Proper 17 – Ordinary 22 – Pentecost + 13
3 September 2017
Psalm26:1-8 bas pg 734
O God, whose word burns like a fire within us: grant us a bold and faithful spirit, so that, in your strength, we may be unafraid to speak your word and follow where you lead; through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.
Looking at the reading from Romans, today, all I get is the goosebumps of one who has seen that the world can be a negative place, a place filled with negativity. And all of us, work hard to bring the light of God’s love into the darkness of our thoughts, of our problems, of our conundrums.
Looking at the words Paul’s giving to those in Rome, today we can see that they’re positive, encouraging, and uplifting.
He talks of: love, being devoted, being honourable, keeping spiritual fervor, being joyful, being filled with hope, being faithful, being patient, sharing, hospitality, rejoicing, living in harmony, and so much more. (Rom 12:9-16)
Paul points out that it is God’s responsibility, not ours, to do such things as seeking retribution for the wrongs done in the world, and it is our responsibility to treat each other, and the stranger on the street, as we wish to be treated, always.
I know, looking at the way I receive news, information, etc, that I find it so easy to be negative, these days. Just looking at the news, there is the flooding from Hurricane Harvey in Texas, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Kentucky, these days; and all of this about 12 years since Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, an act of devastation from which they are still rebuilding.
There is the flooding in Windsor, ON, Nigeria and South Asia due to unseasonal storms.
Closer to home, there are the fires and blankets of smoke in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and BC causing evacuations, the loss of possessions and of people’s lifestyle on all sides. There are ongoing impediments to breathing, and there is the stress of not knowing when people can safely return home.
Closer to home, there are the local problems of lack of employment and of underemployment.
I’ve never figured out which is worse – not having a job that can give the employed the dignity of being able to provide for their family, or under-employing them so that they need to hold down 2-3 jobs in order to strive to make ends meet, but then they never see their families, and really, those ends never do meet. And now, the loss of the homeless shelter, Oscars Place, is happening at the end of September, and the implications of such a closure on the community.
Looking at all of this, all around the world, and in our own back yards, and then hearing Paul’s words of positive emphasis, is a light in a dark place.
So, when Paul tells us: “9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” (Rom 12:9) This is the nut, the core of what he’s talking about.
This is the heart of what we are as Christians, as the children of God, as we strive to show the world, to make an effort to model to the world around us.
This is what Jesus has been teaching us, emphasizing to us, modeling for us in his teachings, his ministry, his work amongst us to teach us how God loves each one of us, and how we can love each other in response.
Our lives, are the templates upon which we show the love of God, not just in our hearts, but in our actions, and in our words. And we at Christ Church are pretty good at showing our love, our respect for others, our desire to see good triumph over the alternative.
I’ve been told, on many occasions, that when we pray, things happen. I’ve heard from strangers in the community that tell me that when we pray for them, things happen. At the same time, we’ve seen, and continue to see the fellowship that gathers when the MIA (Men in Aprons) provide breakfast, or when The Ladies provide Soup & Sandwich lunches.
Even our Fall Supper garners huge fellowship in and through the community that is worth great things and results in how we perceive ourselves and our ability to accomplish great things, with God on our side.
We’ve experienced, and continue to experience the moving of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in our hearts when we come together to make a difference in the world, and in the community around us.
And still Paul encourages us. “14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another.” (Rom 12:14-16a)
At the same time, we are only human, and there are times when we wish that we had God’s discerning power and the ability of retribution at our fingertips, and Paul recognizes this as well.
As you know I like to watch movies; and movies always come with a hero, and a protagonist. Looking at the Star Wars movies, we can see the same issues cropping up time and again. Those who look for peace long to be free, to be able to make decisions in a democratic manner, to encourage peace to be the deciding guide in all issues, but this is always up against a force of evil (the Sith, the Empire, the First Order) that longs to rule through fear, intimidation, and violence.
In the original movies from the 1970’s, in what has turned out to be the middle of the story, episodes 4-6, Luke Skywalker finds out that Darth Vader not only killed his father, Anakin Skywalker, but also that they are the same person.
Confusing? Not really, when we are able to live by what we see Paul writing, today, then we are the good versions of ourselves. We are the ones who seek peace. We are the ones who look for the best in all people, and who love all people unconditionally. A situation not explained, in the movies, for us, until episodes 1-3 were produced giving us a fuller picture of what Anakin’s life was like, where he came from, how he became a Jedi apprentice and how he fell into becoming a follower of the Sith.
But, still, like Anakin, like Paul, like the disciples, we have choice in our lives. We can adhere to what we know is right, to loving our neighbour, loving ourselves, seeing the best in all people, and working toward that good with them as well as on their behalf.
At the same time, Paul addresses the other side of the coin as well. “17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.” (Rom 12:17-19)
So, then, it’s our job to love.
Our job is to find a way to aid when aid is needed. To provide jobs when jobs are needed, to work toward the betterment, the building up, the encouragement of all of God’s children, no matter what they look like, where they live, where they’ve been evacuated to, or any socio-economic reasons we can come up with to keep our hands in our pockets, our heads down, and keep on going.
Just this week, I encouraged a man to not sleep in our garbage box. He was in there, and so intoxicated that he had trouble waking up, but I told him that he is not garbage, and so shouldn’t be in a garbage receptacle. I only pray that he heard me as he struggled to stand and to be on his way.
God didn’t make no junk. All that God has made is precious, including each one of us. The junk comes when we don’t respect, help, uplift, and uphold each other. The problems come when we put stuff ahead of each other and those in need.
Paul tells us: “’If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Rom 12:20b-21)
So, the question then is how do we honour what we hear Paul telling us, today? How will we provide hospitality to all in need? How will we meet the needs of those who need a roof over their heads, food in their stomachs, a shoulder to cry upon, whether near or far away?
How will we provide dignity to those who feel the bottom has fallen out of their world, who need, at the very least, our prayers, at the most, our hands and our hearts?
In the Star Wars movies, the good side wins, although it takes toppling the evil side to do this. They return a feeling of democracy to the galaxy that is ‘far, far away’. And the next installment of the story, the next episode shows us, once more how evil creeps into the hearts of those who feel undervalued, under appreciated, overwhelmed.
But for a time, peace reigns. For a time, life returns to patterns that are productive, positive, healthy, and a blessing to all.
The same happens in our world, in our universe. The floods will once again recede, the fires will go out, and our aid will be called upon to help those who have little to nothing as a result of the floods. The fires will burn themselves out, and our aid, our hospitality will be needed to assist those who need to rebuild their lives,
But it comes back to the beginning of what Paul tells us, today: “9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.” (Rom 12:9-10)
It comes back to love, and to honour. It comes back to helping all people to live in and with dignity, where they choose to live.
It all comes back to prayer, and to looking at the world with hope, with love, with joy in our hearts that cannot be overcome by floods, fires, situations of un and under employment. Rather, we are encouraged to “15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another.” (Rom 12:15-16a)
It comes back to loving our neighbour as we love ourselves. It comes back to loving God with our hearts, minds, strength and soul. It comes back to seeing the best in everyone, all the time, and to seeing where our love, hospitality and prayers are needed in their lives.
It comes back to what Paul tells us today, no matter where we find ourselves or with whom. Because when we can love the whole world then the kingdom of God comes that little bit closer, then good becomes that little bit stronger.