An Open Heart.
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all of our hearts Be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, our rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
In our Gospel reading this morning in Mark chapter 7, we learn about a time when Jesus is a tired man – tired even to the point of exhaustion. It is about at that time also, that Jesus recently learned that his cousin, trusted friend and advisor John the Baptist has been executed. His heart is broken. His mind and physical being have been pushed to their limits. Jesus… needs so badly, to ‘go and find the quiet centre.”
We don’t very often come across images in artistic expression, or in stained glass windows depicting Jesus as a tired man needing some down time or an afternoon nap …… We see Him suffering on the cross, we see Him doing miracles, acting with compassion, preaching, healing, etc., but not of Jesus trying to get away from people so that he can get some rest. And so we come across Jesus in our Gospel reading today, making an attempt to try and get some rest for Himself. We’re told that He heads off into the region of Tyre and Sidon – part of the region now known as Southern Lebanon. We find Jesus tired and wishing for some respite, so much so, that he attempts to banish a Lebanese woman from badgering him, as she pleads for his support to heal her daughter. He even uses some strong language that seemed out of character for him.
After testing her faith and the extraordinary lengths she will go to, Jesus tells the woman to “go home sister, your daughter is fine.”
Attempts to quell the masses from proclaiming his greatness, Jesus further pleads with the ever-growing crowds to just give him some space. Jesus needs rejuvenation time. But the crowds continue to spread the news that “He has done all things well.” Down time vanishes for Jesus, and he is pushed further to the point of exhaustion. Wherever you see Jesus moving in the stories of the New Testament, you see a fair degree of pandemonium following in His wake! People are being healed, communities are being stirred up, political rulers are getting upset, and everyone is talking excitedly. I can’t help but wonder what it would be like for Jesus today. Social media hashtags, twitter and facebook posts and shares. He wouldn’t stand a chance finding quiet time in 2015.
I think that some of the message we learn in Mark, is that, even as Jesus grew weary, he pushed himself to go the distance. Yes, Jesus needed rest. We too need rest, but before we can sincerely rest with a quiet mind, we must push ourselves to go the distance. Just as the Lebanese woman came between Jesus and some badly needed down time, we know that there are, literally today, millions of Lebanese women (amongst others) who need support.
If we truly follow Jesus lead, we realize that passivity is not an option. We cannot simply sit back and wait for things to happen.. for things to change and somehow magically get better. Every person has a job to do in God’s family; there are no spectators. We weep and laugh together. We bear each other’s burdens. We pray for and encourage one another. Sitting on the sidelines is not something Jesus shared in any of his teachings..
Even as he sought refuge in silence and contemplation, Jesus showed us that, an open heart that listens will be compelled to action. An open heart is essential to finding the pathways that intersect our Christian values, and calls to action.
And now, we find ourselves wrestling with a Global call to action, a crisis so huge in its’ breadth and scope that finding a pathway through the din and chaos is next to impossible.
But what about those who are running for their very lives in a perilous dance with death. Refugees navigating chaos and contradiction. How strange and difficult this journey must be for the children .. A heightened sense of anxiety all around them .. Why is mommy crying? Why is daddy pulling on my hand and dragging me across hells’ half acres? Why am i in a boat, or a truck, or a cargo hold? What is this water all around me? Why can’t i breathe?
For the adults, All they must surely know with any degree of certainty is that they must keep running for their lives.
An inherent ancient survival song, imprinted somewhere in the recesses of the mind .. A call to action. To live. Or die trying.
From the United Church of Canada website, we read the following:
‘The United Church of Canada extends its deepest condolences to those mourning the tragic deaths of Syrian refugees Aylan Kurdi (three years old), his brother Galip (five years old), and their mother, Reham. We pray also for the thousands of others from various countries who have also died or lost relatives as they risked their lives in search of safe haven on distant shores, including Canada.
A long-time member of the Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR), the United Church echoes the concerns raised in the CCR’s recent statement lamenting the circumstances that led to this particular tragedy, and appealing for Canada to respond more quickly and generously to the urgent needs of Syrians and other refugees already awaiting resettlement.
The rising death toll among refugees and asylum seekers from Syria, Iraq, North Africa, and elsewhere reveals the increased desperation of people caught up in prolonged conflicts. The United Church is concerned that, due to Canadian government policies and practices that block or delay reunification, refugee families are frequently separated for prolonged periods of time or indefinitely. People who flee persecution and seek asylum in Canada are often prevented from bringing their spouse and/or children and often face very long processing times and delays. Once recognized as refugees in Canada, they can apply to bring their immediate family to Canada. However, sometimes they have to wait years to be reunited with their spouses and children, who themselves can be living in situations of danger and persecution. Furthermore, they can only apply to be reunited with family if they qualify to apply for permanent residency.’ If this sounds cumbersome and difficult to navigate, you would be correct … It’s little wonder refugees feel exhausted and incapacitated by the process …
But in the face of certain death, they need to keep pushing forward. There is no option.
In the wake of the tragic deaths of three-year-old Alan Kurdi and his five-year-old brother Ghalib, the Canadian Council for Refugees reiterated its call for Canada to open its doors to Syrian refugees. In a press release they stated that “We shouldn’t need to wait for a tragedy like the one that claimed the life of Alan and Ghalib Kurdi and their mother, to realize we must open our doors. We call on an urgent basis for Syrians with family in Canada to be allowed to travel here immediately and complete processing in Canada where they can be safe. We don’t want to see any more children die in this way.”
We learned later this week, that the application that was rejected by Immigration Canada was not Alan’s family, as originally thought, but an application for Alan’s uncle and family. However, the news of the refusal of that application must have been received as a sign that Alan’s family had no chance either.
In the scripture lesson from James, we learn ..to “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” 9 But if you treat people according to their outward appearance, you are guilty of a ‘selective withholding of love’ ..as it were.. Hardly the makings of an open heart to people fleeing from utter devastation in far-flung places like S. Sudan, Nigeria, Iraq, Syria and beyond.
What good is faith? asked the author of James, if we do not have intentional actions to support our belief in a humanity that is good and kind and decent. Recent images that went viral on news media and social media — should serve to awaken our consciences to the suffering and desperation of nearly four million refugees who have fled the Syrian civil war.
UN officials say it is the greatest humanitarian emergency of our times. Half of those displaced millions are teens and children. And an estimated 2,500 people perished this summer as more than 300,000 refugees tried to reach Europe from Turkey, the Middle East and North Africa.. Ottawa has settled only 2,500 Syrians since 2013 and has agreed to take 10,000 by 2017.
ACT Alliance is a coalition of more than 140 churches and faith-based organizations working together in over 140 countries to create positive and sustainable change in the lives of poor and marginalised people regardless of their religion, politics, gender, sexual orientation, race or nationality.
Six major Nordic aid and development organisations, and members of ACT Alliance, have called on governments in Europe to take immediate response to the refugee crisis on Europe’s doorstep.
“People are dying on our doorstep – Europe needs to act now,” was the call from the organisations, highlighting: “In Europe, we pride ourselves being leaders when it comes to values like democracy and human rights. As organisations based on Christian values, we believe that we need to act. Now is the time to bring our values into action.”
The organizations Norwegian Church Aid, Church of Sweden, Diakonia Sweden, Finn Church Aid, DanChurchAid, and Icelandic Church Aid said in their statement: “We Europeans have the power to help and our governments must respect their obligations to treat everyone with dignity and respect. We must help the affected people in Europe, in transit and at their country of origin. Displaced people need to be assisted and supported in accordance with the refugee convention, human rights and applicable international law. The increasing refugee flow is a result of poverty, conflict and war. Ultimately, it can only be solved by addressing the root causes. Shutting people out will not be the solution. Europe needs to act together.”
The Methodist Church in The United Kingdom has called on its’ congregations to sponsor one refugee family per community of faith .. A call to action. Open hearts – open doors.
And right here, in Algoma Presbytery we find a story of hope. A call-to-action where Christian values and an open heart are leading the congregation. St. Andrews United Church in The Sault has been working to open their church to a refugee family for about the last year or so. The process has been overwhelming, frustrating and bogged down in red tape. Led by members of the Mission and Service Outreach Team, Barb Cundari and John Tulley, and more are working through the struggle.
Barb Cundari shared with me “that a recent printout of refugees available through the blended visa office-referred (VOR) profiles, and dated Aug 4th 2015, had no Syrian refugees listed. She further shared that the team spoke directly with staff at the Refugee Sponsorship Training Program and received an email on Aug 25th with 7 profiles which were so complex with large family members and health/medical concerns, that they were not acceptable for immediate sponsorship. On Sept 02nd we received a 44 page printout of profiles available through the Blended Visa Office Referred profiles. There were 9 profiles for Syrian refugees, only 2 are travel-ready with a high urgency but these 2 profiles are cross referenced, and actually total 14 people – Barb shared that the team wasn’t capable of sponsoring such a large group..”
Perhaps this Refugee sponsorship project at St. Andrews United will inspire us as individuals, or as congregations to want to offer support to the Mission and Service Outreach team there. Whatever family finds refuge through the work of St. Andrews United, they will be surely be guided by open hearts. There are no small contributions when a community of faith pulls together … It is in the trying, that we shall surely find grace.
What does the Lord require of us .. To seek justice. To love kindness, and walk humbly with God. None of this is possible without an open heart. An Open heart …called to action. Amen.