Sunday 20th September 2015 - "You're Welcome"
Since 2001 more than 200,000 Syrians died in the civil war. Close to 12 million, one half of the Syrian population of 23 Million have been forced from their homes. More than 4 million have fled.
What began as a civil protest has continued to expand to civil way, genocide and mass exodus. It began as protest in response to the arrest and torture of teenagers who wrote revolutionary slogans on a school wall.
“Globally, one in every 122 humans is now either a refugee, internally displaced or seeking asylum” (UNHCR). Across the world, there are an estimated 60 million who are displaced from their homes because of war or persecution. The highest displacement on record. Those who leave violence in their homelands then become targets for robbery, boat smuggling, human trafficking and mistreatment from border guards.
As Jesus and his disciples were travelling through town after town, his disciples debated who among them would be the greatest and have the most important position when Jesus came into his kingdom. Jesus responded, Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all. Then he took a little child into his arms and said to them, Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me. Welcoming is not just receiving others; it is receiving others with delight or gladness, especially in response to a need. It is not grudging but generous and fulsome.
The reception extended to Syrian and other refugees has been varied. “Years of violence in Iraq and Syria have stretched the capacities of neighbouring countries to accommodate the displaced” (Boehler and Pecanha). Hungary has been slow to allow Syrian migrants to pass through and are spending $35 million on a fence along the border with Serbia to keep migrants out.
Having learned a great deal about the consequences of civil war Germany has been the most compassionate. They have received over 800,000 refugees and are urging the other 27 member nations of the EU to accept mandatory quotas. Europe is being overwhelmed.
Other countries are helping. We are taking 12,000 refugees and giving them Permanent Residency. America is taking 10,000 and the UK a similar number. The International Rescue Committee is urging the US to take 65,000.
By presenting the issue of welcome in response to the disciples’ questions about who would be the greatest Jesus emphasises the relationship between welcome and greatness. His message is: if you want to be great, you must celebrate and welcome others the most, especially those who can benefit you the least. This is symbolised by the child. This kind of welcome is possible only when we see God in others. Only when we recognise that refugees are made in God’s image just as much as we are.
We can be encouraged by this moment in history in that it invites us to break through and tear down the walls of anti-Muslim fear that were erected after 9-11. Now we have the opportunity to see the faces of these Syrian refugees as people who seek peace, people who long for a home and people who have endured the ravages of hostility and war. We can see them like Jesus sees them – as children of God.
Spiritually, welcome is not about economics. Welcome is about granting asylum. It doesn’t end with opening our borders it begins then. Because much media commentary is so anti-muslim was, as the Church, must be prayerful about the spiritual principle of welcome.
Jesus invites us to greatness. This greatness is very different from how the world sees greatness. It is not about prestige, privilege or wealth. It is not about influence or social position. It is not about how they might benefit us in some way. It is about acceptance, understanding and the realisation that in God’s eyes we are all equal and that those who are disadvantaged in some way need extra care and concern.
The path to greatness as individuals, faith communities and nations is the path of welcome – receiving others with gladness and delight. In order to do so we must recognise the face of God in all people. Ultimately, this path also leads to peace.
As if we needed further confirmation, Mark adds a further argument. The disciples boasted that they had seen, a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop because he was not one of us. Jesus replied, “Do not stop him. No one who does a miracle in my name can, in the next moment say anything against me”. He is not one of us therefore he is not genuine. This is the basis for discrimination, bigotry, rivalry and all kinds of antagonism and hatred. We have divisions on all sorts of things that ultimately do not matter in the big picture. Some Christians withdraw from others on the basis of creation. We fail to understand that the 3 main religions in the world spring from the same God, claim Abraham as a spiritual ancestor and acknowledge Jesus as a Prophet if not as Saviour or Messiah. There is much in common albeit with some very significant differences.
We stand at a crossroads in history. Future generations will judge us on how we act and on what basis our decisions stand. Inclusion or exclusion? Compassion or hard-heartedness? Welcome or rejection? The way God sees us or the way the world sees us? As the song says, Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me. Let there be peace on earth the peace that was meant to be. With God as our creator, we are one family, let us walk with each other in perfect harmony