I was drawing a comic on the flipchart – essentially a timeline of the Early Church – in our confirmation class.
At one point, I draw two wedding rings overlapping with the words “Church” and “state” underneath.
Emperor Constantine becomes a Christian. There is a marriage of church and state. This is why we don’t marry non-Christians, I think, their values are different. They worship other gods…like power, war, and greed. It becomes socially and politically advantageous to call yourself a Christian, and when it’s socially and politically advantageous to call yourself a Christian, everyone does. This is why church attendance is down in North America, but I digress. And in the name of our Prince of Peace, wars are raged… Christ healed the sick, restored sight to the blind, and resurrected the dead; then great campaigns are raged of torture and death.
Christians no longer look like “little Christs.” They look like everyone else.
* * *
The time is not the middle ages, the place is not the middle east. The last residential school closed in Saskatchewan in 1996. In the last 200 years families of aboriginals in Canada have been systematically torn apart and the trauma has been felt in every generation since. It’s a sort of torture, a destruction, a violence against people who – and I cannot emphasize this strongly enough – Christ has called to love.
Love? Yes, love. “Love thy neighbour.” But who is my neighbour? (Hint: It’s not those closest to us who can afford the same kind of house we can)
The question and how Christ answers it belies this sentiment: if you can figure out who IS your neighbour, then you don’t have to worry about who ISN’T.
But Jesus doesn’t give a list of neighbours. He doesn’t even say, like some moral maxim, “everyone.” He doesn’t name a race or a gender or an age. He tells a story – he describes an act of self-sacrifice, kindness and generosity:
Luke 10:25-37 The Message (MSG)
25 Just then a religion scholar stood up with a question to test Jesus. “Teacher, what do I need to do to get eternal life?”
26 He answered, “What’s written in God’s Law? How do you interpret it?”
27 He said, “That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence—and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself.”
28 “Good answer!” said Jesus. “Do it and you’ll live.”
29 Looking for a loophole, he asked, “And just how would you define ‘neighbor’?”
30-32 Jesus answered by telling a story. “There was once a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way he was attacked by robbers. They took his clothes, beat him up, and went off leaving him half-dead. Luckily, a priest was on his way down the same road, but when he saw him he angled across to the other side. Then a Levite religious man showed up; he also avoided the injured man.
33-35 “A Samaritan traveling the road came on him. When he saw the man’s condition, his heart went out to him. He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey, led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill—I’ll pay you on my way back.’
36 “What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbor to the man attacked by robbers?”
37 “The one who treated him kindly,” the religion scholar responded.
Jesus said, “Go and do the same.”
I’m not sure what reasons were being used to “save” people through torture and threat of death across the ages. I suspect it’s the same reasoning being employed by ISIS, today. Perhaps in the desire for power and control over others they are tempted to think physical acts trump spiritual ones, and “saying the magic words” will save a soul, whether or not the heart agrees.
“The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7
Today I read a comment on an article about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Canada: “This is horrible. We’re better than this, Canada!”
But it’s clear that we’re not.
It would be nice to believe that. It would be nice to believe that evil is something other people in other countries commit, but not us.
I say this because if we think that the evil done by men and women over time is somehow inhuman and other, then we are more likely to repeat it, more likely to think “us” incapable of being that wrong.
The problem is not unique to a particular time or place; the problem is an intensely human problem.
Faced with great, uncontrollable forces from without, fear can be turned to anger and hatred, and salvation taken into our own hands. But we cannot save the world, we cannot even save ourselves. Only God can do that – and he did. It. is. finished. Only God can deliver a soul, transform a life and a family and a country: only God can save the world.
We pray in the Lord’s prayer: Thy Will be done (on earth as it is in Heaven). Hell exists on earth. We make it for ourselves when we follow our own will and self-made definitions of “good”. But good intentions can never add up, they’re incomplete, they do not get us to where we need to be. The road to hell is paved with such…
For bringing order to the chaos, hope to the families affected by residential schools, freedom from controlling, oppressive forces that have used the name of Christ to hurt instead of help, we have only one hope…
The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.
This is our Creation story. In the dark, murky waters, symbolic of death, hell, and chaos in the ancient world, we see our God, the Spirit of God, hovering over – separate from yet close to – the face of the chaos.
And he speaks. And he brings light, and life and truth. He creates. He divides the waters and dry land appears. He creates the borders of the seas. He can MAKE SOMETHING where there is NOTHING. And his works are VERY GOOD. Let us pray to our Creator, the one who died in order to save us, the one who lives again and has defeated death, and chaos, and hell.
Gracious God, Creator of the Universe
you speak to us through your prophets
and through Jesus Christ your son.
Through Jesus comes grace and truth,
healing and justice.
Your love has freed us from the bondage of fear
to become your disciples.
That love gives us the strength
and compassion to do your will
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.