There were many other acts of kindness – people giving refuge, sharing gas, making space in their cars. And two other stories struck me: a Syrian refugee family that had just arrived in Fort McMurray described the trauma of being uprooted from their home yet again because of the raging fire, and finding refuge, yet again, among cots, without clothing and possessions. The story of the Syrians prompted an interesting reaction – after doing so much to rescue strangers from far away, was Canada doing enough for people here at home? Were we doing right by our “own kind?” And from there, it was only a matter of time, before the comments turned to questions about whether it was wrong to invest in foreign refugees while Canadians suffered, or when we might have our own emergencies here?
This is not gospel led argument. Jesus did not tell us to only look after our own – quite the opposite, much of his teachings are about welcoming the outsider, the stranger, the unwanted. What’s more, Canadians have responded to Fort McMurray in the same way they did to the Syrian refugees, with donations, with emergency government relief. This is indeed a tragedy, and lives will be forever effected. But people are safe, they can rebuild, and they will do so in a peaceful, democratic country. Emergencies here do not absolve us, as one of the most prosperous countries in the world, from serving the stranger outside our borders.
Of course, events like these, really make us question the notion of stranger. If you think about it, being strangers is really a sign of privilege – we are doing just fine, and don’t need the help of others. But when something like this happen – war or famine or fire – we see that a “stranger” posture only furthers the hardship. We understand that for a big country – in a wide world – we cannot sustain it. Let those in need give; for one day, we too shall be in need. The things we celebrate in our mothers – self-sacrifice, kindness, love – are the same things we honour during days of devastation.
This morning we are being called be our National Bishop to pray for peace in Jerusalem and the Holy Land. Munib Younan is a small unassuming guy who is the bishop of all the Palestinian, Arabic-speaking, Lutherans in that area where war and tension are daily experiences. Bishop Younan becomes a giant when he speaks. I have heard him several times and I would like to give him a voice this morning because what he has to say applies.
Bishop Younan asks: “How can we live in this world and carry the light of Christ in us? It is easy to intend to live in the light. But once we are confronted with a problem, are challenged by society or are tempted to enact revenge, we see that this noble teaching remains a far-fetched goal. Paul gives us a set of instructions: “The fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:9-10).
In these post-modern times,” Bishop Younan points out, “it is easy to label people as conservatives, liberals, ultraliberals, etc. Even Christians are categorized. I don’t pay much attention to all these labels, because what I care about is if we Christians live as children of light.
In days gone by, bolts of cloth were stacked in dark rooms. The merchant would pull out a bolt and hold it up to the light so the buyer could inspect the weave and check for blemishes.
In the same way, we Christians should stand in the light of Christ, so that we may see our flaws – our weaknesses, narrow-mindedness, judgmental attitudes and hypocrisy – so that we might confess to the Lord that we have failed to live in the light. Such repentance will bring us back to our call to live as children of light.
One day as I was walking from my office in the Old City of Jerusalem to Jaffa gate, a merchant stopped me and drew my attention to a passing woman and child. He knew she was a Christian and that the handicapped boy she carried came from a Muslim family. He was amazed that she would give such motherly care to a child not her own.
I answered him, 'Yes, as Christians, we are called to serve every human being, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, religion or political affiliation. We are called to be light. It is our witness and diakonia.'
We are to live as children of light – and let our light shine – not to draw attention to ourselves or because our salvation depends on it. Rather, we live as children of light because Christ, our light, has given us special gifts to share with the world. But we can secure the world by sharing God’s grace. We can secure the world by shining Christ’s light into the darkness. We can serve the world by loving each other and all humanity.
As members of the church, we are called to work to eradicate poverty, to secure the right to food, to promote the full inclusion of women in society, to condemn human trafficking, to call for just sharing of natural resources, to counter climate change and, above all, to work for justice. We are children of light when we promote justice, forgiveness, peace and reconciliation. We are to be proactive in working to eliminate Islamophobia, xenophobia and antisemitism. In this way the church, the communion of the children of the light, becomes a beacon of hope in hopeless situations.”
These are big gospel-centered words from a little man who serves a group of Lutherans in an extremely hostile location on the planet. His minority voice, screaming to be heard above the majority voices in that area, is a beacon of hope.
We see the beacon of this hope among the plight of Syrian refugees, where churches have been on the front lines of the sponsorship programs. And we see this beacon of hope in the Canadian response to the plight of those now homeless in Alberta.
One more story: In Edmonton, at a local grocery story, a reporter interviewed a family coming out with a grocery cart full of supplies. They had purchased the supplies to donate to the emergency centres now full of displaced Canadians. They knew exactly what that it was like to be suddenly homeless, to have lost so much. Just a few months earlier, this family had come from Syria, sponsored by Canadians, and given a new chance. Now, they said, it was their turn to respond. This is the infinite brightness of the light that Bishop Younan speaks about; once lit, it cannot be contained.