From week to week in these summer months we have been sharing in the early history of God’s chosen people of Israel. Strange as it is to hear the Passover story usually celebrated close to our own Holy Week and Easter season, this is the next most significant step in Israel’s journey with God. God has shown faithfulness to God’s promise by hearing the cries of hardship of an oppressed people and causing their release by death’s “passing over” their households and not those of their oppressors. It is Israel’s central sacred story of God’s salvation. It is God’s story of salvation for God’s people though the Passover of death to freedom and new life.
What is the central sacred story of this time, this next step in our journey with God? Is it Jesus’ words today about authentic and accountable community together? Or specifically the conclusion, “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”?
Bishop Larry Kochendorfer from the Synod of Alberta and the Territories, in his sermon for this Sunday that is part of the summer sermon series by church leaders writes: “These words seem particularly poignant in our COVID-19 pandemic reality. A word for our present experience where many are gathered in twos or threes, as families, as cohort units, as bubbles. A word of promise, for this time, that Jesus is with us, “I am there.”
Bishop Larry goes on to explore, in words he credits to David Lose and Karoline Lewis, whether the words of Jesus about resolving conflicts with one another in the church are about rules or relationships, concluding Jesus is teaching us about authentic and accountable relationships within and beyond the church, relationships based in forgiveness and love.
Bishop Larry writes: Preceded by the story of the lost sheep and followed by a new standard for forgiveness (in Jesus telling Peter to forgive seventy times seven times) today’s reading, seen in its context, is about relationships, about community, about reconciliation and restoration.
Is this the central sacred teaching of Jesus for this time? In this pandemic time, in this uncertain and fearful time; of social, political and economic unrest; in the needed uprising for racial equality; in the exposure of the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on those who are poor, without shelter, food insecure; from minority groups of all expressions; those who are addicted and dying in record numbers from drug poisoning; those struggling with mental health and heightened depression and anxiety experienced by so many; those who are unemployed; for elders, the sick, those who are grieving, isolated, confined, imprisoned, and their loved ones; in every harm and pain, unrest, uncertainty and fear, is Jesus assuring everyone, wherever they are, Jesus is there, among us, with everyone, always! And, is Jesus showing us, it is all about relationships, within the body of Christ, and in all human relationships that we seek to be authentic and accountable, speaking the truth in love and in hope of forgiveness and restoration, and being accountable in community with and for one another and all others by God’s grace. This is difficult work. It will ask everything of us, and will expose our failings, in order that we grow and change as is God’s desire for us, that death and suffering “Passover” all people and all creation.
Paul, in our continuing reading of his letter to Jesus’ followers in Rome, expresses this central teaching about relationships in the simple but necessary words that we need return to again and again, “love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments… are summed up in this word, Love your neighbour as yourself. Love does no wrong to a neighbour;”
What Passover of death to life for so many would Jesus’ way of authentic, accountable relationships in love for one another, open and realize in this world and all creation?
We have begun once again a new Season of Creation. Beginning on the Day of Creation, September 1 and concluding on the Feast Day of St. Francis, October 4, it is now a global ecumenical recognition of the year-round, everyday need to both give thanks for God’s creation and particularly the earth and everything on and in it; and recommit ourselves to caring for the earth and its climate and everything on and in it as the precious and fragile gift and home of God’s providing that it is.
Is the central sacred teaching for this time that Jesus/God is with everyone, everywhere in all creation? And for the healing and wellbeing of the earth, its climate and everything in and on it, that we need to restore an authentic and accountable relationship, recognizing the truth of our destructive ways and seek to be in right relationship with all creation as our neighbour and home?
A Lutheran World Federation resource titled, God, Creation and Climate Change by Karen Bloomquist with Rolita Manchila, identifies the shifts we need to make if we are to love creation as our neighbour, as God’s and our beloved home:
We need to shift from:
• Human independence, to human interdependence with the rest of creation
• Making separations based on oppositions and dualisms, to emphasizing interrelated balances and connections
• Technological control, to respect for, care and balanced use of creation and its resources, …through appropriate technologies
• Creation as only the backdrop for human worship, to creation pulsating with life, pathos and worship of God
• An exclusive focus on God active in human history, to God active in, with and through the spatial (dimensions of creation)
• A predominantly Christocentric focus on the redemption of human beings, to Trinitarian thinking that takes more seriously creation, the Spirit and the interrelationships throughout the cosmos, with all of creation as the scope of redemption
• Sin only as a broken relationship between humans and God, to the sinful ways relationships with creation are broken
• God’s grace separate from nature, to God’s grace known in, with, through and transformative of nature
• Transcendence that is spiritualized and removed from the life and matter of creation, to a sense of the divine mysteriously active in, with and through what is created
• An obsession with progress and development as measured in economic terms, to…more sustainable life for all of creation
• Allegiance to the global market system, to being inspired by a vision of God’s economy for the well-being of all, and earth itself
• A focus only on technological or market-base “fixes,” to the healing of creation
Once again Paul’s words clarify this relationship: “love one another… Love your neighbour as yourself. Love does no wrong to a neighbour;” as we understand all creation, the earth and everything in and on it, as our neighbour, intimately connected and interdependent with God and everyone.
This is difficult work. It will ask everything of us, and will expose our failings, in order that we grow and change as is God’s desire for us, that death and suffering “Passover” all people and all creation.
I want to end with a creative image from this week. From my office window I observed a woman and a young person, the woman a grandparent’s age, and the young person maybe 10. I saw them crossing the St. Luke parking lot, the young person with a bright pink helmet, riding a kick scooter adeptly swerving and circling around the woman as she walked intently along. As she came onto the path near the corner, the young rider rode the top of the retaining wall and then skillfully jumped from the wall to the sidewalk landing just beside her in time to push the crosswalk button for the light. She seemed unphased. They continued down the hill along Cedar Hill Crossroad walking and riding in the same way. A while later I saw them return, the same young rider pushing their way uphill this time, and the woman pushing a unicycle with one hand. That caught my attention. As they went by, I wondered, is the unicycle for the young person, and God bless this woman for supporting and picking up such a unique and creative activity for them! Or, what if the unicycle was for her? What a unique and creative common activity they would share riding around one another together! I honestly don’t know which is true. Maybe both! But somehow this seems like an image of the crazy Covid-19, climate crisis, social, political, economic, and spiritual crisis world we are living in, with God asking of us amazingly creative, surprising and scary responses in authentic and accountable relationships of love for everyone and everything with God in all creation as neighbours in this together. What Passover of death to life would this way of God in the Spirit of Jesus realize for everyone in all creation? When are you picking up your unicycle? Let it be so, in all our relations. Amen.