Sunday, 29 January 2017

To Seek Justice, Love Kindness & Walk Humbly with God

Sometimes, the readings from the lectionary seem to line up with what is happening in the world around us. We have two powerful passages of scripture that remind us what is at the heart of our faith. First there is Micah 6 – the words are so familiar. “He has told you O mortal what is good: and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness and walk humble with your God.” (Micah 6:8) Sometimes, when the words are so familiar it is helpful to hear them spoken in new ways. Here is the translation from The Message “But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women. It is quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbour; be compassionate and loyal in your love, and don’t take yourself to seriously –take God seriously.” (Micah 6:8)
Why was it necessary for Micah to remind people what was important? The people were doing all the right things. They went through the motions of following in God’s ways. But it was just actions and nothing more. God decides to put the people on trial with the mountains as judge. God treated the people with mercy but they do not remember it. God begins his opening statement: "O my people, what have I done to you? In what have I wearied you? Answer me! For I brought you up from the land of Egypt, and redeemed you from the house of slavery; and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.” (Micah 6:3 – 4) In turn the people question God, “With what shall I come before the Lord and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?"” (Micah 6:6 – 6:7)
     All of these are the most amazing offerings, each offering greater than the one before. The average citizen would eat meat once a month – to offer a calf a year old was like offering a large part of their income – thousands of rams would have been a near impossibility for most citizens. Rivers of oil? Not a chance. Kings and royalty often made such extravagant sin offerings but that did not change their heart or their actions. God counters with a request that seems so simple. God says through the prophet Micah, “and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8) “It is quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbour; be compassionate and loyal in your love, and don’t take yourself to seriously –take God seriously.” (Micah 6:8)
All week these words have been running through my mind. Then I hear of a news ban on refugees and people travelling from seven Muslim countries and I wonder how this can be? There are stories of people who’ve lived in the United States for years with homes, families and jobs detained in airports around the world. There are rumours that there will be an executive order that will force Muslims to register. I find myself in a state of shock. That refugees, people who are already suffering, people who’ve been cleared through an extensive security vetting are now deemed a threat. It seems so far from the justice and compassion that is at the heart of Micah’s message.
Then you add to that conversation Jesus’ reading from the Beatitudes – a portion of the sermon on the Mount. In Matthew’s gospel this does not take place in front of gathered crowds. It is just Jesus and the disciples. He begins by teaching the disciples what it means to be blessed. We have to be careful here – blessing the in the gospels is not necessarily how we use the words.
Sometimes, when everything is going well, we call it a blessing. Sometimes people who have plenty of everyting – they describe themselves as blessed. Perhaps if you’ve reached the top of your profession you’d say your blessed. Perhaps you’ve had a gathering of friends and you say blessed. I know I’ve said it.
But then take a look at our reading and it sure isn’t how Jesus used the word. Jesus says, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.  Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.  Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3 – 11)
       The blessings of God’s kingdom are for all – for each and every one of us. They are the blessings that will sustain us in the most challenging of times. The Beatitudes are a reminder that God blesses us in our weakness and times of challenge. God calls us to be a blessing to others. That means providing welcome, shelter and hope to those in need. It means welcoming refugees fleeing from danger. It means standing up for those whose voices has been silenced.
The invitation to bless others, to seek justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God is not one we can take lightly in these days of rising racism. The call to seek justice is not something we do alone. All around us people are raising their voices. Canada has agreed to welcome all the refugees turned away by the ban. The United Church of Christ – our partner church in United States along with others faith communities are raising their voices to keep the doors open to refugees. The Mayor of Boston promised to offer sanctuary in the city of hall to refugees and immigrants affected by this ban.
         In these bold actions, I am reminded that living out our faith is an invitation to draw the circle wide – to provide welcome to everyone. A living faith invites us to seek justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God. As we do this God’s kingdom of love becomes a reality. Amen.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Here I Am

A few years ago I listed to the an interview with scientists at the Perimeter Institute in Waterloo, Ontario on The Current. The Perimeter Institute specializes research into understanding of the fundamental laws of nature. I was struck by the passion they had for their work as theoretical physics. One scientist said, “The laws of nature are mysteriously beautiful. People around here want to be a part of understanding where that road is going and why it is that way. It turns out that what physics is discovering that the law of nature are incredibly beautiful and it does not have to be that way. It’s sort of a mystery.” (CBC, The Current).
That search to understand is not only a scientific pursuit, but one we can all engage in as we attempt to understand the mysteries of life, of love, of faith and nature. No book of the bible engages in this search better than the book Psalms filled with both beautiful poetry and the true search to understand both life and how God is at work in the world. There is a Psalm for every occasion and it is one of the few books of the bible that reflects a wide range of human experience.
Psalm 40 is reflects on themes of survival and discipleship.  The writer of Psalm has clearly been through a difficult ordeal.  The psalmist says, “You lifted me out of the horrible pit, out of the miry clay and set my fee upon a rock, making my steps secure. You put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.” U2 in their song simply called 40 offers this version of the Psalm:
“I waited patiently for the Lord
He inclined and heard my cry.
He brought me right out of the pit,
out of my miry clay.
I will sing, sing a new song” (U2, 40)
 “I waited patiently for you, O God” says the psalmist. Not an easy task! Patience can be hard to come by. Whether it is patience with other people or with children who won’t cooperate or dealing with difficult situations, patience is hard. He waited in faith that God would act. And God responded, life returned to normal, as U2 sings, “He set my feet upon a rock and let my footsteps be heard.”  It can be hard in the moment to name when God is at work in your life. Sometimes, it is only when you are firmly planted on solid ground and you gaze through the rear-view mirror that you can see what God has done. The Psalmist does just that and finds beauty in God’s presence during the time of struggle. He sings, “O God, my God you have multiplied your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us, none can compare with you!”
With our feet planted on solid rock again. We are invited to follow in ever new ways.. The psalmist sings, “But you have opened my ears to hear and I said: “Here I am.” God’s invitation to us each day, to respond in faith saying, “Here I am.”
And even as we respond in faith sometimes it can take a lifetime to know whether or not it’s made a difference. This is certainly true for one man who sent a letter to a Sunday School Teacher after many years. He wrote from his hospital bed: "You probably do not remember me, but I visited your Sunday School class back in 1978 when I was staying with my grandparents during the summer. You were very kind to me and you said something that day which led me eventually to ...become a Christian. The reason I am writing you now is to say thanks, because my faith is very important to me. You see, I have cancer." Well, the woman was very touched by the story but the problem was that she did not have the faintest idea who this person was. She had no recollection at all of anything extraordinary happening in Sunday School in the summer of 1978, so being a diary keeper - she went to her diaries and looked up the entries for the Sundays of that summer. On the fourth Sunday of July in 1978, she found this entry: "I was tired this morning and I did not feel well but I went on to church and to Sunday School just the same and I taught my class of little boys. There was one in particular who was a real handful. He was a visitor and he could not sit still. I sat beside him and tried to give him a little extra attention. I don't know whether it did him any good or not." (
All around us there are people who do small acts of kindness that have a big impact on people’s lives. God’s call to each of us is not always to take on huge projects but by offering a helping hand, being present to offer encouragement or giving extra attention we can change peoples’ lives. Each day, God invites to respond in faith to the invitation to follow by saying “Here I am.” Amen.