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Mark 10:35-45

Smashing signs in front of Starbucks

            The other day I found myself in the rather absurd position of whacking off a homemade sign in front of Starbucks. I’ll tell you how I got there, but first I need to explain I had noticed a recent spate of anti-vaxx propaganda going up in neighbourhoods I cycle through. When I see a simple letter-size poster telling people not to get vaccinated or spreading misinformation, I take it down. It’s a simple act. It won’t turn the tide of the hundreds of thousands of posts online saying the same thing, but it’s a tangible thing I can do in the neighbourhoods where I spend time. Recently I saw signs promoting a misinformation website in front of two elementary schools. Someone used a ladder to install these and presented a challenge to remove, considering I had no ladder with me. I discovered a bike lock cable could be used as a kind of flail to swing at these signs made of corrugated plastic. Sure enough after a couple swings the signs fell down. A friend mentioned there were two more of these same signs in Cook Street Village. As you know this a busier area. After I located the signs, I got off my bike, and got my improvised flail ready. Some people were visibly concerned what I was doing. When I explained I was removing anti-vaxx signs, most people encouraged me. One woman even suggested I borrow a chair from the neighbouring Starbucks so I could reach the sign. I suggested this might not go over well with the management at Starbucks, so I resorted to jumping and swinging at a sign mounted on a power pole. I looked ridiculous and it was not an insignificant amount of effort required to remove the signs. Some people hurried their gait as they walked past or made sure to swerve far around me. Nevertheless it felt good to remove some visible sign of misinformation and division. I’m not going to pretend this made a huge impact, but it made a few people feel safer and more at home in their neighbourhoods.  

            Someone who hung up those signs is going to be disappointed.  I wonder what it would Be like to have a conversation with that person. 

Jesus disrupts power not for individual gain, but collective good

            How did we get here? Isn’t that what we all want to know? How did we get to this point where our communities are so divided during a pandemic over something a seemingly simple as taking a vaccine against an illness for which there is no cure? 

            Our gospel reading helps us with this. In particular the history of how this and similar gospel readings have been interpreted. We’re never just reading the text without inheriting and sifting through decades and centuries of interpretation.

            Let’s talk about freedom. How we interpret Christian freedom says a lot about how we interpret the Bible. Martin Luther talked about Christian freedom in terms of serving Jesus. Luther said the paradox of the Christian is they are the most free, servants of no one. And yet at the same time they are the most bound, serving everyone. So when we talk about Christian freedom we’re really talking about freedom to serve and love neighbour. We are talking about the freedom to follow Jesus, making the world better for other people.

            Where things go wrong is thinking about freedom in a narrow, individual sense. For some Christians freedom has become untethered from serving neighbours. Instead individual freedom has become an end in itself. The elevation of individual choice at the expense of the health of others. We no longer see ourselves as part of a cohesive community but rather seek our own truths, do what we think is best for us personally. We cannot seek to understand a global pandemic exclusively on individual terms. A virus does not care about our understanding of freedom. A virus will spread wherever there is no barrier to stop it.

            When you start with God’s grace and love for neighbour, there isn’t space to retreat into the individual. There isn’t space to see our own needs as wholly separate from the needs of our neighbours. And so the response to a global pandemic cannot be simply a retreat into the individual and private. It is desiring that God’s love and healing be shared with all our neighbours.

            Public health is concerned with outcomes of bringing the greatest good to our neighbours. Grace and love seek binding together our communities as a whole. Not just saving this or that household. This or that municipality. But recognizing that we are all connected and our collective saving or losing lies in the balance of our ability to work together as different members of the same body.

            We know some neighbours get forgotten in public health initiatives. We think about Indigenous neighbours whose needs we’ve often completely overlooked throughout the colonial project. We think about immigrants and refugees who sometimes struggle to find access to adequate healthcare when they arrive.  


            The other day I was chatting online with some friends of a friend who live around Nanaimo. They were expressing hesitancy over the Covid vaccine. They belong to churches that do not seem to encourage people to get the Covid vaccine. They were echoing some of the same talking points around individual freedom. I tried to bring common ground as a follower of Jesus, asking how we could arrive at such different conclusions reading the gospels. You can probably predict some of the things each of us said. We appreciated the conversation knowing it was unlikely either of us would persuade the other of a different point of view. However these folks mainly wanted me to see them as human beings, as fellow children of God. They wanted me to see them as other than a caricature of people I imagine haranguing healthcare workers in front of hospitals. In fact some of them did attend protests but they imagine their role in them in a very different light. While I still disagree with their arguments, I will try to bring more empathy in seeing them as human, as children of God. 

News from a friend

            I think also about the great tragedy when unity breaks down in society. When we pursue separate truths that lead to sad results. I think about people in my life who I’ve been out of touch with for awhile people who I wonder how they’re doing.  

            Recently I was thinking about a former high school classmate and his family who I haven’t seen for many years. Whose kids are teenagers. I wonder what their interests are, what kind of people they are becoming. It turns out I heard some news this week about my friend that he’s in the ICU with Covid in another province. Apparently his spouse and kids have Covid and a member of extended family has died of Covid some weeks ago. They attend a church that doesn’t promote the Covid vaccine, and may even actively discourage people from getting vaccinated. This is all incredibly sad and avoidable.

            I realize that Pr. Lyle and I talk about vaccination a lot. Really we just want everyone to feel loved as children of God. We want everyone to flourish and to build a beautiful church community together.

            In closing I return to the ridiculous image of me swinging a bicycle cable at a sign. Sometimes life is like that. We can’t change the whole structure in one go, but we can change this one thing that’s right in front of you. We can choose not to ignore that things staring us in the face. People sipping lattes in Starbucks wondering whether they need to call the manager. We can only do our part. Through faith and reason, we trust we act in accordance with God’s will. And in some small  way make the world better assure in God’s dominion.

            How is God calling you to do this work? Surely you can find a more elegant approach. Because God is using each of us as instruments for unity, love and grace in the world. Amen.