At a funeral yesterday, a person said to me it is difficult not to feel sad about everything right now. We shared a quiet moment of acknowledgement of that feeling together, and a chance to check-in that they were okay, in spite of the sadness.
On Wednesday, at a monthly ecumenical gathering of church leaders, we talked about all the suffering happening in the Holy Land, and a colleague expressed concern about what to say in a sermon this Sunday. They said, “Maybe I will call in sick!” Collectively we didn’t have a lot to offer as suggestions for preaching, except acknowledging the sadness and grief, and reaching out where we could to those more directly affected, including our Jewish and Muslim neighbours and friends.
Earlier in the day the Spiritual Care Providers of UVic Multifaith met for a monthly meeting to check-in and update one another on programs and activities and consider some important decisions together as structural and staffing changes continue at the University. Part of that meeting was considering a joint statement that Pastor Lyndon drafted with input from the Jewish and one of the Muslim Spiritual Care Providers as well as our Coordinator. With one friendly amendment there was support for releasing the statement together, but with the provision that any Spiritual Care Provider that had not had a chance to respond, especially those closer to the violence and suffering, would be given until noon to do so. We learned later that morning, that because of the bombing of the hospital in Gaza, some in our group could no longer sign the statement. For that reason, we decided we could not release the statement in good faith and in support of everyone in Multifaith.
The previous day, I did have a chance for a conversation with the Jewish Spiritual Care Provider and I listened to the pain and suffering they were experiencing and the antisemitism people in their community were facing, including in their workplaces. I reached out to our Muslim colleagues but have not yet had the opportunity to talk together. They share the same pain and suffering, and the reality of Islamophobia for them.
As a church we have shared statements and letters from our Bishops, Kairos and the Canadian Council of Churches, and the Lutheran World Federation, and updates from Karen who serves on the Board of the Augusta Victoria Hospital, an LWF run hospital in East Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives, with a satellite hospital in Gaza, including a cancer treatment centre in the al-Ahli Arab Hospital run by the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, the hospital that was bombed this past week. As Karen said, “the ongoing tragedy is truly heart-breaking.”
I recount all of this to name and acknowledge the grief and sadness I expect all of us feel, and for others for whom this is so much closer, including in relationships we have individually, as a church, locally, nationally, and internationally. And to acknowledge how difficult it is to speak faithfully and truthfully together about the suffering in the Middle East. And to also acknowledge, what is part of the conversations and discussions we have been having, about the many other conflicts and places of suffering and violence in our world that are ongoing in Ukraine, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria, Iran, and on almost every other continent on earth. It all weighs heavily on our hearts and minds and spirits and leaves us struggling to know what to say.
In the Gospel reading today we witness the second of a series of attempts to trap Jesus as described in the gospel of Matthew. Jesus is confronted this time by an unholy alliance of the Pharisee’s disciples and the Herodians. In the first instance their allegiance is religious, but tolerant of Roman occupation and oppression, and in the second, they are loyal to Herod and the puppet religious authority allowed by Rome. Their flattery of Jesus may be intended as false, but we hear the truth of who Jesus is in their words. Jesus is sincere, teaches the way of God in accordance with the truth, shows deference or special status to no one and no partiality or favouritism or prejudice. And their question for Jesus is intended to force him to choose a side between them, either for the Roman tax and against religious autonomy and purity, or against the tax and political treason. And it may seem that Jesus outwits them with his answer, which in one way he does. But it is not likely this story common to three gospels is intended for this purpose – to show how smart Jesus is. What is more likely is showing us there is no cause for condemnation of Jesus by religious or political authorities, and instead Jesus again and again speaks the truth. Roman coins in Jesus’ time identified Ceasar as lord and the Emperor as the son of god. Titles and identity given to Jesus by Jesus’ followers. When Jesus asks for a coin and says, “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s,” he states an earthly truth. It was Rome’s money and tax. But the second statement qualifies and supersedes the first, “And give to God the things that are God’s.” Everything is God’s, the creator of all.
The truth of Jesus’ words, as before in the gospel, calls for radical discipleship, in this instance, radical stewardship of all we possess and all we are, that is in fact, God’s, and intended for God’s dominion on earth. And those who try to trap Jesus are instead left asking, as we are, how do I live, how do we live giving everything to God?
“Give everything to God?” Is this calling out of us a radical generosity in everything, with all we have and in all we say and do? Is a radical generosity of Spirit what has and can and will change this too sad and broken world? I believe it includes a radical reevaluating of what we have and how much we can give to God and for our neighbour’s wellbeing, whether in support of suffering in the Middle East or Ukraine or for numerous other people and places, in refugee sponsorship, in support and advocacy for those struggling with food security, housing, addiction and recovery, access and more. Also, a radical generosity in the way we treat one another, in seeking understanding, offering compassion, truth and gentleness, love and caring for one another. Whether those affected by the toxic drug crisis that we are learning and talking about together as a community, or with Indigenous neighbours in seeking greater truth and right relationships together, in care for the earth and all its creatures by using less and preserving and protecting more, in safety and inclusion of trans and other Queer young people especially as provinces and other jurisdictions pass legislation that makes young people unsafe, less accepted and included.
Living and speaking radical generosity, as Pastor Lyndon’s article in the Times Colonist challenged, is not “being nice,” but speaking the truth, including the truth’s challenge to us in love.
Over and over Moses seeks God’s favour for himself and for God’s people and God grants forgiveness and favour over and over. Moses asks to see God’s glory and in a strange and fantastic scene God grants this gift to Moses, to see the backside of God’s glory from the cleft of a rock sheltered by God’s hand, inspiring the old hymn, “Rock of Ages Cleft for Me.” We too receive God’s forgiveness and favour over and over, waking each day to gracious possibility and hope for ourselves and this world in life and death through Christ Jesus. And we witness God’s glory, even with all the heartbreaking sadness and loss, in all that surrounds us and is within us that is God’s and of God’s creating, and in human compassion, caring, healing, and hope that arises over and over out of the ashes of tragedy and loss. Living and speaking radical generosity arises out of the glorious forgiveness and favour we and all people receive from God, over and over.
Paul writes to the new, small community of Christians in the capital city, Thessalonica, with thanksgiving for their “work of faith and labour of love and steadfastness of hope in Christ Jesus,” despite isolation, persecution, and struggle. A radical discipleship, in radical stewardship and generosity of Spirit in truth and hope, toward everyone, in every circumstance, because everything is God’s and we are called by Jesus to give to God the things that are God’s, everything! I had the privilege this week to have two conversations with people new to the Christian faith and to hear their excitement and desire to learn and grow in faith, and their gratitude for experiencing God’s gracious favour and glory and how this is changing them and how they want to live, as though everything in their life is now God’s, because it is! The suffering in this world, individual and collective, local and global, can leave us heartbroken and speechless. In this time when everything seems sad, what do we say and do in truth and faithfulness to God and our neighbours? I believe there is freedom and hope in Jesus’ radical discipleship and stewardship, in this Spirit of generosity toward everyone and everything that is God’s. That gracious generosity is our default, our habit and first and ultimately only way as it is God’s gracious way with us over and over and over again. Let it be so, in all our relations. Amen.