It’s been a tough week to watch the news. No, I’m not talking about The Donald’s hair, although that’s not easy to see. I’m talking about the human tragedy that is unfolding as Syrian refugees attempt to flee their own country’s civil war that has been raging since March of 2011. It’s heated up lately and so it is estimated that over 11 million Syrians are refugees with another almost 8 million Syrians displaced in their own homeland for one reason or another. It is the worst refugee situation since WWII. Many fled to Iraq, but Iraq, as we know, has its own insurgency to deal with and they are just not able to absorb extra people with high needs right now. They are also going to Jordan, which currently has the largest Syrian refugee camp, as well as Turkey and now many are attempting to go to Europe for a new start and most importantly safety for themselves and their families. Over half of the refugees are children. This crisis is causing strain on much of Eastern Europe and it’s not always being dealt with well.
I watched haunting videos this week of families being ripped apart or living outside. How many of you saw the video of the refugees in Hungary? Thousands are at a train station waiting for trains to take them to Germany, Austria and other points west. But the trains didn’t come. One train did come and there was a melee of humanity trying to get on it. Some thought that it was a set up and refused to get on. The train pulled out from the station stuffed with people, some Syrian some European. About 45 minutes into the trip the train suddenly stopped in the middle of nowhere. They were surrounded by Hungarian riot police and told to get off of the train. The European travelers were let go and put on a bus to continue their journey. The first Syrian travelers who exited were rounded up by the police to go to a camp. Need I remind you that camps in Eastern Europe do not have great reputations. So they stopped getting off the train. This standoff lasted for several hours. Finally, some tried to get off and make a run for it, only to be captured. One young couple with an infant tried to escape. The riot police closed in and tried to arrest them. They threw themselves down on the tracks with the dad lying on top of his wife and baby to protect them. As the police pulled him off and away from his family, he held onto his wife’s jacket with his teeth in a desperate effort to stay together.
We all saw the haunting and heartbreaking image of the drowned Syrian toddler who washed up on the shore in Turkey. His father was the only survivor in his family’s attempt to flee war. Most of the time we watch these videos and see these pictures of people and we don’t know their names. They are nameless poor souls with whom we empathize and maybe even donate some money to their plight, but they don’t impact us directly as we don’t even know one personal piece of information about them. That seems to hold their horrific reality at bay and from invading our reality. But we know this little boys name: Aylan Kurdi. He was three. He was dressed in a red little shirt, little blue shorts and what every little boy on the run needs, little sneakers. Now he’s real. Now he’s in my heart, in my thoughts and in my reality. His name opened up my ears to this crisis and ripped open my heart to learn more and my mouth to speak. I know that God was with Aylan and his family as they fled and died. I know that God with all of the other Syrian’s whose names I don’t know. I know that as a follower of Jesus I am compelled to open up myself to speak out against any one of my fellow human beings and children of God from being harmed in any way.
It’s very comfortable to keep tragedy, sorrow, disease, hardship and those who are different from us at arm’s length. We separate ourselves in all kinds of ways and look for justification to do so. We keep separate so that we don’t have to take on someone else’s reality, tragedy or social position-let’s face it-it’s risky and a lot of work to do so. We can also get compassion fatigue and just need to not think about anyone but ourselves for a while.
I wonder if Jesus was suffering from a little compassion fatigue in Mark 7-“He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there.” How many of us have entered our own home hoping no one was there so that no one would need us for about 30 seconds? But Jesus didn’t even get 30 seconds before a woman accosted him with a desperate plea for her daughter. This unnamed, Gentile, woman (lot’s of boundaries between her and Jesus right there!) bowed at Jesus’ feet and pleaded not for herself but for her daughter. The next exchange makes some people uneasy as it shows a fully human Jesus a bit stuck in the racial and gender boundaries of the time. He tries to put her in her place so to speak, but she won’t let Jesus off the hook. Jesus is opened up by her demand for justice and to be heard by God. Jesus allows himself to be opened by her and responds to her need speaking the words she longs to hear: the demon from her daughter is gone and God has heard her.
Again, no sooner than Jesus gets to Decapolis, is he chased down by more people who bring him another person needing freedom. This man was also a gentile, considered unclean and on the edges of society as he was deaf and couldn’t speak. Jesus opens the man’s ears and tongue. Just as Jesus had been opened by the unnamed woman, he now opens up this unnamed man. “Be opened,” Jesus proclaims and he is. Now Jesus, still seeking a nap, told them not to tell anyone but not only had the man been opened, the whole crowd had been opened! How could they not speak? Their ears, mouths, hearts and minds were all opened to the work of God in the world and to the fact that God goes to those whom the rest of the world tries and separates from. God opens us and we see and hear that we are not separate; we cannot, as we are not boundaried from one another but connected through the love and grace of Jesus Christ.
“Be opened.” How do we need to be opened today? Opened to see our global neighbor as ourselves? Opened to see and know the names of those killed by oppressions in this country? Opened to see the person sitting next to us right now as a beloved child of God? Opened to see our community with different eyes? Here’s the thing about being opened that Jesus, the unnamed woman and the unnamed man realized…Once you’re opened by God, you’ll never be the same. You’ll never see the world, God’s people or yourself the same. You’ll never see boundaries that we think keep our hearts, minds and bodies safe in the same way. We’ll be opened the Saturday for God’s Work Our Hands as we feed families at Ronald McDonald house, make quilts and blankets for those in need. We’re opened each time to build a Habitat house, serve meals to the homeless, speak out for someone with no voice in our culture. To be opened by God is to risk, to risk loving and losing, to risk speaking out for justice and equality, to risk hurting and being hurt, to risk losing your life in the world, to risk gaining your life with God.
Jesus proclaims to us each day, “be opened,” to God’s love, grace, mercy, forgiveness and hope. God’s gift of grace and faith, opens us, God opens us in order for God’s healing love and grace to flow through our openness to the world to open other people, to overwhelm creation with peace, unity and wholeness-no more boundaries between each other or us and God. God opened the way to eternal life and love through Jesus Christ-through the waters of baptism that washed Shelby this morning, through bread and wine that open us to the reality of Jesus breaking the boundary of death and being present with us now and in all times and places. We are opened by God’s love, and this love cracks open the whole world to the coming of the Kingdom of God through Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God. Amen.
For more information on the Syrian refugee crisis and to donate, please go to: http://www.elca.org/Our-Work/Relief-and-Development/Lutheran-Disaster-Response/Our-Impact/Middle-East-and-Europe-Refugee