â€œLead us Lord. Lead usâ€
Based on Acts 11:1-18, Revelation 21:1-6 and John 13:31-35
Jesus said â€œA new commandment I give you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one anotherâ€.
Last week, a presenter from the Australian Lutheran World Service talked of their work in those parts of our earthly home in great need. Earthquakes, floods, tsunamis and all manner of tragedies including the recent East African drought crisis.
Affecting 13 million people across the Horn of Africa, the drought forced quarter a million people to seek food and other assistance in refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia.
At the camp in Ethiopia, a tent city of 155,000 people to which each day another 1500 would be added to after having travelled weeks and months. At the entrance to this camp, in a country that has felt the suffering and stench of death from its own famines in the past, a country that could â€œlegitimatelyâ€ turn away those in need for fear of exhausting its own resources there is a sign that greats the daily flood of refugees:
â€œYou are in a different country. We welcome you. Here you have peace and security. This is your home.â€
The camp in Kenya is the largest refugee camp in the world housing 470,000 people and â€œin chargeâ€ and while living in a tent like the rest is an local elderly women who deals the United nations, the organisations like Lutheran World Service and the government in managing the resources to try and meet the needs of those before her. The displaced, those who have seen family beaten, tortured and killed before their eyes, those who have seen their villages decimated by warlords and famine. Those who have nothing and when she was asked how she can daily wake to a tragedy that seems to have no answer she said everyday she starts with the same prayer:
â€œLead us on Lord. Lead us where we dare not go. Lead us Lord. Lead us each new dayâ€.
Elvis Presley, aware of his own shortfalls was often led by a heavy conscious to ask the Lord, â€œWhy me Lord, why did you give me the gift of this my voice, why meâ€ and daily we ask ourselves or at least remind ourselves the same. Why us Lord. Why have we been given the gift of a free and plentiful country? Yes we have suffered and walked the wrong way, but why is it true that the words â€œthere but the grace of God I goâ€ are so true for us? And why have sinners such as us come to know and accept your forgiveness and grace, and yet others not?
Before his wedding, Bill Gates mother gave his wife to be a word of advice â€œWe have always given to the needy, thatâ€™s who we are as peopleâ€ and when asked whatâ€™s the greatest challenge of being rich, Bill answered â€œthe responsibility it bringsâ€ and at the end of 2012, Bill, his family and his wife Melindaâ€™s foundation had totalled 36 billion dollars of monies for charity.
Our gracious Lord, both in his earthly providences and his spiritual gifts when we knew him not took us in. When broken by hurt, fear and the pain brought from others and ourselves, the Lord lifted us up and as others walk through the valley of the shadow of death, he brings them to us that they too will see his love and fear no evil as they see his goodness and mercy, and see that he is with them.
We all have been on and are on a journey. We have all felt hurt and felt lost. Felt vulnerable. Felt that no one understands nor knows our pain. Maybe you lived on the street. Itâ€™s cold and youâ€™re hungry. You are scared, but you are angry. As people pass you by, you can see disgust in their eyes, their fear of you, there pity. But you are alone. You think how did it come to this? You cannot even clearly remember how, it seems so long ago and yet like only yesterday, when you knew hope. But you still have a little hope and think, tomorrow, tomorrow it will be different. But it isnâ€™t, maybe they are right, maybe I am worthless. If only someone understood.
You are sitting in a cell in the detention centre. You see your children-and you know you are responsible, but you had no choice. You only wanted to give them safety; you had to do it for they would have surely died where you came from.
They are playing soccer in the courtyard surrounded by razor wire and you know, at least for now they are safe. But you see the fear and confusion in their eyes. You just want to hug them and say, it will be O.K., but you canâ€™t. If only someone understood.
Yesterday, the day before, or in the days to come-you have heard the back stabbing and the rumours. You have felt others judgement and betrayal just as you have felt your own self-condemning judgement and despair. You have wronged others and been wronged. You just want to start again and know hope in your life that one more time.
But then a person, a group of people or a nation say to you: â€œWe have seen your misery; we have heard you cry out in your suffering. So come to our land, a land that abounds with natureâ€™s gifts. Because â€œThe Lord said, â€œI have indeed seen the misery of my people. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honeyâ€.
We will not judge you, for we â€œDo not judge, or we too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of dust in your brotherâ€™s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?â€ but we will watch over you like â€œThe Lord watches over the alien and sustains the fatherless and the widowâ€, you have been oppressed but now you are safe and we will never turn our back on you again. We give you a shelter from the storm and shade from the heat for â€œThe lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of troubleâ€. For we too were in need, so now we accept you as our own and give you food, clothing and love â€œfor the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who knows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens.â€
No longer will you be oppressed, no longer do you need to fear of persecution for you are now free to live as you choose because we have been told that â€œIf a slave has taken refuge with you, do not hand him over to his master. Let him live among you wherever he likes and in whatever town he chooses. Do not oppress himâ€
No longer will you live in fear because we do not fear you, but we will love you because we have felt the compassionate hand of love, so â€œDear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made completeâ€.
So do not be afraid. No longer have any concern for your life or your body and what you will eat or drink or what you will wear. But come and reside in us and you will receive these things as you hear the words we have heard as â€œJesus said to his disciples: Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more important than food, and the body more than clothsâ€, â€œAnd do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as wellâ€
Should you fall in despair, affliction, are beaten and wronged, we will no longer pass you by, but will tend to your wounds and take care of you like the â€œman who was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his cloths, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he travelled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to the inn and took care of himâ€.
Remember your misery no more. For when you need defending we will defend you and when you cannot speak we will speak for you that â€œyou forget your poverty and remember your misery no more. (For the Lord has told us to) speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; and defend the rights of the poor and needyâ€.
No longer will you need to sleep on a park bench or the riverbank because our doors are open to you, because as the Lord to us, so we to you, thatâ€œ no stranger had to spend the night in the street, for my door was always open to the travellerâ€, whether you are poor, crippled, lame or blind in body or spirit we invite you to our banquet, because like his banquet to us, he has told us â€œwhen you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteousâ€. For we have been blessed with many riches which we now share with you as the Lordâ€™s â€œdesire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equalityâ€
For no longer are you foreigners or aliens, but fellow citizens. We are all one people and members of the one household of our Lord â€œTherefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called uncircumcised by those who call themselves the circumcision. Remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christâ€. â€œConsequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with Godâ€™s people and members of Godâ€™s householdâ€
Today we celebrate and rejoice, because like us, you too were dead and like us we you too were lost, and like the words that were said to those that took offence when we were welcomed home as the prodigal sons and daughters, we now hear said to us upon your coming home â€œMy son, the father said, you are always with me, and everything thing I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is foundâ€
In the verse that follows todays Gospel passage, before his death Jesus told Peter â€œWhere I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterwardâ€
Christ loved you so much that he gave his life for you, that you too, with the apostles and all those in Christ that have gone before, our loved ones, our husbands, wives, daughters, sons, brothers and sisters will sit at his feet without tear, death, crying, pain or mourning.
â€œLove one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one anotherâ€.
â€œThrough many dangers, toils and snares we have already come; Tis grace that has brought us safe thus far, and grace that we lead us home. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. We once were lost, but now are found; Was blind but now we see.â€
Lead us on Lord. Lead us where we dare not go. Lead us Lord. Lead us each new day.