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Acts 17:22-31; Psalm 66:8-20; 1Peter 3:13-22; John 14:15-21

Are you ready for some pandemic relief, even some pandemic humour? Raeside’s cartoons in the Victoria Times Colonist have provided some of that, but not without criticism.

          I was also sent an email with some popular memes - images and ideas being repeated over social media and email. Thanks to Craig who sent them, I had to smile and laugh a little at the good and smart humour.

-       A newly released Lego set titled, “Coronavirus panic” has Lego figures in tiny masks scurrying from a store with armfuls of Lego cylinder toilet paper.

-       An entry from a Quarantine Diary: Day 1 – I have stocked up on enough non-perishable items to last me months of isolation to see out this pandemic, Day 1+45 Minutes – I went back to the grocery store because I wanted a Twix.

-       Of all the things I learned in elementary school, trying to avoid cooties was the last one I expected to use.

-       “Dr. Anthony Fauci unveils a mask that could save thousands of lives,” and beside him is the image of a certain President with duct tape over his mouth.

-       All these doctors and nurses and microbiologists and immunologists and epidemiologists and other researchers keep saying Covid-19 is dangerous, but other people who barely passed science and send out random emails and tweets say it’s not dangerous at all. It’s so hard to know who to believe.

-       Pretty wild how we use to eat Birthday Cake after someone had just blown air from their mouth all over it.

-       The curve is flattening; we can start lifting restrictions now = The parachute has slowed our rate of descent; we can take it off now.

I am not minimizing the trials and tragedy of the pandemic in our community and across the world. And I urge our care and support and advocacy for those most vulnerable, those on the frontlines and everyone affected. But I also appreciate moments to lighten the weight of this time we are in. Humour is hopeful.

          And what’s good and helpful is how these images speak of and to this specific time. To see what is before us, but with a different, sometimes critical, sometimes sympathetic lens.

          In the first reading today, Paul speaks to what he sees and reads, but sees it differently than those around him. It’s not humour, but seeing a monument “To an unknown god” Paul speaks about the God he knows, “the God who made the world and everything in it… who does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is served by human hands… instead giving to all mortals life and breath and all things… so that they would search for God, and perhaps grope for… and find God, though indeed God is not far from each one of us. For in God we live and move and have our being… and we are God’s offspring…”

          Paul’s words are so universal, so open and inclusive of all people, while pointing out the failing and foolishness of human made gods and idols, pointing instead to one God and creator of all and for all. And then Paul’s message becomes more pointed, “we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now God commends all people everywhere to repent, because God has fixed a day on which God will have the world judged in righteousness by one whom God appointed, and of this God has given assurance to all by raising this one from the dead.” That’s a mic dropping moment. We can imagine everything up to that last line might have seemed curious to some, maybe compelling to some, even if dismissive of their many gods. But raising someone from the dead?!

          And in the words that follow today’s reading, their responses are as expected, some scoffed, others said, “We will hear you again about this,” and others “joined Paul and became believers.” Could all this be true? In a world of so many idols in our time as in Paul’s, many of them of gold and silver and stone, images and structures formed by the art and imagination, the economics and politics, of mortals, as gods; God commends all people everywhere to repent, before the righteous judgement and justice of the one whom God raised from death. This one, this Jesus, who says to us today, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” to love one another, as I/God, loves you.

          There is no humour driving down Pandora avenue in Victoria and trying to see with Jesus’ eyes and heart the chaos of tents and people trying to live distanced and near help, isolated and crowded together. It’s tragic and heartbreaking and complex and difficult to find solutions as governments scramble to rent and buy hotels for social housing and address mental illness and addiction that we have neglected for decades.

          There was an obituary in yesterday’s paper for a young man named Samuel Stuart, born Nov. 3, 1975. It reads: Words from his mother: sometime on May 3rd, 2020 my son, Sam passed from this life, alone from overdose. The end was inevitable, as it is for all of us, but for those left behind, we are never prepared for the end. My son suffered from schizoaffective disorder, which means the reality you and I understand was not the same for him. One of the ways he coped was to self-medicate with street drugs. He chose drugs because they soothed those demons in his head, made him feel better, and gave him meaning. The high was high and the low so low. Many times, we talked about bad drugs, but he was caught in the trap of need and want. He thought he was invincible, if he did expect the inevitable, we will never know. Many of us are encircled in grief standing but crumbling. The deaths from overdose in BC since March 2020 has reached over 161. The homeless, those suffering from mental illness, the abused, the dispirited are left aside. With borders closed and a shutdown surrounding us how does a loved one get safe supply. What is the matter with us that we supply one addiction yet turn our back on another addiction? Is it because they behave differently, suffer differently, look different? Are they not worthy of our concern or compassion? If it had not been for the concern, help, guidance, care and love from Pandora Act Team, and Our Place perhaps Sam would not have been in our lives these past years; but they made a difference and continue to do so for me. Sam's journey in life was his alone. I surrounded Sam in love but ultimately life's journey belongs only to each of us. Everything has an end, and I have come to peace with that and now only rejoice in his life; all of it. His last message to me was "Oh hi mom, I had a great success, so I am glad about that, maybe I will drop by, take care, love you".

          Words from his sister: my brother died of an overdose this week. On the same day, in this city, three other loved ones also died of an overdose. There will be no press briefings or medical officers standing to say these lives mattered. I realize at times it was easier to just not say I had a brother versus try and explain his mental suffering, his homelessness, his times in lockdown, how he tried to self-medicate. He died alone like he lived, feared and rejected by people when really it was him who feared what was around him. Sometimes it seems easier to say you had no brother when the reality is you have grieved for him each day before his death. So next time you pass that homeless person, that person who appears mentally ill remember we are all precious human beings worthy of someone standing up to say they will help, saying they will care, saying they will enact policy to help because it matters. How we treat the most vulnerable is a reflection of our society and who we are as human beings. Some people have made it their life's work to care and help our vulnerable loved ones, it is with gratitude and humility that I hold my hands up to you for those moments you tried to help, for those moments you brought comfort, for those moments you stood up and held out your hand in greeting.

          Jesus says to us today, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” setting out for us a way of seeing and loving others and this world with Jesus’/God’s eyes and heart.” And if that seems absurdly impossible, promises not to leave you orphaned, but God will send an Advocate, the Spirit of truth, to abide with you and in you, to live in unity with God and Christ Jesus in love of God and love for all others. That Spirit of truth, that Advocate gives new and gracious ways of seeing every person as God’s offspring and acting in love and justice as Jesus loves and commands us to do. That is our and this world’s hope. And in the words from 1Peter, “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting of the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence.” That’s the Spirit of love and hope Jesus promised. The Jesus we love, and who commands us and gives us the Spirit of grace to love all others as Jesus loves. Let it be so. In all our relations. Amen.