This week the world has been shaken by a photo carried on social media as well as national newspapers of a small three year old boy’s body washed up on the beach in Italy. Alan Kurdi drowned after his small boat capsized while he and his 5 year brother and parents were trying to sail between Turkey and Italy on their journey from home in Syria hoping to find a safe place to live. Something about that particular image has captured the world in a moment and galvanized the refugee crisis. Hundreds of other pictures have been shared, thousands of words have been written about the crisis, and the devastating loss of human life as people flee their homeland seeking asylum somewhere outside of the war zone – documentaries have been made on the incredible risks that people are undergoing to find somewhere safe to call home, and yet it was this one image that somehow has caught the attention of world and something shifted and all of a sudden this crisis is finally being thought of as a crisis, and people are trying to figure how they can help, what they can do.
It has in the moment become the burning issues for all the political parties as they vie for attention during this election campaign. Promises are being made, statistics are being bandied about, and insults are being hurled all as our political leaders to seek to find some answers to what Canada’s role should be in helping in this crisis. Lots of words so far, still very little action. But there is a shifting, nevertheless, not only for the political leader, the people are shifting to. Ordinary regular people who have been watching this story from afar are all of a sudden feeling closer to the events and realizing the human toll this crisis is creating. Questions are being asked about what we as individuals can do? How can we help? Do we have any ability to alleviate some of the suffering?
Jesus life exemplified living these questions. His faith was his work, his faith was his life. So when he saw suffering he sought to alleviate it. When he witnessed oppression he spoke against is. When he beheld hypocrisy he challenged it. And this is what got him killed.
We are right in the middle Jesus three year ministry today – he is traveling around the countryside sharing with the people about God and the kingdom and also touching people’s lives in ways that they are finding healing and wholeness by being in his presence. Jesus is becoming more and more known, and as indicated today by Mark, he being recognized wherever he goes even when he wishes to remain anonymous. Today, as he entered a private home seeking a bit of anonymity– it is shattered when he is approached by a woman who comes into the house and bows down at his feet. This particular act is not that unusual a couple thousand years ago in the ancient Mediterranean world – what is unusual is that this woman is not Jewish, and she has come to a Jewish prophet to request aid – she is breaching not only a cultural boundary and a religious one as well. At first Jesus – taken aback – resists helping her, but something in the way she speaks the words she uses jolts Jesus from his previous opinion and Jesus thinking shifts and he reconsider – and her daughter is healed.
David Lose: “she teaches us about the power of the stranger. Newcomers, strangers, people who are different from us – they stretch our perspective and teach us things about themselves, about the world, and about us. But only if we will listen.”(1) . I think this is what that picture of Alan Kurdi has done for the world – it has jolted us out of our complacency, and his image has something to teach us – to stretch our perspective, so that we now remember that this crisis is made up of human beings who are just like us, they are not the stranger, instead they are our neighbour who want the same things we do, a safe place to live to raise our children, a safe place to care for our family. Simple human needs. I think this is where Jesus gets to with the Syrophoenician woman that he at first sees her as the other, and quickly recognizes her as the neighbour. And the next time his approached to heal, he does not even hesitate. He does what he can do to alleviate the suffering in the moment.
Not so long after Jesus encounter with the Syrophoenician woman, while walking from one place to the next, Jesus is again approached by more people bring their friend to be healed, someone else needs something else— and with no fuss or protest – he takes the deaf man aside, in private away from the crowds, he touches the man’s ears, shares some his saliva then he looks up to heaven and sighed – he sighed – and said Ephphatha – which be opened – and that’s what happened next – the man ears opened up his tongue was released – and he could hear and he could talk – he more importantly – he could be understood – he was opened. And God got in and healing happened.
The power of a stranger, that is our message for today – the stranger has something to teach us about who we are and whose we are. The stranger, when you reach out, you quickly discover that the stranger is actually more like your brother or your sister than you ever could have imagined. And what separates us from the stranger is our lack of knowing their story, and when we are able to listen and hear their story what we discover is another who is more like us that we ever thought possible.
The communion ritual we are about to participate in in a few minutes is one of the many way we here in the church seek to bring together everyone – so no one is a stranger, where the playing field is leveled, and divisions are broken down and each and every one of us is on equal footing. We share the bread and the cup in remembrance.
The whole ritual of communion is a moment of remembering –
- • we remember this meal first as the meal that Jesus shared with his disciples and we are connected to that moment –
• and then we remember this meal as part of the Jewish tradition and we are connected to that moment –
• and then we remember that this meal has been shared over and over and over again through the last two thousand years and we are connected to those moments,
• and we remember communion moments in our past times when we have shared in other congregations and communities and we are connected– and getting it right with God –
for it in the moment of sharing that we become a community and all who are gathered – all who are gathered around the table be they black, white or purple, be they male or female or trans-gendered, be they adult or child, straight or gay, citizen or refugee, rich or poor – everyone who has faith in God or even doubt in God is welcome at the table – every single one…and everyone shares the same meal and everyone gets the same amount, and all are fed – this is the piece – this sacrament –
Sacrament means outward expression of inward grace, that is to say what we do in the eating of the bread and the drinking of the juice is we physically take in the grace of God which tells us that we all have God inside us all. And if God is inside us all than we all can be like Jesus. We all can make a difference and offer healing and life to others. We all can treat each other with respect and see the God in each other. We all can look beyond race and culture and gender and class to see the God in the each person that we encounter and reach out with a kind word, a healing hand a respectful gesture, a loving embrace – anything – just reach out.
We all can be like Jesus and we can live our faith, when we see suffering we can seek to alleviate it. When we witness oppression we can speak against is. When we behold hypocrisy we can challenge it. We can love God with all our heart, and mind and strength and love our neighbour as ourselves. It is the least we can do. Amen.
 David Lose: In the Meantime: http://www.davidlose.net/2015/08/pentecost-15-b-what-the-syrophoenician-woman-teaches/