Monday, August 26, 2013

A sermon for Migrant and Refugee Sunday

(Scripture Reading: Luke 12:10-17 – the bent over woman)

Inconvenient timing!

The woman has been bent double for 18 years, and she has to be healed on a Sabbath??? Jesus sees her condition, calls her over and says: you are set free.  The word used means ‘to release’, much like the donkey is untied (v.15). She is set straight again – both in her stature, and in restoring her to the Abrahamic community which she has been cut off from for 18 years.

Jesus is deliberately provocative in the healing of this woman. All he had to do was wait for sundown when the Sabbath would be finished. But he goes out of his way to be inflammatory.

A world view is rarely changed by persuasion and reason. At what point did Jesus realize that what he was teaching about, what he was envisioning, was simply beyond people to see? Were there times when he 'just did it?' And bore the brunt of people’s response to the perceived crisis, the clash of values?

The criticism he receives is nestled within the Law. And on a point of technicality the leaders of the synagogue are right - as long as the place you begin is with legal argument and ‘policy’.

The foundation for Jesus’ action is that what God desires is focused on people’s well being.
Commandments, rules, guidelines, traditions, laws, scriptures are  subordinate to God's loving purpose. God’s focus is generosity and giving, restoration and healing, encouraging and renewing.

There is an absolute clash of world-views in this story. Jesus and the leader of the synagogue - two serious and devout Jews - are dumbfounded by each other.

The leader of the synagogue well may ask, How can you break the Law like this? There are six other days! You could wait! How can you insult God like this? The leader of the synagogue is not being petty. His God has been insulted, ignored, and belittled by what Jesus has done. It is sacrilege.

Jesus may well ask, and does, How could you make her wait one more day!? Can you not see her agony? Healing is here! God wishes her well! Why withhold the blessings of God? What kind of God do you believe in?!

How we imagine God is directly related to how we imagine what it means to be a decent person.

Today is Migrant and Refugee Sunday, celebrated by the churches in Australia on the last Sunday of August every year. This year it comes with the most inconvenient of timing – two weeks before an election, where the treatment of refugees has become aligned to gaining electoral advantage at the expense of the poor. This reading has a great deal to say to us in the way we are managing the issues around refugees and asylum seekers - for those who are recent refugees and those who have been in camps for years, possibly as long as the 18 years the woman in the story was waiting, hunched over, waiting to be able to stand tall.

Like the woman, Jesus may well ask, How could you make them wait one more day!? Can you not see their agony? Release from war, violence, oppression and the stench and terror of death is here!

The asylum seekers and refugees are ‘inconveniently’ arriving in our region. Their method of arrival is construed as ‘inconvenient’ and deemed ‘illegal’ by the two main political parties. It is not illegal to seek asylum! People who arrive by plane and seek asylum are not carted off shore for processing. Only those who feel they have no option left but to board a small boat and undertake a perilous journey from Indonesia to Australia are then are told they will never live in Australia. Australia’s current policies regarding refugees and asylum seekers are premised on a different set of values than compassion, especially given that 97% are found to be genuine refugees.

Australia's political leaders are formulating policies aligned to electoral advantage, and trading on people’s fear of the ‘other’, and then making 'the law' an idol that takes precedence over compassion.  (I’m sure Australia is not alone in making this stance – it is politically advantageous to do so).

The values we hold as followers of Christ are premised on the knowledge that God's chief focus is love and care for people and creation. The reign of God grows from acts of compassion; acts where people use law and scripture as a guide rather than immovable rules that leave others in pain or need. The reign of God runs and grows on compassion!

(acknowledgement of Rev Andrew Prior and Rev Dr Bill Loader for some content)

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