Overview of readings
Today’s readings are fraught with land mines at every turn. A lot of religious trauma and heartache is caught up with some of these that have been used as clobber passages. Let us take some moments to address some of these readings in broad strokes.
Starting with the reading from the Book of Job. This passage has been used to say sickness is the result of God’s punishment. This is patently false. However, it is tricky to parse this dialogue between God and Satan. Part of it is our projecting ideas of Satan that aren’t in the Bible. Satan isn’t an overlord of hell as how he’s commonly portrayed including by churches. Instead in the Book of Job, Satan is a kind of a Crown prosecutor who is counted among the heavenly beings and bringing a counterpoint against Job. It is a strange exchange, but it’s an allegory about faith and God’s sovereignty. It’s not about God punishing people.
The other troubling passage is from the Gospel of Mark around divorce. This passage and others like it have been used by the church either to forbid divorce or to perpetuate stigma around divorce. When relationships break down, as a church we support people leaving toxic relationships, and supporting people who choose to remain single or building new healthy relationships. We acknowledge many churches continue to perpetuate this stigmas around divorce, including punishing couples either who are unmarried and living together or perpetuating stigma around people who are divorced.
We also recognize it’s only in recent decades that gay couples are able to get married legally and in the church. Many churches, perhaps most, still do not support gay marriage. It is good to name these things because hearing these readings in church bring up a lot of trauma for folks both within and on the edges of the church. Naming them helps people start to heal and hear God’s grace. Also if you have any questions about the Bible readings on a given Sunday feel free to reach out to Pr. Lyle or me for further discussion. Denise is also leading a weekly Bible study following the weekly lections should you be interested. These are on Wednesdays at 10:30 AM here at the church.
Jesus Blesses the Little Children
As you may have heard BC is introducing a mask mandate for children in Kindergarten through Grade three. Previously the recommendation was for grades four and up. In the last couple weeks the number of Covid cases in this younger cohort skyrocketed. More older children and adults have been vaccinated while younger children have not, although that might change sometime soon as well, which would be wonderful. Having unvaccinated children is a constant source of stress and anxiety navigating school and public spaces.
There was a great outcry from parents, teachers, and others to introduce a mask mandate for younger children and the province followed suit. Although they specified it wasn’t because of the public outcry but because the science supports a mask mandate for children given the higher infection rates. It’s good when public requests and science are in agreement. And we noticed at school that perhaps half of younger kids already wore masks while half did not, which is an ineffective strategy to preventing the spread of Covid. We’ve seen several friends’ kids get Covid here in Victoria and sometimes spread it to family members. Thankfully no one we know locally has been hospitalized as a result, but a reminder how close to home it is.
While Covid vaccines have not yet been approved for children under twelve by the federal and provincial governments, flu vaccines are becoming available. In fact I happened to call our local pharmacy and the pharmacist picked up. He happened to have a couple dozen doses of a flu vaccine available that day. We reserved them and got our shots last week. I’ve never been this excited about a flu vaccine in my life. When I was in my twenties most of the time I didn’t bother to get one. In my thirties I got them more consistently and now I’m lining up as though I’m buying tickets to go see Alanis Morissette’s reunion tour. The publicly available flu shots will be available mid-October, giving priority to infants, seniors, and immuno-compromised people. What a privilege to get our flu vaccines early, which hopefully gives the kids a bit of added protection until they receive Covid vaccines.
In the gospel reading Jesus tells the disciples, “Let the children come to me. Do not stop them. For it is to such as these that the kingdom (or dominion) of God belongs.” Jesus puts the kids at the centre. He prioritizes them, in the same way public health makes flu shots available to infants first. To make sure the most vulnerable and youngest ones are protected.
Care of Creation
The other blessing of children is thinking about ways we care for creation. This Sunday we’re wrapping up the Care of Creation focus. I think about watching our kids play at the beaches here. For those who may not be familiar with Victoria beaches they’re generally not the sandy kind although some are. Most are rock outcropping and tide pools that are fun to explore. Lots have piles of fallen trees that have become smooth by the waves and end up rolling ashore. Great for making small huts and for walking along.
One thing that was alarming this summer was the heat wave we experienced for a few days. For one almost no one has air conditioning in their houses on the West Coast, so you’re dealing with intense heat and a house that never fully cools down. And the realization this shouldn’t be happening. Victoria summers are generally cool. Living close to the ocean has a moderating effect that the weather here is never terribly hot or cold.
Meanwhile temperatures reached 49.6 C in Lytton, BC, in the interior. Days later a wildfire ripped through the town, destroying most structures, and killing two people.
Here in Victoria, we saw a high of 39.8 C at the Gonzales weather station, which is exceptionally hot for a Northern coastal city.
Dr. Chris Harley, a marine ecologist at UBC, estimates that perhaps a billion marine animals died during the heat wave including clams, mussels, starfish, and other invertebrates. This is due in part to the worst of the heat wave striking when the sea was at low tide, exposing marine animals directly to the hot air. I remember thinking there was a fishy smell especially around that time and it was due to marine life effectively baking in the heat in tidal areas.
And yet now is the time to act. It’s easy to get bummed out by the dour outlooks on climate, but one thing we keep hearing is that now is the time to act. I find it easier to be uplifted by stories around climate. I remember accompanying one of my child’s grade four classes marching to the Legislature downtown as part of Greta Thurnberg’s climate march. She was speaking in Vancouver, while kids across Canada walked out of class and marched for the climate.
Rather than thinking about climate action as something I’ve just read about, I think about it in terms of wanting to get those flu and Covid vaccines for my kids. Perhaps you think about this for your own kids, grandkids, relatives, or neighbours. It’s just the right thing to do and Jesus is urging us to centre children and to be a church that blesses children through concrete acts of love.
I think about being at the Legislature that day and seeing thousands upon thousands of children in every direction. And we know it’s about government and collective response to urge corporations to respond. During the beginning of the pandemic most of us stayed home or travelled very short distances and yet we didn’t see the size of decline in emissions needed to care for creation. We know it will take structural changes in the way we produce and consume energy and other shifts at the broader level. Seeing faces of kids makes it real for me.
This week the Truth and Reconciliation Committee hosted Dr. Jeff Corntassel, a professor at UVic, to speak. Some of you saw him and his daughter here last Sunday who led the drumming and singing together with Carolyn Klaassen. We continue thinking about the blessing of Indigenous children and ways we centre them. We realize that the relationship of churches with Indigenous is very fraught. We explored some of these themes in worship hearing directly from Carolyn Klaassen, an Indigenous Lutheran leader in the BC Synod.
One thing Dr. Corntassel pointed to is the absence of Indigenous medicines like Camas that once were prevalent throughout this area. One thing he does, and Boston a student confirmed, is how often Dr. Corntassel takes students on field trips for very practical purposes. Ripping out invasive species of plants that choke plants Indigenous to the area.
Going on hikes with a friend who is knowledgeable about local plants, I’ve become aware just how much Scotch broom is pervasive in rocky landscapes. It’s also hard to remove, but simple, persistent acts of teaching people how to care for Indigenous plants, so they will flourish, is one way we push back against the colonization of the landscape.
Perhaps that is something for both the TRC and Greening Committee to team up on sometime, would be members joining one of these clean up parties and learning how to care for Indigenous plants. Too often we think about things at the meta level in which change seems out of reach. But that change usually begins at the grassroots level, even including pulling out the roots of unhelpful plants.
Jesus Blesses Children
Wrapping up, one thing we can think about is removing structural barriers for children to flourish in the church and our communities. Just like the BC government introduced mask mandates for young children to help curb the growth of Covid cases, what are things like that would allow children to flourish in the church and our neighbourhood. I don’t have ready made answers for this. I know at times we feel out of step with families outside or on the edges of church and their needs. Perhaps we could ask them. And we might not be able to meet all their needs, but perhaps there are some we could address. Ways we can show concretely as a congregation we are here for all children. That all children matter.
Jesus says let the children come to me. Children are a blessing. Amen.