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The other day a friend asked, have you noticed a change in people’s ability to cope with the pandemic this fall? I nodded. I notice both in myself and others that patience is in shorter supply. Irritability increases more quickly than before. And it’s not a surprise. We’re six months into a pandemic. There is no easy way out of this. And it’s begun getting rainier, more overcast, and gets darker earlier. It seems only yesterday that we were enjoying an extended summer and suddenly it feels more like winter.

            Checking in with others I notice there is more fragility, more weariness in general. People just wishing all this [gestures] would just go away. Even though we know it’s not going away, at least not yet.

            And yet there are moments of joy. Births of babies, weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, starting new jobs, retirements, even limited travel, are all celebrated. We are thankful for the gifts of technology and especially the internet for connecting during this time as we are doing with the livestream, even through we would rather be gathering in person.

            Perhaps it’s easier for us to relate to the people in the gospel reading who are irritated listening to Jesus’ riddles. These people are baffled. Jesus, himself a Jew, is telling other Jews that he can set them free. Yet they have not been enslaved since the time of Moses when they were in Egypt. There is a long legacy of liberations texts in Exodus, describing how they escaped enslavement. And the period that followed wasn’t easy.

            Perhaps Ancient Israelites hearing us complain about a pandemic of six months might scoff. Try forty years. Wandering through the wilderness, no end in sight. For these reasons ancient texts speak to us today in new ways. They remind us that others have suffered through calamities and hard times. We can learn from these writings and listen to what they are speaking to us today.  

Accomplices in Grace

            My friend wondered with everyone feeling they have less to give, whether this could be an opportunity. Not in a trite way to say that suffering is good, but a way for us to dig more meaningfully into our faith. This could be an opportunity for us to dig more deeply into grace. To explore the bedrock of a Lutheran tradition we celebrate this day in particular. —> This helped inspire the phrase Accomplices in Grace, which is outside on the church sign: Welcoming Accomplices in Grace this Sunday.

            There is something intriguing about being an accomplice. Perhaps that is not what new members Maya, Scott, Helen, Janet, Ted, and Karl, had in mind this morning. You better check your alibis and get your stories straight, because that too is what calling Church of the Cross a church home entails. To be up to no good as followers of Jesus. To put our trust not in our own talents or abilities, but in grace, love freely given from Christ.

            Being an accomplice in grace will look different for each one of you. Depending on gifts, your yearnings, your hopes and dreams for living out your faith. Continue scheming because you never know how the Spirit will be at work within you.

            Ways in which we live out Jesus’ call to find truth in him. The one who personifies the Word of God, embodying a life serving the poor, destitute, stranger, caring for creation.

              My friend also asked during the pandemic whether people can be more honest. After all we have less of a buffer, less energy to mediate various conversations. There too we can become more open to receiving grace from God and one another. Luther believed because of grace he no longer trusted in himself and his own works, but gave himself over to God. Through faith he was able to be free of the terror that perfection and success demanded of him. Freed as a servant of Christ, he could live his life rooted in love.

            I was just talking with another friend who noticed he’s been glued to news updates of news in the US. It affects his sleeping and his overall wellbeing. It’s amazing when you think one person with a Twitter account can have that profound of an affect, keep million wrapped in anxiety and fear. A president willing to signal to white supremacists “stand back and stand by.”

            Some people are so focused on what’s happening in the US they nearly forgot we just had an election in BC. When you think about all the provisions for early voting and all the polling stations, including one that was here in the church, you realize how good we have it. At least I didn’t hear stories of people waiting in line to vote for hours upon hours as you often hear in the US. I don’t know if we understand why mail-in ballots won’t be counted for another two weeks, unless the Queen is counting them herself.

                How can be accomplices in grace for one another? When we’re staring at our screens too much? When we’re binge watching Netflix so as not to think about things that are bothering us?

                Pr. Lyle and I are aware of how many folks in our midst have lost loved ones, have people we love who are sick or dying. We’ve had pets die that our dear to us. We know people who have lost jobs or businesses that shut down in the spring an never re-opened, or who have laid off staff. And while the country and world brace for a recession, which has already begun, we know not everyone is affected equally. Some people have barely noticed a difference in their financial and physical security, while others struggle.            

                Nevertheless I think my friend’s hunch is right. We are more able to talk about a need for grace in our lives. Few of us believe we are as secure as we once thought. We are more susceptible to mood swings, anxiety, and generally in need of sabbath rest.

              Like the disciples at times we don’t get it. I know I don’t get it much of the time. Times at which I’m exasperated and struggle with grace: whether it’s raising kids, navigating Covid protocols in all aspects of life, or whatever it is. I know sometimes I need to take a deep breath, lighten up, and take a step back, in order to receive that grace.

            Maya, Scott, Helen, Janet, Ted, and Karl, we look forward to welcoming you today. We look forward to welcoming others in the coming months. Together let us live into this mystery that Jesus himself is truth. That he is the wellspring of grace and love.

            It’s especially joyful to be accomplices in grace here in Victoria, in the Pacific Northwest, thinking of friends in Washington State as well. Someone asked me whether I was a priest (or a pastor) like it was something quaint, out of a Charles Dickens novel or something. We can surprise them we’re actually up to no good, because the gospel wants us to conspire together out of love. To raise the boats of all our neighbours, especially those struggling with housing, food, who are racialized, queer, refugees, women, children, disabled, and generally in need of love.

Wrapping Up

            As we think about the Reformation, let us think about how we continue welcoming new members today. Fewer of us are coming into the church by growing up Lutheran. I didn’t grow up Lutheran and here I am. And here are many of you too who have found a church home through circuitous routes. Let us imagine together ways in which we can continue welcoming people we never expected into life together. People the Spirit is sending us, entrusting to us. This a blessing and holy gift.

            I invite you to remember someone who played a pivotal role in your life. I’m going to wrap up with a story about someone who played an important role in my life. I think about Lamont, a friend who is Roman Catholic, who was interested in Dorothy Day, in distributing goods and property to any and all who need it. Lamont was my baptismal sponsor. A Roman Catholic sponsoring a future Lutheran. The Spirit is capable of more minor miracles. I know you have stories as well. Consider reaching to someone in need of that kind of support today. Someone who maybe you haven’t thought about.

            Let us be accomplices in grace together. Amen.