[Join us December 10 at http://www.trinitylafayette.org as we observe United Methodist Global Migration Sunday and focus on the themes of vulnerability and weakness. At 9:15 we’ll gather for a discussion on how our personal weaknesses can become a gift and a blessing to others. During 10:30 worship, we’ll be joined by Syrian immigrant and local physician Dr. Akram Al-Makki who will share the story of his extended family’s experiences (past and present) with immigration and migration.]
When I started graduate studies at the University of Akron, I did not have an apartment. So a faculty member invited me to stay at her home. On my first day of fall semester, I drove the 1 ½ hours from northwest PA to Akron to attend class. It made for a long day. Before leaving campus, I stopped in the office to discover the professor had left a note for me. She would be delayed getting home. She provided her address and directions to her house. She explained the door had been left unlocked. I could go in and make myself comfortable.
It was pre-GPS days so I had a hard time finding her house. When I arrived (feeling already stressed and anxious), her dog was barking aggressively at the door. I decided I would hang out in my car and wait. One hour turned into two. I was getting so hungry. Money was scarce. I had a bag of peanuts. I munched on those. It began to get dark. I began to cry. Why was I here? Over the next hour I played a self-defeating loop of negative thoughts, convincing myself that grad school was a big mistake; leaving PA was a big mistake; coming to a city where I knew no one… also a big mistake; thinking I could become a professional musician: big mistake; staying in the home of a complete stranger… you guessed it – mistake; risking walking in on a barking dog that I’d never met: sure to be a mistake.
Decades after the fact, I look back on that evening and laugh. The faculty member finally arrived home with take out from a Chinese restaurant. We ate dinner and talked. She was gracious and hospitable and, by the end of the week, I’d found my own apartment. But that evening, waiting alone in my car outside a stranger’s home, I felt terribly – dreadfully – vulnerable… and I didn’t like it one bit.
In life we often become attached to stuff, positions, accomplishments, even relationships that we think will provide us with a sense of security: retirement plans, an influential supervisor or mentor, a title that sounds impressive, prominent positions in civic organizations. We want to feel strong and capable; not weak or breakable. But to be human is to be vulnerable.
In our gospels, Jesus admonishes his followers to become like children. We love children in our culture. They are adorable! But in Jesus’ culture, children weren’t viewed as precious and innocent. They were viewed as chaotic and undisciplined. Their only virtue lay in their potential to grow up and be respectable adults who could contribute to the honor of their family and village. There were no Children’s Protective Services. If people wanted to beat their children, that was their business. Ugh! Children were extremely vulnerable and entirely dependent on their parents.
When Jesus invites us to become like children, he is inviting us to embrace the reality that we can’t control life in this world. No matter how we worry and scurry and plan, things can go wrong. But, God is with us and loves us and will be faithful in looking out for us if only we will embrace the reality of our vulnerability.
This Advent, the United Methodist Church is celebrating Global Migration Sunday. Migrants and refugees – like the children of antiquity – find themselves in an especially vulnerable and precarious position. Jesus, the Savior whose birth we will soon celebrate, knew that experience. Matthew’s gospel tells us that Jesus, Mary and Joseph were forced to flee the country, escape across the border into Egypt, because King Herod was slaughtering infant boys all over Bethlehem and the surrounding area in an effort to find Jesus and kill him. The Son of God (along with the whole pregnant-mom-out-of-wedlock thing) was born into a family of poor peasants forced to become refugees in order to escape genocide (see Matthew, chapter 2). Maybe that’s why God has always been such a fan of welcoming the alien and the foreigner.