When I was in grade 12, at the Fort Nelson Secondary School, we had a little room, just for us. It was quite small and cozy, a couple old couches, and we grade 12 students could paint our names in the cement bricks of the wall. One day, I was in there alone, when a rather frightened grade 11 student asked if he could come in. Someone wanted to beat him up, and could he come in and sit for awhile? Yes, of course. It didn’t take long for the aggressor to show up. Ah, Eddy. I knew him well. He lived just down the street from me, was known to be tough, short tempered, and not someone to be messed with. He stood in the doorway, demanding that the other student follow him. I got up and stood between Eddy and the student, and said, `He is my guest. This room is for grade 12 students only, and their guests. You are not invited.’ He glared at me, mocked the other student for hiding behind a `girl’ and stomped off.
I had just stood up to my neighbour and the future World Champion Dog-Sled Racer, and he had heeded my authority. I was as surprised as anyone! But I think it had to do with more than my authority as a grade 12 student, it had to do with the authority of love; with Eddy knowing in his heart that what I was doing was a loving act.
So let’s talk about what that is. When Jesus begins his public ministry, after calling the fishermen – Simon and Andrew, James & John, he walks up the hill above the Sea of Galilee to the synagogue in Capernaum. Jesus speaks from the heart; he’s not just going through the motions.
Still, I wonder what it was about the other leaders of Jesus’ day that caused the congregation to say, “This one speaks with authority.” It wasn’t just about being passionate. In their co-authored book, “The Last Week”, Marcus Borg (peace be upon his dear soul – Marcus died on January 21st) & Dom Crossan suggest that many of the scribes and Pharisees in charge in the synagogues and temples in Jesus’ day where not the legitimate ones, but were on the patronage program for the Roman Empire. They were from wealthy families who didn’t mind compromising their values a bit in return for these positions of power.
Jesus wasn’t backed by the bank, or the Roman Empire. He preached and lived from the heart. His authority is not used as a weapon to control, but is rooted in holy connection and conviction. He told people what they needed to hear, whether it was a word of hope, forgiveness, challenge, or even rebuke in the case of the unclean spirit. We don’t talk a lot about unclean spirits/demons in the United Church, but there is something here that does not welcome Jesus’ words of `good news’ that the kingdom of God is at hand.
Last weekend, at Epiphany Explorations, one of the main speakers, Peter Rollins, a young Irishman, talked about the `ghosts’ that are around us. He called it the “presence of an absence” – those things we push down and don’t want to acknowledge that find a voice regardless of how we try to silence them. Like the voice unwittingly coming from a man in the synagogue, the seemingly good news that Jesus brings, is really bad news, for those who are quite happy with the status quo, thank you very much! He is more concerned with mercy and compassion than purity and propriety. He tells the rich to sell what they have, to give to the poor, and they will be blessed with the kingdom of God. And it’s pretty easy to see from here, looking back into first century Palestine, but it’s more difficult to get perspective when you’re in the middle of, and part of a culture that’s working pretty well for you.
The Seasons of the Spirit curriculum reflects: “It is never easy to escape the dominant cultural norms in which Christians find themselves. It was the embracing of cultural norms that led Christians to rationalize and justify slavery, the subordination of women, exclusion based on sexual orientation, the creation of residential schools, and the exploitation of Earth. These social norms are frequently difficult to recognize because they are simply a part of what everyone knows and accepts, especially those in positions of power and authority. This week’s readings challenge these dominant cultural norms with a knowledge that can only come from God.”
Each of these could be expanded on, but something niggles at me. You know how, after my experience in Palestine and Israel, I am passionate about telling the story of the illegal occupation, and encouraging support for Palestinian rights so that both Palestinians and Israelis can feel safe and at home in the same land. But perhaps, it’s easier, in some strange way, to focus on that, than to get on with addressing the long term effects of colonialization in Canada.
Can you imagine what would have happened in this land, if we had used the authority of love, rather than the authority of culture, tradition, religion and government? I think those who “discovered” North America would have said, “Wow – these people have been living here for … we don’t know how long. But certainly before us. They know how to survive, they live in community, they know how to organize themselves, they have a belief system in a spirit world, and they didn’t kill us when they met us and had the opportunity. In fact they welcomed us and helped us figure out how to survive in this land which is much harsher than the one we came from. We really need to live gratefully and respectfully among them.
Alas, that is not what happened. We now have more First Nations children in foster care, than we ever had in Residential school. In university I studied as much Canadian history and literature as I could – and it was all about the French and English, like there was no one else here!
When there are things that we don’t want to hear – how can the compassionate authority of Jesus offer us healing? Sometimes opportunities present themselves and we just need to take them. Again, at Epiphany last week, on Thursday afternoon, during the first presentation, there was an announcement on the screen about the Blanket Exercise being offered in the next hour. What an opportunity!
Is anyone familiar with the blanket exercise? It’s not about taking a nap. 🙂 It’s a simulation experience produced by Kairos, the ecumenical justice group, to teach people about the colonization of Canada – where a bunch of blankets are spread out on the floor to represent traditional aboriginal territory. With assorted laws, proclamations, and treaties, the blankets get folded into smaller, and smaller pieces. The participants take on the role of Canada’s First Nations, and get just a hint of what these losses are like. It’s something I’d like to offer here, perhaps in cooperation with the high school. When we can have a sense of empathy for others, we have a chance at healing. Scary words can be said, and met with love. The kingdom of God is at hand, proclaims Jesus, and it’s for everyone. Here is Sicamous, may we continue to find ways to live by the authority of God’s love in our ministry, in our time and place. Amen.