Sermon (ii) preached on the Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity (6 September 2015) by the Reverend Canon Tricia Hillas, Pastor

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Sermon (ii) preached on the Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity (6 September 2015) by the Reverend Canon Tricia Hillas, Pastor

The Reverend Canon Tricia Hillas looks at the refugee crisis, giving us practical ways how we can help.


People fleeing for their lives. Homes, livelihoods left behind.

Men, women, the aged, the strong, children, babes in arms longing for freedom, for safety.

Facing the sea. No way back. Perilous waters ahead.

A choice that was no choice faced the people of the Israelites – their plight brought to life in our reading from the Book of Exodus - their experience was give shape to the self-understanding of subsequent generations, even to this day.

Facing the waters of the sea. No way back. Perilous waters ahead. A dilemma that is all too resonant for people standing on the shores of the Mediterranean, the Gulf of Aden and the Andaman Sea in Southeast Asia today.

According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, in 2014 there were almost 60 million refugees and internally displaced people around the globe. That’s one in every 122 people worldwide pushed out of their homes. If this were the population of a country, it would be the world's 24th largest.

The UN report details how, in the past five years, at least 15 conflicts have erupted or reignited:

  • eight in Africa (Côte d'Ivoire, Central African Republic, Libya, Mali, northeastern Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and Burundi);
  • three in the Middle East (Syria, Iraq, and Yemen); one in Europe (Ukraine)
  • and three in Asia (Kyrgyzstan, and in areas of Myanmar and Pakistan).

The war in Syria alone has meant that every day last year, on average 42,500 people became refugees, asylum seekers, or internally displaced.

Meanwhile continuing instability and conflict in Afghanistan, Somalia and elsewhere, means that millions of people remain on the move or stranded on the edge of society as long-term internally displaced or refugees, often for years.

In Europe, in 2014 Turkey became the world's top refugee-hosting nation with 1.59 million Syrian refugees at year's end.

The conflicts in Africa have produced forced displacement on a scale only marginally lower than in the Middle East. Ethiopia is the largest refugee-hosting country in Africa and the fifth largest worldwide.

The number of refugees and internally displaced people in Asia grew to 9 million people. Iran and Pakistan remained two of the world's top four refugee hosting countries.

UN High Commiosioner for Refugees, António Guterres, warned in June of this year:

"It is terrifying that on the one hand there is more and more impunity for those starting conflicts, and on the other there is seeming utter inability of the international community to work together to stop wars and build and preserve peace,"  adding that,

"For an age of unprecedented mass displacement, we need an unprecedented humanitarian response and a renewed global commitment to tolerance and protection for people fleeing conflict and persecution."

His was an urgent call for compassion and action in the face of what the Archbishop of Canterbury has described as “a hugely complex and wicked crisis that underlines our human frailty and the fragility of our political systems”

All of which brings me to our reading from the gospel of Matthew.

And one word from it in particular.

It’s found in a prayer that Jesus shared as a pattern for all our praying. We often refer to as ‘The Lord’s Prayer and it unites Christians around the world.

The liturgical form of the prayer begins in English, with a tiny but profound word: ‘OUR’

‘Our Father’.     Not ‘the Father’, not even ‘my Father’, but ‘OUR’.

That small word, a reminder that we do not come before God alone, we stand together or not at all. And we stand equally before God, whether we are born in Surrey, Southwark or Syria. ‘Our Father’.

As Christians we are called to live this ‘our’, to see the Divine connection between ourselves and the stranger who is our neighbour; knowing that we who were once estranged from God have been given refuge and a home within the heart of God.

Though countless have died, men, women and children, it was the image of one child in particular, an infant lying in the shallow water of Bodrum’s beach, tenderly carried in the arms of an ashen-faced Turkish policeman which has shaken many of us anew this week; ordinary people and politicians alike.

Over half the world's refugees are children.

If we claim God as Our Father, then they are OUR children too.

Now there is a danger that the numbers we hear of, could cause us to despair: ‘nothing can be done’. Yet the Executive Director of Human Rights Watch points out that the so-called ‘wave of people’ is more like a trickle when considered against the pool that could absorb it..

Archbishop Justin’s statement adds:

 “The Church has always been a place of sanctuary for those in need, and Churches in the UK and across Europe have been meeting the need they are presented with. I reaffirm our commitment to the principle of sanctuary for those who require our help and love. The people of these islands have a long and wonderful history of offering shelter and refuge, going back centuries – whether it be Huguenot Christians, Jewish refugees, Ugandan Asians, Vietnamese boat people or many, many more.    

It has always been controversial at the time it happened, always been seen as too difficult.

Yet each time we have risen to the challenge and our country has been blessed by the result.”

I began with the ancient Israelites standing on the shores of the Red Sea – with what we call ‘The Exodus’ – a movement of a people which would shape their self-identity for generations to come, and which still has deep  meaning today.

I believe that how WE respond now, to the Exodus in our own day will also have profound implications for our identity; who we are and who we will be – perhaps for generations to come, setting the values  that will guide, shape and yes DEFINE us. And surely others are watching too, to see what we will do, to see what our actions will reveal about who we are at our core.

And I believe, Divine eyes watch too – the God who calls us to never cease to remember and to welcome the stranger. Many have been doing so for years. Many have responded in recent days:

Here in London at 11pm last Thursday, a lawyer and father, having wrestled with how best to respond to the “completely harrowing” photographs from Turkey, set up a JustGiving page and urged his fellow lawyers to donate one billable hour of their time to Save the Children’s refugee appeal. His target of £7,500 had been met before he went to bed. By mid-afternoon on Friday,   he had raised almost £50,000.

That’s what he did; many of us wonder what can we do?

Petition, lobby and maybe even March

Petition our governments and elected representatives. Support lobbying organisations such as Citizens UK, an alliance of civil society groups including many churches. As we’ve seen in the past few days it really does make a difference and we need to ensure that promises made now are fulfilled.

Donate

There are many organisations which are working in the Middle East and North Africa to ease the refugee crisis at its source. These include Christian charities such as TearfundChristian Aid and Cafod. Here St Paul’s we will be inviting support for the Save the Children’s Appeal.

Research and support local projects working with Refugees

Some people are offering spare rooms to host individuals and families. Others help by acting as mentors to help people to integrate or to engage with education. Not everyone can, but maybe you can…?

Pray

And keep praying. So let us pray now:

‘Our Father… no one is stranger to you.

look with mercy on those who today are fleeing from danger.

Bring them safely to the place where they long to be,

and help us always to show your kindness to strangers and those in need.

Bless the work of those seeking to bring them relief.

and all whose decision making can make a difference

and guide the nations of the world towards that day
when all will rejoice in your Kingdom of justice and of peace;

We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen