What if we are not that different from refugees and sojourners? What if their story is our story and their presence is actually God reminding us of our own deep need for Him and for community? And what if how we treat them speaks to where we find our own hope? Rejection and displacement are everywhere. We see it tangibly in the 60 million+ refugees and the hundreds of millions more immigrants/migrants around the world. But, this displacement/rejection is also in us and in our communities in many ways. What if God is using all of this to speak to us? What if we listen and find that He is the refuge that we seek?
“Nothing will ever test your commitment to God like being overlooked, ignored, discarded or devalued by man. Stay wholehearted anyway!” – Christine Caine.
I just saw this on Twitter. The reason that she is right – at least partially – is because rejection/discarding/displacement goes deep to the core of who we are and taps into the words of Genesis 3:23-24 that say, “therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.” Down deep, we all know that we are rejected by God and by man – in our natural state. So we try to compensate through performance and through gathering others around us to affirm us and protect us. When that fails or our worlds collapse, we become nomads and look for a place where we can find those deep connections again.
“Stay wholehearted anyway.” Um, going through rejection and displacement renders someone NOT wholehearted. They are heartbroken. They cannot stay wholehearted. Their heart is now full of holes. When one is rejected by their community and those they love or they are forced to leave their homes for whatever reason, it can bring up this kind of primal pain that can be life shattering. It can make you doubt everything about who you are and your place in the world. I was talking with a friend of mine about this phenomenon recently and he tied displacement and the loss of community and tribe to what the world’s over 60 million refugees go through who are uprooted from place and family and tradition and history. The pain goes deep and it can create a trauma that sears a soul as their worlds have been torn apart and they are no longer who they once were. The American isolation/individualism myth says that community and place and history do not matter and that we are all each our own sovereign beings. But, this is neither true nor realistic and it is not how the rest of the world views life. It isn’t how life actually works. Being uprooted from your tribe and home is a form of exile that can cause serious dysfunction in a person’s sense of being. This is why ministering now to THIS generation of refugees and migrants and newcomers – as well as those in our own country who have experienced this – is so vital. Who else will heal their pain of rejection and loss if not the Church? We need churches who see this instead of just think about how to arrange ministry around their own existence, success, and survival.
But … Jesus was rejected and despised by men (Isaiah 53). He died outside the camp and it is there that we join Him (Hebrews 13:12-14). When we are rejected and forgotten and pushed aside by men, we find that Jesus is there. We have an opportunity to look to Christ and find that He bears the pain of this displacement that goes all the way back to the results of the Original Sin. Jesus as our savior comes and takes away sins and destroy’s the devil’s work (1 John 3:6,8). He enters in to the point of rejection and loss and displacement when we have faith to meet Him there and recognize that He is better than the love of even our own families and closest friends. Even the church. But, even Christ’s love must be embodied in messengers – in friends … “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!'” (Romans 10:14-15). God sends messengers to broken, alienated people to minister love and hope to them and demonstrate to them that they have a home with God. As painful as it is, what if a person’s rejection by or displacement from their community is exactly the opportunity for them to meet and believe God and respond to His offer of inclusion to His family? What if the upheaval and loss is exactly the place where God can enter in and bring His life and hope and salvation? But, someone has to proclaim and demonstrate that message. That is what the church is supposed to be doing. When it fails at that, brokenness, pain, anger, and then hardness and bitterness can enter in as the person is now not only cut off from his community and all he once knew, but is now just drifting alone with only his own strength to protect him. That strength fails quite easily.
We were created for community and relationship and all of the posing and posturing that people go through when they say they don’t need others or care what people think about them or that one should only look to God is just a defense mechanism. The reality is that we do care and rejection/loss/displacement does hurt and it affects us and mars our sense of worth and value and meaning and pretending that it doesn’t only makes us hard. But, recognizing the pain of displacement and rejection and abandonment and bringing it to Jesus honestly is a major way that we meet Him. And in that meeting we find redemption, healing, and hope for ourselves and we are then able to share this with a hurting, rejected, displaced world.
Perhaps the presence of refugees and immigrants – and the fatherless and divorced and widows and orphans and broken/hurting people from broken, fragmented communities among us are God’s sign posts that remind us that we ourselves are all aliens and strangers in this world and we all need a Savior and Healer – and when we have been rescued, then we should also treat others with love and kindness, “For you were once sojourners in Egypt.”
There are so many around us who have experienced being cast off and thrown away or forced out of their homes/villages/tribes or have lost their parents and family for one reason or another. It might be an immigrant or refugee family down the street or it might be someone you went to high school with or someone who is a part of your church. Or, in some ways, it might be you. Let’s not tell them to get over it and just take care of themselves and “stay wholehearted.” Let’s help them bring their pain to Jesus who is waiting for them outside the camp bearing their reproach and offering Himself as their refuge. The gospel response points us truly to Christ so we can bring the alienation and loneliness to Him. The fleshly, carnal response tells someone who is hurting to just deal with and get over it and not care. Or, it just leaves them to their own selves to deal with it thus rejecting them all over again. Let’s enter in to people’s isolation and point them to Jesus. He is our savior. And, let’s build communities of faith that go after the rejected and displaced and give them a home and not just tell them to “stay wholehearted anyway.” We need communities that bind wounds in the name of Jesus, that tear open roofs to let our paralyzed friends down into Jesus’ presence, and that bring people who are broken and displaced to the healing of the Cross so that those who have once been cast out will find a seat at the banquet table of God’s delights. When that happens, the gospel of grace will be demonstrated to a displaced, disjointed, dysfunctional world where nothing works the way it should and down deep, everyone knows it.