Sermon: Even if Canada will never be the same ...
In two incidents this past week, Canada has suffered some of the effects of climate change. I don’t mean the environmental change of global warming, extreme weather patterns and sea-level rise. I mean the change in the world’s spiritual climate.
For some time political and social scientists have been writing and speaking about the polarization of the world, the radicalization of the disenfranchised, a rise in the politics of fear and of hate, the increasing militarization of societies, and the spreading combination of violence and fundamentalist faith – whether Zionist, Christian or Muslim, as a political tool.
Not that Canada has been unaffected until now by this global spiritual change. Forty-four years ago this month we suffered the crisis of the FLQ terrorist campaign of attacks, bombings and the assassination of Pierre Laporte, Minister of Labour in the Quebec government. There was the Air India bombing, homegrown anti-abortion terrorism, and between 1960 and 1990 159 separate terrorist incidents in Canada by right-wing groups like anti-Castro Cuban nationals, the KKK, Croatian nationalists, and skinheads.
Nor is it that we have not helped contribute to the change in the spirit of the world. It’s hard to be a player on the global stage without helping to shape the tragic script that’s being written. Action leads to re-action. Intervention has consequences, both intended and unintended, but all of them real. And even in our own affairs, many suffer the kinds of poverty and isolation, disenfranchisement and powerlessness, prejudice and hatred against ethnic and religious minorities that help nurture openness to fundamentalist rhetoric and violent action.
The two men who committed the terrorist murders of the past week were Canadian citizens who suffered repeated frustration, felt alienated from society, suffered mental instability, and turned to violent fundamentalism because it promised meaning, belonging and a power to change the world. And they are not alone. There are the two young men from London who joined an Islamist-led plot against foreigners at an Algerian oil refinery a year ago, the Canadians who have gone to fight with ISIS in Syria, the 90 citizens currently on the RCMP watch list.
Some say Canada will never be the same again. We are now aware in a new way that the spirit of the world has changed, and we are part of it.
The question is what to do, how to live in this kind of world and in this climate as part of the body of Christ, as people of God, as a community of holy rather than violent spirit.
The answer is, the same as always. As much as Canada may never seem the same again to some, for us the call we hear and the life-rules we follow are the same as ever.
Psalm 90 says it this way.
1Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.
2Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the world
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
In other words, there is a constancy to the world greater than any change and instability we see around us, greater than any evil or darkness that may seem to dominate at any time, and that constancy is God and God’s good desire for Earth and our life upon it.
“Lord, you have been our dwelling place…” There are people who live within the structure of God’s laws and God’s way of being, who honour and seek to live out God’s will for right relations between all creatures and the well-being of all, and it is they who help keep the world right, who are God’s partners in keeping it from spinning completely out of control.
Last week we saw the second half of the video about Betty Bridgman’s life as a mission doctor in Angola. The first half was about the work she and Edith Radley accomplished in Angola, and how it ended with their imprisonment by one of the factions in the civil war that had torn apart the country. Months went by with no word to the outside world of their whereabouts; the time was dark and fearful.
But do you remember Betty’s comment about that? She and Edith, she said, knew they might suffer and die. Faith in God would not insulate them from the events and the climate of their time. But they also believed that nothing they did of God’s work would be in vain – that what was truly of God would survive, or if knocked down, would be resurrected. And in that faith they prayed for the strength to endure.
And that’s exactly what happened. They survived the ordeal, were released to come home to their families and friends, and then return to the mission field. And even more, when they returned to Africa they witnessed beyond the momentary, heart-breaking destruction of things they had built, the deep and continuing growth of all the good they had helped to plant in the hearts and spirits of the people they had served. The love and care they offered to all they met in their time in Angola – friend and foe alike, bore fruit and was alive and well and still growing years after the passing of the storms of the civil war.
They had lived out what Jesus says is the heart of God’s law for all time and all people – the two-fold rule to love and honour God rightly in everything, and to love your neighbour as yourself. And having lived out these two commandments they found the closing prayer of the psalmist answered:
16[In the face of our mortality and beyond the weakness of our efforts]
Let your work be manifest to your servants, [O God]
17Let the favour of the Lord our God be upon us,
and prosper for us the work of our hands --
O prosper the work of our hands!
Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. And love your neighbour as yourself.
Neither one is easy. It wasn’t easy for Betty and Edith in war-torn Angola, and I wonder if any find it easy in today’s polarized and terrorized world.
But this is the unchanging call, especially in a time like ours.
This past week Canada suffered from the terrible combination of fundamentalist faith and violent action. But we also saw the leaders of all of Canada’s religious communities publicly denounce this aberration of God, and speak of God’s will for the well-being of all, for the creation of just and peaceful society, for healing of wounds, for right relations in all creation.
Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength; in all things, remember and honour God rightly.
This past week we witnessed murder of the unsuspecting and death of the guilty. But we also saw others reaching out in love to do what they can for their neighbour – in the immediate action of those who tried to help Cpl. Nathan Cirillo n spite of the possibility of further sniper fire; in the ways in which people reached out to protect and comfort one another in all parts of the country; in the people on Friday who lined the bridges over the 401 to honour Cpl. Cirillo on his way home; in the gathering of local Muslim leaders at his home Armoury in Hamilton to lay a wreath and say prayers for him and his family, and in the heartfelt welcome and words of appreciation they were offered by others already gathered there; in the public statement from Michael Zehaf-Bibeau’s mother of dismay at her son and his actions, and her honest sorrow and pain for the Cirillo family.
Love your neighbour as yourself – and is there ever any limit to who our neighbour is?
These two commandments and our commitment to keep living them out is what plants the seeds of the future and helps keep the world from spinning out of control. This is the world`s stability, and it’s what we are called to practice – always have been, always will be, as the body of Christ, as people of God, and as a community of holy spirit still at work in the world.