The Bible and Refugees

Dear reader,

As I write this, the Middle Eastern Refugee crisis is the biggest news in the papers and on the TV.  Of course, by the time you read this, the news will probably have moved on, or the situation may have changed.  However, I do believe that this is such an important, and morally charged, situation that I felt I should still write about it (after all, the news may have changed, but millions of people don’t just disappear!) . So I thought it would take time to point out a number of things the Bible says which are relevant to the issue.

  1. God is a refuge for refugees.  God is regularly described as a refuge (e.g. Ps 61:3; Ps 143:9), which means God’s heart is for justice and help to those who are refugees:

“For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no brides.  He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigners residing among you, giving them food and clothing.  And you are tp love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.”
Deut 10:17-19

2. God wants His people to offer refuge to refugees.  Justice for the refugee was at the very heart of Old Testament teaching.  Take this as one example:

“Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you from there.  That is why I command you to do this.  When you are harvesting in your field and overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it.  Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.  When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time.  Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow.”
Deut 24:18-20

These kinds of commands come up again, and again, and again!  They boil down, essentially to, you have received grace, so be gracious!  For example, one of the key facts that was used to show that Job was a good righteous man was that he housed the refugee (Job 31:32) – could we say the same about the UK?

3. The Bible is full of refugees – and I really do mean FULL.  I’ll just list a few: Adam, Eve, Cain, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Lot, Hagar, Ishmael, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob, Esau, Joseph, all of Israel!, Moses, Naomi, Ruth, David, Elijah, Esther, Mordecai, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego.  In the New Testament Mary, Joseph, Philip, Peter, Aquila, Priscilla and the whole of the Early Church!  The were displaced through natural disasters, exploitation, people trafficking, war, famine, persecution and other things.  Next time you look down or feel hostile towards to foreigner, remember that almost all the Biblical heroes were in the same boat!  And that includes the greatest Biblical hero of them all …

4. Jesus was a refugee.  When Jesus was born his family had to flee to a foreign country to escape death from a powerful ruler.

“When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream.  ‘Get up,’ he said, ‘take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt.  Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.’  So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod.  And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’
Matt 2:13-15

Next time you see a desperate refugee parent clutching their small child, remember that 2000 years ago that was Jesus.  (We really do have a saviour who knows and understands our sorrows and weaknesses!)

5. We ourselves were once aliens and strangers.  Paul says that all those who are Christians were once aliens and strangers – not in a physical sense, but in a spiritual sense.  But we have, through God’s mercy, been redeemed and received refuge and citizenship in God’s kingdom:

“Remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.  But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ … Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow-citizens with God’s people and also members of his household.”
Ephesians 2:12-13, 19

Peter says a similar thing in 1 Peter 2:9-10.  But thanks be to God, we have been made members of his kingdom – we have been provided with citizenship.

6. We are still refugees, foreigners and exiles.  Peter explains that, because we are now citizens with God, then we are now foreigners and exiles in this sinful world.

“Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desire, which war against your soul.”
1 Peter 2:11

7. Hospitality is at the heart of being a Christian.  At the centre of the Christian gospel is the story of a God who opens his home, his table and his heart to a rebellious people.  He rescues us, restores us, redeems us, adopts us and grants us a share in Jesus’ inheritance.  As such we’re called to show that same radical hospitality to all, here’s just a small selection of verses:

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.  Share with the Lord’s people who are in need.  Practise hospitality.”
Romans 12:12-13

“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.  Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.  Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”
1 Peter 4:8-10

“Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters.  Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.  Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are ill-treated as if you yourselves were suffering.”
Hebrews 13:1-3

Whatever the response of the government is towards the refugee crisis (and it may have changed drastically by the time you read this) the only Christian response is compassion.  We must be the ones who offer the loudest welcome to those who make it to Britain and we must be the ones to consistently call politicians towards openness and compassion.  And we must be willing to pay the price this costs, as we have freely given, so we freely give.  This shines God’s light into a dark world.

There are more things that could be said, and the situation may be vastly different by the time you read this, but as Christians we know that whatever we do for the least of these, we do to Jesus.  So whatever you do, do something!

God bless you all,

Reverend David

 

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2 Kings in 5 minutes (ish!)


2 Kings in 5 minutes (ish!)

I’m going through each book in the Bible – hope you enjoy!

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When people ask, I want to make it clear I stood by what was right!

I know everyone is now commenting on the refugee crisis (NOT immigrant crisis – important difference), and I know people will soon be overwhelmed by all the images, and videos going around.  But, even if no-one reads it, I felt compelled to write something.  I want history to show that I, with my little voice, at least did something, I at least tried to shout.

The trouble is I’m not sure what to say – when you see a child, no bigger than my own dear children, dead on a beach – what possible words can be brought to communicate the heart wrenching injustice of it?

11947692_10155930757445648_237286203087232224_nOr a woman, desperately trying to keep her own infant child above the water, trying with her own last breathe to save the life of her child?

11227556_10155930746165648_3267119159389282654_nOr how to you talk to people who would label a man who’s doing all he can just to save his family a “scrounger”.  Who, apparently, feel we should just push the boat back out to sea?

11895036_10155930746445648_7507598659474884991_oI could talk about my own faith.  I could talk about how the whole world is the Lord’s and that ALL people are made in his image.  I could talk about the Biblical commands to offer the refugee a home (e.g. Deut 24:18-20), or how Jesus was a refugee when he was an infant (Matt 2:13-15).  I could talk about the biblical mandate for hospitality (e.g Rom 12:12-13).  I could even talk about the sheep and the goats and how we will be judged on how we welcome “the least of these” (Matt 25:31-46).  But the trouble is, that if you’re not a Christian, these things won’t make any difference, and for me that won’t do.

You see, I don’t care who you are, or what you believe, THIS IS WRONG and we MUST help.

In the second world war Jews fled Europe.  We now, rightly, celebrate those who helped.  I am convinced that Europe is facing a similar moral moment – will we (like our Prime Minister) say we can’t help, we have to tackle the root cause (like saying, we can’t take any Jews, we’re busy fighting Hitler!).  Will we, like the media (until today, see here, what a difference a day makes!) talk about the scroungers after our jobs and benefits, or will we stand up and do the right thing for these desperate people?  No parent put’s their child in this danger – unless it’s the only chance to stay alive!

My word’s aren’t new, and they aren’t particularly eloquent, but when history looks back I want the world to know that I stood up, and in my own little voice, did what I could to demand that we do the right things.

David Cameron – I don’t want one more child to drown without me doing what I could to help!  Find your heart, and act.

 

 

If you want to help – so that no more tragedies like this happen:

11953285_10155930755805648_3731341208794346821_nThen please do something.

You can write to your MP here: http://speakout.38degrees.org.uk/campaigns/248

You can sign a petition to encourage the government to accept more refugees here: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/105991

And you can find different ways of donating, or volunteering here: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/5-practical-ways-you-can-help-refugees-trying-to-find-safety-in-europe-10482902.html

If you live in Wigan, you can sign a petition to say we welcome refugees in Wigan here: https://www.change.org/p/rt-hon-david-cameron-mp-refugees-welcome-in-wigan-9063cb4a-ed58-4286-9f23-4cd890ddbd82?recruiter=378300276&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=share_email_responsive

 

 

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Jesus calms the storm

Dear reader,

The other week a reading came up in the lectionary that I’m sure you’re all familiar with – Jesus calming the storm.  In Mark’s Gospel it’s told like this:

That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, ‘Let us go over to the other side.’  Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat.  There were also other boats with him.  A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped.  Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion.  The disciples woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’
He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet!  Be still!’  Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
He said to his disciples, ‘Why are you so afraid?  Do you still have no faith?’
They were terrified and asked was other, ‘Who is this?  Even the wind and the waves obey him!’
Mark 4:35-41

The first interesting point is how “out of character” this is for Jesus!  I think that in the minds of many Christians Jesus is some sort of “superman”!  (although they’d never word it like that!)  But if you read the Gospels it’s simply not the case.  Of course, Jesus did perform miracles, but the Gospel’s down play them.  Jesus will often even ask those who had seen a miracle not to tell anyone else.  Some miracles, such as the transfiguration or the raising of the twelve-year-old girl, he only allows his closest disciples to witness.  If someone asked for healing, he always responded, but he always refused requests to demonstrate his powers and amaze the crowds.

As well as this, almost all of Jesus miracles are born out of compassion.  He heals the sick, comforts the grieving by raising the dead and exorcises the demon possessed.  Only a small number of his miracles are what theologians call “nature miracles” (e.g. walking on water, multiplying the loaves and the fish, changing the water into wine).  If, like me, you believe the Jesus is God incarnate, the all-powerful creator of the universe and the one for whom and in whom all things exist, then what is truly remarkable about Jesus’ life is not his miracles, but his restraint!

In this light it’s worth seeing that when Jesus does perform these types of miracles (and healing and exorcisms for that matter) he’s not just pulling an impressive party trick.  No, he’s very clever and wants to communicate an important message to his disciples, and to us.

Whenever I heard the storm of Jesus stilling the storm in church it’s normally followed by a sermon about how Jesus can still the storm’s in our own lives – that if we’re going through difficulties God can still bring peace.  I agree with this (in fact I preached it myself during lent!).  It’s an important point, and a true one.

But it is far from the only thing going on here.

Fewer will make the point that this shows Jesus is God – that he was the one who spoke the creation into being in the first place.  I agree Jesus is God – but Moses parted the Red Sea and Elijah stopped it raining – but they weren’t God!

Instead, the point comes in understanding the implications that stilling the storm would have had for the people of the time.

Jesus stills the ‘waves’, or the ‘sea’ (another possible translation from the Greek).  The sea in Jewish thought stood for the forces of darkness and chaos.

In Genesis 1 the sea is the primordial chaos that God orders into creation.  The earth starts formless and void with darkness covering the face of the deep.  Then the Spirit of God sweeps over the face of the waters.  Then God brings his order to the chaos.

The sea is the home of the ancient sea monsters, called Leviathan (Ps 74:14; 74:13-14; Job 41:1-34) and Rahab (Ps 89:9-10; Isa 51:9-10).  In the exodus Moses, or more accurately God, parts the sea so that the people of God can escape the evil of Pharaoh.

In the Old Testament God is praised because he is the master over the sea.  In other words he is the master over the evil and chaos of the sea (Ps 95:5; Job 38:8-11; Ps 107:26-30).

In Daniel 7 the four great beasts, which represent the evil empires of the world, come out of the sea.  This is the same language with John uses in the book of Revelation, chapter 13 and why, when John describes the final restored new heaven and new earth he tells us there is no longer any sea (Rev 21:1).

All this is the background when Jesus calms the sea.  Jesus, in his actions, is telling the disciples that, not only can he control the weather, or bring calm to your life (although both those things are true), but that he is the one who can, and has, and will, defeat the forces of evil and chaos in our world.

The forces of evil in our world cannot last, because Jesus is King.  He can still the storm and, as you read on in Mark’s Gospel, the forces of darkness can throw everything they’ve got at him, nailing him to the cross.  But Jesus can control the storm, Jesus can conquer death.

The waves are stilled, the tomb is empty.

God bless you all,
Reverend David

 

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1 Kings in 5 minutes (ish!)

 

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Have you counted the cost?

Dear reader,

I’ve been reflecting recently on a parable Jesus told.  It goes like this:

“The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls.  When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”
Matthew 13:45-46

My thoughts were based on an extended version of this that I’d like to share with you.

“I want this pearl.  How much is it?”
“Well,” the seller says, “It’s very expensive.”
“But how much?” we ask.
“Well, a very large amount.”
“Do you think I could buy it?”
Oh, of course.  Everyone can buy it.”
“But didn’t you say it was very expensive?”
“Yes.”
“Well, how much is it?”
“Everything you have,” the seller replies.
We pause and think.  But the pearl is of great quality.  We make up our mind.
“All right, I’ll buy it.” we say.
“Well, what do you have?” the seller wants to know. “Let’s write it down.”
“Well, I have ten thousand pounds in the bank.”
“Good – ten thousand pounds.  What else?”
“That’s all.  That’s all I have.”
“Nothing more?”
“Well, I have a few pounds – some loose change – here in my pockets.”
“How much?”
We start digging.  “Well, let’s see – five, ten, twenty, twenty-two, twenty-five pounds.”
“That’s good.  What else do you have?”
“Nothing.  Nothing at all.  That’s it.”
“Where do you live?”  He’s still probing.
“In a house on the other side of town.”
“The house, too, then.”  He writes that down.
“You mean I have to live in my caravan?”
“You have a caravan?  Good.  That too.  What else?”
“But … but that means I’ll have to sleep in my car!”
“You have a car as well?”
“Well, two actually.”
“Both become mine, both cars.  Anything else?”
“Well, you already have my money, my house, my caravan, my cars.  What more do you want?  I have absolutely nothing left!  I am totally alone now.”
Suddenly the seller exclaims, “Oh, I almost forgot!  You yourself, too!  Everything becomes mine.  House, money, cars – and you too.”

From the very beginning the Christian call has always been to discipleship.  We’ve often changed this, made it easier and less demanding.  We’ve done this in different ways, but they all fall short.

Some churches call for conversion.  I’m all for conversion.  If you’re going to live a life of total commitment, then you’re not going to manage it without making a decision to do so.  But Jesus’ instruction was not to make converts, but disciples (Matt 28:19).  Followers.  Servants.  People who take up their cross and follow him (Matt 16:24).

Some churches simply ask you to perform certain duties.  Attend church.  Have the Eucharist.  Sing the hymns.  Read your Bible.  Say your prayers.  I’m all for these things too.  They’re vital.  But there the food that sustains you on the journey of following Jesus – they’re not the journey itself.

The call of Christianity is nothing short of a call to give everything you have to Jesus, to surrender all.  As he repeatedly puts it

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.”
Matthew 16:24-25

Or to quote the theologian who lost his life standing up to the Nazi regime:

“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

My friends, Christianity can never be a hobby, or just one thing that you do, it demands everything, just as Jesus himself gave everything for you.

I know I will stumble, I know I have always stumbled.  I know I will, and have, fallen short.  But today, just like every day for the last 20 years, I will again make the choice to do my best to take up my cross and follow my master.

Will you join me?

God bless you all,
Reverend David

 

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Lent Questions

During Lent at St. Anne’s Church we’ve had the opportunity to ask questions (Please note that the questions have been quoted – and are not my words).  We then met together and discussed how we might go about answering these questions.  Below you can find recordings of our meetings, the slides that were shown and the videos that were shown.

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Night 1

 

 

 

 

 

Night 2

 

 

 

 

 

Night 3

 

 

 

 

 

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2 Samuel in 5 minutes (ish!)

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The Bible Uncensored (If you’re easily Offended, please don’t watch!)


Just a few of the facts the translators skirt around in the Bible.

Oh, and just so you know, I take the Bible very seriously – and the Bible is a lot less worried about this stuff than most Christians – I’m only reporting what’s there!

Check out the blog at www.followergerrard.com

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1 Samuel in 5 minutes (ish!)

The next instalment in my Bible series – I will get there in the end!

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