World Council of Churches

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Comforting and making

Sermon at morning prayers for the WCC/UN High Level Conference: Refugee Crisis in Europe, by Paolo Naso, Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy.

18 January 2016

Sermon at morning prayers for the WCC/UN High Level Conference: Refugee Crisis in Europe

By Paolo Naso, Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy

1Comfort, comfort my people,
    says your God.
…..

A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare
    the way for the Lord[a];
make straight in the desert
    a highway for our God.[b]

10 See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power,
    and he rules with a mighty arm.
See, his reward is with him,
    and his recompense accompanies him.

Ancient scriptures tell us that once upon a time the earth was
flat, without hills and mountains: just an immense land with no
barriers and obstacles where men, women and animals could freely move
in an unlimited space. 


It was after the humans started to fight and to disregard this gift and
this blessing, that GOD decided to change his creation. So hills and
mountains appeared and obviously valleys and canyons, oceans and
large rivers. The earth changed and the humans lost the view of the
immense; their sight was limited and they could hardly move from one
spot to another, fatiguing and even dying to try to get in some
remote places. 


Nevertheless humanity accommodates to this situation and after years
was even happy of these enclosures and any single tribe and clan
decided to close the access to their own land. Borders where
established, and after borders frontiers, and after frontiers walls,
and after walls fences, and after fences check points, and after check
points hotspots. And finally everybody was happy to live in the
prison built around his land. 


This is what we did. We fragmented the humankind according artificial
lines; we created the idolatrous ideology of the otherness: other in
the race, other in the language, other in the religion, other in the
culture, other in the values, other in politics, other in the economic
standard. Other in everything, far and separated from us. In this divided world another obsession arose. The obsession of security, the nightmare of an invasion of the others, of dangerous aliens aiming to destroy our homes and our civilization. 
No matter who the others are, which stories they have, which
tragedies they fled from, what pain they bring in their eyes
and in their heart. Simply being other than us they challenge us. More border
police, more walls, more fences. More security... This was and still is our prayer
and our cry. A protected, insurmountable, militarized border has become the symbol of our system of relationships.

 
Isaiah is aware of all this. He can see what others cannot see and
speaks to his people. He knows that his people is living in captivity
- once more - and that for the sake of his sisters and brothers there
is no alternative to escape from Babylon. Only a journey can save the
people of Israel. There is no way to "help Israel in Babylon", no way
to restrain the people of Israel in camps, in centers of identification, in centers of temporary detention. The people knows that his only future is out of the captivity in Babylon.

The prophet Isiah isn't a leader, a soldier or a
strategist: simply, he is a believer trusting in God and aware that God
loves the people in suffering and comforts them.

1 Comfort, comfort my people says your God.

11 He gathers the lambs in his arms,

and carries them close to his heart;

….
Sweet words, comforting, encouraging, healing the wounds and giving calm and intimate peace.

This is the good news of today:

The poor in spirit are blessed

Those who mourn are blessed

The meek are blessed

Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, are blessed

The merciful are blessed

The peacemakers and the justice makers are blessed.


This is what a prophet does: he pronounces words of hope to the
despairing people, he comforts them and raises their hope. He goes to the
camps where refugees are concentrated in thousands and lights a candle of
hope.

In front of him he has people of all kinds, everybody with his or her story: such as

Falak, 4 years, struggling with her cancer that has already scarred her. And the prophet’s words also comfort her.

And the same words comfort the unaccompanied children of Ceuta and Melilla, in Morocco, living in the forest on the Spanish border with their hands and legs cut and wounded by the razors of a fence separating them from their safety and a better future.

The prophet’s words comfort the people reaching Malta, Lesbo, Lampedusa: “hey, don't despair”.

 
See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power,
and he rules with a mighty arm.
See, his reward is with him,
and his recompense accompanies him.

But the prophet says something else.

“In the wilderness prepare

   the way for the Lord[a];

make straight in the desert

   a highway for our God

This isn’t comfort. This is commitment. This isn’t tomorrow. This is today.

“Make straight in the desert, a highway”; make! This is the imperative commitment, make! The prophet alternates words of comfort and words of commitment.

He invites us to be proactive, hard workers, ready to open a path in the forest, to make straight in the desert, to build a bridge on the river, to ensure a safe passage at sea.

Blessed are those who suffer but also blessed are those who make peace and justice, those who have the vision to see a solution when apparently there is no solution.

“The boat is full! Be realistic! Europe cannot pay the price! Help our people first”. This is what we hear every day, this is what we read every day. Sadly this is what more and frequently we happen to listen from sisters and brothers, even in our churches.

Yes, this is a voice we listen very often.

But there is another voice that we aren’t allowed to silence but renouncing to the core of our Christian identity. “Do, make, prepare, open, build… ”.

God will allow this voice to prevail. Otherwise our sense of humanity, the souls of our nations, our hope for a beloved community of peoples, our credibility of followers of Christ will simply die.

Comfort and action: this is the Gospel of today.

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