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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.

Book Review // Scott Evans’ “Beautiful Attitudes”

Lately, I’ve found myself delving into the trifecta of Scott Evans’ writing; if you haven’t heard of him he is a scruffy writer/speaker from Ireland. A bit of a wandering prophet (not necessarily a compliment, thinking of the eccentric prophets of ye Olde Testament), he has produced three books all worth a read: Beautiful AttitudesCloser Still, and Failing from the Front.

Scott and I had the chance to meet on two separate occasions, included the most tedious game of Settlers of Catan I have ever played. That aside, I found him to be a genuine person with pragmatic compassion, someone who could speak both quiet and obnoxious truth into your life–my favourite kind of person. These encounters drove me to begin reading his three books, all of which I will be reviewing over the next month. Alas, in no particular order I shall begin.

Beautiful Attitudes: Living Out the Christian Manifesto by Scott Evans

IMAG0075I have read a number of devotional books in my time, most of which I find a balance somewhere between Hallmark-ian and so outlandishly mystical they speak little to my person. Beautiful Attitudes started as a series of blog posts, which lends itself to short chapters easily picked-up on a bus ride or waiting at the doctor’s office. Each vignette is a dissertation on a verse from Matthew 5:3-12, otherwise known as the Beatitudes.

An overdone piece of scriptures, some might say, but Scott does an excellent job of providing his reader with a different lens to explore the ideas of this Social Gospel. He writes about Jesus, the revolutionary, and the counter-cultural blessings he is declaring for the marginalized, the oppressed, the broken and the poor. It is easy, two millennium later, to forget about the radical implications of the Sermon on the Mount, and especially these specific verses, but Scott does a great job of showing us this new “manifesto”.

The Sermon on the Mount is a manifesto for the disillusioned and disenfranchised. They gather as people who have experienced the Kingdom of God and this sermon is an invitation for them to become participants, to be builders and citizens in a new Kingdom, one that is not of this world. An otherworldly way of living. (Pg. 3)

In the age of Millenials (young adults born 1980’s-2000’s), there is such a desire to delve into the implications of the Gospel and social justice, ethics, and spiritual growth. Scott does a great job of exploring these ideas and really fostering an invitation to explore one’s faith in this light–.

When someone is first interested in learning about Christianity and Christ (hopefully more so the latter) I often struggle with suggestions for books. Friends will often ask for suggestions of gifts to give others, something not too heavy or long. This book is an excellent introduction. Scott refrains from pretentiousness when it comes to Biblical knowledge, and explains stories and parables in all of his writing with the skill of a great storyteller. I would not hesitate to lend this book to others as a glimpse at the essence of Christ’s ministry, using broken people as blessings, working through suffering to establish a new kind of kingdom.

I should add, if you are looking for a traditionally sanitized piece of writing to give teens, don’t buy this book. In fact, if you want a book that speaks of total redemption, overcoming temptation and living a life of purity, don’t buy any of Scott’s books. He has chosen to share, vulnerability, his own story, struggles included, which speak more to the progressive transformative power of Christ than of battles won. It is a meaningful story but it is also very honest, and if that kind of honesty offends you then it would be best to simply not pick it up.

But, for those who want a different perspective on an overdone idea, it is a great book, especially for young adults looking to explore their faith in a broken world as a broken person.

And, lastly, here is the scale:

General-Readability: ★★★★☆
Overall Message: ★★★☆☆
Challenging Ideas: ★★★★☆
Memorability: ★★★☆☆

Where we are standing // In the breach

There is an iconic image being shared on the web today, one that evokes a number of powerful statements about the place of faith in our global world. 

Orthodox priests standing between pro-European Union activists and riot police, Central Kiev, Ukraine - Friday, Jan. 24, 2014 (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
Orthodox priests standing between pro-European Union activists and riot police, Central Kiev, Ukraine – Friday, Jan. 24, 2014 (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

This post is not a reflection on the political situation in the Ukraine, which has massively escalated recently with Russia’s movements. Instead, it is a look at a series of evocative images depicting the integral role faith has when it comes to justice.

The image above depicts a small collection of clergy who stand between the gap of protesters and riot police.  What is the role of faith leaders to act as both a barrier between the oppressed and their oppression, and to speak with authority on matters of justice? Why has this image seen such a heavy response, in relation to the hundreds of other images being shared during this troubling time? What in this image brings out a response in us?

I believe this image, and many more like it, depict an intense sense of vulnerability and, paradoxically, strength. The priests, standing without any protection, depicted against a backdrop of faceless riot police allows us to feel the fear of the pro-EU protesters  as they face the great barricade of bodies and shields. We are only humans, fragile and individual, with lives that can be swept away in a surge of violence. Yet, here are men, human just like you or I, standing in the breach.

They offer up a sense of protection in their presence; calling both sides not to forget there are things greater than ourselves, that actions have consequences and there are certain acts that cannot be undone. There is a peacefulness, like a dam keeping back a strong force.

Blessed are the peacemakers—they will be called children of God. (Matthew 5, The Voice)

There are many kinds of peacemakers in our world, from those who protest on the street for a peaceful resolution, to those who lobby in halls of power and authority on their behalf, to those who condemn acts of injustice. It is harder to see and understand those kinds of peacemakers, as messages become confused and sides are taken.

It is much easier to understand a person standing in the breach, keeping both sides of violence at bay.

The Washington Post has a great article/gallery series showing  Orthodox priests ministering to protestors, to the wounded, walking the apocalyptic-like streets of Kiev, and protesting with crowds outside the EU’s headquarters in brussels. Each photo depicts a man wearing his dark robes and ornate stole, with a face that carries a sober countenance. Yet, there is a diversity in this pictures, as priests are seen caring for all people–those who are mourning, those who are protesting, those who are standing guard, and those who are wounded.

The above photo is powerful because it does not depict a side that is being taken, it displays a refusal to allow either side to cross the breach. It shows men of authority (as any leader is) choosing to put themselves between, not above. This, I believe, is the role of faith in times of uncertainty and violence. Wether it is to shield others using your authority, your presence, or your body, people of faith are called to stand in the breach, yelling like the prophets for justice–calling God’s people, all people–to reconciliation and peace.