“We played the flute for you, and you did not dance.”
Too often we miss the truth that’s right in front of our faces. That might sum up so much of our lived experience especially during this time. Recently we are subjected to debates on whether COVID is real, which it is; whether vaccines work, which they do; whether masks are helpful, which they are. Alongside other truths are questioned as well: Black people are desperately telling us their lives matter, which they do. Trans people and all queer folks are telling us they exist and deserve rights, which they do. Indigenous folks are reminding us they still face systemic violence, which they do.
And yet we keep having these conversations as though these things are up for debate, as though these truths are yet to be established or keep needing to be established to remain true.
Imagine Jesus’ exasperation in the gospel reading that no matter how much truth telling happens it’s never enough. In the reading from Matthew Jesus compares the doubters to children in the marketplace who are never satisfied. God sends John the Baptist, but they doubted him because he didn’t eat or drink. Then God sends Jesus and the people doubt him because he does eat and drink and hangs out with the wrong crowd. It’s never good enough. People can always find something to find fault with.
If you’ve ever been around young children for long periods of time you’ll know what Jesus is referring to. They get in moods in which they want to do something fun, but nothing is fun enough. Nothing you suggest is good enough, no amount of ideas is ever enough. You cannot reason with children who are in the “I’m bored” phase. All you can do is send them outside and tell to go play and ignore them until their behaviour changes.
However, the playful comparisons break down when we’re dealing with adults who behave like children. There becomes a point in which you cannot reason with some adults. No amount of well reasoned arguments or dialogue will ever be enough. Some have already decided in their mind they will reject all evidence of a truth before it has even been present. Like children it’s a safety defence like saying “I’m bored,” no matter the options they’re presented with. Except adults you cannot just send outside to play like you can with children. Instead adults have the freedom and autonomy to wreak all kinds of havoc on other people’s lives if they choose to give up on truth.
What Kind of Truth?
What kind of truth are we talking about? So far we’ve discussed three kinds of truths. One is the scientific truths around accepting medical evidence about COVID-19, how bodies work, how viruses are spread, what are reasonable precautions, etc.
Another kind of truth are moral or ethical kinds of truth, whether we have a moral duty to take precautions to prevent the spread of COVID especially to protect vulnerable people, including seniors and people who are immuno-compromised. Another kind of moral truth is knowing that Black, Indigenous, and queer people matter, no matter a person’s race, gender, or sexual orientation.
A third kind of truth is the revelation of faith. This is different than scientific and moral reasoning because you can’t reason your way into faith. Either you hear the call of the Word of God or not. Either Jesus’ call to follow him resonates with you or it does not. For us as Christians and people of faith generally, we live with overlapping kinds of truths, as do many people. Even people who do not call themselves religious still often talk about being spiritual, answering a higher power, finding unity with the universe, or different ways of expressing forms of revelation.
Continuity between different ways of knowing
I mention these three different kinds of truths because they are related in how we live our lives. Often we hear Christians lament that there is less interest or desire among people to find a church home. That the role of church and Christian faith has diminished in recent decades. While that may be true, it would be a mistake to miss a big opportunity available to us as church. A lot of people are looking for a church home and don’t know it. A lot of people are in search of a church but don’t think there’s one out there that speaks to them.
Pr. Lyle and I know this to be true because we receive e-mails and phone calls from people saying this very thing. People who have grown tired with a Christian tradition that is not in dialogue with the world in which we live. Tired of a church that sees itself as separate from the world, as opposed to living into Jesus’ call to love neighbour as oneself, in the fullness of that reality.
People of all ages, seniors, students, young adults, middle age folks, people with kids, people without kids, children, are looking for a church home in which they can be fully themselves. Beyond that a church home that overtly and explicitly names the structural sins of our day and seeks to reconcile the body of Christ with the very groups who have been left out historically by church. The evidence is we’ve had people worship regularly at Church of the Cross both in person pre-COVID, and also on-line. Folks are asking how they can get involved, how they can participate in the life of the church. That’s harder to do while so many of our gatherings are on-line, but it is still happening.
This is the opportunity we don’t want to miss, that people are hungry for the gospel, hungry to serve, and deepen their relationship with Christ. And we want to find ways to make that happen. We want to listen for and encourage people along that path.
People are also watching us to see if we’re real, to see if our actions match the messaging we put out on the church sign, on social media, on the church web-site, in livestream worship, in livestream morning prayer, and so on. This is why when we include a Confession rite like we did this morning centring people of colour and queer people, it’s not a once and done kind of thing. We don’t just celebrate Reconciling in Christ Sunday in January and forget about queer people the rest of the year. We don’t just lift up Indigenous people on Orange shirt day or Black people when there is a Black Lives Matter rally, and then forget about them when they’re not a front page story.
I want to thank each of you for the myriad ways in which Church of the Cross is already walking the talk with refugee sponsorship, supporting Shelbourne Community Kitchen, the Truth & Reconciliation Committee’s work, helping seniors use iPads and tech, checking in on one another through Board of Care of Communities and the Perk Me Up fellowship group. The attention that is put into worship arts by the Board of Worship. Care of the building and grounds by the Trustees, the hard work of church council managing the business and leadership of the church, offering housing to students at Luther House, the various readings groups, Sunday school, Bible study, sewing group, and many other expressions of faith in this congregation.
Let us take time in prayer and reflection to think about who is missing at the table. Who is missing from fellowship. Why it is that there are greater percentages of people of colour and queer folks in Greater Victoria than those who already worship here regularly. We need to break down the barriers and the boundaries that make people uncomfortable entering our space. Are there people who have worshipped with us and felt uncomfortable to return? None of these questions are unique to Church of the Cross. These are questions every church needs be asking regardless of the city or context in which they find themselves.
Let us not miss the truths in front of us, the opportunities more fully to become the body of Christ. Even during a pandemic we continue to be blessed with a harvest that is plentiful.
Resist Canada 153
A story about different kinds of knowing. I had an opportunity to witness the kind of stubborn refusal to understand truths this past Wednesday. Recognizing some people celebrate this day differently. Some folks wear red and white, fly the Canadian flag and celebrate Canada Day. Some people also fly the Canadian flag, except upside down. An upside down flag is the sign of a country in distress. Indigenous and Black students from UVic and beyond organized an event called Resist Canada 153, representing Canada’s 153rd birthday, held at the BC Legislature. I realize some people find the rebellious imagery off-putting. If we can bracket that out for a moment, the messaging of the group is not that radical. Just like Black Lives Matter, this is a group of students and youth who find themselves in a world in which they do not fully belong. Traditional lands are now subdivided into million dollar homes and luxury condos. Pristine waters are threatened by a multi-billion dollar industry. Students feel judged by the colour of their skin and feel they often don’t belong or fit in here in Greater Victoria. Students who have been heckled riding the bus and fellow white passengers did not intervene or stand up for them.
I was able to attend for about an hour of the event and heard passionate speeches. Our future is in great hands of these young leaders and we welcome them into positions of leadership.
There was another event happening at the same time, which took place on another side of the legislature lawn. It was a weird mix of anti-vaxx, anti-mask, freedom of speech, anti-government, mixed in with some far right extremists. There is one image taken by the Martlet which shows a tall white man wearing a gas mask staring down a young Indigenous woman. Oddly he was wearing a mask at an anti-mask rally. All joking aside these folks are scary. There was another white man in his late 20’s perhaps wearing a MAGA hat, calling for the end of the CBC, and heckling Black and Indigenous speakers. Later I saw him yelling at drivers that COVID-19 is a hoax. It was interest to see people mixing MAGA hats with Canadian flags.
At one point listening to a young Black speaker, we were invited to turn to our neighbour and introduce ourselves, which I did. Beside me there was a young white Canadian woman, in her early 20’s I would guess. She apologized saying she actually belonged to the anti-mask and anti-vaxx group but was curious to hear what the students were saying. She seemed well intentioned. I asked if maybe it didn’t help to have members of their group wearing MAGA hats, which has become a symbol of fascism, not to mention them intimidating Indigenous and Black students. She replied that she regretted Trump has become so misunderstood. Misunderstood how, I asked. She said all the things people think Trump says are terrible are really just taken out of context. For example the image of him laughing at a disabled man, taken out of context. Calling Mexicans rapists and murderers, taken out of context. Soon I realized it didn’t matter what evidence was raised she would dismiss it offhand as taken out of context. There was no opportunity for dialogue because there were no shared values including scientific facts, moral reasoning, or an interpretation of faith. We were inhabiting different worlds in which for her up is down and down is up. And if you say, that thing is upside down, she would reply no, it’s right side up, you’re just taking it out of context. This otherwise well meaning young woman was enabling and providing cover for far right white men and women to harass students of colour. Refusing to wear a mask and dismiss a potential vaccine to COVID-19 offhand endangers the health of everyone, especially the elderly and people with pre-existing conditions. It is sad to see an otherwise bright young person head down this path. Maybe someone or something will disrupt this path. I hold out hope knowing people leave cults and toxic relationships. I keep her in my prayers and all those like her who champion freedom of speech, but truly have given up thinking for themselves.
So where is grace in all this? Remember in this gospel reading, Jesus invites those carrying a heavy burden to receive rest in him. If you are mourning the death of a loved one, feel lonely and tired from all the pandemic restrictions, are having issues around health or finances, then Jesus invites you to let go of the burden you are carrying. Not that all our problems go away, but rather to let go of constantly obsessing over them and playing over scenarios in our minds that tire us out. We are invited to take Jesus at his word and let go these things that are weighing us down.
If you have the energy to address some of the social gospel issues we are faced with, that is great, please join the work. However, if you are too tired or not in a position to do the work, then please take some rest, and support those doing the work in prayer and with resources.
Wrapping up let us not be like the kids in the marketplace. When the other kids play the flute and we do not dance, let us listen. Let us see the truth staring at us in the face. Let us integrate the three kinds of truth: scientific, moral, and revelation as we fully live in the world as followers of Jesus.
Receive the grace that God is with us, drawing near to us, emboldening us to witness to the gospel, inviting people into an affirming church.
Know that you are enough and you are loved. Amen.