Recently as many of you know I joined my family on a three week vacation to visit in-laws in the Netherlands. It’s the first time we have travelled as a family off the island in over two years. As you can imagine there was a lot of anticipation including around the travel. We had heard the nightmare scenarios around lines at airports, unclaimed baggage stacked mile high. Thankfully we didn’t encounter anything like that. However we realized the kids were now old enough to carry their own luggage. Except we didn’t have quite enough proper small suitcases for all four of us. As a result a few extra items and some gifts for family were packed in the dreaded big suitcase. Considering it was our only checked luggage it wasn’t a big deal for the flights. Even getting picked up at the airport by family, not a big deal. However the first time we travelled by train the dreaded big suitcase became more inconvenient. You just can’t find a proper place to put a big suitcase on a commuter train. There was the inevitable moment where I hauled the suitcase halfway down a train car only to realize it wasn’t going to work and had to haul it all the way back into the entryway. It’s a walk of defeat, bumping into other people’s smaller luggage stored in the aisle. It’s that moment when you’re starting to feel hot and a bit frustrated. You regret not planning ahead for this very moment. I think of the last verse in today’s gospel reading where Jesus says, “Sell your possessions if you want to follow me.” There are moments while travelling when you wish you didn’t have all these possessions. Did I need to bring all of this?
To be clear Jesus isn’t just writing a blog post about minimalist travelling. Although you know there must be a youth pastor sermons out there how Jesus was the original Instagram influencer. So if Jesus isn’t just telling us how to backpack around Europe, what is he getting at? Is he being literal asking followers to sell their possessions or is it a metaphor about simplicity? Yes. Both of these can be true at the same time. We need to let ourselves be challenged by Jesus’ words to reflect upon our desire for more or better things.
In the Pacific Northwest in particular I think too many of our inner monologues revolves around the cost of housing. We hear about students moving to Victoria whose housing plan for the academic year is living in their vehicle combined with a little couch surfing with friends. Showering in the athletics facilities on campus. I once met a student who lived in a not so sea worthy sailboat moored at a local marina. She said she had to apply caulking to leaks in the cabin every time it rained. But at least she had somewhere to stay and it was cheaper than renting an apartment.
I think about my own inner monologue around housing: “What is the market doing? How much did the neighbours get for their place? Over asking? Oh good for them. Maybe they can step up into a house like they’ve said they’ve been wanting to do. Oh is the market cooling? Hopefully our friends can finally buy a condo or townhouse, since they’ve been hopping from rental to rental. Oh interest rates are going up? How will that affect affordability?”
At times many of us wish we could just parachute into a different time. When everyone with a normal job could afford a house. While recognizing people have always struggled in various ways.
Thinking theologically into our situation today, Jesus desires our liberation from possessions. Not to be constantly obsessed with having enough. But rather than just seeing this as an individual rebuke, let us reflect upon the bigger picture. Jesus’ critique is a rebuke of our entire economic system that chooses winners and losers. We know things don’t have to be this way. We know things can be better and fairer. There is far more income inequality today than there was thirty years ago. And as a church we’re at liberty to name the elephant in the room when few people have the time and energy to do so. Jesus frees us from our anxiety whether about our own situation, our kids, our grandkids, or neighbours.
How many of us have had sleepless nights and felt better as a result? We can’t worry our way out of the crises we’re facing. Grinding anxiety only leads to exhaustion. God is opening a space to breathe. A space to imagine a better future. A future that is already possible through the Creator. Sometimes that’s hard to imagine in a secular world that has isn’t always interested in thinking theologically. But we might be surprised how many people are interested in exploring faith and theology. Because the path we’re on currently isn’t working. Our government leaders want to manage our way from crisis to crisis. We need more than managers. We need dreamers, we need prophets, we need a spiritual awakening.
If all that sounds exhausting rather than liberating, it’s fine to sit down and rest. God’s promise of liberation isn’t about us working harder. It’s about living into the promise of divine grace. It’s about recognizing we can’t do this on our own. The simplicity Jesus is talking about isn’t just reorganizing our closets and drawers, although that might bring some mental peace. But the thought that salvation doesn’t come from a constant slog of trying to survive. But rather we’re all worthy of love and the necessities to live just for being children of God. That all humans and all God’s creatures cherished by God.
Grace is counter-cultural because our culture tells us that our value is derived from our labour and our resources, not simply for being human. God tells us we are enough. That this world is enough. In fact that’s one reason we are partnering with Jewish neighbours this fall in welcoming a refugee family from Syria to Victoria. Because God desires for all our neighbours to flourish, including those in different countries, and of different faiths.
Perhaps some of you may know, but two of my grandparents were of Syrian/Lebanese ancestry. Their parents emigrated from Syria back in the early 20th Century. My great grandparents were Muslim and subject to various forms of racism and exclusion in both Southern Saskatchewan and North Dakota. Their ability to make foods that could keep without refrigeration helped them live through the Dirty Thirties. Many of us are only a few degrees removed from refugee families who in those days didn’t necessarily have passports or meet Government of Canada criteria. They simply came over when Canada welcomed immigrants, pretty much giving away land. Land that today we recognize is stolen from Indigenous people. It’s a fraught history we continue to reckon with. But it’s better for us to be honest about that complexity.
Care of Creation
In the midst of welcoming refugees, in the midst of a housing crisis, we also reflect upon God’s call for us to care for creation. As we enter the Season of Creation, we think about ways we can do with less. Consumption we can let go of. While in the Netherlands I was struck by how seamless their transit infrastructure is. They have trains, trams, buses, bike paths, traffic calming measures on streets. The Netherlands has some of the best public transit systems around. It made me smile thinking how building a handful of bike paths in Victoria has made so many people angry here. We do well to look beyond the island, to see what is working further afield, that things can’t just stay the way they’ve always been. And the Netherlands isn’t anti-car. They still have traffic jams everyday during rush hour. But they find ways to move millions of people on rail and bikes. Utrecht, one of the cities where we are staying, has an indoor bike parkade at the train station with room for 15,000 bikes. The largest in the world. We are starting with a pilot project in Victoria with room for several dozen bikes. It’s a place to start. One way we can give back to creation, to give back to neighbours with less busy streets, and having the courage to do things differently than we have in the past.
The Netherlands is also home to some of the highest density housing and yet no shortage of green space in urban areas. There are parks for kids to play in everywhere. Many are smaller but nearly all have some kind of play structure around every street corner. There may be dozens of places to play for kids in a given neighbourhood. Again it’s thinking about the bigger picture, how we can build systems that benefit more of our neighbours. And as a result more people spend time in parks and on the street because there are places to sit down, to play, to walk right outside your house without having to drive anywhere. Imagine ways we could make our own neighbourhood more inviting right here at Church of the Cross. At one of the busiest and more dangerous intersections in the city. What are ways we could invite people to slow down, to rest awhile, to know they are loved and valued as neighbours? Something for us to dream about.
Wrapping up know that if you feel you’re dragging a huge suitcase through a narrow aisle that you are enough. You can lay down your heavy burden and take some rest. You can even let go of some of the possessions weighing you down. Anxieties and fears. God is leading us in new directions, in new partnerships, envisioning a better world for refugees and all God’s creatures. Amen.