Jo Connelly offered an inspiring homily today that you can read and view below. It was set in the context of speeches by Dr. King, Jesus, and Autumn Peltier and music, ancient and modern, that reflects on justice and injustice. You can view the entire service here…
Give to God, what is God’s
As the world gets a bit darker, I will begin with acknowledging the darkness around us. I don’t have to tell you that our planet is in chaos right now, and I won’t patronize you or any of us by giving false security or shallow hope I will first lay out the serious issues we face as a global community, and then look at the readings and identify places where we may find meaning and potentially find a way forward.
- We are in the midst of a second wave of a pandemic that has killed more than 1,108,617 million people worldwide. In Canada we have had over 9,722 deaths—1,318 in Toronto alone.
- Our second pandemic is the tainted drug supply. This year between Jan and March, 1,018 people died of overdoses –77% involved fentanyl.
- Climate change—we all know that our climate is warming. Scientists warn not only of wildfires and drought; floods and hurricanes, but more of them and of increasing intensity, along with loss of wildlife, and the list of dire consequences goes on
- According to the United Nations, “Income inequality has risen sharply since the 1970s in most advanced economies around the world and has been blamed for increasingly polarised politics.
- Following the terrible deaths of black men at the hands of police in the US and Canada we proclaim that “Black Lives Matter” and continue to call out for justice for our Indigenous sisters and brothers.
- We have over 9,000 homeless people in Toronto, who before the pandemic were living in crowded shelters or outside sleeping rough. Many have now been housed in leased hotels across the City but for how long and when will decent deeply affordable housing be seen as a basic human right? It seems there are more unwell people riding our TTC than ever, and I have been struck by the numbers of people in our downtown core that are in serious distress
I want to pause and let these issues sink in a bit before I move on—the pandemic, overdoses, climate change, inequality, racism, and homelessness. We human beings are very smart, but we have been brought to our knees with the enormity of these catastrophic issues. Gone are the days when we can believe that endless material progress will solve all of these problems.
Our first reading is from the writing of Martin Luther King, Jr., where he proclaims “A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies.” Over fifty years ago and Dr. King’s words echo prophetically now—without a true revolution of values, how can we solve these incredible challenges facing us? It is not enough to have technological progress, our “progress” is what has led us to this place.” Martin Luther King, Jr. was a leader who saw clearly the problems of the day and helped bring about significant change. One of the remarkable things about Dr. King’s ministry is that, unlike what government figures would have us believe, he didn’t just insist on civil and voting rights for Black Americans, as important as that was. He brought together income inequality, war, imbalances of power in the world, and critiqued all economic systems but particularly identified capitalism as the cause of much of the world’s suffering. Clear and passionate truth telling and a call to action…
Facing looming catastrophes alone would be terrifying—is terrifying! Facing the future together as a community with our friends and family gives us shared urgency. Our global world is addicted to comfort—and its heading us straight towards disaster for everyone on the planet. This isn’t said to make us all collapse into a heap of guilt, but the truth is that even with our wealth and privilege it isn’t enough right now to solve all these problems.
So what if we tried to look at this from another angle. Let’s step back and look at these issues courageously and with the eyes of the Spirit, with the eyes of 7 generations, with the eyes of Jesus.
In Matthew, over 2,000 years ago, worldly leaders tried to trick Jesus by asking him a question to which he replies and confounds them all–
“Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s,” then the less you have of Caesar’s the less you have to give to Caesar, and if everything belongs to our Creator God, than we give our all to God.
But let’s back up a bit–Who is Caesar in today’s world? In Canada, I posit to you it isn’t the government, or the taxes we pay, as is often suggested in commentaries on this passage; Caesar in Canada is capitalism. What a radical statement to make in a homily you might be thinking but wait! it’s Holy Trinity so it’s okay 😊 But, let us go into this a bit deeper. Caesar, or the god of our modern world is “getting ahead,” material progress, moving up in society, being comfortable, moving up in status or class, getting ahead of others in possessions, having the latest technology, fashion, cars, appliances… In fact, unbridled capitalism at the expense of the vulnerable or those without privilege, those who carry within them the trauma of colonialism, racism, oppression of all sorts. Unbridled capitalism is killing our planet, and our world. In our modern economic system, to get ahead means climbing on top of others, it means arrogance, and bullying, it means competition. This even happens in my world of health and social service organizations who jockey for power and control—shocking someone like me out of my naiveté. If what Jesus is saying here is give Caesar what Caesar deserves then I would suggest that Caesar deserves a revolution—a revolution of values and actions as Dr. King has said–of people rising up and demanding change—change of the heart, of priorities, of re-distribution of wealth and power, of defunding the police, of living with less oil, choosing the earth over our short term extreme comfort, of choosing people over the status quo with its embedded racism, and classism. Giving God what is God’s is giving our whole being, our whole lives, becoming on fire with justice and with not just putting up with the obvious casualties of capitalism—unwell homeless people living in tents instead demanding that some of the sickening wealth we see shimmering in gigantic condos needs to be spent equitably for decent housing and supports for those on the street. Perhaps giving to God what God deserves means our passion, our commitment, our not settling for small minded “compromises” of 5% “affordable” units in a new building “if we’re lucky,” Why should our seniors die in for profit long term care homes while shareholders get richer? How can we tolerate letting one more indigenous woman “disappear” and one more black man be choked to death by a police officer?
What if we turned over everything to God? What if we became on fire with passion for our fellow travellers on this planet, human and animal and plant life? What if we lived as if everything belonged to our Creator God?
The clear wisdom of Autumn Peletier shines forth. In a speech when she was only 15 made to the United Nations she implores us to go back to the “old ways” of truly seeing water as sacred, of insisting for our very survival as a species to a return to an ancient way of life– without plastic or electricity; without much of what we take for granted in today’s world. What if we embraced her bold vision of hope, learning from our ancestors who for thousands of years lived gently on the land and water. What if we chose simplicity rather than annihilation?
I was particularly struck by her wise teaching:
The sacred significance is that my mother comes from her mother’s water, my grandmother comes from her mother’s water, and my great-great grandmother comes from her mother’s water. Flowing within us is original water, lifeblood of Mother Earth that sustains us as we come from this land.
The endless connectedness of us throughout history through water! How when we drink the water, we drink the same water our ancestors drank thousands of years ago; the water in our bodies made up of water that has flowed in rivers and in the flesh of many beings. The sacredness of water shows us how we are not only all connected to each other on the planet but how we are connected to all life that has ever lived on our planet and in an almost eternal long line through our mothers, back for thousands of years. As Autumn teaches us, we can learn from the old ways, ways that didn’t destroy the planet.
In the Toronto Star, from Thursday, October 15th, an article appeared called “A Road Map to Save the Earth” by Catrin Einhorn who suggested another radical idea for us to ponder– what if we as a global community returned 30% of the world’s farmlands to nature? This radical statement was from a study published Wednesday Oct 14 in Nature carefully laying out a global road map for how this could happen without sacrificing needed food for the world. Again, instead of our progress forward, what if we looked back in time for our solutions?
I would ask us all to ponder—look at the mess we are in right now—maybe the way forward, isn’t to go forward at all but to look inward, and back in time– at turning to a “revolution of values” and “giving God what is God’s” and seeing in water, not only an essential of life, a basic human right, but actually as sacred, as a beacon directing us back to the Creator, back to our Centre, our Inner Light, and away from the destruction of human life.
And while we join together to feed our people across our planet– to allow some of our farmland to grow wild, loving our earth into wholeness, into healing. There is hope; it is as near as our heart and our passion and our commitment to change. May God, our Creator, lead us back to the waters, back to our beautiful land. I pray for each of us that we have the courage as individuals and as communities to work for justice fearlessly giving everything to God, and to have the audacity to find new ways, possibly very Old ways, to live humbly and gently on this beautiful Mother Earth. What if we, “Imagine…”