Searching for Sanctuary

From our good friend, Rev. Evelyn Vigil.   Good to ponder in the midst of our Fourth of July celebrations.

Here is a short meditation for my church on all the sorrow around the church shooting in Charleston. No place to rest in this world.

July 1, 2015

THE STRANGER IN OUR MIDST

Rev. Evelyn Vigil

And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests;

but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Matthew 8:20 NRSV)
A recent report said there are more refugees on the seas, on the highways, crossing the deserts than ever before, and they are finding no place to lay their heads. Turkey has taken in more than 1 million Syrian refugees; Australia is paying smugglers to return their human cargo to the place they picked them up; and we are spending millions of dollars locking up women and children who headed north to escape the drug violence created by our hunger for heroin and cocaine.

The world keeps turning as human beings seek safety, a better life, and sanctuary for themselves and the people they love. And they find no place of peace, it seems.

The shooting in Charleston, S.C., of nine black men and women in prayer meeting shocked me because it took place in the sanctuary, the place where we live our lives in common. We marry in church sanctuaries; we baptize babies in church sanctuaries; we remember our dead in church sanctuaries; and we pray, sing and worship God in church sanctuaries.

I remember a Jewish friend of mine who told me she learned early that no matter where she traveled, she could always find a home at the synagogue in that town. I would like to think that we are the same way. A church should provide us sanctuary, a place to rest from the business of the world, giving us time and quiet to remember what really counts in our lives. For too many people, though, churches have proven unsafe, because they were gay or divorced or poor or any of the ways we discriminate.

For black people in our nation, church sanctuaries are rarely as safe as we would hope. They have been bombed, burned and threatened as long as white men are afraid of losing whatever privilege they think they hold because of the color of their skin.
News reports moved quickly to link the suspected shooter at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church with white supremacist groups, where he probably found meaning for his life that seems so aimless until last week. His father bought him the gun for his birthday. My mother did the same with us. I understand that culture, but I cannot live it because it believes guns can level the playing field and keep us safe. The family of the shooter believed that myth, not realizing how powerful a gun can make a powerless person feel.

Because of the easy access to guns and the sense of power they provide, there is no safe place in this world, not really. Our safety is with the love we show each other and with God’s love and care for each of us. Emanuel A.M.E. Church reopened with a worship service because, in our words, “God is still speaking” and we must listen.

People are still moving, still looking for a place to call their own, still hoping for places of peace and respect and love, still seeking sanctuary. Some people think stronger doors, more security, bigger guns, and tougher treatment of other human beings will bring us peace. That path of fear has been trod again and again and found wanting, because in all that confusion and pain and sorrow, we are called to remember the words of Hebrews 13:2 (NRSV): Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”
May it ever be so.

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