Often in times of crises we plead for unity. We ask that people come together, rise above their differences, and come together. That’s not the message we hear Jesus proclaiming in today’s gospel reading from Matthew 10. Instead we hear Jesus prophesying about division. And not just a little division but the worst kinds of division. Members of the same households are set against one another, parents against children, on and on. It feels a little odd that on Father’s Day the gospel text is the one in which Jesus says, “I didn’t come to bring peace, but a sword.”
We already talked a bit during the children’s lesson why today isn’t a great day for a lot of people. Lots of folks have lost their fathers, others are estranged from fathers and other family, some wish they could be fathers and it didn’t work out for various reasons. We have families with two fathers or no fathers. There are all kinds of shapes and sizes of families and we know each one is lifted in grace by God, when people honour one another with mutual love and respect.
And yet still we need to grapple with these challenging words of Jesus about not coming to bring peace, but a sword. If we step back for a moment we can imagine Jesus isn’t describing the idea, but rather something he saw coming in his journey towards the cross. He knew that in the march towards the cross, in the march towards justice and love, that families would be divided amongst one another.
We see that everyday. We hear about families who want to tear down statues that glorify white supremacists, while others are worried about “destroying history.” We hear about families who are divided about simply saying “Black Lives Matter” or “Indigenous Lives Matter.” And we see it in house fronts if you compare the number of people who put up hearts for frontline workers with those who put up a Black Lives Matter or Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women sign on their lawn. And we should honour frontline workers, just as we should honour Black and Indigenous lives. You know when Black, Indigenous, and all people of colour, walk around Victoria they see these things. They see their own invisibility in the eyes of a predominantly white city. Not that the absence is necessarily due to overt malice but due to forgetting, ignoring these realities, which is also steeped in racism.
We also know there are moments in which thousands of people in Victoria have come together to rally for Black Lives at Centennial Square just over a week ago. This past Thursday hundreds of people gathered to remember Chantel Moore, who was shot by police during a wellness check in New Brunswick. Chantel Moore has family on the island who mourn her loss. These are two events led by members of marginalized communities in which white folks are invited to stand in solidarity.
This past Tuesday we had the privilege to hear from Raven Hartley and Ryan Pielle, employees with Native Friendship Centre, who shared about their work and also their personal experiences as Indigenous folks in Greater Victoria. They mentioned the importance of white folks showing up to public events organized by marginalized people, as well as holding conversations like the one we had Tuesday.
We heard how easy it is to desire unity, to claim we have moved beyond race or that race no longer matters to us. However, Raven and Ryan asked that we see them and other Indigenous folks for all the richness they represent. They want us to recognize the differences in order that we can build a more just world. Because if we pretend the differences aren’t there, then we cannot deconstruct the systems that uphold racism.
The conversation was recorded and is on-line if you want to take a look at it. If you go to the church web-site: lutheranvictoria.ca you can click on the icons in the upper-right-hand corner to access either the Facebook page or YouTube channel and you will find a video o the conversation there.
It’s also good to take a moment and thank the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, as we learn and dig deeper into our understanding of what reconciliation and building trust looks like in these times. The primary aim of the TRC is not first and foremost unity in the sense of a cheap kind of unity, in which we all agree to nice cocktail conversation and not talk about controversial things. It is the willingness to embrace Jesus’ message of having the courage to witness to the truth. Trusting that God is with us as we get into work that is fraught and messy, to which there are no easy answers. There are no promises that reconciliation will happen in our lifetime. Nevertheless we strive towards this goal because the gospel compels us. We feel compelled to renounce the false preaching of our Christian ancestors who championed residential schools, premised on white supremacy, that Indigenous children would need to become white or white-passing in order to be valued before God and society. These were demonic interpretations of the gospel and instead we recalibrate and follow the same Jesus who risks personal injury and sacrifice for sake of love and justice.
Do not be afraid
We have talked a bit about Jesus bringing a sword rather than peace. Now let’s flip this upside down and talk about Jesus saying “Be not afraid.” While the Jesus strips bare and reveals truth, Jesus also builds up in grace. “Be not afraid,” is a reminder that although life is filled with strife and discord, God is with us through it all.
Many of us have experienced that this week. We’ve had at least three deaths among families in the congregation and probably more. Despite a pandemic we’ve seen people reach out with beautiful and heartfelt tributes. We’ve seen people check in and share condolences. It’s hard to lose loved ones, whether a death is expected or not, it’s hard. We lean on the promises of Jesus and one another in times like this.
We also lean on the promises not be afraid when we see the world in disorder and chaos. Even if things seem a little less bad on the island than other places, we know we need to keep up the fight here as well. We heard from Raven and Ryan that things aren’t necessarily better in Canada or in BC. So many of us are shielded from lived realities of racism we just don’t see it. We just go about our daily lives and not have to think about it.
We pray for this same grace of not being afraid, whether we are comforting those who mourn, including ourselves, and also combatting racism in our midst and in our own hearts.
Think about the experience of letting go of fear for you. What are you afraid of? What do you need to let go this morning? Maybe it’s a strained family relationship that you are harbouring. Maybe it’s a sense of inadequacy or imposters syndrome that so many of us struggle with. Maybe it’s a sense of anxiety as to whether things will ever get better, a fear for the future and our children or grandchildren. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus meets us where we are in the midst of our fear. Jesus says the words, “Do not be afraid. I am here. I am with you.”
Together as the body of Christ, God is present among us as strength, as courage, as openness to future possibilities. It may be that none of us possesses the strength or faith to believe these things to be real, but Jesus makes them real through us and in us, in community. And it doesn’t matter that we are a physically distanced community. We are community nonetheless. We’ve had people join the community since the pandemic began. We long for the day when we can gather in person once again. And I know you long for this day as well.
Wrapping up, we are not called as Christians to embrace a false unity. Jesus pursues love and justice knowing such work will make people upset and lead to discord.
Through it all Jesus is with us, granting us grace and love.