Our faith says, a wandering
Aramean was our ancestor – that is, Abraham and Sarah, displaced
people from Syria, are our shared ancestors.
Our faith says our people were
enslaved, oppressed, and hopeless until God acted to free them.
Our people were desert nomads
for generations, looking for a home but not finding one.
Our people, when they found a
home in the so-called “Promised Land” struggled with those who
already lived there, and centuries (ok, millennia) of unrest
Our faith says, that a poor,
foreign widow came to live in Israel, and became the great
grandmother of the King of Israel.
When our people had lived in the
land for centuries, had built a temple, had established a government,
and had found peace and stability – a foreign empire defeated them
in battle, destroyed the temple, killed the king’s descendants, broke
open the defensive walls, and took the leaders away as exiles.
Our leaders in exile were told
to “work for the good of the city they were in” because it was
going to take a while.
Our faith says that generations
later, God worked to bring the exiles home, and guided the people to
rebuilt, and restore, and it was hard and there were disagreements.
Other nations fought for power
and control over the land of the Israelites, empires grew and empires
fell, tributes were paid and governments were seized. The people
sought freedom, and sometimes they got it.
Eventually the Romans came to
power, and 30 or so years later, Jesus was born.
Matthew says that Jesus’s family
fled to Egypt to protect him from death, and resettled in Nazareth
after they returned.
Nazarenes knew destruction and
its power, but Rome didn’t yet know the power of the stories of the
Jews, who knew their God to be one who overcame oppression time and
Jesus’ ministry was most often
with people who were poor and had been displaced from their families’
lands. His was a ministry in motion – homeless and dependent on
the hospitality of strangers. He sent his disciples off with nothing
but the clothes on their back and trust in God.
Our faith says that our
ancestors have known displacement in all of its forms. Our faith is
the faith of slaves, of immigrants, of refugees – people who have
had nothing but hope in God, who has proven faithful time and time
again. The fact that God is with and for displaced people is
particularly important as our world has more displaced people than
Today in 2019 there are known to
be 70.8 million people2
who have forcibly displaced from their homes, and that number is
likely lower than reality. Of those, this year the USA says it will
welcome at most 30,000 (and likely only half that).3
In this country we hear horror stories about people trying to enter
our country – but we often don’t hear about how small the numbers
are compared to the global crisis.
In the USA, the stories we hear
are of concentration camps at our Southern Border, children being
torn from their parents, and atrocious conditions for people who are
simply trying to survive after being displaced from their own homes
and countries. These situations are worthy of our strongest
condemnation and protest. Tthe situation in our own southern border
is AN ATROCITY and, because the USA is welcoming so few of the
displaced people in the world we must also look beyond our country to
see the extend of the problems.
For me, step one in wrapping my
head around the experiences of people who are displaced is simply an
act of empathy. What would it be like? While I have spent most of
my life in the United States, there are two exceptions: 2 months in
Ecuador when I was a teenager and 3 months in England when I was a
college student. My brain simply can’t wrap itself around what it
would be like to have to leave this country and never come back. I
know from my time in Ecuador how HARD it is to be in a place where my
brain struggles with the language, and how disconcerting it is to
have intelligent thoughts in my head and no way to communicate them
so that other people know they exist. I know how much I can yearn
for familiar things – food I know, using water directing from the
tap, the plants and terrain that feels familiar. But I don’t know
what it is like to leave those things behind and NEVER be able to
come home again. Nor can I wrap my head around the atrocities being
committed at our Southern Border to people who have already been
displaced, who have already had to show resilience, who have left
their homes and their communities, their people and their dreams in
order to (hopefully) live– only to be dehumanized again by our
While things feels stable, to
me, here, the world is noticeably destabilized. There are twice as
many displaced persons as there were FIVE years ago, and the trend is
only upward. Half of displaced people are children. Less than 3% of
those who have been forced to leave their countries are able to
It is important to stretch our imaginations, our empathy, and our
LISTENING to those who are refugees, because from their stories we
can learn how to be allies to those who are struggling.
The book of Exodus, in our
reading today, gives us a great example of the challenges of being
displaced. The people, having been freed from slavery in Egypt, are
in the midst of their wanderings in the desert before they settle
into the Promised Land. The people are displaced, all that is
familiar has been stripped from their lives, and even though the
familiar was awful, it was the familiar and the unfamiliar is
overwhelming. The people were whining, and grumbling, and
threatening Moses. God took mercy on them and their fear, and
provided for them when they needed affirmation that they would
It is a powerful reminder that
it is hard to leave home EVEN when home is AWFUL, and that even when
where you are going is GOOD, it is still new and different. Worse,
for many displaced people, a new home isn’t on the horizon yet.
Our faith tradition, the one
that KNOWS the reality of displacement, also knows that we can forget
or ignore the pain of those around us. In 1 Corinthians, Paul names
that at the early communion table some were eating and drinking too
much while others had nothing at all, and he says that the table is
to be SHARED. Those who have plenty share with those who have
nothing. This is the earliest teaching we have in Christianity about
There are those in this
community who have plenty, and there are those who don’t have enough.
Together, though, we have this table. It isn’t something we tend to
pay a lot of attention to, but a table, in a shared community of
faith, is something many of God’s displaced people no longer have
access to. For us, today, this table is extended, and we seek to
share it with God’s people who are displaced around the world,
including at our own southern border. We know God’s table is big
enough for all people, and we ask God to extend our hearts until they
are grow as large as God’s table. May the blessings of God’s table
be with all who need them, and may we who receive of these gifts be
mindful of those who can’t access them today. Amen
October 6, 2019
Rev. Sara E. Baron
First United Methodist Church of Schenectady
603 State St. Schenectady, NY 12305