God’s Dream, Our Hope

5743984911_db52566ee5_o.jpgPhoto Credit: “Hope”, © 2011 Steve Snodgrass, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

I have a confession to make. I’ve been in a dark place this last month.

My anxiety level has been rising as I’ve immersed myself in news about the world, news that doesn’t seem to be getting any better, news that highlights just how dark humanity is to one another. Where little girls aren’t necessarily safe with their fathers and tears seem to flow more freely than love and kindness. Where women political leaders are called by every venomous description that can be hurled at them and they have to have security to protect them from individuals who threaten death. Where swastikas are spray painted on churches and people feel free in public to tell others of different faiths to return home where they supposedly belong.

If you’re like me and you find yourself immersed in the online conversation you have noticed that it continues to get more vile and the divide grows deeper as lines are drawn over domestic policy. We begin to wonder if we are really any better off with this internet that was to unite us than we were before.

But even as the temptation is to blame the online conversation, the question arises as to whether the online conversation is any different from coffee rows throughout Saskatchewan where people gather to complain bitterly and gossip about just who is to blame for the latest juicy tidbit. Is it really any different from coffee shops where people whisper and gossip about those neighbours who look different, act differently and worship differently from them? Is it really any different from those times in history where whole groups were blamed for the ills of human society?

Or has it just given a voice to deeply held fears being manifested in hate and blame? In the face of uncertainty ad changing times, is it just easier to blame others making other groups of people other than those who we call our own to blame for the mess humanity finds itself in?

I have more questions than answers these days and this past month any illusion that I held about humanity’s glories were shattered as again and again we’ve been witness to our hell bent intent on the destruction of ourselves and others. Despair has threatened to settle into my heart and my soul, making me wonder if all that I’m called to do is for naught.

Then through that darkness, that anxiety, that despair these words of Isaiah pierced this week as I prepared for service:

 In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

These words pierce through all of the hate, all of the evil that we visit on each other and they cast before us another way, the way of God, the dream of God for our humanity, for our world, for us and I have to say that I’m filled with hope.

They are the words of a prophet and as Eric Baretto says, “Perhaps the most important role of the prophet is rousing us from our stupor. When we get tired, when we are weary of resisting, when we are told over and over again that this is how things are going to be, the prophet’s call is clear. God has something better for us. Something liberating. Something just. Something transformative.”[1]

And it reminds me to hope.

Hope not in the illusions of humanity’s ability to bring about that justice but for God’s ability to work through our destruction and raise us all to new life.  It reminds me to hope for the coming of Christ into the world in which we really live, not the one in which we wish to see. It reminds me to hope for a future that makes manifest this dream of God even in the face of our destruction.

That’s the tension and the gift of Advent for us as we move towards preparing for Christ’s arrival, in our world, now and in the future. Where we find ourselves immersed in the tension of the reality of the darkness and the hope of Christ’s coming in the future.

It’s why Advent is such an important part of the church year. Advent is an opportunity to live with the reality of our own restlessness in order to prepare us for the amazing gift of love that is the Christmas story.

Advent allows us to live within the stark reality in order to hear the message of hope and new life that can be found in God’s dream for us and God’s gift for our whole world.

So as we face squarely the reality of the bleakness of our violence and our destruction, let us also face squarely the hope of the Lord, that in days to come God will bring about a new thing. That in days to come, our violence will be no more. That in days to come in the kingdom of God, our weapons of war will become implements of peace.

Advent reminds us of this truth and this hope, that in the face of all the terror, we can say “Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!” because we know that God’s dream will be our future hope and future reality. Thanks be to God.

[1] http://www.onscripture.com/prophetic-resistance

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King of Peace

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Photo Credit: “Stations of the Cross (St. Mary’s Menston) 12”, © 2008 St. Mary’s Menston, Flickr | CC-BY-SA | via Wylio

When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.⟦Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”⟧ And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”   One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”  Luke 23:33-34

Perhaps you’ve heard this story being talked about this fall: it’s about this group of homeless people in Regina who are moving around from location to location, trying to find a place to put up their tent shelters, a place to call home. Police are continuously checking on them and landowners evict them. During the day many are panhandling to make some kind of a living.[1] But at night they sit around the fire sharing what they have with one another finding a home together in community.

They have indicated when interviewed that some struggle with addiction and they don’t feel at home in the shelters. They have felt that the shelters that provide for the homeless have too many hoops to be jumped through and they are tired of fighting the system.

Joseph Redwood, one of the residents of the tent community speaks out of what must be his despair saying, “I’m not going to fight for it and I’m not going to argue for it, cause it’s always a losing battle…it’s always the same answer, ‘I’m sorry we can’t help you.’”[2]

They aren’t even very surprised when they are evicted from place after place.

Now I know there are two sides to every story.

Perhaps their addictions have caused many of the problems that they are facing. Perhaps those shelters and the social service agencies have given them more chances than they care to admit. Perhaps the community that they have found amongst themselves is fostering destructive ways to themselves, to each other and to the community at large.

We don’t know the full story and we probably never will from where we sit because we are not God.

But there is one thing that we do know that has been true throughout the ages and although we would like to think that our society is better than this, it is not.

That the rules that are created, whether intentional or not, have the effect of placing some people on the inside, and others on the outside.  So that those who in their positions in our structures and institutions, hold sway over the lives of others and despite whatever good intentions they have continue to make life difficult for those who cannot or will not conform.

And so we find situations just like this where Joseph Redwood and his community while attempting to find their own solution to the problems that they are facing run right into those whose job it is to enforce the rules that were made.

These officials may just be doing their job but there is the sense that perhaps the rules and the laws are not for the benefit of all people, but for the people who make them. All the while those who are on the outside are always seen as being on the wrong side of the rules or the law because they don’t fit into our systems and our ways of doing things.

So in the end, we blame the one who finds themselves on the wrong side of the system for not towing the line. We blame their addictions and their choices for the situation they find themselves in, all the while forgetting that we too have our own addictions and our own bad choices but we are just a little better at presenting a veneer of having it altogether to the world at large.

We forget that we are just better at fitting in and living within the system works for us and for our particular sins.

At least until we are confronted with the cross.

  • The cross who by the legal standards of the time was one of the consequences for not following the law of the land.
  • The cross upon which God was nailed for loving those on the outside: those like the woman who had to come to the well in the middle of the day because she didn’t follow the rules of her society, those like the prostitute who was shamed for anointing Jesus feet with oil, those like the demon possessed man who was chained outside of the community and kept everyone in fear.
  • The cross which the law abiding, religious people of the day, used to do away with someone who made them uncomfortable, who challenged the way that laws were used to keep the outsider, an outsider even though he or she was a child of God.

Yes, on this cross, we are confronted our violence but we are also confronted with the love and mercy of God that overcomes our violence.

On the cross, we see the love of Christ reach out to the one on the outside. We see the hand of mercy given to that thief; the thief who recognized his own fault but even more so recognized that he was in the presence of God.

On the cross, we see Christ’s promise God’s kingdom to this one who could not or would not follow the laws of the land. We see Jesus promise him the presence of God even as the institutions of the day kept him out and in the end put him to death.

Nothing has really changed from that day to ours. The ones on the inside use the rules of the day to keep people in their place. And sometimes even we in the church do so.

We bemoan the fact that Christianity no longer has the power or the influence that it once did, not really remembering that having that power allowed us to keep others on the outside for way too long. Our history is not only a history of the promise of God but all too often, we have found ourselves on the side of powerful against the outsider.

So instead of grieving the power that has slipped completely from our fingertips, let us be thankful that we no longer are bound by that power but are free to live under the reign of another King:

  • a King who changes the rules so that there is never an outsider again
  • a King who lets go of all power for the sake us, for the sake of the ones in need, for the sake of reconciliation and forgiveness
  • a King who takes all of the worst we can give and makes it new

Serving this King may set us at odds with the King makers of this world, but it also frees us to be the church in the world that we are called to be: a church that is “helping humanity…those who are exploited, destitute and struggling to survive.”[3]

The cross may show us our worst. But it also shows us God’s best – the love of God that redeems our worst and makes it into something new, something beautiful, something full of life. Thanks be to God.

 

[1] http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/programs/morningedition/when-life-took-a-turn-joseph-redwood-ended-up-living-on-regina-s-streets-he-shares-his-story-with-sheila-coles-1.3853131 and http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/homeless-wascana-park-regina-1.3840736.

 

[2]Ibid.

[3] https://sojo.net/articles/have-we-forgotten-point-christianity

For all the saints

6210980691_822cc485bc_o.jpgPhoto Credit: “World Communion Table”, © 2011 wplynn, Flickr | CC-BY-ND | via Wylio

 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance,* having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14this* is the pledge of our inheritance towards redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory. 15 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love* towards all the saints, and for this reason 16I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. 17I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. 20God* put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. 22And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. Ephesians 1:11-23.

       When my mom and dad downsized and moved into a much smaller home, they asked me and my siblings to decide what furniture we would like to have from the house since they would not have room in their new location for it. I don’t remember how we got there, but I was happy with the outcome. I would get the dining room table.

This dining room table first sat in the household of my great, great grandmother. My parents received the table when they married and it sat in our dining room table for as long as I can remember.

It is a part of the story of our family.

I remember it most sitting in our dining room at the farm in Goderich ON. But most of all, I remember the stories of those that I cared for as they gathered round that dining room table:

Like the one the every day occurrence of setting the table sometimes with all of mom’s finery, waiting for my siblings and their families to arrive for holiday meals. There are memories of playing crokinole with my family and one particularly memorable game when my Grandpa Steckle and my nephew played together one Christmas.

I remember putting together the only 500 piece puzzle I ever did with my friend Laura Campbell one New Year’s Eve and icing Christmas cookies with my Grandma Erb. I remember many Christmas celebrations as we filled that dining room with not only that table but two other ones as the Erb family held their traditional Christmas get together.

I remember sitting there uncomfortably while my boyfriend at the time met my big brothers and their families on my 18th birthday. I remember ‘studying’ for a French exam with Michelle as we prepared tortierre and crepes. I remember hosting my first dinner party as I gathered with my friends as we returned home to celebrate the holidays during my college years.

That dining room table is a symbol of a connection to the stories of my childhood and they all make up a part of who I am.

In 2006, my aunt and uncle visited us to celebrate with me, my ordination. They brought with them that table with all of its memories from my past.

From then on, it proudly sat in our dining room here in Esterhazy. In its way that dining room table connected me not only to the people of my past but it also connected me to my present life here in Saskatchewan.

As Darryl and I began our life together, we not only created new memories of our own, we were connected to a sense of heritage, a family, something that was bigger than just he and I.

So, when I would feed my children their first tastes of solid food at that table, we shared something in common with the many babies who had been fed at that table. When we would sit down and pray together before meals, or at meetings with some of you, we were connected to all those of faith who had gathered to pray at that table.

Who we are as a family, is connected to that table because we share in something bigger. We share in a long line of human beings sticking it out as family through thick and thin. We share the life blood of the past that connects us to the hope of the future.

We are a large part of who we because of our stories and that table reminds us of those stories and our connection to something that is bigger than we are, bigger than our failures, bigger than our successes. It is about community and love.

That’s exactly the kind of gathering, the kind of church, the kind of being together as a people of faith that we remember on this All Saints Sunday.

We are remembering that as we gather around this table:

we are gathering with those who have gone before us in faith, the ones we remember and the ones we do not.

we are gathering with those who are present with us and those who are not.

we are gathering around this table with the ones who are to come.

And we are gathering together in hope with Christ as our host, receiving sustenance and life “because in Christ we have also obtained an inheritance…so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.”[1]

We gather around this table in all our fears and our frailities, in all our hopes and our dreams, in all of who we are redeemed by the Christ who calls, who gathers us, and who moves within us to draw us all to God.

Some of them we remember, like the ones that we are naming today and we feel the grief of their physical absence.

Some of whose names are forgotten in history but who God remembers and brings into the communion with us.

Some of them we have never known but their stories have been shared down through the ages pointing us toward God.

And we are all gathered here connected in the body of Christ as one.

We do have a connection to all those who have come before and to all those that will yet come…Jesus Christ.

This past Monday, on the 499th anniversary of the Reformation, the world witnessed the coming together of Roman Catholics and Lutherans in a Cathedral in Lund worshiping that Christ despite our differences and our violent history.

We gathered and we prayed.

We gathered and we sang.

We gathered from all places and from all times to witness the reconciling love of Christ.

So today, as we remember those who have personally touched our lives with their faith, as we remember those who have died in the past year, we join in song with all of those from all times and all places celebrating our connection still to one another. But more than that, together we point to something bigger than us, a God who tells the story that nothing keeps us separate from this God who wildly and recklessly love us and draws us all to him.

Thanks be to God!

[1] Ephesians 1:11-12.