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Nov 10, 2015 | The Rev. Bo Townsend

Refugee Crisis Enlivens Scripture

Hospitality is a time-honored tradition in the Episcopal Church. We welcome everyone to God’s table. Our history is one of welcoming anyone regardless of who they are or from where they come. I don’t know for sure, but I imagine that tradition was founded on Jesus’ command we hear in Matthew’s Gospel. It is not a stretch of the imagination to realize we are to welcome all who are in need. And if we imagine the suffering of others—the pain, the sorrow, the hunger, the fear and the torture many have endured—we can feel a strong desire to help those in need. That realization can stir us to reach out to refugees because we know it is what God wants us to do and the Holy Spirit moves us to help.



What might it be like for us—our spouses, our children—to be without homes, without security or food, clothing or adequate resources, and have to flee for our very lives. If we can imagine this, we might become passionate about the refugee crisis.


I am new to the work of refugee settlement. At St. Christopher’s we have been blessed with the opportunity to help three families resettle in Austin over the past two years and we are working with another family this fall. I am certain these families—from Bhutan, Iraq and Burma—appreciate our help. But the blessing for us has been in knowing that we are doing God’s work in the world and that we are effecting a positive change, not only in their lives but in our lives as well. We are practicing our religion in a most powerful way. As one of our parishioners said: "'Welcome the stranger’ was shown with kindness, compassion, generosity and love; the scriptures come alive!”


The intersection of our scripture and our lives is always a constant source of amazement to me. As I began to consider this reflection, I was preparing my sermon with a reading from James: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” (James 1:17-27). One cannot think about the refugee crisis and not consider wave after wave of orphans and widows, as well as displaced families and husbands. If we are to practice our religion, then it seems we are to care for the refugees of the world. And sadly, those numbers are growing by the minute in a world torn apart by terror and violence.


There are many ways to consider what our role might be. We offer ourselves out of hospitality because the Word of God insists we do. Most importantly we do so because Jesus would do no less and we follow Jesus in His care for all those in need. “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40).


Thanks be to God.


Townsend is rector of St. Christopher’s, Austin.