You can join this week’s worship service by visiting https://youtu.be/Q0uC9Yl0lBY
Thank you to Steve Spencer and the members of Up Ahead for sharing the gift of music with us. Below, you’ll find Andy’s reflection and Steve’s prayers for this week. In these exceptional times, please do stay in touch, with us and with each other. The peace of Christ be with you all.
Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost
Scripture: Romans 14: 1-12
Music: O God, Send Out Your Spirit; Be a Light
Before I say anything else, let me first just set aside an issue that arises at the very beginning of this week’s scripture lesson. Paul writes that those who eat only vegetables are weak. I want to be very clear: I know a number of tough, strong, resilient vegetarians. So, please, hold onto your Tweets and posts and hashtags. I was drawn to the reading this week not because it might inadvertently defend carnivores, but because of what Paul has to say about the culture wars of his day, and because I found it helpful as we face an election in our province and as the election in the US draws closer.
I recently overheard myself saying how annoyed I am with “Christians who give Christians a bad name.” I was reacting to a couple of things, including the defence of President Trump by some Christians in the US, which causes me to cringe. Not only does he represent absolutely no Christian value or virtue, but for Christians to defend him makes family reunions and discussions with my atheist friends even harder. I don’t want to be lumped in with others who proclaim to be Christian, yet can defend his bigotry, racism and misogyny.
Christians are not all the same; not only do we have different practices and songs, we also hold different opinions and perspectives, we interpret scripture differently, and we have different priorities based on our understanding of God’s call to us in this time and place. And when we disagree, we are just as opinionated and as sure of our position as anyone else. Which is why I needed to hear from Paul’s letter to the Romans today, because it reminded me that faith calls us to more than our opinion.
As I was preparing for today’s worship, I read an excellent article by Christine Chakoian who reminds us that the earliest Christians were torn apart by disagreements over what it meant to be faithful. She focuses on the passage we just heard from Paul, in which Paul is trying to diffuse disagreements over which laws and covenants were essential to the life of faith, and which religious activities of the Roman Empire must be avoided.
Disagreements included: whether a believer could marry a non-believer; whether a follower of Christ had to be circumcised, according to the Abrahamic covenant; whether women were free to speak in church; and whether a Christian could eat meat that had been offered to idols of other religions.
The issues we face today are different, but the disagreements we have are no less fierce. There are still considerable debates within and among Christian denominations concerning marriage and divorce, abortion and assisted dying, and a host of other issues. At the heart of most of them is a concern not just for the issue itself, but about whether societal changes should contribute to our beliefs and shape them, or whether societal changes are perceived as a threat to belief. The interesting thing about Paul’s letter to the Romans is that he essentially says: if you’re going to engage with one another only to argue and condemn each other, don’t bother.
He writes, “Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.” (Romans 14:10) The point is simple: we are all human and fallible, and this truth is the great leveller of any righteousness we might presume.
Of course, we have also to place this within the larger context of the ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, which Paul also does. It may not be good for us to judge others, or to engage them only to disagree, but when it comes to naming systemic injustice, or calling out religious practices that exclude and diminish others, or challenging views which support violence and hatred, then the Way of Jesus is to speak out and to act.
Because if there is one thing Jesus was not, it was complacent. A friend of mine recently wrote, “As made clear by Christ in the Scriptures, Martin Luther at the time of the Reformation, and the voices of Black Lives Matter today, ‘complacency’ is not a virtue… Unless we actively pray and work to relieve the suffering of this world, including those who are suffering from isolation, we are complicit in that suffering.”
He goes on to describe how it is we can speak and act in ways that follow Christ’s example, so that we focus less on judging our neighbour, and more on fostering the light of Christ’s peace. And he does so by drawing attention to what are often called the four cardinal virtues: courage, prudence, temperance, and justice.
Courage, of course, doesn’t refer to acts of daring, but to being willing to put oneself at risk for another. Prudence, or practical wisdom, places strong conviction within the context of experience and the lived reality of human relationships. Temperance is not just about abstaining from alcohol, but about reconciling the fulfilment of personal interests with the interests of our loved ones, neighbours and community. And justice is the public practice of these other virtues, such that the good we would want for ourselves is the good we seek for others.
These virtues are centuries old, yet in their simplicity they continue to call us away from personal opinion and judgment, and call us instead toward speech and action which seeks peace with our neighbour: peace as common ground, as addressing systemic injustice, as reconciliation, and as mutual respect. And in situations where we feel that these are not the goal of our neighbour, the virtues call on us to live as an example of what we seek; to be the change we seek in the world.
Since March of this year, government voices at every level, every major news channel, and every social media outlet have encouraged us to care for our neighbour in order to maintain public health. With a few exceptions, this is the first time we have had to do this in a long time. Most people are doing this to the best of their ability; some are not. It can be frustrating to see others who don’t do the easy thing of wearing a mask, for instance, to protect the health of others.
We don’t get to choose our neighbours; we can only choose how we will respond to them;to do what we can, where we are, with what we have. So, as we continue to navigate these strange waters, and to do so living side-by-side with people with whom we might disagree, the words of this week’s anthem remind us to be a light; to shine the light of love in everything we do, as we pursue the peace of God. Amen.
Holy One, today we recognize that we are still in a strange time that for us is like no time before. Yet, what remains the same is that we are yours, no matter the circumstances, no matter the time, you are with us and we are with you.
Gracious God, Loving Creator, as we enter this season of creation, we raise our hearts in grateful praise for the beauty and wonder that surrounds us and for the blessings of the Earth. We give thanks for the warmth that remains as summer wanes and we look forward to the promise of the beauty of the autumn leaves in this part of the world. May we learn to respect all and treat the creation as a sacred gift entrusted to us. Help us to see the reality of the fires that are raging in the Amazon centered in greed and the fires in California and the West rooted in climate change. Grant us the insight to see that what we do affects not only ourselves but the future and future generations.
As school begins we know that our children and teachers will have much to adapt to in this different time. We pray for them, those in traditional classrooms and those at home. Help them to be open to new discoveries, imagination and the excitement and challenge of learning. Guide them and all who are involved in education to treat one another with dignity and respect. May they and all of us find more patience, compassion and kindness in this time.
On this day as we look toward the election, we give thanks for the ability to make choices that affect not only ourselves but the other citizens of this province. We give thanks also for those who have willingly offered themselves to serve others. May you guide all leaders with wisdom and ultimately concern for the common good. Loving One, may you help all of us continue to grow in your love, grace and strength. May we truly celebrate all of your gifts that you have given to each of us.
We remember all of those who are in hospital or receiving care because of medical issues. Be with those who are caring for them – bless them with wisdom, compassion and insight so they may receive the best treatment possible. Be with their families and friends and help them to continue to reach out with love and compassion.
Eternal God, there are many who are grieving. Be with them and grant them a sense of peace. We remember those who have lost loved ones to the pandemic. Help us to remember that grief never truly ends – that those who we have loved dearly are always in our hearts and minds. Give us patience and compassion to continue to offer comfort to those who are grieving.
You call us to look beyond ourselves and as we glance into your world we remember those who face difficulties. We pray for the refugees in Lesbos Greece where their camp that housed thousands was damaged by fire. We remember the people of Beirut who are and who will continue to struggle after the explosion. We pray for justice for all people, especially those who are on the margins, in our community, our nation and around the world. May discrimination and hostility come to an end as we realize that whether we live or whether we die, we are all part of your creation.
Loving One, may you help all of us continue to grow in your love, grace
and strength. May we truly celebrate all of your gifts that you have given to each of us. Bless, O Holy One, our prayers and our intentions that they may be added to the mending of the world. We ask this in the name of Jesus, our brother, who teaches us to pray, Our Father…