Psalm 27, Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 13:31-35
The Rev. Melanie McCarley
“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear? Though an army should encamp against me, yet my heart shall not be afraid; and though war should rise up against me, yet will I put my trust in him.” It’s difficult to hear these words from Psalm 27 this morning, and fail to think of the people of Ukraine fighting to protect their democracy and homeland from a Russian invasion.
In the Epistle appointed for today St. Paul reminds the Philippians that their citizenship is in heaven. The word Paul uses is politeuma. It is a Greek word occurring nowhere else in the New Testament. And can be translated as “citizenship”, “colony”, “commonwealth” and “homeland”. Here, Paul is reminding the Philippians who, were themselves Roman citizens—and were therefore granted a great deal of freedom and financial benefits by virtue of being considered a colony of the empire, that their true place of security, their real home, their abode of belonging, wasn’t the Roman state, but the commonwealth of Heaven—a place where salvation belongs to all.
According to Paul, our locus of belonging isn’t a place. It’s a person. Jesus. And this citizenship which we share, it has nothing to do with where we were born, our education, financial status, race, sexual orientation or any other factors which our world uses to define belonging. This belonging is based solely upon God’s grace and love. Paul tells us that as members of God’s commonwealth, we are members, one of another. We are accountable to one another, responsible for one another and part of one another.
Imagine a world without borders. One without passports, visas or green cards—a world without checkpoints, walls or barbed wire; a place where all the inhabitants share the same citizenship, with all of its associated rights, responsibilities and privileges. Perhaps this seems impossible, particularly as we watch Vladimire Putin attempt to redraw the lines of Russia; yet I believe there are glimpses, even in the midst of the great distress this invasion has wrought, of what it means for people to reach beyond borders, to embrace our common humanity.
Reuters News Agency reported that on Saturday, February 26, Nataliya Abelyeva was busy trying to flee Ukraine into Hungary. As she was leaving she was approached by a man, along with his young son and daughter. The man could not leave the country; and so he asked Ableyeva to take his children to safety. Imagine that moment…handing over your children to someone you don’t know, along with their passports, with the hope that your spouse, coming from Italy, would be able to find them at the border of a different country. The man handed over his wife’s telephone number and bid his children farewell. Reuters reports that after leaving Ukraine, Abelyeva was able to locate Anna Semyuk, who arrived to find her children. Abelyeva isn’t the only one to help.
Olha Lukianova, who is twenty nine and lives near Bremen, Germany, is a product manager for an I.T. company. This past Wednesday she drove to Denmark to purchase body armor for Ukranian troops. In the past week she has driven supplies to the Polish border and organized travel for several displaced families.
Alexey Shumilin, a nurse living in Helsinki, traveled for two days by ferry and car to pick up refugees and bring them back to Finland. Volodymyr Voyevodin, a 26 year old architect living in Prague gathers medicines and drives the supplies to the border. Bernard Bousson, a 53 year old Belgian, remembered feeling helpless at the time of the Balkan wars, in the 1990s. Now he found he had money, time, and a car. And so he drove for two days to get to the Polish border to drive a family anywhere they wanted to go in Belgium or Germany. Michael Wilspang, a 54 year old Danish electrical engineer who lives on the remote island of Ero, saw a report on the news that he had found affecting. Wilspang could not bear the thought of children suffering needlessly, and he was now offering a ride and accommodation.*
In the Gospel for today Jesus offers us a picture of the sheltering love of God when he says: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” It’s a beautiful image, reflecting the hope of our Savior -- the sheltering wings of the Lord protecting the children of God. It’s an image of a community of love and belonging—one in which people are united not by a place, but by their God. When I consider the actions of the individuals who have reached out to help during this current crisis, I realize that I don’t know the specifics of their individual faith; but it seems to me that whatever their spirituality, their actions are well in line with that of a God who wishes to provide care and solace to those in need; and in this sense, they are faithful people serving the will of the Lord.
The crisis being visited upon the people of Ukraine isn’t to be wished upon anyone. However, it is a reminder that crises—when they occur, also present opportunities for the followers of Jesus to rise to the upward call of Christ to those who are suffering.
Today’s lessons challenge us to think more broadly about what it means to be a citizen. In the light of current events, they prompt us to consider how we might respond to this present crisis as people of faith? The answers range from prayer and supplication, to a willingness to cheerfully endure inflation as the price of freedom; to opening our hearts and homes, as we have in the recent past to those from Burundi and Afghanistan, to those from Ukraine as well.
Today St. Paul reminds us that we are citizens of Heaven. Ask yourself how that ‘citizenship’ both extends a promise to you and places a demand on you at the same time. And then ask yourself what you can do to help extend the sheltering wings of God over those who suffer. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Ed Caesar “An Outpouring of Support for Ukranian Refugees and Resistance” March 4, 2022, The New Yorker