Monthly Archives: September 2010
Sermon for September 26, 2010
Lectionary texts for the 18th Sunday after Pentecost: Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15; Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16; 1 Timothy 6:6-19; Luke 16:19-31
There’s a thread that runs through Jesus’ entire message. In fact, it may be the thread that runs through the great faith traditions of the world. What might be called ‘the universal message’ that we’re to hear is: “how do I fit into the big picture?”
In a way, that’s always what we ask of ourselves when we start thinking about our existence, isn’t it? What’s my life about? What’s the point of my being here? And if I’m here, why are we all here? Is my life for me, or is it for us? And if it’s for us, how will my life have mattered when it’s over?
Today is Canadian Lutheran World Relief Sunday. In case you’re not familiar with it, here is some information…
Canadian Lutheran World Relief (CLWR) is one of Canada’s oldest relief and development agencies. Formed in 1946 as a response to the humanitarian crisis in post-war Europe, CLWR has grown to serve the world’s poor and disenfranchised in six main ways: Refugee resettlement; Material aid shipments including quilts and kits; Emergency relief; Community development; International Volunteer Service; Alternative trade.
CLWR is a registered charitable organization headquartered in Winnipeg with offices in Toronto and Vancouver as well as an international office in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. Funding comes from Lutherans, other Canadians of goodwill and various levels of government. It is an agency of both the ELCIC and LCC churches in Canada, and only four cents of every dollar donated to CLWR is spent on adminstration costs. (www.clwr.org)
CLWR works internationally with an organization called “Action by Churches Together International” (ACT).
ACT International is a faith-based alliance with members drawn from the membership of the World Council of Churches and the Lutheran World Federation. Members of ACT are drawn from the membership of the World Council of Churches and The Lutheran World Federation. ACT members may be individual churches, national church or Christian councils, regional ecumenical bodies, or church-related agencies. (www.act-intl.org)
Working ecumenically, organizations like CLWR (and Presbyterian, Christian Reformed, Anglican, and United groups) are able to accomplish more and not replicate each other’s work, but rather enhance and build on it.
And, unlike the old colonialist model of missionary-work, the work of CLWR is designed to build up local communities wherever they may be. Here’s a story from CLWR’s work…
For centuries, peoples of the Inca / Quechua culture in Chayanta Province, Bolivia, have survived on a complex rotation of crops such as quinoa, faba beans, peas and oats, plus staple crops such as potatoes, oca and izaño. With the introduction of commercial products, these native plants were put in danger of extinction. CLWR is partnering with Institututo Politecnico Tomas Katari (IPTK) to rescue the ancient agricultural knowledge of indigenous peoples of the region.
One strategy being used is to train community promoters and organize an association of organic producers of native tuberous produce. Among these chosen leaders are Dominga Barcaya and one of her children, Rita Barcaya, who reside in the community of Ura Rodeo. Dominga and Rita have participated in practical workshops and visits to other projects and farm plots. Dominga has been elected president of the women’s group in the community and Rita is the agriculture promoter in the community. Both are also trained to provide basic veterinary skills for small animal livestock and in the use of medicinal plants.
Dominga and Rita’s own garden features 80 native varieties of potatoes and 20 of oca (a native tuber),onions, lettuces, tomatoes and carrots. They also are using natural dyes to bring ancient colours to traditional webbings that are shown in fairs and in regional markets.
This past April, Rita, along with other promoters from 10 communities, travelled to the city of Cochabamba to display her potatoes and ocas for seed bank and germ plasma training programs organized by CLWR. Thirty-five people representing five partners from Bolivia and Peru were present to exchange experiences. Rita, given her young age, made an unforgettable impact. By nature, Dominga’s family has leadership qualities. Another of her seven children,17-year-old Humberto, is student president at the high school he attends.
You can hear how this is not a situation where we – as rich, Christian, northern-hemisphere dwellers – are exploiting the resources of a poor country, or where we’re trying to convert people with conditional help. This is work being done to help empower people, and to help them profit from traditional ways of raising food so that those methods can go on in a sustainable manner. This is alternative to, for example, the Nestle or Monsanto form of development: “use our method so that we can make money off you.”
How do I fit into the big picture?
When we look at global need, and we look at what we have, that must be the question we ask ourselves. It’s sort of a magnifying lens that’s placed over us, and then we must take a smaller lens and look at our lives and how we’re contributing – or perhaps not – to good or bad systems.
Did you hear the two systems just mentioned? We’re part of both. Let me note them again. The work of Canadian Lutheran World Relief, along with other such organizations, offers help in ways that sustain and build up a community by, for example, helping local people learn about traditional methods of farming and crops that are native to their lands. By contrast, the work of corporations – be they mining companies, or agribusiness, or what-have-you – corporations have as their main interest the bottom-line for their share-holders, so sustainability and the local environment are of lesser consequence.
We – as Canadians – are involved in both. We can contribute to our church’s life, and build up work like that of CLWR. We also contribute – through our choices we make as consumers, as well as our investments of time and money – to companies and corporations seeking to make a buck off the backs of the global poor.
“There was a rich man…who feasted sumptuously…at his gate lay a poor man…who longed to satisfy his hunger…”
The gospel text we hear, today, contrasts how we live now and holds up the long-term consequences. How do we want to be remembered after this life? How does our living, now and after we’re gone, affect those around us – near and far?
A colleague of mine posted this on Facebook this week: [I am] the 59 millionth richest person in the world, putting [me] in the top .98 percentile.
I suspect we’re all in that top one-percent of, well, rich people! We may not even consider the riches we have at our finger-tips because we’ll look only at our net income and sulk. But the fact is, just by having systems in place so that we can access health care, or can get an education, or find subsidized-housing, or get some help if we’re hungry – even though we may not need them – just having those available are riches that keep us from being in need.
And if we’re each in a position of having more than that – perhaps owning our own homes, or perhaps having a car (or more than one), or perhaps having a membership at a gym, or perhaps affording a holiday away each year – if we have that ‘extra’ that makes what we have more than enough, we must work for the needs of those who don’t even have enough.
I’m pleased that several of us contributed to the Pakistan flood cause recently. Now, what about those who are hurting in the Congo? What about the ongoing fear in which people live in Afghanistan? Closer to home, we might even see the floods that followed the hurricane in Newfoundland-area as a place of need we can help address.
Small as we are, and poor as we may feel as a congregation at times – we are in a privileged position. At All Saints, we also have the gift of seeing beyond ourselves: we seek to be active in the community around. Can we further that activism? Can we each reach a little deeper into our personal coffers to share of what we have and make it possible for others to come a bit closer to the level of luxury we enjoy? Can we help others have enough?
It really is up to us. On a local level, we may fear for our own future as a congregation, or perhaps personally for our retirement savings, and such. But if we can see our place in the big picture – recognize that there is abundance with which we’ve been entrusted, and help to meet the scarcity that exists elsewhere – we can do so much more!
Let the Eucharist be the reminder for you of how we all journey together. We all share of the one loaf; we all share of the one cup. Let our baptism be the reminder of how God loves all; God is with all; God sees the gift that we all are and wants for us to see the importance of each other.
Work to satisfy the need – the real hunger – of the world around
The House of Commons went back to work in Ottawa this week, after Summer break.
A part of my MP’s response to me – which I suspect was a response to any letter asking about Bill C-300 (since I know someone else who got the same response) – was: “Bill C-300 is the first item to debated in the House on Monday morning. Look forward to hearing if there are any changes since in its present form, I am unable to support Bill C-300 because certain provisions have the potential of hurting our own Canadian companies by opening the door to punitive lawsuits meant to forward the political or competitive agendas of others without guaranteeing improved conditions for the people of the host country.”
I wonder about that statement: “improved conditions for the people of the host country.” What conditions need improving? Canadian companies have the ability to go in, take resources, and leave – no long-term consequences. Is it about making the ‘conditions’ more lucrative for our companies? Is that all that matters? What about the cost to local people and the planet?
On Monday, John McKay, Liberal MP who brought the bill forward, proposed a few amendments to it. According to Amnesty International‘s website, the Bill is expected to have its second hour of debate on October 26th, and the vote is expected to occur shortly afterwards, around October 27th or November 3rd.
It seems to me that we need to be making strides to look out for the well-being of our global neighbours. If our main concern is profit for Canadian companies, what happens to peoples’ health in those communities where resource-extracting is taking place? What happens to the environment? Is there a care for the long-term effects of our Canadian mining companies in those ‘far-away places’?
With yesterday as International Day of Prayer for Peace (or International Day of Peace, recognized by the UN), it seems to me that care for humanity and the earth – the common strands that run through all cultures and societies everywhere – would be significant steps in the direction of peace.
If you’re Jewish, today is Yom Kippur. (I admit that I forgot until I saw a tweet from Michael Moore mentioning it.)
In the past week, I’ve delved in to a variety of expression of faith and values. Last Saturday, September 11, there was a multi-faith gathering in support of religious freedom and diversity which I helped to organize with the local Unitarian minister. Last evening, there was an event organized by the newly-formed chapter of Centre for Inquiry – a group geared towards atheists, agnostics, and skeptics – and they invited a scholar to speak about genocide and crimes against humanity (a scholar who identified himself as a ‘freethinker’).
I’ve wondered – perhaps even more this week – about what it is I, as a clergy-person, lead people in doing. As most anyone in my community would tell you, our community gathers people with diverse opinions on faith and politics, and we come from a variety of backgrounds.
As a Lutheran Christian, I read the Bible from a particular perspective. I do not believe it to be “God’s word” as the Muslim people believe the Koran to be divinely inspired. I believe it to be a ‘cradle for Christ,” that is, Jesus’ story is in it and, as Christians, we follow Jesus, so if there is material in the Bible that is contrary to what Jesus is about, then it is of secondary (or even negligible) importance.
As a Lutheran Christian, I understand God in a certain way – and other Lutherans have freedom in their understanding of God, as well. Personally, I believe God to be ‘the source of life.” So, Jesus was God-incarnate insofar as Jesus lived in ways that were life-giving to all people – giving opportunity to oppressed people, showing hospitality and generosity to those on the margins, and speaking out against injustice. And the Spirit is that which draws us together so we can work together – I think everyone’s experienced a “oneness” with others, be it on a building site working together, or at a concert singing together. In a nutshell, that’s how I understand the Trinity, and ‘God’ is how I frame my experience.
Living out my Lutheran version of Christianity, I find prayer helpful. I’m not disciplined in my prayer life in the sense that I pray each morning when I wake up, and each evening before bed. But I do find prayer in community gathering time to be a good thing because it keeps us, collectively, mindful of need in the world – be it individuals dealing with illness, or nations dealing with unrest. Prayer is not a wish-list I expect to be filled, or some kind of direct-line to a divine one who will intervene, but rather it is pause and intentional reflection.
I’ve said it before, and I would reiterate that community life – and that gathering time that takes place (usually on Sunday) – is a time to hear again what our values are and how we might live them out daily. When we gather, we do things that make us vulnerable with each other: we sing, we eat, and we share stories together. In North American culture, we’ve moved away from these kinds of activities: we’d sooner listen to the radio or mp3-player, we’re more likely to grab fast-food, and we’re more drawn in by the sensational ‘reality’ stories on TV or special effects-laden films in the theatre. So the time of community gathering is a time to do something alternative to our usual routines, and then to take that in to our daily living.
Even as a leader in the church, and trying to model good living as well as preach about it, I am far from perfect. That, perhaps, is one of the big criticisms of the Christian church – saying one thing and living another. And that’s another place where the Christian movement needs to change. What is a life of integrity? What do we expect of each other and our leaders? For myself, I might need to make atonement for the hypocrisy in my life – preaching love and forgiveness, and at the same time occasionally flying-off-the-handle at my daughter, for example. For others, maybe atoning needs to happen around expectations and desires versus needs and just living. …we could probably all go for that: working at being what we say we want people to be in this world.
The local Unitarian minister and I have been in touch this week to organize a multi-faith gathering for September 11th.
With news of a pastor in the States who was threatening to mark this anniversary of the NY tragedy by burning the Koran, I think it’s fitting to gather together as diverse faith groups to show the community that we care about each other.
Religion doesn’t often get positive press these days. There are tensions between groups, even within the same faith. It’s important to do the work of seeking understanding and acceptance.
Religion is also a conveyor of culture. So our multi-faith gathering is an opportunity to share our diverse backgrounds and learn of each other’s culture.
Peace to all in the world – those with and those not claiming a faith tradition.