Refugee Sunday (8 am BCP service and 9 am Francophone service)

The Lord cares for the stranger; *
he sustains the orphan and widow,
but frustrates the way of the wicked. (Psalm 146)

Today is a day that might make a significant difference in the history of Europe as the French go to the polls in the second round of elections for members of parliament called after the dissolution of the National Assembly after the result of European Elections.

For the outsider, it might all sound confusing. However, this election – which aimed to clarify the political landscape in France to enable the President to continue to govern has certainly shed an unwelcome light on its profile, with the possibility that an extreme-right party might for the first time in history have the majority in the French national assembly.

There are of course many domestic issues which have contributed to the French ‘ras le bol’ to the current government – from workers rights to the widening gap between rich and poor, and the age of retirement which had recently been upped to 64. But one recurring theme – in France, in Europe and in the UK which also had elections this week – is the place of immigrants and refugees and how they might or might not be welcomed and in what numbers.

This is a very sensitive issue for European countries, set as they are within reach of many failing states of one kind or another, with much publicised arrivals of countless migrants in unsafe dinghies at a variety of ports.

And it is of course a challenge to most Global North countries including this side of the Atlantic – countries with strong judeo-Christian backgrounds and often built on histories of migrations themselves.

Countries, most of which would not be able to function properly without strangers moving in to do the jobs that none of the locals are prepared to do at the price offered. Countries which often historically are at the source of the poverty and wars that drive citizens of other countries to flee for their lives.

And yet countries where failures of governments in housing, social care and security policies are often blamed on those who have had to leave everything behind hoping for a new beginning.
We will know the estimates from the French elections at 2 pm Montreal time. An absolute majority of the Rassemblement National would have not only serious consequences for policy – including affecting immigration – going forward in France, but would also have major repercussions throughout Europe.

And we see all too well how these themes are playing out south of the border here, and even in the rhetoric of some of our own politicians here in Canada.

I wonder what your first thoughts are when you think of refugees.
The image that comes to mind often has nothing to do with reality. Those who can find the ability to up stick and go are usually well educated, have some assets, and amid the traumas of their lives at home, they at least have the possibility to make the hope for a new and better life a reality.

People are people, and what they long for is simply for an opportunity to live in peace, support their family and contribute to the community.

Exactly the same as what we hope for ourselves and for our loved ones.

In our diocese, we have been enriched by clergy and lay people who settled here, and are now leaders of churches and contribute to community building in the name of Jesus Christ. I am sure you will know people who found here in Montreal a home away from home.

The injunctions in today’s passage from the letter to the Hebrews – which some scholars believe to have been written for Jewish Christians who lived in Jerusalem – leave us with no uncertainty: ‘Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it’.

As well as enjoining us also to remember prisoners and those being tortured, it emphatically reminds us of the need to keep our lives free from the love of money and be content with what we have.

Not something that we find easy in our societies where the constant underlying theme is about acquiring and spending, bettering ourselves at the expense of others. And keeping what we have for ourselves.

In our Gospel passage, we follow Jesus as he teaches and preaches in synagogues in his hometown of Nazareth. A fluent and learned communicator, Jesus astounds his listeners, who can’t shake the idea that he is a local boy and therefore what he has to say is of no great value. It is hard to be a prophet at home, and hard to initiate any positive change in that way.

Connecting this to our theme today, we might therefore welcome voices from other places, other parts of the world, voices that might not only talk of great things, but also force us to confront the shortcomings of our own societies – acknowledging of course that nowhere is perfect.

Yet, refugees and migrants often come from cultures where hospitality to the stranger is an important aspect of life, and which informs every day actions, including the second-nature sharing of a drink and food with visitors.

For all those who are on the move and seeking to be made welcome, the last paragraph is relevant – and perhaps a warning to us.

‘If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.’

In the world in which we live, with its huge disparities in wealth, access to food and water, housing, healthcare, and its rise in wars, famine and climate change consequences, it is inevitable that cross-national migration will not simply be contained by the populist promises of a few politicians, or even our wishful thinking.

In multicultural cities, such as Montreal, we know of the benefit, the joy and the cross-cultural learnings that are possible when we embrace the other instead of rejecting them, when we help them find a home among us, and when we share our stories and resources that are not ours alone.

On this Refugee Sunday, let us pray for generosity of heart, and a willingness to truly work to make the world what God intended it to be – a place where people do not have to leave their birthplace because of the geopolitical power games of others – and if and when they have to, they may be made to feel welcome, helped to find a new footing in their country of adoption, and all of us know that ‘God will never leave us or forsake us and the Lord is my helper. I will not be afraid.’

Amen

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