A sermon at Ketchikan Presbyterian Church by George R. Pasley
James 2:1-8, 14-17
My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong? If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right.
What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret. In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an evil spirit came and fell at his feet. The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter. “First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.”
“Yes, Lord,” she replied, “but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.” She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged him to place his hand on the man. After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “”Ephphatha!”” (which means, “Be opened!”). At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly. Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”
The name of this woman is forgotten, but she is one person- one woman- I can never forget. It may not be my favorite bible story, but it certainly is the one that is most intriguing to me.
I mean, look at her: Jesus has been preaching and healing for chapter after chapter, and finally he goes to take a day off- and she barges into his secret hideaway and starts begging him.
She was a mom, and she was desperate, and most likely she was a single mom, because most men of that day wouldn’t have bothered with a child who was challenged the way that girl was.
So that means that really, she had nothing going for her. Not one thing. She was a divorced woman, mother of one very troubled girl, and a gentile in an occupied country.
But she did have something going for her: she had hope, and she had audacity, and she put them both to work and she persisted until her prayers were answered.
When it comes to faith and works, even the faith of Jesus was not much good until he put it to work, healing that little girl.
Then he left that town, and went back to work, and the first miracle he did was to open some ears that could not hear. So I have to confess, he did the same to me.
I was wrestling with this story, wanting to talk about the importance of engaging our hearts and minds with God, even to the point of argument with God, as we deal with the sufferings of life. And I wanted to talk about How Jesus was hands on- not content to preach form the bow of a boat or the perch on a hill, but entering into the crowds and putting his fingers right into our ears.
But as I did all that, something was happening around the world, and it was happening to people who came from the same place as that woman with the long-forgotten name: Syria.
You know, it’s really sad. Every page you turn to, every news story you hear, refers to it as a crisis.
But it’s been going on for FOUR and ONE-HALF years. That’s worse than a crisis, it’s a chronic travesty.
So let’s look at the travesty, by the numbers.
And first, look at this number:
8 people every minute leave everything behind to escape war, persecution or terror.
Eight people- that’s one family, somewhere in the world where there is a war or persecution or terror, every minute.
Those 8 people add up to 51 million people, right now, this very minute, who left their home, their job, everything behind to find somewhere where they might be safe.
When your life is in danger, you go, and it doesn’t matter if anybody is ready to take you. You can’t wait, so you go. But as it turns out, most of the places that they GO to are the poorest places on the face of the earth- and trouble often follows them.
The vast majority of Syrian refugees have gone to the two poorest and smallest nations in the whole middle east- Jordan and Lebanon. Others have gone to Iraq- a place where many folk are trying to leave.
Others have gone to Turkey and Egypt, neither of which is very prosperous these days.
The 48 least developed nations in the world are all hosts to large numbers of refugees from their embattled neighbors, and it’s an understatement to say that in none of those places are they made to feel welcome.
They are very much like the woman who barged in on Jesus. They’re an embarrassment, a money-pit, a problem that may not end for a long time.
Of those 51 million refugees in the world, there are 13 million who lack access to the most basic necessities of life, including food, clean water, safe shelter, health care, education, and protection from conflict, war, and violence. Their exposed to disease, suffering from hunger, and still in danger.
Then there’s this number: 46%
46% of those 51 million refugees are children.
One of them died this week- he drowned, trying to get to somewhere safe. He was 3 years old, and he had a name: Aylan Kurdi. He died while his parents were taking measures of hope and audacity, trying to get their boys to some place whey could survive without fear.
They were looking for a crumb that would fall from a table, but the table fell on them.
But there are millions more, with no place to go.
In 2011, the population of Syria was about 21 million people. Since civil war broke out in March of that year, 12.2 million have left their homes, their towns, and everything behind them.
More than 12 million out of 21 million. More than half.
Fully half of those 12 million were under 18 years old, and more are trying desperately to get out every single day.
5 million or so of them have left the country. The remaining seven million are stuck somewhere in Syria, living under as sort of stress that no American in has known in more than a 150 years.
Schools in Syria are virtually non-existent, and medical facilities are little more than first-aid stations. In the war, 228 facilities have been attacked and 604 doctors and nurses have been killed.
220,000 have been killed.
There is no end in sight. And the Church of Jesus Christ cannot ignore it. Whatever we have not heard we have to hear, when Jesus opens our ears, and WE have to be the ones to give the crumbs for our tables, and the sweat of our labor, and the sacrifice from our paychecks, if we really believe that Jesus cares.
So we have been, for the beginning. I posted a video on our church Facebook page- I posted it once before- that shows the testimony of a Syrian Presbyterian. He says, ““Things were okay until March 2011…Christians from the Presbyterian Church of Homs were displaced. They lost everything…but (Presbyterian Disaster Assistance) helped each person”
That money came from the spare change we gave to One Great Hour of Sharing. But we can give more.
As refugees flood across the borders of Europe, Europeans are opening their hearts. Many of them have long memories, and remember when their own people were refugees at the end of World War Two.
They can remember being hungry, and cold, and anxious.
And they can remember being rescued by the very first One Great Hour of Sharing, and by the Marshall Plan.
And ahead of their governments, they are saying “Here I am- my door is open. Come here.”
One young woman was pictured standing by her parked car, not far from the border crossing, with apples and bananas and drinks.
“Here are my crumbs- come and eat.”
And so we come to a table, and we’ll take a small bite, just a bit more than a crumb.
But really, it’s not a crumb- it’s his life.
But we cannot turn from this table and go home without gathering up our crumbs and our leftovers and even something more than that, as much as we can, to do something.
Because faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.
We’ve done it before, and had a great time. So sometime soon, we need to collect school kits for the work that Presbyterian Disaster assistance and Church World Service are doing in Syria and in the refugee camps.
I have here instructions for making bags for school books and supplies, and I have a list of items we need for each school kit
And we really ought to think hard about how we can send some money to help.
And this very moment, we need to pray. So let’s do it (prayer by Jill Duffield)
What can we do but weep, Lord God?
We cry out with Hagar for all the children whose mothers cannot provide them with food or water or shelter.
We howl lament like Jacob, his face buried in the torn and bloody clothes of Joseph, for sons lost and thought dead.
We cry bitter tears with Rachel and all those whose children are no more.
Like Mary holding the body of her boy, cradle in your arms Alyan and Galip as we mourn for all the waves of suffering breaking upon the shores of creation.
Almighty, compassionate and all-powerful God, we plead for help. Hear the wailing of your people and intervene. Make a way where there seems no way. Prepare a room where innkeepers and gatekeepers and rule makers have said there is no room. Reunite families so that fathers can embrace sons they never thought they would see again. Roll away all that stones that thwart your resurrection power and bring life where death has claimed a false and fleeting victory.
Do not let us forget that you can feed 5,000 with our small offerings. Remind us that with faith we can move mountains. Convict us that through Christ all things are possible. Take our tears mingled with those all around the world and make of us the salt of the earth. Turn our horror into action, our grief into advocacy, our mourning into a powerful force for change. Grant us the faith and the courage to welcome the little children, the very ones to whom your kingdom belongs, the very one blessed and loved by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, for it is in his name that we pray.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.