As I said to the children, I love the graphic on today’s bulletin, with the diversity of people, a child, an elder, of different gender expressions and colours, all together, surrounded by open arms. Whose arms is not shown. Are they the open arms of Jesus, of Creator/the Great Spirit, others, us, embracing everyone?
And I love this image connected to today’s reading of the blessings of Jesus, of Creator, particularly for those who are hurting and harmed in various ways, poor, meek, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, who mourn, hunger for righteousness, and persecuted. But in Jesus’ teachings, people blessed by Creator. I love that this is how we can picture these words, see hurting and harmed people, embraced by Jesus, by God.
And I love the First Nations Version that translates the words as “Creator’s blessing rests upon the ones…” for the tenderness and intimacy and tangible, visible image of hands of blessing upon those named, like in the graphic. And I love the different depictions of often familiar words, “…the ones with broken spirits, the ones who walk a trail of tears, the ones who walk softly, the ones who hunger and thirst for wrongs to be made right again, the ones who are merciful and kind to others, pure of heart, who make peace, the ones who are hunted down and mistreated for doing what is right; in all of these words seeing a young black man, Tyre Nichols, beaten to death by police and the hurt and harm done to his and their families and community, and stories like his of violence and oppression across the world and in our neighbourhoods, appreciating more those Jesus/Creator wants preferentially to bless, embrace, for love and justice and even to “rejoice and be glad,” or “let your hearts be glad and jump for joy.” Jesus’ embrace of those in need, is for justice and joy! Don’t we need and love that?
And don’t you love other words of the Bible today? From Micah, in the great court of creation, God’s pleading the case against God’s people, asking “What have I done?” Recounting God’s saving acts, and the people asking, with what shall I come before God? With offerings and sacrifices, of a firstborn? “God has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does God require of you but to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God.” Words to love, to live, for justice, for joy!
And the Psalm response that asks who may dwell in God’s tent, who may abide on God’s holy hill? “Those who lead a blameless life and do what is right, who speak the truth from their heart; who do not slander, do no evil to friends, nor discredit a neighbour; who reject the wicked, honour those who honour God, who do not take back their word, give money for self gain nor take bribes. A list of ten commandments for living, truthful, practical, encouraging words to live, to love, for justice.
And can we even love the words of Paul, rhetorical and repetitive, but masterfully depicting the foolishness of the cross that is the power of God. In contrast to human presumption in worldly wisdom and power, God chose what is foolish, weak, low and despised, things that are not, to shame the wise and strong, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one may boast in the presence of God. For God is the sole source of our life and being in Christ, who became for us wisdom and sanctification and redemption from God. Blessed words to love, to live in foolishness and righteousness for others, for us, for joy!
At the Saanich Municipal Council meeting on Monday, a motion was brought to request Vancouver Island municipalities and the BC Union of Municipalities to petition the Provincial Government to change the statutory tax exemption for places of worship which automatically requires municipalities to provide the exemption, to a permissive tax exemption which allows municipalities to decide to give an exemption or not based on determined criteria, application, and merit. News about the motion seemed to circulate at the last moment, and their was a flurry of responses that went to council as correspondence, including many copies of a form letter signed by members of the BC Humanist Association in favour of the motion citing the increasing decline in religious affiliation in Victoria and BC according to the most recent census, and many letters of support, most sent by members of local churches identifying numerous community services and benefits provided by places of worship in food security, shelter, support, refugee sponsorship, etc. The motion was seconded and debated, with the mover, Councillor Phelps-Bondaroff speaking of the intent to give municipalities the choice to provide the exemption or not since the exemption comes from the budgets of municipalities not the province. This is a rational and fair argument. But not the motivation reflected in most of the letters of support which was clearly to end the exemption for ideological reasons, simply that municipalities and the province should not support religious communities at all. In response, Councillor Harper spoke passionately opposing the motion, first declaring herself to be an atheist, and then describing in detail the great community benefits places of worship provide, the long-standing status of the exemption, the increasing diversity of worshipping communities across the province, and the needed security of this exemption being certain rather than uncertain year over year as places of worship face increasing financial challenges. Other Councillors followed with similar opposition to the motion and support for places of worship and the good work they do in the community. At the end of the debate the motion was defeated with 1 in favour and all the rest opposed, with even the seconder voting against it. It was all fascinating to watch and hear, with both wisdom and a degree of foolishness as well. I didn’t find myself jumping for joy, but it was good to hear broad support for what we strive for and hope we are saying and doing for the good of our communities, and especially for harmed and hurting people, and the world and all creation that God loves. What was evident to me, was that the foolishness of the cross that Paul and we speak of and have in our very name as a worshipping community, is just that to some, utter foolishness and not worthy of any public support. Speaking of the church, that is understandable for many Indigenous, Queer, racialized, and other minority neighbours who have been and are harmed by the church in stark contrast to Jesus’ open arms of embrace and blessing. And that as followers of Jesus, we must strive to be faithful to this gracious embrace and blessing for all and for each of us, in foolish ways of love and justice and blessing and joy, in truthful, practical commands to faithful living with our neighbours and all creation, in living out what we know, O mortals, that is good; to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly together. Words to love, to live, for justice, for joy!
The season after the Epiphany continues the time of looking for signs, not human wisdom or signs of proving God, but like the star to guide the Magi to see Jesus, or other wild and foolish signs like waters of Baptism and water turned to wine for feasting that point the way for us and all followers to recognize Jesus as the chosen one of God, God’s beloved on whom the Spirit rests, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, the anointed, Jesus the Rabbi, the great teacher, who offers words of blessing and hope for any who are hurting and harmed, and in Jesus’ Spirit, words about the foolishness of the cross, the power and wisdom of God, and words of the prophetic way of God and what is good, to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with God and together.
The Epiphany today is clearly in these words of God, of Jesus, words of embrace, words of life, words to love, words for joy! It is that last expression that I want to point to as an Epiphany today. The Epiphany of Jesus’ blessing for justice and joy! Rejoice and be glad! Let your hearts be glad and jump for joy! Hold on to, lift up, hold out, be embraced by and embrace one another with, God’s gracious blessings of joy! Seek out joy in justice and the hurt and harmed being blessed, for joy! Theirs and God’s and ours together. Follow and share the foolishness of the cross for all creation, for joy! Live the practical truth and action of “the good road from above” everyday, for joy!. Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with God and together, today and always, for joy! For you know, O mortal, this is God’s good purpose, and all that God requires of you, of us, is for joy, forever. In all our relations. Let it be so. Amen.