Sanctuary: a response required through scripture and tradition

From The Rev. Deacon Nancy Key, St. James Cathedral

The Episcopal Church defines Sanctuary as a “Holy place, usually the worship space of a church. …. Historically, a sanctuary would be a place of safe refuge for criminals or fugitives. This is also known as the right of sanctuary. It is based on the understanding that holy places such as churches are not subject to the powers of this world.”

Our Friday Reflections in 2017 focus on the theme of stewardship, the stewardship of ALL of God’s creation. And, as followers of Jesus, we are also watchers of Jesus who teaches us that our individual stewardship includes – especially – the poor, the sick, the lonely, and the imprisoned. For me today, the one of the faces of these we are called to steward is those living in fear of deportation. In the coming weeks we will look at a number of ways that we as faith communities might respond to our call to stewardship through some form of sanctuary. If we have any doubt about whether the church should be involved in the sanctuary movement, I suggest that we turn, as people of faith do, to our own Scripture and Book of Common Prayer.

  • “You shall not deprive a resident alien or an orphan of justice…. Remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this.” (Deuteronomy 24:17–18)
  •  “Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for . . . I was a stranger and you welcomed me . . . ‘ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it . . . that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you . . . ? And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’”(Matthew 25:34–40)
  •  “Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.” (Romans 12:13)
  •  “Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:1–2)

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has called the church into the Jesus Movement in which we ourselves reflect the holy love of Jesus in the world. This call is consistent with our baptismal promises, in which we dedicate and re-dedicate ourselves to living as Jesus. We make two promises which have specific relevance for our hospitality and welcoming of the stranger: “Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?” to which we respond, “I will, with God’s help.” And the last promise, “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” and again we respond, “I will, with God’s help.”

Life as a follower of Jesus is messy. We cannot claim to love Jesus and yet fail to keep his commandments to extend love and hospitality to aliens as Jesus did. This requires our full participation to discern the ministry to which we are called, also contemplating our secular and legal obligations.

By the grace of God – for we cannot do this on our own power – we make our baptismal promises. Our response can only be, “I will …. with God’s help.”

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