Pay forward unconditional love

Pentecost 10 – Year C – 18 August 2019
Jer 23:23-29; Ps 82; Heb 11 :29-12 :2; Luke 10:25-37

“I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!”

Sixteen year old climate activist Greta Thunberg is currently crossing the Atlantic on a solar powered catamaran hoping to reach the US in time to appear at two crucial global gatherings: the Climate Action Summit in New York late September and the UN climate conference in Santiago in early December.

Thunberg refused to fly to these meetings because of the environmental impact of flying.  There could not be a more high profile way of highlighting the plight of the planet and remind us that the ways in which we exploit the environment will not sustain future generations.  Her movement, which has inspired young people around the world, gives hope that perhaps something can yet be done in time, for the sake of the world and humanity.

But this movement, together with all the others concerned with sustainability, does not play well in the game of the rich and powerful who are making vast profits from the earth’s resources without any care for the future, denying an ever increasing scientific consensus. This week, we read on twitter the chilling words of Insurance magnate and Brexit supporter Aaron Banks, writing of Thunberg: “Freak yacht accidents happen in August”.

The rich continue to get richer, at ever exponential speed, at the expenses of a greater number of those below them in that great pyramid of humanity, as well as at the expense of our planet.  And they want to continue for it to be just that way.

Ongoing revelations on the Jeffrey Epstein sexual exploitation scandal in New York, the interconnection between those involved with those in the highest echelon of power or with a great deal of money, and the use and abuse of racism and all the phobias by populist politicians around the world to stoke fear and gain votes, remind us that the forces of evil can sometime work in plain sight, unchallenged, even admired and applauded, until victims of those systems of abuse and evil, and any who are oppressed, eventually find the strength to stand up and demand dignity.

We see this with Greta Thunberg and her generation; we see this with the victims of Epstein and his friends; and we keep seeing it with people around the world – from Brasil to Hong Kong – who demand their basic human rights, and those who work for the future of our planet.

It is hard and deeply dangerous work, today still people lose their life, are hurt or imprisoned in the process – or they simply disappear.

Of course, the history of the Christian movement is littered with victims of atrocities who suffered for speaking out truth to power, for seeking justice for the disenfranchised and the dispossessed, for working earnestly for the Kingdom of God not in an ethereal eternal life future, but in the here and now.

In our passage from the letter to the Hebrews, we are reminded of the great deed of valiant men, women, faith-driven fearless leaders and prophets, but also of the endless martyrs who suffered unto death.

And we ourselves are encouraged to join that race for life to its fulness that they started, not a sprint but a lifelong marathon requiring faith, dedication and perseverance, wilfulness and training, a race which Jesus himself undertook and which took him on a journey from a carpenter’s workshop to global fame before dying on the cross.

In this race, we are encouraged by the cloud of witnesses of all those who have undertaken it, encouraging us in our own work for the kingdom of God as we daily seek to remove all that slows us down and would stop us to live the life that Jesus asks us to live too.

A life which, as we hear in our Gospel reading, is not the life of sweetness and light that we might have thought, but instead a life in which conflict is rife, and in which even families can be torn apart by divided loyalties.

Because, let’s face it, prayerfully identifying the evils of this world and trying to do something about them is not something for the fainthearted.  Everywhere we turn, there are signs of light, but also there are signs of darkness.

And before we know it, we can easily slip into an argument with family members, with those close to us, with one another, about what is to be done if we are going to be faithful to the call of God to us in our lives.

I am not sure that Jesus specifically intends for families to fall apart, but he is pragmatic about the way in which each and everyone of us can own up to the awesome responsibility given to us to make the kingdom work.

Family discussions over questions which may seem quite simple such as about flying less to reduce our carbon footprint, choosing a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle or simply eating less red meat, adopting fair trade, working for the fair treatment of immigrants, ethical investment, and many other ethical choices that face us daily and are affected by our faith and our relationship with Jesus, can soon turn into massive rows, especially when we are appealing to a higher principle when scriptures sometime is not clear and interpretation difficult.

Yet, if we are able to emulate the one that has lead us on that race course, it does feel as if we should come to the conclusions that he would be coming to, barring of course cultural differences as well as two millennia.

Today is the last day of Pride Week in Montreal and a group from Christ Church Cathedral will, as we do every year, take part in the march which will take place this afternoon.  You are of course welcome to join us.

We do this not because it is a fun thing and we want to join the spirit of the time – as some would say, because we have given up on biblical truth.  Although it is a fun thing to do.

On the contrary, we do this very much because we believe that the Gospel commands us to stand with communities that have been marginalised, that still today – despite liberalisation and legalisation in Canada and many countries – suffer from oppression, violence and – in the 72 countries where homosexuality is still illegal – emprisonment and sometimes death.

We march with Jesus as a witness to our understanding of the unconditional love of God which is freely and generously given to everyone, regardless of sex, orientation or gender.  We march in repentance for Christian churches that still today are complicit in condoning exclusion, and through their theology provide a rationale for bullying, violence and sometimes murder.

But primarily we march joyfully as part of God’s great diversity, seeking to find ways to serve the world better in many old and new ways.  It is one of many ways in which we can show our faith, and invite people to join us in that Godly race.  At Christ Church Cathedral, we also show this in many other ways too, all year round:

Through care and concern for one another and our varied communities
Through our hospitality of the ever present itinerant population;
Through our welcome of and friendship with other communities of faith;
Through our involvement in the reconciliation work with people from the first nations;
Through our work with fair trade and local organic farmers;
Through the maintenance and ongoing restoration of this cathedral building, thus providing a sanctuary and refuge for all those who need sacred space in the midst of life;
Through the many ways in which we individually in our lives can express the love and presence of God to others;
Through our coming together to worship God in the beauty of holiness, not full of self satisfactionor judgment but instead seeking to hear the call of the one who did and continues to lead us in that life long race, that we may be worthy and active builders of God’s kingdom here and now.

Because God expects nothing more of us, and nothing less, than we should pay forward the unconditional love that God has shown us and all God’s creation in Christ.


The Very Rev’d Bertrand Oliver, Dean and Rector of Christ Church Cathedral, Montreal

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