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28 October 2016

The God who offers us home

The God who offers us home

Sara Hyde works with women in the criminal justice system, is an activist and campaigner and vice chair of the Fabian Women's Network.

There are many things that I feel are viscerally core, unassailable parts of my faith. Home and homecoming is one such theme - from the story of the prodigal son and the promise of the many rooms in the Father's house in the Sunday school of my childhood to my adult awareness of how the Holy Spirit indwells in us.

Another core tenant is God as relational, who reaches out in love: it's foundational to everything when we reflect on the Trinity - a constant loving flow between the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. Eve being created because Adam was alone. Jesus having the 12 and within that the three men he shared most deeply with. Relationship is so often the conduit for God to work and to heal: either directly or through human relationship.

Watching images of the destruction of the migrant camp in Calais, I wonder about this God of homecoming, the God born as a baby in a structure not fit to house human life who became a refugee. There are 65 million forcibly displaced people worldwide - that's the same number of people who live in the UK today. What does that do to our notions of home and homecoming?

Would it be different if it was our town or village 300 km from Calais, which was receiving two coach loads of people from the 5,500 moved on from "the jungle", with little warning or government support?

Jesus was an itinerant, some might say homeless, preacher. He trusted in God to make small physical provisions - for example two loaves and five fishes - to be enough to fulfil the hungry 5,000 as he broke it and shared it. God takes the meagre things we offer and in his generosity uses them in ways we can't imagine.

If we have worked hard and sacrificed things to acquire our homes, our belongings, our assets, are we ready to give it back to the king to see what He does with it?

Generosity should challenge us. Hospitality should be difficult, otherwise it's just having your mates round for dinner. How much do we go out of our way to build relationship in our homes with those that are not immediately obvious as people like us?

Obviously, I don't need to venture as far as Calais to see people in need of home. As I follow the passage of the controversial Housing and Planning Act through parliament and watch carefully the preparation for today's Homelessness Reduction Private Members' Bill, if we are to be 'little Christs' how can we legislate for homes for the many that need them?

But there are injustices that require not just the triage of a foodbank or night shelter, but fundamental societal, structural change. Through my work and from a position of privilege, I have sat in Department of Work and Pensions work readiness assessments and have repeatedly witnessed people with severe mental health diagnoses asked if they need help to go to the toilet to judge if they are ready for work; a person who, due to a DWP mess up, had their Job Seeker's Allowance stopped before their Employment Support Allowance had started and shoplifted to feed the children, bailiffs at the door due to unpaid debts, at risk of losing their home.

What does the God who offers us home make of this? The God who loves us each and every one?

As Church and as little Christs we need to engage with solutions above and beyond individual acts of kindness and seek to change the structures that make homelessness and injustice prevalent today.

To live to see justice roll like rivers and righteousness like a never failing stream through each and every part of our society (Amos 5:18-24).