Saturday will be the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks on our nation. It feels surreal to use the term on our nation because, at the time this tragedy occurred, I was an immigrant student with an F-1 visa, studying at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. I remember watching the events of that morning at Candler Hall. I remember how a female soldier who was in her military fatigue that morning reacted to the news on TV. I was then an immigrant. But now, I am a citizen, and it feels surreal to talk about our nation because I am a part of it.
But how did I get into Emory University? There’s this story that you may not know about me.
As an immigrant, I had little-to-no idea how things worked in America. It felt good to be here... but how was I supposed to survive? I started off at Mercer University but ended up at Emory because the Rector at Atlanta's All Saints Episcopal Church, The Reverend Geoffrey Hoare - now the Rector of St. Albans, Washington, D.C. - believed that the best place for me was Emory University. Geoffrey encouraged me to apply to the school, and not only that, he made sure that I secured the necessary funding to be able to attend it for free while I interned at All Saints. It was the best of both worlds!
Geoffrey didn’t know me from anywhere. He hadn’t met me before. He didn’t know anyone that I knew, nor was anyone my advocate. I simply appeared on his door one cold, Sunday morning, and he took me in as if he had known me all along. The good news is that the load that I carried became his load.
I tell this story because of a hypothetical that Steve Alpern shared with us at our recent meeting on discerning Christ Church’s response to the refugees from Afghanistan. Here is the hypothetical: If we wake up one morning and we have a refugee family at Christ Church’s door, what would we do?
Interesting question, isn’t it?
"Nothing like that would ever happen," is a response I can hear from some.
"We will offer the best that we can offer to the family" is another response I can hear.
Is it possible that we can wake up one morning and have on our hands a refugee family to take care of? Absolutely!
The scripture passage for Tuesday’s meeting was the story of the Good Samaritan. I learned something new from the story, and that was: Sharing The Load. Much as the focus of the story is about the generous spirit of the Samaritan and the help he extended to the wounded man, the story is also about the innkeeper who accepted the invitation to participate in the healing of the wounded man. The Samaritan recognized that he couldn’t do it all by himself, and in order to achieve his goal - which was the wholeness and healing of the wounded man - he had to share the load by inviting the innkeeper to participate in his vision, to take care of the wounded man.
Steve’s hypothetical resonated with me because I was once a refugee on Geoffrey’s door. As I indicated earlier, he didn’t know me or know anything about me. He could simply have turned his back on me and walked away and no one would have noticed. But what is the power of the gospel if it cannot move you to act or if it cannot move you to open a door? The fundamental question he confronted then, and we now confront in our discernment, has always been this: Are you willing to open the door? Are you willing to participate in sharing the load? Geoffrey, I believe, has done a lot of good for a lot of people, many of whom he probably doesn’t know.
In a few weeks, I will celebrate four years as priest and pastor of Christ Church. One thing I know is that, beyond thanking God for my ministry here at Christ Church, if you feel blessed by this ministry as I do, then you can also be grateful to the one man who heartily opened the door for me, and invited others to share in the load - the load which they gladly did share without counting the cost. You can also open the door and invite others to share the load with you.
Here’s another story for you, one of a blind man being stopped in a bad piece of road, met with a lame man, and entreated him to guide him through the difficulty he had got into.
How can I do that,” replied the lame man, “since I am scarcely able to drag myself along? But as you appear to be very strong, if you will carry me, we will seek our fortunes together. It will then be my interest to warn you of anything that may obstruct your way; as your feet shall be my feet, and my eyes your eyes.”
“With all my heart,” returned the blind man, “let us render each other our mutual services.”
So taking his lame companion on his back, they, by means of their union, traveled on with safety and pleasure.
That story reminds us that together, with varied gifts, strengths, resources, and even limitations, all drawn together, we can make the kind of progress that we need to make, we can rise above our fears, and engage in extraordinary ministry.
As Christians, our task is always to create that holy space where others may find a sense of dignity, healing, comfort, solace, and refreshment. More than that, it is about opening the door for others and sharing in the load.
“Come to me all who are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest,” Jesus said. For all you know, you may be that ‘Jesus’ whose duty it is to provide rest for the weary ones among us.
Will you bet on that?