It is a day of stories. The story of a bright orange shirt taken on the first day of residential school from a young Phyllis Webstad, one story of thousands of others, many more tragic and harsh, even deadly in their outcomes, all of them the legacy of Canadian residential schools, the consequences of which indigenous people and our whole society still live today, still need to hear the truth of and learn from today, still need to confront in colonialism and racism active today, still need to heal and find reconciliation together today. God help us journey faithfully on this path toward healing the legacy of residential schools and the continuing injustice and inequity for indigenous people in Canada. Let is be so, in all our relations. Amen.
Jeremiah enacts a story of hope as Jerusalem and all Israel nears devastation. This is the second time in a decade the armies of Nebuchadrezzar surround Jerusalem, but this time to see its destruction. While Jeremiah himself is confined in the court of Judah’s King, his cousin Hanamel comes to him asking that according to the law of redemption, Jeremiah buy the family’s land at Anathoth that Hanamel can no longer hold. Jeremiah agrees to the sale despite there being no good or logical reason, and in an elaborate public process, makes the purchase legal and ensures the transaction is carefully preserved for a time in the future, because, and here is God’s word of faith and hope, “For thus says the Lord God of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.” And they were! and are! But the legacy of disputed territories and divisions remain, and great is the need for peace and reconciliation among the people who reside on these lands today. Let it be so, in all our relations. Amen.
We have just heard the elaborate story Jesus told of the rich man and the poor and desperate man, Lazarus, who lay at the rich man’s gate while he luxuriously and sumptuously ate at his table, and the stark contrast between their lives in this life, that is completely reversed in the next life, with ease and comfort and honour for Lazarus sitting beside Abraham, and torment and longing for the rich man, who asks for relief from Lazarus, but that, Abraham tells him, is impossible over the chasm that exists between them now, nor warning the man’s still living siblings, if only someone could return to them from the dead. Abraham’s response is, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”
It may be difficult for any of us to identify with the rich man or Lazarus, but I wonder if Jesus’ story is essentially about the rich man’s still living siblings, and they and our knowing the unjust disparity between rich and poor is essentially because this rich man never could see Lazarus, neither as an equal to him, nor as someone in need of the most basic care and dignity, which he could, but did not give him, because he never saw him. And hearing Jesus’ story of this great reversal, asking what will we who live on, see and do, in relationship to neighbours, especially those in need, according to Moses and the prophets, and the one whom God raised from the dead, Jesus the Christ?
The letter from Timothy explores what we must do with wealth, including keep the commandments, live in godliness and contentment, not to be haughty, setting our hopes on God not money, doing good, rich in good works, generous and ready to share, …taking hold of the life that really is life. Let it be so, in all our relations. Amen.
A last story, a modern parable. I was waiting for a flight from Winnipeg to Edmonton, on my way to Victoria, and as I was sitting waiting at the gate, a younger man came up to the crew who were also waiting and introduced himself to each of them. He had a loud voice, maybe louder with nervousness, and talked with them about the flight, why he was there, and his excitement. The crew was responsive and happy to talk, and then as it was time for them to board, he came over my way and put out a hand and introduced himself to me. I said my name and we shook hands. He asked if he could sit down beside me, and I said, “Yes, of course.” He sat down and talked about this being his first time flying. He was maybe in his late twenties, early thirties I guessed, so it was a little surprising, although I recalled meeting another person not that long ago, who was also flying for the first time. He shared the reason for his flight. A brother who drove a truck was in Alberta and had found and bought a car and needed someone to drive it back to Manitoba. He said, “My brother paid for my ticket, and is paying for meals and everything.” He spoke of his excitement and nervousness about flying. He said he and his brother were this close, holding up his hand with two fingers entwined. “But,” he said, “it wasn’t always that way.” He said when he was young, he and his two brothers were essentially on their own, his Dad was away a lot for work, and his Mom was often away taking courses in the city. “They used me pretty much as a punching bag,” he said. “It was hard, and it hurt me. But I get it. They didn’t really want a little kid always hanging around with them. But it hurt. I forgave them, though. When we were older, we were together and I told them how they hurt me, but that I forgave them because I knew it wasn’t easy for them either.” He said, “I made them cry. But since then we’ve been this close.” holding up two fingers again. “I talk to them almost every week now, and I am flying for the first time because my brother needs my help and is paying for it. I’m pretty excited,” he said. I continued to listen, in awe of his openness. I learned about his grass cutting business in his small Manitoba hometown. And we talked more about flying and what to expect. He turned to me and said, “Thanks for being so nice to me.” “No, you don’t need to thank me,” I said. “It’s a pleasure to meet you and talk with you.” He said, “You hope if you treat people with respect, they’ll treat you the same, but they don’t always.” I assured him it was a privilege to talk. At some point one of the pilots came over to us just as they were about to board, and said to him, “When you get on board, we’ll give you a tour of the cockpit.” “Great!” he said.
When the time came for us to board, we got to our seats in different areas of the plane, but I could hear his loud voice, asking many questions, and the flight attendants talking with him and assuring him, and their attentiveness continued through the flight. As the captain came on the speakers to welcome us, he said, “We have a very special passenger on board,” mentioned him by name, that it was his first time flying, that they were glad to have him on board and wished him a safe drive back to Manitoba. I smiled at the generosity and thoughtfulness of that, and how this young man’s openness made it possible.
Our flight touched down in Edmonton, and his excited voice could easily be heard sharing his delight at his first flight and a safe landing. I was off the plane before him and waited at the gate hoping to say goodbye and wish him well. I waited for a while, but he didn’t arrive. And then I smiled, thinking he was likely in the cockpit getting the full tour. I said a quiet prayer of thanksgiving for meeting him, and the way he engaged with me and others, and how they had responded to him as well.
That our common humanity, no matter our different circumstances and experiences, would never be invisible to one another, that we recognize all others as equals and our common basic needs for respect and dignity, food and shelter and community and safety, and the ability we all have of sharing these gifts with one another as we are blessed and able, so all have enough, and that never would a person starve while another eats until their stuffed, suffer in sickness and pain while another lavishes in comfort, that never again would people be so invisible that their lands are for the taking, children stolen away, languages and cultures exterminated, people abused, killed and forgotten, never again. Because as God loves each and every one and this whole creation, good and precious in God’s sight, so by grace in the one whom God raised from death to life, we see all others, and this whole creation, as good and precious and life giving, together. Let it be so, always and forever, in all our relations. Amen.