It's Sunday morning. The sanctuary is set for worship to begin. The choir is in its place. Music hangs in the air as the congregation settles in. The Communion Table is set with homemade breads and those tiny, little chalices filled with Welch's Grape Juice. All things are ready.
We've gathered at this table before... many times, actually. We've heard the story of Jesus sharing his final meal with his friends. And then we are invited to eat and drink that which has been prepared and blessed, with the reminder that no matter who we are or where we are on life's journey, we are welcome to receive from that which is upon Christ's table.
Until today... today is different. The meal hasn't changed. The story is still the same. Yet, our actions will speak louder than our words.
Seeing the message of "God's Doors Are Open To All" printed on the rainbow doors out front, a new family decides to worship with us. They've heard about how welcoming our church is and want to give it a try. You see, they were part of another church in the next town over until things became too difficult for them to stay. For a variety of reasons they no longer felt safe there and decided that their only option was to leave.
And we became their destination.
The family begins walking toward our front doors... when all hell breaks loose.
The ushers, positioned at the church's entrance, have locked all of the doors to the building and have begun lobbing canisters of tear gas at the would-be visitors. Accompanying the assault are words shouted by the ushers; "Go back to where you came from! You're not welcome here!"
The parents frantically grab their children and run for safety, coughing and gagging as the tear gas makes its way into their mouths and lungs.
Inside, worship has begun and the organ is pumping out a boisterous tune, loud enough that those gathered in the sanctuary are unaware of the war that has erupted just outside the doors. And when it comes time for communion...they eat the bread, drink the juice and rejoice that the God they worship has called them to be part of such a "welcoming" community.
Now... thankfully, this is not the scenario playing out on a Sunday morning in our church. Nor would it be. I mean, our ushers are incredibly welcoming people.
However, this scenario is playing out on the southern border of our nation. Those leaving their homes behind because they are no longer safe for them or their families, in seeking asylum in our nation are greeted not with welcome arms but tear gas and rubber bullets. At one of our nation's ports of entry, a war zone has erupted. Families and children are running for their lives as they are fired upon.
Just as the Communion Table can serve as an open, welcoming destination for those of us who are in need of at least one place where we can be our true selves and not experience judgment or suffer harm, our nation once served as a place for those whose lives were in turmoil.
Until now. Now, those seeking asylum... those escaping extreme poverty, civil unrest and living conditions not one of us would wish for ourselves... they are met at our militarized border in a trauma-inducing rain of weaponry.
A not so subtle message of (un)welcome.
In just a few short weeks the church is going to be celebrating the birth of one whom many of us have chosen to follow. And yes, our culture has sterilized the story in a way, making Christmas more about his birth than about the circumstances that surrounded it. You see, Jesus wasn't born into a world that was perfect... far from it, actually. He came into a world where those in power sought to kill him... and eventually succeeded.
His family were refugees... escaping a situation that would've surely ended with not only Jesus' death but perhaps that of Mary and Joseph as well. Jesus was born into extreme hostility.
Can you imagine if when Joseph and Mary knocked on the innkeeper's door they were met instead by stones hurled at them from inside? Thankfully, that's not the story we have learned.
The innkeeper cared for these strangers, had compassion for them in their moment of great need. And the church has grown to carry on that tradition of hospitality, of caring, and of extravagant welcome. The church has lived into the call to love our neighbor... no matter who they are.
So once again, our churches are in direct contrast with the world in which we find ourselves. Our neighbors to the south are in need of our help. At the very least, they need to know that those hurling tear gas canisters at them and their children do not represent what we know to be the heart of our nation. And we must do what we can to put an end to this inhumane treatment.
Because the reality is... if we don't put an end to it soon, it will escalate. History provides plenty of examples for us, unfortunately.
So today, we must all live into our calling as Jesus-followers. We must make it a priority to address this situation. We must stand up for the lives of those whom some in our nation deem insignificant. Call your elected officials now and demand that we cease to militarize our borders, that we cease to inflict harm upon those coming to us seeking asylum.
Because this is not who we are! And we cannot, with a clear conscience, prepare to celebrate the birth of one refugee while waging war on others!
The Rev. Timoth Sylvia is the Senior Minister at Newman Congregational Church UCC in Rumford, RI.
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