For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me. (Matthew 25: 35,36)
I was very proud of my church today.
I guess I should tell you that I have not always been so proud of my church. It comes from a lifetime of belonging to this community – over half of that life in ordained ministry. Along the way I have seen this old church at its very best and its very worst.
Today I saw my church at its very best.
It happened this morning at St. Paul’s Church in the Goulds. The clergy of our two Avalon Peninsula Archdeaconries – about 30 of us – gathered for the morning to discuss, among other matters, our response to the tragic refugee situation in the Middle East and Europe. The conversation was wide-ranging and passionate, as we examined the reality before us, suggested ways to respond, and put in place a working group to move us forward. The entire discussion was outward looking and forward looking and there was no talk of property or finance or complaints about petty squabbles that happen in parishes from time to time and consume so much time and energy of the clergy out of all proportion to their importance.
Today, instead, we didn’t talk about ourselves at all and talked only of others as we dreamed together of what we could do to help those in great need. A positive and compassionate energy filled the room as we shared our thoughts, our hopes, and our dreams. We were brought together in a special way as the People of God and as the Body of Christ. I appreciated the words of one priest who was there who wrote to me afterward and reflected upon the “transformative meeting” today.
The truth is, something very holy happens to the church when it stops living for itself and its own needs, and takes the risk of living for others and their needs. In Matthew’s Gospel, as quoted above, it is as if acts of compassion for others (the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the imprisoned) become acts of compassion for Christ, such is his identification with their need. We are a community called to give its life for others, just as our Lord gave his life for us.
In the coming days you will hear more about today’s meeting as we shape our response and challenge both government and society and the rest of our church to action. But suffice it to tell you now that we are going to plan to receive refugees here even before we know how we are going to do it. We are going to act as if they are coming even though we know the hurdles will be immense.
In the coming days the Diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador in collaboration with our parishes and every agency and group that wants to work with us will seek families and individuals to act as hosts and companions. We will be asking for money to support those who come. And we will ask members of our churches and others with particular skills that are needed to help us. We will ask hundreds of persons directly, and thousands indirectly, to take the risk of faith and share a little or a lot of what they have so that life may be better for others. Because we have so much to call our own that we can give.
And we will do it in the Name of Christ.
I end with this prayer borrowed from the Diocese of Exeter and invite you to pray it alone or with companions tonight or tomorrow as we seek God’s Grace and God’s Healing for our world.
God of compassion
whose own son experienced life as a refugee
we remember those fleeing from danger,
hungry and afraid, with nowhere to call home.
God, we ask for them warmth, security, food and peace.
God of hope,
we thank you for those who are working to bring relief and
comfort to those displaced,
showing glimpses of grace in the darkness of despair.
God, give them strength.
God of justice,
guide the nations and the leaders of the world towards peace
stir hearts to be generous and compassionate.
God, help us to play our part in bringing about the change
that we want to see.