Pentecost 3

240609 Pentecost 3 year B
1 Samuel 8:4-20, 11:14-15- PSALM 138 – 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1- Mark 3:20-35

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer.

I have had the privilege of spending two weeks in Japan, part of it as a family gathering for the internment of the ashes of my mother in law in Kokura, the place in which she had been born on the island of Kyushu.

And a time spent visiting and revisiting some important sites in Japan’s long and tumultuous history – places like Tokyo, Kyoto, and many other ancient cities such as Nagasaki, Okayama, Kobe. These cities all figure high in the history of a nation which contrasts the heights of modernity and extreme urban life with the depths of tradition in ancient timeless crafts that are still its hallmark today.

A country with a rich and bloody history, including its opening to the west in 1549 with the arrival of Francois Xavier, later to become a saint who, with his fellow Jesuits, set to evangelise Japan while gaining trust by organising the profitable trade of its port of Nagasaki. The borders were closed shut again in 1603 when the Daimyos, feudal lords, felt threatened by this new Lord that was being preached and which threatened their power.

A country whose borders remained impenetrable until the mid-19th century, and whose Feudal structure have been very much embedded in the ways of Japanese society even to this day.

I would not want to overdraw the parallels with the first reading from the Hebrew Bible which we just heard. But connections and points of congruence between God’s message to Samuel about the ways in which earthly order in the form of a King – or other system of Governance not based on divine wisdom – unfolds not for the prosperity of the people but instead for their exploitation can easily be seen in the history of many countries including Japan and indeed our own.

The words that God speaks to Samuel are stark – beware what you ask for when looking for a leader to battle with other nations – in reality or metaphorically. Because the ways of wars require financial resources, and the traits of character of those successful at that kind of fundraising also mean that they end up seeking power and wealth for themselves rather than the pursuit of the common good under divine rule for all.

It does not take much, as we read our news media, to find many other examples at this juncture of history – as has been in the history of the world.

By contrast, in our Gospel reading today, we hear about Jesus’ early ministry, when he is making a name for himself as a teacher, healer, feared by unclean spirits, one who could bring healing, wholeness and normality in the chaotic lives of a people under occupation from the Roman Empire, extracting wealth and manpower in exchange for maintaining peace.
Jesus’ witness and ministry is in line with what prophets had foretold and what Samuel had also modelled in his own time oversight as the judge of the people of Israel.

But a predictable and prosperous time of peace and justice is never quite enough for humanity. Samuel is challenged by his people who demand another kind of oversight, one which will lead them in battles.

And Jesus, for challenging those who would subjugate others for personal gain instead of promoting peace and equity, will eventually be hounded, martyred and crucified.
This was a fate shared by a number of Japanese martyrs who had embraced Christianity in the late 16th century, and many who speak the message of Jesus continue to be persecuted and, in some parts of the world, still killed today.

And yet, the holy spirit continues to be at work in the world, pushing and prodding those who have encountered Jesus to keep working for a world as God envisioned it, a world in which all creation is valued and nurtures, and human beings live with one another as siblings, each carrying a divine sparkle.

This is ongoing work of humility and learning, work which will never end, but which Christians – in their baptismal vows – promise to undertake.

In the past two days, our Diocese of Montreal has been meeting in our three-yearly conference synod, a time when we gather to consider the affairs of the diocese, but also we dig deeper into the topical theme that the diocese has been pursuing. This year, we were joined by the Bishop of Vermont, the Rt Revd Shannon McVean-Brown, to lead us in further reflections on the topic of anti-racism and the organising team took us through round table discussions on questions of colonialism, privilege, inclusion and how the churches of our Diocese can continue to be places where we root out exclusion and instead welcome all, as God intends.

We were uncomfortably reminded that the Anglican communion is the product of a colonial project by the British Empire, and how so many of the things we cherish are in fact ways in which we might inadvertently cause painful memories for those who have suffered in the course of this colonialization project.

In the course of one of the discussion at the table in which I participated, we were reminded that the language of Shakespeare used in the Book of Common Prayer which is the basis of our 8 am service here, was a cause for victimisation of Algonquin children in residential schools who were unable to pronounce some of the British sounds – including the “th” – and were being beaten for not trying hard enough.

Knowing our history continues to be important as we seek to be a church for the world today, a world in all its needs of healing, peace and reconciliation, a world in which many churches seek to include and yet unwittingly still send out the wrong signals.
How can we, at Christ Church Cathedral, be a more faithful place in which to speak of God who made creation in God’s image through a wonderful kaleidoscope of diversity, without ever making anyone feel that they are lesser members of the Body of Christ because of their language and the ways in which we still use it which might wantonly inflict pain.
Paul, in his second letter to the Corinthians, reminds us that ‘Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.’

We have inherited ways of reflecting divine community and traditions for our corporate prayer life – and it is incumbent for us to reflect on the ways in which we use these not to unwittingly collude in colonial projects of old, but instead to seek to refine and adapt our treasury of texts and symbolic actions so as to ensure that we may touch the heart of all, and in so doing open us all to the attentive care and love of God.
Paul speaks powerfully of the Christian hope through which ‘we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal’.

This is an encouragement to us to pursue the beauty of God in all that we do as Christians in our communities, which is found not in our forms of words, worship or music, but in the ways in which we recognise the face of Christ in one another.

Just as Christ came and questioned the religious forms of his time, because they hindered access to God for all, so we are today reminded that the house of God is not simply a building of stone with set rituals – however beautiful they may be – but the fellowship in the Holy Spirit of all people in the eternal house of heavens as well as in the here and now.

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