The Fifteenth Sunday After PentecostThe Rev. Austin K. Rios St. Paul’s Within the Walls September 06, 2015
Sometime in the star-pierced night of September 2, amidst the dark waves of the Aegean, a raft went down, dumping its human cargo into the cold waters.
There was nothing special about this raft.
Every night of the year, rafts like this depart the shores of Africa and Asia and seek to reach Europe’s door, often weighed down to the point of capsizing… their desperate passengers risking it all to flee war, famine, and a horizon that has no future.
Raft after raft. Boat after boat.
Perhaps an article about “the growing refugee crisis” comes across our social media sites or our news feed and we glance at it before moving on.
Maybe we’ve even given some thought as to what sort of policies and practices should be in place to address this great humanitarian tragedy.
Regardless the boats and rafts keep coming.
While the European Union and the West endlessly discuss the Euro, the latest celebrity gossip, and the vagaries of political campaigns…
One more raft sank into the Mediterranean on the night of September 2.
Except this time… the truth of the great divide between east and west, between the haves and the have-nots, between life and death itself… did not sink unnoticed into the depths of the sea, but washed up onto Turkish shores.
There. There was the truth.
A small, waterlogged toddler’s body face down on the beach…the waves that had stolen his breath insistently breaking against his lifeless form while a Turkish officer finally came to pick him up.
The pictures of Aylan Kurdi, a three-year-old Syrian refugee, whose brief life ended that night in the Aegean, are so tragic and heart-wrenching that they have gained enough media attention to cause the West to finally wake up to the harsh realities of the global refugee crisis.
The truth that not enough has been done to address the plight of refugees… that it has been easier to focus on a mountain of distractions than the life of that child and the fundamental human rights protection that should be his as a citizen of God’s world.
Aylan reminded so many of the inconvenient truth of our failure to see each other as God does… and none of us escape the conviction that comes with confronting that failure.
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, who has visited the Joel Nafuma Refugee center here at St. Paul’s, issued this statement recently:
“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… We cannot turn our backs on this crisis. We must respond with compassion. But we must also not be naïve in claiming to have the answers to end it. It requires a pan-European response – which means a commitment to serious-minded diplomatic and political debate, but not at the expense of practical action that meets the immediate needs of those most in need of our help.”
In order for Aylan’s raft to not be just one more raft… and if we are to do anything to avoid more lost lives washing up on European shores… then we members of the Church must be willing to be bolder than we have been.
We must be willing to have our minds and hearts changed, and to align our actions with that new found vision.
If Aylan’s body is not enough to convince you that this is our calling, then perhaps a look at this week’s scripture will.
One of the most interesting passages from the Gospel is before us today… a scene in which Jesus himself has to reconsider the mission of God that has been entrusted to him.
After going about the hard work of ministry in Galilee, he retreats to the shores of the Great Sea, the Mediterranean, a land where good Jews were bound to come into contact with dirty, heretical Gentiles.
And that’s what happens to him.
A Syrophoenecian woman, desperate to save her child from the demon curse that is upon her, begs Jesus to share his power and healing with her daughter.
She knows the divide that separates them… knows the risks of putting all she is into the basket of hope she floats Jesus’ way.
But maybe, this miracle man, this Jewish messiah, will draw her daughter out of the waters with which the demon has covered her, as Pharaoh’s daughter once drew Jesus’ great ancestor Moses from the water, to bring life and liberation to his people.
Maybe he is above the divisions that exist between them…
She has to try… her situation has made her desperate.
So it must have been devastating to hear him so easily dismiss her… “not today Gentile dog… my place is with my people… my mission does not include you or your daughter. Move along.”
There on the sandy shores of the Mediterranean, it must have felt to her as if all hope had gone… as if Jesus had left her daughter to the waves… as if she stared headlong into the inevitable horizon of her daughter’s and her people’s bleak future.
Faced with this horror, she has no option but to challenge this Jewish prophet.
“My life matters. Even if you don’t see it. All I’m asking for are the crumbs from your banquet table. Please.”
It is a quick moment in Mark’s gospel… Mark rarely provides the kind of detail that the other gospellers do.
But I can see her face and determination directed at the once dismissive Jesus. Can see his eyes softening as he realizes how trapped he is by his own cultural upbringing and his own misconceptions about who God’s people really are.
I see compassion. Kindness.
From that moment on, Jesus’ entire mission is changed.
This bold woman, and the tragedy that she faces every day, becomes real and valued to Jesus.
In fact, after he casts out her daughter’s demon, he goes directly to another Gentile territory closer to his home in Galilee to share his gifts among the people there.
A deaf Gentile man can hear… and “is opened” to a world of new possibilities as a result.
It may be scary to some people of faith to think about Jesus’ mind and mission being changed by an encounter with a desperate Syrophoenician woman.
But rather than viewing it as a threat, I see it as empowerment for us to “be opened” to the new things that God wants us to engage.
To be opened to letting go of unhelpful and unreal worldly divisions in favor of the broader notion of the kingdom of God.
To be opened to the cry of the poor and the plight of the refugee, and to find ways to engage the complexities of policy, practical assistance, and protection so that Aylan Kurdi’s lifeless body will not be forgotten, and so our common humanity may be affirmed and ensured.
To be opened to letting faith and works come into harmony in the composition of your life… the opus that God sings within you, within this body called the church, and within a broken world longing for healing.
If Jesus’ heart and mind could be changed, why can’t ours?
Be opened dear people of God.