is the maker of them all.
Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity
and the rod of anger will fall.
Those who are generous are blessed
for they share their bread with the poor.
Do not rob the poor because they are poor
or crush the afflicted at the gate
for the Lord pleads their cause
and despoils of life those who despoil them.

God loves the rich and poor.
Those who are generous and share with the poor are blessed.
God cares for the poor and doesn’t think much of those who don’t treat them right.

So I’m going back to my newspaper in my other hand.
Actually I don’t read a newspaper. I don’t read newspapers because I don’t trust them. Having worked in PR in a past life and regularly sent stories to the press I know how often they got it wrong. They couldn’t be trusted to copy and paste a story accurately. And people got hurt. And if they can do that with my wee billet doux then heaven knows what happens to the bigger stories. And newspapers are so affiliated with political parties now that I’m not sure if any can be trusted.

But we all watch the news on TV or listen to it on the wireless.
And I also get news from my tablet, my phone or computer.
But however we hear or read it, we can’t help but notice what every bulletin is screaming at the moment.
The migrants, the immigrants, the refugees.
What do we call them?  And does it matter?

Well yes it does.
For according to my dictionary they each have different meanings.
But which is the name you’ve heard most?  Migrants?
According to UNESCO a migrant is someone who travels freely to another country for reasons of personal convenience and without intervention of an external compelling factor.
They travel freely, of their own accord, to make a better life for themselves.
And why not?
People in this country have been doing that for centuries.
Choosing to emigrate and live and work in another country.
Immigrants are those who have already done that – they live and possibly work in another country.
Our country has plenty already that nobody says a word about – those are footballers.
One law for the rich and another for the poor, it seems.

Interestingly most news articles seem to think that all those poor people in Calais, in boats, in stations are just wanting to come to Britain because they fancy a change of scene. Or worse.
Some newspapers would have us believe these migrants are coming to sponge off our State, getting benefits, using our beloved National Health, take all our jobs.
So tempting is our treatment of the poor – what with all those foodbanks – that they’d risk life and limb (and they do lose their lives) to come and have a bit of the action.

But what about the word Refugee?
We don’t hear that word quite so much in the Press, but perhaps we should look at the definition of it now.
UNESCO says we shouldn’t confuse the two.  Migrants are not refugees or displaced.  Refugees are compelled to leave their homes.
Migrants make a choice, although sometimes it is Hobson’s Choice.
It may be that there are no jobs in their own homeland.
But Refugees have no choice.
They live with the fear of persecution (or worse) because of their religion, race, nationality, or political opinion.
They have no choice but to escape for their lives.

Those are the people of Syria, Eritrea, Afghanistan, and elsewhere living in the shadows of our world.
Some are seeking asylum – protection from death.
Many are well educated and many already work in our hospitals, our hotels and cleaning our streets.
Many have no homes to return to.

So there is a difference between Migrants and Refugees.
Migrants are getting the headlines, but I know most are actually refugees.
Either way, they are not getting a good press.
Their desperate measures are causing disruption to our roads, our travel, our holidays in France, for heaven’s sake!
But remember…

God loves the rich and poor.
Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity.
Those who are generous are blessed.
Do not crush the afflicted at the gate
for the Lord pleads their cause.

Some of you might be of an age to remember, or at least have heard of, the Kindertransport.  In 1938 twenty thousand Jewish children were sent away from Hitler’s regime.
Britain and the USA were reluctant to take in Jewish refugees at that time but public opinion forced them to give in and many children travelled (with no adults) to the UK.  Some lived with families, others in camps and special homes and many Christians and Quakers were instrumental in making that happen.
9,000-10,000 came to Britain hoping that one day they would be able to go home again and be reunited with their parents.
For the majority that never happened.  Their parents died a horrible death in concentration camps.

But I wonder why that kind of thing can’t happen today with the people of Syria?
Why is nobody planning this kind of aid?
Why aren’t the churches?
Instead we watch men, women and children drown in dark waters trying to escape a regime just as awful as Nazi Germany.
And this week I hear that the Germans are being so generous in their treatment of refugees that they’re being told to stop sending so much.
The descendants of those on the Kindertransport are now helping others as much as they can.

And then I laughed when I read our second lesson today – from the letter of James…

Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?  But you have dishonoured the poor.  The rich oppress, drag you into court.  But if you show partiality between the rich and the poor you commit sin.

I laughed because a couple of weeks ago Songs of Praise went to Calais to the camp there and oh what a song and dance there was about it.  The Press were baying for blood, screaming about how ridiculous it was to be giving them air time on our precious BBC and spending our licence fee in the process.
But like the Italians imprisoned in Orkney, these refugees had built a little church in their camp. So important was their faith that they had cobbled together a chapel made from sticks and blankets and they went there to pray.
The poor in the world are often much more rich in faith, I suspect.
And we have dishonoured them.

What good is it, my sisters and brothers, if you say you have faith but do not have works?  If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?  So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

This is why we need to read the bible with our newspapers in the other hand – or our ipads or phones or radios, however you hear the news.
But what can we do?
An article I read this week said:

Faith communities… can play a significant role in making the human issues of forced migration and displacement central,
challenging misleading language,
highlighting unjust or victimising policies,
and opening up space for alternative perspectives and conversations.

In particular, those of us who are Christians need to remind ourselves that we are the product of people movements – some forced, some voluntary, some hopeful, some fearful.
It is out of this resource of experience, and our founding texts that point to justice and compassion as going to the heart of what God requires, that we should seek to respond.

So challenge the language you hear with your families, your friends, your colleagues.
As Christians we have to love our neighbour as ourselves.
Even if our neighbours are clamouring at the gates to get in.
Our job, as Christians did in 1938, is to open our arms and welcome the stranger.
No ifs no buts.
It’s a simple law.

In your handout there are lots of ways you can get involved if you wish.

Not easy – no one ever said it was going to be easy – but it’s what we’re called to do.

3 thoughts on “Sermon on the Refugee Crisis

  1. Thank you Ruth for this. There has been such a shocking silence about what we should be doing. I think this sermon should be posted on open Facebook for everyone to read.

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