Even though we are beginning our return to ‘normal Sunday worship’, at least for the time being, Robert is still preparing a regular ‘reflection’ which is sent out digitally or in print form to most of our congregation. It is also printed below. Please use it for your own personal devotion.
We will continue to post these reflections each week, here on the web-site.
(Scroll down for some earlier reflections.)
Reflection for Sunday 20th June 2021 Refugee Week
Mark 4; 35-41
We cannot walk alone.
Today is the last day of Refugee Week 2021. It was with this in mind that I “saw” today’s reading in a different way; I’m not saying the disciples were refugees, clearly they weren’t yet, even though Jesus had been a refugee at a very early age, but the crossing of the sea, and the storm they faced, certainly brought the issue to my mind. That is the lens through which I invite you to read the passage today.
The 1951 Refugee Convention is a key legal document and defines a refugee as: “someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.” We could also add, sexual orientation. Fearing death, torture, imprisonment.
Refugees are people who have fled war, violence, conflict or persecution and have crossed an international border to find safety in another country. They often have had to flee with little more than the clothes on their back, leaving behind homes, possessions, jobs and loved ones.
This being the case, why are nations so terrified of refugees? Why do people hate them so much? Why are they treated in such a horrible way? Particularly when the powerful countries of the world are so often responsible for creating the situations for which people flee their country? Does our faith welcome refugees or push them away?
When they fear staying in their country more than they do the journey to safe harbours, where so often they are not safe. The logo of the United Nations Refugee Agency is so easy to understand – two hands coming together to protect, to give refuge, to give security. And we all seek this in life, don’t we?
But challenges of the past year have exposed the deep inequalities between us, including in housing, income, and access to healthcare, particularly the Covid 19 vaccine, where churches are now speaking of Vaccine Apartheid. But the crisis has also shown how interconnected we are – that the wellbeing of each of us depends on the welfare, safety, and hard work of others. We are part of a shared ‘us’: this is so clear as from the Old Testament, where we can find in Leviticus 19; 33-34 this feeling – “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt.” We cannot forget that soon after the birth of Jesus, the baby, Mary and Joseph had to flee to Egypt because their life was in danger.
The sense of refuge is essential to the Bible, and because of this it is essential to our faith response to God’s love: Abraham, Daniel, Ruth, and others. The theme of Refugee Week 2021, ‘We Cannot Walk Alone’, is an invitation to extend your hand to someone new. Someone who is outside your current circle, has had an experience you haven’t, or is fighting for a cause you aren’t yet involved in.
Not only disciples crossing the lake caught in the storm, but the many refugees we read about who cross seas in great danger, often losing their life trying to get somewhere safe. Can we try to imagine what life must be like where they come from that crossing even with their children is preferable to staying where they were?
In the Gospel reading, the disciples were terrified, even when some of them were fishers by profession, used to travelling through storms, we should remember that in Biblical times, the sea was the expression of chaos, even of the absence of God, and when they go to Jesus in their desperation they ask – “Don’t you care is we drown?” – will not this be the same feeling of the refugees today? Can we just look on to what is going on to them as if it were not our reality?
Two weeks ago, we were horrified when the news told us about a toddler’s body that was washed up in Norway, this child had drowned during a migrant Channel crossing, Artin Iran-Nezhad, who was 15 months old when he drowned as did his parents and two older siblings in October last year, his body turned up in Norway on New Year’s Day and only identified two weeks ago. Are they not God’s children? And all who risk their lives in such a way – they are God’s children.
The Gospel reading is so well known, but if we ONLY think of frightened disciples turning to Jesus, we have missed the point. The point being that in the midst of the chaos that surrounds, God shows up. As I said last Sunday – the tree spreads its branches for the birds to find refuge, doesn’t God care for the human family in need? God, in Jesus, is promising liberation, and through Jesus is creating relationships. We believe in God who rescues us, God who is in the boat during the storm with us (where us includes refugees), and the reading shows us what God is willing to do to rescue the people of God. We cannot walk alone, sail alone, live alone. How we treat refugees reflects who we are.
I leave you with two quite different images of the same biblical scene. The first drawn by Cerezo Barredo, a contemporary Spanish Missionary artist; the other painted by Neil Thorogood, a URC minister. Can you imagine yourself in any of these situations? I for one would be terrified.
Collect for this Sunday.
Saving God, entering the flood and storm of chaos and confusion: speak peace to a fearful heart that we might find our faith in him whose word brings rest to all creation; through Jesus Christ, lord of wind and wave.