(with reference to Refugee Sunday)

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IN the Name of God, Father Son and Holy Spirit.

Just very quickly the First Reading, speaks of the fear of the Egyptians as they looked on the Israelite people, as they looked on the foreigners; those that asked how many there were, and were worried about the gifts that they had, and in fear, getting together to say: let us deal shrewdly with them. For the fear was that they might increase. So then they set task-masters over them to oppress them, they made their lives bitter with hard service, they isolated them and in the end they drove them out.

Tomorrow is the anniversary of the Tampa coming to our shores and it is quite daunting to see that reading and to see how we dealt with those who came to our shores a year ago and how we drove them out. There is a lot in that first story and as we read it (and as we read any of the stories in the Bible) we should be aware that Biblical theology portrays much of our thinking and also much of our societal behaviours. Certainly in the older generation, a sense of duty and a respect for authority were firmly Biblically embraced, so for some of us it might be delightful today to hear one of the texts that gives us permission to question authority. Egyptians - the king of Egypt and the midwives - there is a wonderful dialogue: the midwives questioned the authority of the king and then they took responsibility, rather than leaving the future in the hands of the king, in the hands of the government.

And perhaps today, on Refugee Sunday, we might see ourselves as midwives and recognise the future of many is perhaps in our hands, and that there is no future for many if we abrogate our responsibility and blindly follow or, even worse, passively do nothing. In an email this week there is just a reminder of some of the facts regarding refugees, how few we offer hospitality to. The number of refugees has remained static for a long time even though numbers are increasing around the world. And the numbers are increasing. Statistics show that a new refugee is created every 21 seconds, so every 21 seconds the task and the hospitality that is to be offered grows and calls on us. 

Tanzania hosts one refugee for every 76 Tanzanian people, Britain hosts one for every 530 British people, Australia hosts one for every 1583 Australians.

The Old Testament stories are stories of life; they are stories to enable us not to look at the past, but to see the unfolding of the present. The story that we hear today is part of the Moses narrative and Moses in turn is one of those foundational figures. The story is the story of creation, of baptism, of dying and rising through the waters of the Nile and so it is a story that prefigures Christ, for Moses is one of those who led his people to freedom. It’s interesting to see that Moses brought freedom to the faithful by making of them refugees, by taking them out from their homes into the wilderness.

So perhaps we might reflect on our lives and just wonder if we are held captive or set free by the circumstances in which we live.

As we move on through the readings and perhaps draw more and more into that question, in Romans 12, Paul emphasises that, by our being and our speaking and our coming together as church, we are a people empowered. And Paul has this to say, he says: Do not be conformed to this world, don’t be conformed to this world, be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

For us it is not good enough to leave the unfolding of creation to others, for we are called to participate, to co-create with God in bringing the fullness about. And that may mean us taking a position that will not necessarily be the ordered and accepted position of society. But that passage from Paul is full of confidence, just listen again to the words of Paul: By the grace given to me, I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgement each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned, for as in one body we have many members and not all the members have the same function, so we who are many are one body in Christ and individually we are members one of another.

Paul’s picture of the church, of the gathering of the faithful was clearly of seeing ourselves as one body and recognising the different gifts that we have, which means that we can’t just behave like the church expects us to behave, but rather, each of us by our participation, creates the body that calls itself the church. Each of us, as Paul says, has gifts and these gifts differ according to the grace given to us. He doesn’t mean that some have more grace than others, he means that the graces that we receive are different; prophesy in proportion to faith, ministry in ministering, the teacher in teaching, the exalter in exaltation, the giver in generosity, the leader in diligence, the compassionate in cheerfulness. Paul says we are each and every one important to the enterprise we each have, a part in the becoming of the body of Christ, if and only if we choose to participate, to give of ourselves to the whole, rather than seeking to take for ourselves from the whole and then hang on to what we have got.

How different it would be if we could give of our selves to refugees.

Matthew leads us in with the question of the week, the question that will shape the rest of our lives, for we, gathered together in worship, we are one body, we are different, but together we will make up that which is the body.

The question that Matthew asks of us is: Who do you say chooses you?

I don’t think he is asking us to come back with a recitation of the Creed, I don’t think he is asking us and expecting us to quickly glance either side to see what others say that Jesus is so that we can fall into line. All he is asking is: As members of his body, who do you see Jesus as?

And in finding the answer I don’t think we can help but find ourselves, we are the body of Christ, but who do you say that I am, who do you say that I am?

And I tell you, says Jesus, you are St Paul ’s and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not prevail against you. I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven and whatever you, as one body, bind on earth, that will be bound in heaven; and whatever you as one body loose on earth, that will be loosed in heaven.

If we are the body of Christ we have much to give for we have much to realise.

The Lord be with you.

Now we allow our thoughts to come back together, wherever we’ve been,and I want to share just a couple of very short quotes from the latest edition of (?kali?), there’s a copy of this, well, a few copies, up in the hall, its an edition which particularly angles Refugee Sunday and it does help I think to answer one of those questions that we will always come back to that is yea but what can I do about it? There’s a lovely piece in here that talks of an interview with Desmond Tutu and the way he was before the overthrow of apartheid. They asked why he hadn’t given up in despair, like so many do. The refugee crisis is continuing to overwhelm, every 21 seconds another refugee. Desmond Tutu didn’t give up. His answer first brought a smile to his face and then he just held up the bible and he said, you could not get to the end of the book in three weeks. To get to that point, to have the confidence of St Paul , is really what this is about, the power to transform rather than conquer. And the other quote that stands out  is an article called Finding the City. “The only sure way of knowing the place is to know God’s intention for it, God’s love for it and God’s purifying purpose for it”

The only way for us to know this place, this place where we come together as one, is to know God’s intention for us, God’s love for us and God’s purifying purpose for us. Let us pray for each other, let us pray for the Church and let us pray for all people.”