2018.06.20 MidWeek Communion Service Homily (World Refugee Day) at Oak Grove United Methodist Church
Scripture: Matthew 2:13-15
“When the magi had departed, an angel from the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up. Take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod will soon search for the child in order to kill him.” Joseph got up and, during the night, took the child and his mother to Egypt. He stayed there until Herod died.”
In this part of the birth narrative of Jesus, Matthew’s gospel is telling us the story of love coming into the world through Jesus–fully human, fully God. The obedient Magi have just left the scene, being warned in a dream to flee from the somewhat insecure, and certainly murderous, King Herod.
And so, we come into the story at the point where Joseph is also being warned in a dream to escape. They go to Egypt, fleeing for their lives.
We don’t get a lot of details about their experience getting to Egypt, nor how they were received in Egypt, but shortly after this scripture they do return and move to Nazareth in Galilee.
Today is international World Refugee Day. A day created by the United Nations General Assembly on December 4, 2000. The assembly noted that 2001 marked the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. This 1951 convention determined who qualified as refugees, set out the rights of individuals to be granted asylum, and defined the agreed-upon the responsibilities of nations granting asylum.
The UN High Commission of Refugees says that a refugee is: “A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion,” and notes that refugees are typically unable to return home for those fears of persecution or unable to return home. (more info)
We see in the early text of Matthew’s Gospel narrative that Jesus, God incarnate, was forced to flee with his parents for fear of persecution and violence. Matthew’s portrayal of the birth narrative is mostly a story of God’s activity. The story is about the baby, infant Jesus, so Jesus here is not saving himself nor are these particularly really heroic deeds from Mary or Joseph, but rather faithful action–just as any parent would do what they needed for their children. This minor digression in the birth narrative is only found in the Gospel of Matthew and is often an overlooked portion of scripture. It reminds us that we are called to pay attention to the minor digressions in stories and that even through unappreciated and seemingly less important people God might be trying to show us something.
Imagine being someone in Egypt who met a baby/toddler version of Jesus brought in by two young parents, likely scared and yet hopeful. They went to Egypt with dreams for a better life for their child, the baby Jesus. And we don’t know that they found welcome in Egypt, but I like to imagine that some Egyptians saw them, had pity on them, recognized their gifts and abilities, and wanted to help them succeed.
World refugee day is about the celebration of not just the triumph of the human spirit, but also of the provision and welcome offered by host countries and community members.
How might we be called to pay attention to make room in our own lives for unexpected people or to create a space for others who are looking for a place of safety.
Sometime this week, whether tonight or later this week, perhaps re-read Matthew 2:13-15a and perhaps imagine yourself as an Egyptian seeing the holy family coming into town.
How do you feel drawn to help to encourage or to provide welcome?
How might God be using that to encourage us all to find a little more room?
Let it be so. Amen.
FYI: MidWeek Communion is a weekly Weds 5pm Worship service of prayers, a song, a Homily, and Holy Communion held in Grand Hall at Oak Grove UMC–feel free to drop by if you’re going to be out of town over the weekend or wanting to stop in & say “hi.” –JMcBray
Dr. Eboo Patel gave of his time and energy to share with us an articulate, challenging, and thought-provoking vision of young people coming together and leading people from different faith communities to serve the needs of the world through service to others.
This weekend (May 21-24) I’m here in Shreveport, LA at Centenary College attending the National Student Forum of the United Methodist Student Movement–basically a gathering of United Methodist college students who are from all over the US. Also there are 50+ UM campus ministers and chaplains (I’m now one of those as the Emory Wesley Fellowship Director!) It is a pretty awesome gathering of people in the United Methodist Church who are deeply passionate about young people, the church, and the world. Our theme is breaking barriers and building bridges.
Today at the conference Dr. Eboo Patel founder and executive director of the Interfaith Youth Core spoke to the students and later to the Campus Ministers about coming together despite differences, pluralism, and serving others. The Interfaith Youth Core, is an organization who “builds mutual respect and pluralism among young people from different religious traditions by empowering them to work together to serve others.” Patel is a young, energetic, extremely intelligent and well-read communicator.
He spoke to us about the importance of building the “beloved community” of which Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke. Dr. Patel, a devout Muslim, shared his belief that MLK, Jr.’s vision of the beloved community consisted of and was informed/formed by two things: 1) his being deeply rooted in the Christian faith tradition, and 2) his relationships with people of other faiths. Patel encouraged and challenged the students and campus ministers to grow more deeply in their faith, noting that in deepening their own faith traditions they will encounter truths that resonate deeply with other faith traditions. He talked about the interfaith encounters and relationships of Martin Luther King, Jr. with Ghandi, Thich Nhat Hanh, and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel to demonstrate that Martin Luther King, Jr. was not only a great leader for the civil rights movement and a great leader for the Christian movement, but that he was also a great interfaith leader.
Dr. Eboo Patel gave of his time and energy to share with us an articulate, challenging, and thought-provoking vision of young people coming together and leading people from different faith communities to serve the needs of the world through service to others. His message was and is encouraging, insightful, and it is gaining momentum–one conversation and one interfaith leader at a time. May it continue.