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Treasuring freedom

BEYOND OUR traditions of hospitality or even Christ’s command to be generous, there’s something that stirs compassion and controversy within the church when the matter of asylum seekers is raised.

Part of what comes to the surface is our own history, a story of being on the run: glancing over the shoulder one moment, staring hopefully ahead the next.

The Bible is full of refugee stories, like Jesus, Mary and Joseph bolting for Egypt, one step ahead of Herod’s hit teams.

Yet there’s something deeper in the wider story of God calling and humankind seeking a new home.

From Eden to Egypt and on into exile, there seems to be little but the longing and struggle to be in the Promised Land, the presence of God, the place of rest – and nothing even devout people can do for themselves.

There must be grace.

When God called our spiritual ancestors to risk everything and escape slavery they faced the Red Sea, not the Indian Ocean.

When the forefathers of our faith were becoming comfortable, first persecution drove them from the temple and then siege forced them out of Jerusalem altogether, looking for asylum in the cities of Samaria and on as far as Antioch.

Even the enormous, supposedly multicultural city of Rome wasn’t safe when Claudius wanted to revive the old state religion.

So the Church moved among the Gentiles in Corinth and elsewhere.

But the writer of Hebrews warns us not to get comfortable here in 21st Century Australia. “For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come.”
Does the story of asylum seekers confront us in more ways than one?

It would be shameful to admit that we hold tight the trappings of our wealthy lifestyle: unwilling to share jobs, places in schools and universities, health care or room in our suburbs.

This is not a matter of us and them. The church in which there is no Greek or Jew, no slave or free, has a long history as refugees in the world.

There are people in our congregations whose families fled here from religious and political persecution in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

Sitting in a position of worldly power and comfort while I say, “You don’t belong here,” is not the only sin.

Behind that statement is the idea that I do belong here; I have earned the right to the things I have.

Do those asking for refuge in Australia remind us that the good life can so easily be stripped away?

Many seeking asylum had houses, careers, qualifications and businesses in the place where they were born and raised.

So did the people of Britain, France and Germany in the 1940s, Korea in the 1950s, Vietnam through the 60s and 70s, Yugoslavia in the 90s.

Are we trapped by the freedoms we tout?

Or are we free to admit we too are aliens and strangers – longing for a better country, not the Commonwealth of Australia but the Kingdom of God?