Scripture Readings: Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Matthew 5:13-37
Story: Esther and Eve visited forest communities in a northern country as a summer job, getting information about the kinds of trees and plants in each community and use of the forest. When they were coming into the first small town in a mountain valley, they saw a huge, beautiful home surrounded by a high wall and fence. Then they noticed that most of the rest of the town was looking run down: most houses needed new paint; some boarded up windows; garbage on the street; gloomy looking people. While having lunch in the café with dirty windows, they listened to what the other people were saying, and heard them complaining about a lack of work and the family with the big house, the family that owned most of the forest, sending the logs away to be turned into lumber because they could make more money that way. They did not see anyone being nice to anyone else. After a few days of seeing what trees and plants were there, they went into another valley. As they came into the next small town, they saw a huge, beautiful home with a large patio in front with benches and flower gardens. There was no fence. Most of the houses looked beautiful as well with pretty flower beds and little gardens. When they went into the clean café for lunch, a woman came over, introduced herself, and asked who they were and why they were in town. When Esther and Eve explained they were summer students working for the government, she offered to buy their lunch and sat with them. As they were eating, they asked about the large house and patio. She lived there, and told them the story of her family. When she was a little girl, they had a large fence around their yard. Her dog one day grabbed her favourite doll, ran off with it and chewed it to pieces. She was crying when their maid’s little girl came over and asked why she was crying. She ran off and came back with her raggy old doll to offer it to her. Her father had just come home for lunch when this happened, and that little girl’s generosity made him cry. He looked at how he treated his servants and workers, and felt embarrassed by his lack of generosity. The fence came down, the patio was made and he made sure that he paid all his workers well. He improved their lumber mill to make sure there was work for everybody in town. After lunch, another person came over to them and said that that woman’s father’s generosity embarrassed some of the other town’s people about how they treated each other, and almost everyone in the community took pride in looking after each other and their community. When the father in one family got very sick, neighbours looked after his yard and painted his house. They said it was kind of funny: the more generous they were with each other, the better they treated each other, the richer everyone seemed to be.
Prayer: Loving God, you are very generous to us, and Jesus gave everything he had so we could live better. Thank you. Help us be kind and generous to each other. Amen.
Prayer: Fountain of all that is good in the world, thank you. Sometimes we forget how we depend on your generosity and the generosity of others. Fear, the root of greed and anger, has stolen away our ability at times to show generosity to others, and all our lives are less because of that. Wash away our fear with your love, so we may imitate your generosity.
Jacob decided he wanted to help make his community a better place to live. He asked several people who was the most important person in his community to see about making the community better. Jacob was finally referred to an elderly woman who seemed to know everything there was to know about the community. When he asked her, she handed him what seemed to be a picture at first. When Jacob lifted it up, it turned out to be a mirror.
My message today is going to be sort of backwards, beginning with my conclusion, and then going on to my rational for that conclusion.
The theme for today is “community rules”. The community we live in is very important to our quality of life. Communities also tend to establish expectations and shape behaviours. Therefore, in terms of the life and conduct of a community, the community rules. On another hand, the rules we choose for a community shape that community, and the rules are often unwritten. One of the rules is that the kind of community we have is shaped by our relationships in that community. Healthy relationships begin with knowing each other and understanding each other’s circumstances. There needs to be a heart piece to those relationships, caring that comes from inside. First Nations people have shared this country with us for well over 400 years. A few of them are part of our greater community. Many are not. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission is having its final meeting at the end of March, and there is a great deal of misunderstanding about this commission. I learned from a relative that many people believe it is about financial compensation related to residential schools. It is not – there are tribunals dealing with that.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission is working on a foundation for providing a healthy place for aboriginal peoples in our greater Canadian community. Before that can happen, we need to hear each other’s stories, and nurture a heart to heart part to our relationships. The report that comes out of the commission will be important, but not as important as the person-to-person connections that are developing in this process.
Idle No More’s main goal is to build bridges, connections between aboriginal communities and the wider community. There have been subversions of that goal by some aboriginal leaders and by forces in the wider community that do not want those connections to form. If we develop deeper relationships, abuse of the rights of aboriginal people by those forces will be challenged by those of us in the wider community. As followers of Jesus who are Canadians, we are drawn into participating in both of these actions. Here is my rationale.
Violence is part of our gene pool as primates and as humans: always has been; probably always will. Violence expresses itself in many ways. There are predators in our human community that are stalking the world, thieves and murderers. They are the imperialistic part of our human community, the ones grasping for power and wealth. There is another part of our human community who I name today as community builders. These are the people who see value in healthy caring communities, the ones who will give of themselves for the well-being of the whole, like Jesus did.
Our speech by Moses pointed to a choice that lay ahead for the Israelites, a choice they would need to make every day. A large part of the rest of the Jewish scriptures points to the choices their descendants made and the consequences of their choices.
Our reading from Matthew includes several challenging parts. Salt is used for flavouring, preserving, healing, and making. When diets are mostly plant based, salt is necessary for good health. When we are asked to be salt, we are asked to enhance the flavour of our communities, preserve what is good, work for healing, and be part of making what is needed. When we are asked to be light, we are asked to serve as beacons showing others the way, and as flashlights, bringing light to dark places, revealing what is needed to be revealed. This sounds like the work of the TRC.
The passage on anger emphasizes the need in Christian communities to work for reconciliation, for healing of our relationships, even ahead of things like worship. We need to be right with each other before we can be right with God.
The passage on divorce is very difficult, partly because it was delivered in a context where women were treated as property and had few rights regarding the choice of a husband or ending a marriage relationship. Here is a clear call to look at our insides, at what we think and feel, at what we want and what we desire. The command to rip out an offending eye or cut off an offending hand emphasized the importance of the inner dimension of our being.
Finally, the passage about not swearing oaths emphasized the importance of honesty in our selves.
When Jesus spoke of himself as the fulfillment of the law, we can ask what does that mean? I look to Jeremiah 31:34 as my lens for this statement.
In Jeremiah 31:34, God declares an end to keeping a record of our wrongs, that God’s law will be written in our hearts. When Jesus modeled for us how to live right with God, he was writing the law in our hearts. When we do what is right because it is right, not because of written laws or worrying about what neighbours and others might say or speculating on what it can gain us, then God’s law is written in our hearts, and Jesus has shown us the fulfillment of God’s law.
Communities rule, and we have the power to shape the rules for communities. As followers of Jesus, we can hardly settle for anything less.
May the Spirit be with us as we allow God’s law to be in our hearts, shaping our relationships, bringing healing and light to our communities. Amen