Monthly Archives: February 2011
(This is my sermon for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost. It draws significantly on material by Walter Brueggemann, found in his book “Journey to the Common Good,” which is based on lectures he delivered in October, 2008.)
You may have heard politicians speak about public versus private service-providers. It is incumbent upon us, as people of faith, to call on our elected representatives to take responsibility for services that all need access to – to keep things like health care and education public, and to work for things like housing for all.
Theologian, Walter Brueggemann, frames scripture, and our role as modern interpreters in it, in a few ways. Among those is the image of the neighbourhood – we all have a role to play in society, and with the environment. How we treat our fellow creatures and creation reflects the kind of neighbours we are – the kind of people we are in relation to others. Brueggemann also frames Hebrew Scripture from the story of the exodus. In short, all of Hebrew Scripture is a lament on the loss of Jerusalem, and the oral tradition was put to paper during the time of the exile – so that permeates the narrative that has survived for our reading, today. Part of that exodus story involves the move away from Pharaoh’s slave-supported production-consumption society to a wilderness where people trusted in God’s providing – where all have enough. Here are some reflections and scholarly remarks about how Jesus would have connected with Hebrew Scripture and conveyed it to his followers, as in the gospel text we hear for this day.
The great crisis among us is the crisis of “the common good,” the sense of community solidarity that binds all in a common destiny – haves and have-nots, the rich and the poor. We face a crisis about the common good because there are powerful forces at work among us to resist the common good, to violate community solidarity, and to deny a common destiny. Mature people, at their best, are people who are committed to the common good that reaches beyond private interest, transcends sectarian commitments, and offers human solidarity. (Brueggemann, p.1)
The ideology of scarcity has been broken, overwhelmed by the divine gift of abundance.
It is our propensity, in society and in church, to trust the narrative of scarcity. That is what makes us greedy, and exclusive, and selfish, and coercive. Even the Eucharist can be made into an occasion of scarcity, as though there were not enough for all. Such scarcity leads to exclusion at the table, even as scarcity leads to exclusion from economic life.
But the narrative of abundance persists among us. Those who sign on and depart the system of anxious scarcity become the historymakers in the neighbourhood. These are the ones not exhausted by Sabbath-less production who have enough energy to dream and hope. From dreams and hopes come such neighbourly miracles as good health care, good schools, good housing, good care for the earth, and disarmament. The dream subverts Pharaoh’s nightmare, Jesus laid it out, having read the exodus narrative:
“Do not be anxious” – do not trust Pharaoh; “Your heavenly father knows what you need” – then provides abundantly; “Seek the kingdom” – care for the neighbourhood, and all will be well. (Matt 6:25-33)
The ones who receive the gift have energy beyond themselves for the sake of the world. And we, if we receive well, may be among those who push beyond ourselves. (pp.34-35)
Brueggemann shows that God is not a passive actor in the unfolding story of Israel – which includes us. God is an active participant. In reflections on the prophet Jeremiah, Brueggemann states that YHWH is the one with active verbs; the one with remarkable adjectives!
Here is YHWH’s triad, which we might first state in Hebrew: hesed, mispat, sedequah.
– Steadfast love (hesed) is to stand in solidarity, to honour commitments, to be reliable toward all the partners.
– Justice (mispat) in [Hebrew Scripture] concerns distribution in order to make sure that all members of the community have access to resources and goods for the sake of a viable life of dignity. […]
– Righteousness (sedequah) concerns active intervention in social affairs, taking an initiative to intervene effectively in order to rehabilitate society, to respond to social grievance, and to correct every humanity-diminishing activity
This triad, hesed, mispat, sedequah, is everywhere present in [Hebrew Scripture] talk about divine purpose and about Israel’s covenantal life in the world. (pp.62-63)
No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? (Matt 6:24-25)
Jesus understands that his disciples were a lot like the world in their several anxieties. He urges them to be different, to be more like trustful creatures (lilies and birds) and less like acquisitive operators. He observes the easy trust and the daily responsiveness of lilies and birds and then he says, in one of his most remarkable utterances:
Yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. (Matt 6:29)
Solomon! Solomon of the great triad of wisdom, might, and wealth! Be unlike Solomon in pursuit of control and domination and safety. Be unlike the triad of Pharaoh, unlike the triad of the national security state, unlike the triad of old certitudes:
For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (32-33)
The cadences of hesed, mispat, and sedequah continue to sound. They are a minority voice of subversion and alternative, and they have been entrusted to such as us. (Brueggemann, Journey to the Common Good, pp. 71-72)
Steadfast love, justice, and righteousness – honour commitments, ensure that all have access to what they need in life, actively intervene when humanity-diminishing activity is taking place! We are called into this living out of steadfast love, justice, and righteousness which has been modeled first for us by a gracious and loving God.
We have all that we need around us – the world has resources of food, of shelter, of clothing, and all that we need – and we are called to work at the equitable distribution of those things so all have enough. Strive first for this kind of just living, and you will not need to worry about your needs in the future.
It was four hundred and sixty-five years ago, yesterday, that Martin Luther died in Eisleben, Germany (February 18th, 1546). Of course, when we’re dealing with history that dates back so many centuries, some of the historical accuracy gets lost in legend, but there are a few parts of the story of the last days of Martin Luther’s life that stick out for me.
This 16th Century, Roman Catholic, German monk was a bur in the side of the church of his day. At the time, the church had a great deal of power and influence – one might even say that the Roman church of the 16th century was the most powerful multi-national corporation in the world. Luther, theologian and scholar that he was, wanted to free people of what he saw as guilt- and fear-induced bondage to the church. In his study of scripture, he came to the conclusion that God is a god of grace. We are not meant to live in fear, but to live in the freedom that God is with us, loves us, and knows us, no matter who we are – a word of hope to people who were being told things like their dead relatives would be held indefinitely in ‘purgatory’ until they purchased, out of their meager incomes, indulgences to buy them out of their suffering.
In Luther’s last days, he sensed that his life would not be a lot longer. So, he took a trip to the city of his birth, Eisleben (he was born November 10th, 1483, and baptized on the 11th – feast day of Martin of Tours, hence his given-name!). It is said that, in the last sermon he preached – just days before his death, and on the last Sunday he was alive – he ended with words to this effect: “I could go on about this passage for a while longer, but those thoughts can wait for another sermon.” In the prayer Luther is said to have prayed on his death-bed, he refers to the pope as “shameful” and one who doesn’t truly convey what Jesus Christ was about.
It might be our twenty-first century minds that find it funny that someone like Luther – born and raised in the Roman Catholic Church, also educated, and a priest of the church – could rail against the institution of his up-bringing until the very last, as he did. There might even be something satisfying about seeing that kind of despising of the institution by a person like Luther. However, I believe Luther came more from a point of view that all have worth and all are to be freed to be who they are.
It is so easy to allow one’s-self to become wrapped up in one’s own pursuits, and our institutions do it, too. We seek self-preservation – perhaps even at all costs. Turn a blind eye to that person’s suffering over there because we’re having enough trouble trying to live the life we want over here – thinking nothing of how our living can affect the life of another.
Social justice has to do with considering the needs of others all the time. If our needs are met, we don’t sit back and enjoy our lap of luxury, we look to the needs of others. We try to put ourselves in others’ places and consider how life does or does not treat us well, and we work for justice where all have enough.
Tomorrow is World Day of Social Justice. It’s a day designated by the UN and began in 2009. It’s a day where we might all open our eyes to need around us, and take responsibility for our place in the world and the footprints we leave in our wake. May each of us find, in our living, how life is about how we are all connected – all people, all creatures – and how we must be aware of, and work for, the needs of all.
I’m going to keep this brief.
I just returned from hearing Burnaby-New Westminster MP, Peter Julian, speak about the proposed Canada-European Union Trade Agreement. I must say, I’m disappointed, once again, with our current federal government. This is an attempt to sell our country, as have been previous attempts like the proposed SPP, MAI, FTAA, and other such ‘free trade’ agreements. (The current agreement, NAFTA, has one redeeming feature about it: should Canada – or any other participating country – decide to leave the agreement, they could give six months notice and be out. Other proposed agreements have included clauses that would, for example, lock us in to an agreement for years, even a decade or longer. …allowing corporations access to Canada’s resources even beyond what Canada might be able to provide, and then legal battles could ensue.)
What bothers me about “CETA” are things like removing the option for municipalities to have only local produce sold at a municipal building (a community rec centre, for example), and putting the Canadian Wheat Board on the chopping block when, in fact, it works in Canadian farmers’ interests and they have worked to keep it going.
This bothers me because we’re allowing a corporate agenda to get in to our country, and once it’s in, policies become entrenched and difficult to reverse (without expensive legal battles that could bankrupt our nation in the process).
We need to keep Canada Canadian. I’m not saying that we need to be rigidly nationalistic. What I mean is that our country has certain elements of its identity that are key, and we need to work – even fight – to keep them. …like public education and health care. …like care for environment – including water resources, and wildlife, and parks and nature.
With what I’ve heard of the outgoing-dictator-president of Egypt, Mubarak, and his billions, I think we might do well to question the motives of those who are not explicitly working to maintain public programs and services for the people. Even in a democracy like Canada’s, we must work to maintain accessible services for all.
(Okay – I said I’d be brief. I’m stopping there. Please, PLEASE ask questions about policies and legislation that seem to lack transparency and seem to further corporate agendas instead of care for people and environment. How? Contact your MP! Be pro-active!)