Blessed are the refugees
Dear Siblings in Christ,
The Revised Common lectionary Gospel text for last Sunday, Epiphany 4, was Matthew 5:1-12. In these opening words to his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus lays out what it means to be blessed, and it isn’t what we think. In his words on that mountainside in Galilee, Jesus speaks to those who are listening to him about their current life situation (which isn’t all that great). Jesus names the crowd’s current situation and pulls God’s future into their present.
You are poor and broken in Spirit and God’s kingdom is yours.
You mourn and you will find comfort.
You are powerless and you will receive what you need.
You are hungry/you seek justice and what you are looking for will be yours.
Through it all, Jesus says, know that you are blessed by God.
I can’t help but apply these words to the refugee crisis playing out in our world, and now so vividly here in our country this past weekend. I am deeply disturbed by the ramifications of the executive actions taken by our President concerning our brothers and sisters who seek a home and safety with us. This is the work of our church. We Lutherans have been assisting and resettling refugees since WWII, through Lutheran World Relief (LWR) and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services (LIRS). People who are poor and broken in spirit. People who mourn and are persecuted. People hungry and thirsty for justice and a home.
It started with people fleeing the violence in Europe during World War II. If you or your parents or grandparents immigrated to the United States during and after World War II, chances are the Lutherans were there to help.
I can remember in the Seventies, so many of our Lutheran congregations sponsored refugees from South East Asia: Vietnamese people, Cambodian people, Hmong people. Thousands found a welcome and a new beginning because of our commitment to care for God’s people who were desperately seeking freedom and peace.
Today, in our Synod we have a very active refugee resettlement team. Our team works closely with the refugee resettlement folks from Lutheran Social Services, experts in the field who work in partnership with the U.S. State department to welcome refugees fleeing war and violence. These refugees are people who have been extensively screened and cleared to begin a new life in what for them is a strange land far away from home. Many of your congregations have participated in welcoming our new neighbors with boxes of household supplies, donations for mattresses, furniture, and hospitality.
In the Madison area, our Synod team has helped welcome and resettle about 100 people a year for the last several years. We were expecting and prepared for 110 this year. Now we don’t know if that will happen, and as a follower of Jesus called to welcome the stranger and love the neighbor, it breaks my heart. More than that, as a Lutheran, directly involved in this refugee resettlement work that our denomination has been actively involved in for decades – work that has gone on successfully through both Republican and Democratic administrations, I might add—I am doubly discouraged.
As the body of Christ, we are the heart and hands of Jesus. As the Lutheran church together here and now for the sake of the world, we are called to speak Jesus’ word of blessing to all people.
The world may be poor and broken in spirit, and yet we proclaim God’s kingdom is here.
People around the globe may fear or despair or mourn, and yet we speak God’s presence, compassion and comfort.
Folks may feel helpless in the face of powers and principalities that threaten them and harm them, and yet we declare and work for God’s desire that all people have what they need: safety and home and peace.
Poverty, oppression, hunger for daily bread and for justice may be rampant, and yet we proclaim God’s abundance, and work together for reconciliation and an equitable sharing so that all may have enough.
And through it all, we announce as Jesus did and does, Child of God, whoever you may be, whatever your situation in life, know that you are loved and valued and blessed by God.
May God bless us and the work we do in Jesus’ name as we live out what it means to be Christ’s church, particularly the Lutheran expression of that church, in this time and place, together, for the sake of the world.
Mary Stumme Froiland, Bishop
South-Central Synod of Wisconsin