It isn't just us...
Nowadays, the news from Egypt (again, sadly) is not good. A couple of years ago, the "Arab Spring" came change, and the former President, Mubarak, was unseated. With that change came elections. Sadly, the free elections brought factions to power that had agendas that differed dramatically from the expectations of the people. More protests ensued, and more change came. This time, change came from the military. They assisted the dissenters and staged a coup. Now? An interim government and the military council are attempting to run the country in preparation for another round of free elections. In the mean time, the supporters of the ousted president are being suppressed. More violence, more pain and more death are the result and things seems to be getting worse in Egypt. There is no path to peace visible at this point.
Why should that matter to us, here in the West? Why should it matter to a pastor of a modest church in central New Jersey. Because at our Wednesday Night Community Supper, we have an extended family of Egyptians-a small community of Coptic Christians emigres-who break bread with us. Last night, as I was offering grace, one of the women from that group was on her cell phone, with someone in Egypt. They worry for family and friends. They pray for peace for their community. They fear, and too often wind up seeing, the worst happening to those they love and to a country that is their home, their origin.
What was far off, what didn't matter to most of us because it was "out there" is now right in front of us. It isn't just "us" in the here and now, other people in other places-even places on the other side of the planet-are in need, are experiencing want and fear, are struggling for a peace that eludes them. "They" are suddenly no longer "they." They are now "us."
When we apply labels to each other, separating folks by race, class, speech, belief, nationality, and all the other sundry manners of forging separateness it becomes easy for us to discount, even dismiss, the other.
Isaiah's words remind us that even enemies should be remembered and aided as fellow human beings when any common threat arises. He reminds us that we are called to be a people of mercy and forbearance, even in the face of calamity. We are not to turn out the stranger, nor are we to turn away from the ones who are foreign to us.
Need is need, and we are called to address it. Fear is fear, and we are called to offer sanctuary. Want is want, and we are called to assuage it. What matters to God is that we are willing to rise up, respond, give and proffer shelter and comfort to anyone who is in need.
We did that last night, at least we did what we could in that moment: while the woman was on the cell phone with her relatives in Egypt we prayed for their safety, and we prayed for peace. Then, when we had done that...when we had remembered those who were in harm's way who were as close to us as their kinswoman was in our midst...we gave thanks and broke bread together. We remembered once again that we are one body, because we share in one bread....