Loving our neighbour

the good stranger

My son has a great book by children’s authors Nick Butterworth and Mick Inkpen called Favourite Parables from the Bible. One of the stories from the book is The Good Stranger, based on the famous parable from Luke 10:25-37.

The story of the Good Samaritan has got to be one of the most well-known of Jesus’ parables. It focuses on what it means to love our neighbour and who our ‘neighbour’ is. This parable speaks directly into some of the most topical issues of today’s world, including how we as Christians respond to the refugee crisis.

The wave of refugees flooding out of Syria, Iraq and northern Africa has been incredible this year and at the forefront of world’s attention. Initial public response to the refugees, particularly following the tragic story of Aylan Kurdi and his brother, tended towards sympathetic, with people seemingly supportive of providing homes for these people who had risked much to escape a terrible situation. However, ever since the more recent terrorism events linked, either directly or indirectly, to ISIS (notably Paris and San Bernardino), the public response seems to be changing, with people like Donald Trump, a large number of states in the US, and a number of countries (particularly in eastern Europe) starting to tar all refugees with the same brush, with calls for closed borders and bans on Muslims.

It is becoming an ‘us’ and ‘them’ situation – something that should be abhorrent to Christians. We are called by Jesus to love, and this call isn’t restricted to those that are similar to us, those that we’re comfortable being around. We’re called to love everyone.

The scandal of the Good Samaritan parable is that it is the Samaritan man who aids the wounded Jewish traveller, not the priest or the rabbi – aka the fellow Jews. Brian Krum, teaching pastor from Greenlane Christian Centre, was invited to preach at our church last Sunday. His sermon was on the woman at the well (John 4) – another famous passage that involves a Samaritan. Brian made it clear that the Samaritans were despised by the Jewish people – they were the worst of the worst, complete outsiders, people who any self-respecting Jew would have nothing to do with. What a shock it must have been for the religious scholar for Jesus to turn around and say that we are to love everyone, including the Samaritans.

To see people and countries start to turn their backs on refugees because they are different and out of fear is awful and isn’t something we should tolerate. It’s not an ‘us’ and ‘them’ situation, because that is not how Jesus calls us to see people. Jesus says love our neighbour as ourselves, not make our neighbour like ourselves. I read a great blog post the other day about how the Bedouin love people through hospitality. Chad ends the post by saying:

Love just loves.

This is powerful and is what Jesus is calling us to do. Our response as Christians to the refugee crisis shouldn’t be ‘keep them away, leave them to fend for themselves’. We should be actively seeking to embrace these people who are struggling, hurting, longing for a peaceful life. We should be extending mercy and hospitality to them.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan finishes with the following dialogue between Jesus and the religious scholar:

36 “Now which of these three would you say was a neighbour to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked.

37 The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.”

Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.”

Oh that we would take this to heart and go and do the same, both towards the refugees and everyone else in the community around us.

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Changing the flag

five-promo3

Voting in the first referendum on the New Zealand flag closes at the end of this week. With everything going on around the world at the moment this seems like a bit of a side issue, but it is still getting some airtime in the news media (largely focussed on the general public indifference towards the referendum).

I support changing the flag in principle, but it has to be at the right time – now is not that time (in my view the right time would be when/if we become a republic).

Even if I did think now was the right time, I’m not convinced any of the choices are that inspiring or really do justice to our country. Particularly the initial four options: the three silver fern flags look like messy attempts at branding, the koru is a bit plain. The ‘Red Peak’ flag intrigues me, but I still wouldn’t vote for it over the current flag in the second referendum.

Of all the public debate on the flag referendum, some of the arguments that have been put forward about the reasons why the Government (seemingly driven by John Key) is changing the flag have been amusing at best – conspiracy theorists of the highest order! I particularly enjoyed the theories around how a change in flag will reduce sovereignty or the apparent links to the Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations. Good times!

John Key was at a conference I attended in October and in his speech spent some time talking about the flag and why he’d like it changed (from what I’ve heard he does this in almost any speech he makes). I can understand his reasoning, he puts forward a good case, but I don’t think that now is the right time.

So for me, I’ll likely be voting ‘Red Flag’ in the first referendum, and ‘Keep the current flag’ in the second.

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Aylan Kurdi

Aylan Kurdi

Note: I originally wrote this post two weeks ago, however have taken a while to upload it due to family illness.

The photograph of the young three year old Syrian refugee lying face down on a Turkish beach broke my heart today – I experienced a soul wrenching sadness that I haven’t felt for a long time, probably since the shock I experienced when my job was made redundant in 2010.

I think having a son around the same age made it all the more real for me. This was a young boy who wore the same clothes and the same cheeky, adorable grin. The only difference between his family and ours being that we were born into a country that isn’t ravaged by war and persecution. What a terrible situation you must be faced with to be desperate enough to attempt crossing the open sea with your family in a tiny inflatable boat – I can’t even begin to imagine.

Seeing the images and thinking about the injustice of the situation brought tears to my eyes – so much so that I had to get out of the office to find space to think and pray about it. Sitting in my car at lunch I opened the Bible we keep on the glovebox and turned to the psalms seeking some solace, with the nagging question of ‘why?’ stuck in my head. I came across Psalm 37:17-18, which in the NLT translation talks of the Lord taking care of the innocents.

For the remainder of the day I have had Matt Redman’s 10,000 Reasons stuck in my head. It reminds me that no matter the situation, we still have a Lord and saviour that loves us.

I still have many questions, including the thorny one about whether Aylan is now at rest with Jesus (in my heart I hope this is the case – reminds me of a similar question Rachel Held Evans posed in one of her books: “If salvation is available only to Christians, then the gospel isn’t good news at all. For most of the human race, it is terrible news.”). I struggle to reconcile a loving God who would see innocents die and not be with him in heaven – although where does the line get drawn (10? 14?), or is there a line to be drawn at all?

I also wonder what we can do in New Zealand. There is a lot of heat on John Key to increase the number of refugees we accept from 750, which is a great idea. But this must come with a ground swell of volunteers to look after those who arrive in a country totally foreign to where they’ve come from. What a great opportunity for the church. Kim mentioned the possibility of taking an ESOL class to be able to then work with refugees and new migrants when they arrive in the country. What a great idea – this is something she’d be incredibly gifted at.

POSTSCRIPT:

Since I originally wrote this post, a few things have happened:
  • John Key has announced that New Zealand will take an additional 600 Syrian refugees, and will look to review the current quota of 750 next year
  • Churches around the country are responding to the need to step up and support incoming refugees. I was heartened to see an email from Craig Vernall, our Baptist National Leader, calling for expressions of interest from churches willing to sponsor and support a refugee family to live in your community – surely this is something that any church would be willing to do – a no brainer?!

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