On Sunday September 14th the Rev. Kim Barker-Brugman, an American minister, whose husband is working in the Harrogate District for 2 years, is leading worship in our circuit whilst here in this country and led worship at Wesley Chapel. We began worship as we sang ‘New every morning is the love’ before Kim led the prayers. Our second hymn was ‘God who sets on a journey’ before we heard the reading from Genesis 12 v 1-9, the Call of Abraham. She reminded us that the people of God are always on the move; she asked us to think of the implications of an old man of 70+ being told to go on a journey! We then sang ‘For the healing of the Nation’ before we heard the description of the escape into Egypt of Jesus and his family in Matthew 2 v 13 onwards.
The theme of her sermon was travelling. She and her family had travelled extensively and lived in different postings her husband had had. They had been to places in England, Scotland, Prague, Belgium an in Germany. Her 2 sons aged 15 and 17 who loved to play American football and baseball found it hard when English was not spoken. Being in Egypt would have been hard for the child Jesus with a different language and different food to adjust to. As we travel we recognise the tiny place we occupy in the world. Nowadays travel destinations are clear to see on line or advertised on television. Bill Bryson told stories of his travels, Americans share travelling stories too.
Abraham and Sarah were Nomads. They were constantly on the move looking for fresh pasture for their flocks. It was a hard life, protecting themselves from enemies and looking for shelter. People developed agriculture and moved to where their crops grew away from caves and built homes and walls for shelter from bad weather. Journeying and pilgrimage grew from a longing to travel and explore. Holy places and wells became places of pilgrimage, such as to Jerusalem, not to fight their enemies but because they were filled with religious fervour. Such pilgrimages were different from holidays, as they were focussed on God, as they went, seeking God and yet recognising God was with them, as they travelled. Travelling Nomads faced enemies and friends and offered hospitality to friend and foe. Joseph had a dream to flee with his family to Egypt from the war zone in Bethlehem until it was safe to return. God called Abraham to set off on a journey and He calls us to make many different pilgrimages. Abraham and Sarah were immigrants and welcomed friends and foes.
Rachel Chester in Sunday pilgrimage said that all Christians are on a journey; we are all migrants and are called to offer and accept hospitality to share the love of Jesus so others come to Christ. Kim took a year sabbatical last year to study Celtic Christianity. She told us that we could take a journey when we stay where we are, as we can take a spiritual journey. Monks set off on pilgrimage as God told them to do. Nowadays people set off on pilgrimages to Lourdes or to see the Pope. Some travelled as God guided them unsure of their destination. However we can all embark on small pilgrimages alone walking, as we chat to God and then await the response as we listen to all around us; it could even just be a walk around a local park. We could also visit the labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral and use the visit to wait on our Lord. Kim joined the Iona community for a week and found that pilgrimage wonderful. She and her family enjoyed their visit to Holy Island where they enjoyed the sea and sharing in evensong. She also explained that Americans loved to travel and share stories, work and pray together. There is another kind of pilgrimage we could go on, an interior pilgrimage with the guidance of God’s hand on our inner journey.
On equality day celebrating when women got the vote, Kim decided to choose a book about a strong woman whether true or fictional. She chose the story of Helene Bare a 20 year old Jew in Germany who studied English Literature whilst she was in hiding at university and in love with a Catholic boy. She described the blindness of the French and Non Jews and the holocaust. Kim also read Anne Frank but could not go to the place of the holocaust; in fact she avoided the subject for more than 40 years. Then Helene was introduced to good people who tried to do something; she wondered about what her friends and still did not get. Her parents were wealthy so she was protected; she hated what is happening to her people, struggling with feeling safe; those who helped her family and one another. It is always good to offer hospitality, food, clothing or a listening ear. Kim looked for stories of those who were saved; 8 children were saved; one French town saved 3 to 5000 Jews. They were in a ship which sailed to Cuba and America refused to take the refugees but they were finally accepted in England and Holland.
Kim lamented the fact that genocide is still happening today, in Gaza, Palestine, Israel; in Syria and Iraq between the Shiite Muslims and Sunni Muslims and the Kurdish people; the rise of the Islamic State: when she wondered, as do we all, will it ever end? How can we stop it? What can we do? We said after the First World War that never again would we embark on such a destructive war, but war and conflict continues to proliferate across our sad world as different factions seek power over different races empowered by the arms race encouraged by the UK and America.
Jesus said when we give a cup of water to someone and welcomed someone in his name we were being hospitable. How can we work with the people of different cultures who arrive on our shores, victimised, traumatised and penniless? We need to engage with those of different cultures who are just like us seeking God through their journeys of life, but have lost everything, their families, homes and livelihood. Can we be hospitable to these traumatised people and offer them a home? Each of us is on a pilgrimage, whether it involves travelling or not; it can be an internal challenge to our misconceptions. We can be challenged to offer hospitality or help in another way, such as at a food bank or at the homeless hostel. May we all have courage to offer hope to others. We can pray and wait on God as to what he wants us to do or we can ask God what changes he wants to make in us. Mark Twain commented that travel is fatal to prejudices; that is even truer I feel in our inward journeys with God’s guidance. It was certainly a challenging message, which is vital if we are ever to conquer our fears and give others hope and welcome them as Jesus did.
We then sang ‘Father hear the prayer we offer’, before Kim led us in the prayers of intercession and worship concluded when we sang ‘Lead us heavenly father lead us,’ and she blessed us with the Gaelic Blessing, ‘May the road rise up…’