Fair’s Fair, Right?

This sermon was prepared for the United Theological College’s weekly chapel service. Year A, Proper 20.

Have you ever felt like you were being treated unfairly? That everyone else got more time, more stuff, or didn’t have to work quite as hard?

Growing up in a family of three, having everything be “fair” was a really big deal—partially because my parents stressed equality, but also because it’s tricky dividing things into thirds.

It was always five slices of pizza if the adults got some, and chocolate bars divided into three’s for the kids. Funny how so few packages of candy in threes—it’s always two or four—which almost always meant a struggle at our house.

It was very important for things to be fair.

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Reading of Matthew 20:1-16

***

I interpret this passage, in light of the rest of the Book of Matthew, to represent God’s plan to include Gentiles in Jesus’ message of hope—extending it beyond Judaism to include others who didn’t get “in on the ground floor”, a topic we all know there some tension around in the early Jesus movement.

But, what does it mean for you and me?

This is a story about God’s justice—a confusing, infuriating justice that isn’t fair. God’s grace isn’t proportional to our faith, our prayer life, or our martyr-complex, even if we sometimes act like it is. God’s grace is abundant and available to everyone—equally.

And yet, sometimes we want to limit or contain it when it comes to what others receive.

Sometimes we want to say that God’s grace is only for people who’ve read the right theologians, who subscribe to the same kind of biblical criticism as we like, who have an inclusive theology, who think kids should be welcome in our church services… Sometimes we think God’s grace is only for the impoverished or the marginalized.

God may have a preferential option for the poor, but his grace is abundant and available to everyone, equally. With the caveat that we’re willing to accept it.

God also lacks the corruption of a human employer, who might not “play fair” to manipulate or punish. Instead, God invites all people into the fields and all workers to the bounty. He seeks out those who have been left behind and invites them to join in.

And, he challenges us, who’ve been at it a while longer, who feel like we’ve been working harder, to put aside our human concept of what’s “fair”. There is no “fair” in the Kingdom of God. Instead, those who would normally have less receive an abundance, and those who expected more get just the same.

There’s a popularized saying making the rounds right now: when you’ve experienced privilege, equality feels like oppression.

Just like the elder brother in the parable of the prodigal son, just like Peter being chastised to continue to forgive others, sometimes God needs to knock us down a peg—to remind us that God’s kingdom plays by a different set of rules.

And, thank God, they’re not our rules, which so often are manifestations of our self-centeredness and bitterness. Instead, we’re invited into a kinship where there is work and bounty for all, which is better than fair.

Amen.

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Unsplash.com | Igor Ovsyannykov

Have we lost our saltiness?

This sermon was prepared for Chapel at the United Theological College / La Seminaire Unie for February 1st, 2017 (based on the following Sunday’s lectionary, Epiphany 5). This was the Wednesday following the shooting at le Centre Culturel Islamique du Québec on January 29th, 2017, in Québec.

I had another sermon prepared, that is, until 10pm Sunday night. I had another service prepared until Zack called to me down the hall.

After I had heard about the events at the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec, I laid awake in bed, knowing it was my turn to lead chapel on Wednesday. And, I thought to myself, there was no way I could lead you in the songs and prayers I had planned. Then, I asked myself: If I change the songs, and the prayers, should I also change the scripture reading? Does this reading, from Matthew, speak to the tragic loss of life, perpetuated by fear, ignorance, and hatred?

And, the next morning, I turned back to the passage and asked: Where is God in this? Where was God on Sunday night, when God’s children knelt in prayer?

I thought about how today is the first day of Black History month. I thought about Christianity’s bloody history of discrimination and exploitation against Muslims and People of Colour.

I read and reread the Gospel passage, and this is what I heard…

You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.

And, I wonder, have we lost our taste? As a Christianized nation, a nation built on Biblical ideas, for better or worse. Have we, as a society, lost our saltiness? Have we shrouded our city on the hill? Have we hidden our light?

And I was overwhelmed by grief because the answer seemed so clearly to be yes, and the passage seemed to say that our saltiness could never be restored.

If we are the “light of the world,” and we have been called to “let our light shine before others, so that they may see our good works and give glory to God,” how do we undo what has been done? How do we rewrite the horrific Gospel we have been proclaiming?

But, salt doesn’t lose its taste. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. And, light leaks through the cracks.

No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.

Last week, when we heard Jesus say: blessed are the poor, the meek, the marginalized… We imagined that he was speaking to the people in front of him: trades people, parents, widowers, orphans, slaves, and all those others who gathered on the hillside.

To these people, Matthew’s Jesus proceeds to say “you”. You, who are blessed and marginalized, are salt and light.

You are salt. You are light.

He calls these blessed people to live their lives as a testament to God’s work, a universal work of love that we see lived out in Jesus.

When the world seems to lose its taste, when it overwhelms us, we look for those “salt of the earth” people. Folks whose words and actions flicker like a light in the darkness. These people quietly and loudly proclaim the Gospel message. They act out their testimony to the Living Word, the Gospel message of Jesus.

Fred Rogers once said: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”

People like Mohamed Belkhadir, a 29-year-old engineering student at Université Laval. Who, when hearing gunfire, returned to the mosque he had just left. Who provided First Aid to a friend who was shot. Who fled when he saw a man with a gun, thinking it was the shooter, not the police. Who said, “I understand, I respect, that they caught me. They saw me flee, they thought I was suspicious, that’s normal. For them, someone who flees is a suspect.”

Where were you God, on Sunday night? In the hands and feet of people who reached out against fear, ignorance, and hatred in acts of love.

In the following weeks we will hear the continuation of this sermon, and the instructions Jesus gives on how to shape our lives to be an inward reflection of a God-inspired ethic. Thereby shaping our actions to be an outward reflection of this same God.

This is a crash course in being salty and bright; in being a “salt of the earth” kind of people.

And, we will hear more about how being salt and light is a call to live a revolutionary life, a radical life of justice and of love–a call to demonstrate the Gospel message.

But for now? We mourn, we respond, and we care for one another. For now? We look for the helpers and hope to find that we, too, are one.

Holy Mischief // SCM Canada

I was privileged this week to be offered a position on the Board of the Student Christian Movement in Canada as the Communications and Resource Board Member (lovingly known as the Director of Propaganda). I have accepted the position with a bit of surprise, knowing this organization has a wonderful legacy of meaningful work and prestigious members. Though, it may not seem so at first, the motley crew of students/young adults and “senior friends” has been a noticeable force in the Canadian and international civic spheres.

Since its founding, SCM Canada has taken stands on pressing social issues of its time, including support for the ordination of women, opposing internment of Japanese-Canadians during World War II; anti-war activities since the 1960s; and facing controversy for its solidarity with lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans-identified Christians. Members were involved in the Canadian social gospel movement which mobilized for a more just social order in Canada, including accessible health care, education and social services. (SCM History)

SCM is also a part of the WSCF–World Student Christian Federation, an international body of movements. We join with them in hopes of seeing a vision of peace and justice realized worldwide, for all persons.25616_363422358349_1222264_n

As a place of discussion, prayer, and action, SCM has offered young adults a collective of diversely inspired and passionate Christian to join in holy mischief, and the pursuit of peace and justice. Never before had I met passionate individuals who so whole-heartily believed in the Beatitudes.

Having had the opportunity to meet SCMers from around Ontario at the recent Cahoots Festival I was inspired by their passion and vision. SCM held a visioning meeting during the Festival where long-time participants and newcomers all joined together to write down the dreams and desires they hope to actualize, together, over the coming year. The process was cathartic as people expressed frustrations, longings, hopes, and we bonded over the collective past and present of the organization. As a very new member of SCM Ottawa, I felt incredibly welcomed into this motley community mischief-makers and invited into their diverse and meaningful work. Now I have an opportunity to join that work nationally and support those small but industrious SCM groups across Canada rallying behind the Social Gospel.

I look forward to what the coming year will bring, supporting SCM groups from BC, Manitoba, Ontario and so many more. And, to see more individuals find their voice in our greater human narrative, just as those who came before us:

  • The Greensboro Four (U.S. Civil Rights movement)
  • J.S. Woodsworth (labour leader & social gospel minister)
  • Muriel Duckworth (founder, Voice of Women for Peace)
  • Lois Wilson (former head, World Council of Churches; 1st woman moderator, United Church of Canada)
  • James Endicott (co-founder of SCM Canada and United Church of Canada)
  • Kwame Nkruma (pan-African unity leader)
  • Desmond Tutu (anti-apartheid archbishop)
  • Nancy Ruth (Canadian senator)
  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer (dissident pastor martyred by Nazis)
  • Steve Biko (anti-apartheid martyr)
  • Brother Roger (Taize founder)
  • Jurgen Moltmann (theologian)
  • Vince Goring (Canadian Commonwealth Federation/NDP)