All posts by Sherman Hesselgrave

Rhythms of Grace (Pride Sunday sermon by Sherman Hesselgrave)

Genesis 2:4b-8, 18-23     Song of Solomon 2:8-13       Galatians 3:23-29     Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Rhythms of Grace

“I do not understand the mystery of grace – only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.” — Anne Lamott

If our forebears could join us today, I can only imagine the range of their reactions to Pride Sunday.  “What?! a Sunday to celebrate one of the Seven Deadly Sins?  What has the world come to?  I suppose you have a Greed and Gluttony Sunday as well?”  And we would get to explain that ‘Pride’ in this context is not about one of the cardinal sins, but about undoing the millennia of shaming that human societies and the church have heaped on children of God whose sexual orientation doesn’t coincide with the majority.  In a way, it’s analogous to the phenomenon in the Harry Potter books, where one undoes a spell by saying it backwards.  This is the kind of pride that cancels out layers and layers of shame.  A year or two ago, when an Anglican priest in Uganda decided to push for legislation that would make homosexuality a capital crime, proclaiming that it was against nature, I conspired with an American colleague in New Jersey to inform him just how mistaken he was.  I purchased a copy of Biological Exhuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity, a 768-page survey of how homosexual behaviour occurs everywhere in the animal kingdom, from penguins and bottlenose dolphins to vampire bats and giraffes–and Elizabeth, my colleague, mailed it to him.  (Not surprisingly, we didn’t receive a thank-you note.)

It is painful to speculate how many people have died simply for being a member of a sexual minority, by ignorance and misguided legislation, or by bullying or shaming that resulted in suicide; and how many others lived in terror that someone would find out.  I recently watched a four-episode PBS series on the Medicis, the Florentine family that spanned two of the most remarkably creative centuries in human history.  They were the patrons of Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Galileo, and the city of Florence was the epicenter of the Italian Renaissance.  Yet tens of thousands of people were put to death in that city alone for so-called crimes against nature.

 

The Medici family had built its empire in part by being the bankers to the pope, and would become a parable of absolute power corrupting absolutely. Two Medicis would eventually become popes, one of whom plundered the Vatican treasury, and then hatched a plan to refill its coffers by selling “indulgences” that would supposedly reduce a person’s time in purgatory before entering heaven.  One could even buy indulgences for loved ones who had predeceased you.  It was a huge success.  But this commercialization of grace was such an affront to an Augustinian monk named Martin Luther, that he fired back with the best ammunition he had: a passage of scripture from Paul’s letter to the church at Rome that states unequivocally that we are saved by faith, not by works.  That prophetic moment grew into a great reforming  movement at a time when the church was the most powerful political force in the world.  And while the Roman hierarchy could excommunicate Luther for holding a mirror to their corruption, and silence Galileo for having the audacity to claim that the earth was not the centre of the universe,  both would ultimately by vindicated, although it would take hundreds of years before Rome would apologize  for its treatment of Galileo.

 

And so, a book from which we read every week has been used both to justify the condemnation of Jews, women, scientists, and gays, among others, as well as to provide the antidote for misguided prejudice and abuse.  There are probably some of us in this room who found ourselves uncomfortable during the reading of the passage from Genesis, because the the creation of Adam and Eve has been used as biblical warrant for God’s preference for heterosexuality as the only acceptable combination for interpersonal partnering.  We have all seen the t-shirt: “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.”  And if all you do is focus on the punchline of this passage, it’s understandable how one can be persuaded by the rhetoric.  But back up for a minute, and let’s take a closer reading.

First of all, the book of Genesis has not one, but TWO creation stories; the first that unfolds one day at a time, with God looking back on the six days of creation and finding it “very good;” and a second narrative that is much more focussed on relationship.  That’s the one we read from today:

It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.”  So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them….  The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner.

Sure, this is the language of biblical mythology–there were no CBC reporters on the scene and written language was still far in the future, so what we have was passed down for generations by oral tradition. Nevertheless, the narrative our ancestors told clearly indicates that God allowed the man to decide what a suitable companion would be; the Creator finally gets it right with Eve, and Adam approves.  One person can read this passage and conclude that it therefore affirms that only a man and a woman can be suitable mates, while another can read the same passage and see how God partnered with the first man to create a companion that depended upon Adam’s approval.  And that opens up the story in a completely different way,  a way that steadily gains credence as more and more people realize that sexual orientation is a gift, rather than a choice, and more than that, a gift wrapped in sufficient mystery that no one can speak authoritatively for someone else.  Yet the Church for much of its history decided that it could do what God was not willing to do by dictating who can be one’s partner in life.

 

If St Paul were writing the Letter to the Galatians today, this morning’s Epistle might have been updated to read:

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female, or gay or straight; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.  And if you belong to Christ, then you are … heirs according to the promise.

God’s self-disclosure, or revelation, has been progressive from the beginning.  It’s obvious from even a cursory reading of the Bible.  Jesus promises his disciples that God had yet more truth to reveal, truth they weren’t ready to hear at that time.  But there will always be those who are threatened by truth newly revealed beyond the biblical canon, whether the messenger is a Galileo, or a Martin Luther, or a Martin Luther King.  We don’t need to look very far to see the corrosive effects of power in the world in which we live.

My New Testament professor, Bill Countryman, wrote a popular book entitled, Biblical Authority or Biblical Tyranny? in which he addresses the chequered history of biblical interpretation.  The Bible can be used to bludgeon, marginalize, silence, or even kill indiscriminately.  But the Bible can also speak authoritatively to any age, even our own post-Christian age.  Liberation theology was animated by the story of the Exodus and the deliverance from slavery in Egypt.  Paul’s letter to the Romans helped to kick-start the Protestant Reformation, and Karl Barth’s incendiary commentary on the same epistle in 1919 was described as falling “like a bombshell on the playground of the theologians.”  His teachers had signed a manifesto supporting Germany’s war aims in World War One, and he parted ways with his mentors and the liberal school they represented.  Eugene Peterson, who is responsible for The Message, the contemporary translation of the Bible we used for today’s Gospel, has helped many to see things in the scriptures for the first time.
For example, in the passage from Matthew we just read, Jesus asks the people who have come to hear him:

“Are you tired?  Worn out? Burned out on religion?  Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life.  I’ll show you how to take a real rest.  Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it.  Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you.  Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Those rhythms of grace continue to punctuate our lives.  We know what it is to struggle for justice, to bang on the judge’s door in the middle of the night, to march down a street challenging the power structures of our own day, to write letters on behalf of prisoners half a world away, to telephone or email a politician to demand that voiceless ones are heard; to confront oppressive structures in the church that resist the Holy Spirit’s shaping us into the community Christ promised we could become.

As the Bruce Springsteen song reminds us, “Everybody has a hungry heart”—a heart that longs to be touched by God’s grace.  We are gathered here today, possibly because we have ourselves experienced the rhythms of grace or because we are looking for grace to break into the world we carry around with us every day.  It may be that the delivery vehicle of grace will be a word or a song.  Or perhaps it will be a hug or a story or an action that begins with forming a circle around the bread and the wine and remembering Jesus’ words of promise that we have ALL been made worthy to stand before our Creator, forgiven and whole.

Let me conclude with the same Anne Lamott quote with which I began:

“I do not understand the mystery of grace – only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.”

“Common Life” Kevin Bezanson’s homily for Easter 4

Readings: Acts 2:42-47; Psalm 23; 1 Peter 2:19-25; John 10:1-10

When I received this week’s readings after having agreed to share this morning, I will be honest and say I had a sinking feeling. A guilty, sinking feeling. A feeling that I would, in the process of preparing this homily, have to face something I mostly avoid because I’m just not sure what to do with it. So today I will share, but I will share in many ways the anxieties of the rich. And I want to recognize up front that for many in our midst, these are not your anxieties. And that reality is in some ways at the heart of the question. How do I live in the light of the apostle’s example, of Christ’s example, in 2011 at Holy Trinity in Toronto, Ontario, Canada when I read:

 

“They would sell their goods and possessions, distributing the proceeds to all, according to people’s needs. Day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they ate with glad and generous hearts”?

 

I find this overwhelming. I do not find the principle overwhelming. Alright, maybe a little bit. The selfish part of me, the anxious for the future part of me, the deserving because I have earned it part of me, raise a skeptical brow. But in my heart of hearts I sing yes. Yes! This is the kind of community I want. This is the kind of community we need. This is what I want for my children. This is the world I want them to inherit. But how, how can I actually DO this?

 

Well, honestly, my usual approach to this question is rationalization. The reading seems unreasonable. I know that it could not have been as harmonious as all that. There must have been some in-fighting, some jealousy, some corruption. In fact, a couple chapters later we are told about Ananias who apparently held back some money from some land he sold, lied about it, and was struck down as a result. Not a standard I feel capable of achieving. Maybe if the passage said, “After they paid their mortgage, and insurance, and made their RRSP contribution they would sell their possessions” I could believe it, or have a hope of emulating it. It’s different today.

 

Maybe I’m just making excuses. Maybe there is some truth in it.

 

Excuse #1 – Taxes and Social Programs

I pay my taxes . Did you catch that? Whose taxes? As I understand it they had the taxes without the social programs in the 1st century. But in 2011 I pay my taxes in part to support a health care system, an employment insurance system, a social assistance system, a housing system, an immigration and refugee system. This is true. I don’t mind telling you that I willingly pay a lot of tax. What saddens and worries me is that these systems, despite good intent, are clearly insufficient. They are not enough to live on. Yes, we need to advocate with governments that feel corporate tax cuts will trickle down in some magical way to alleviate unemployment, and by extension poverty and homelessness. But whatever I do, I cannot deny that it is not enough. And that I have more than enough.

 

Excuse # 2 – Charitable Giving

I give some of my money away. Did you catch that? Whose money? There are many organizations and people focusing their collective expertise on the critically important needs of our sisters and brothers, and of our planet. And I am thankful we have a system in Canada that recognizes that, and rewards it. One of the positive legacies of my parents and grandparent’s evangelical faith in my life is tithing. For those of you not aware of this discipline, it means setting aside a percentage of money that you earn for giving away. Often the amount cited, based on a somewhat selective reading of the Hebrew Bible, is 10%. I strive to honour this principle. I watched my grandmother, on her tiny pension, honour it. I was the recipient on more than one occasion of small but sacrificial giving. I believe it is an important, valuable, practical expression of the apostle’s example. But whatever I do, I cannot deny it is not enough. And that I still have more than enough.

 

Excuse # 3 – Being Overwhelmed

I am overwhelmed by the needs I know about, and I know they are but the tip of the iceberg. Did you catch that? Whose needs? In the world of tweets and twitters and texts and information from every corner of our global home, I am more aware than ever before of suffering, poverty, violence, and discrimination. I am also aware of people and communities who are finding ways to meet them with creative courage. But how could I possibly choose? And these things are so intertwined, and the forces arrayed so complex and powerful, that I can’t see where to begin. And I despair that it will not do any good anyway. And so I retreat into my life, and try to do good where I can. And then something comes along that I cannot ignore. Sometimes I give, usually money. And I feel better, for a bit. And then I lose heart or interest or feel guilty or get distracted by the rest of life. And so I retreat into my life, and try to do good where I can. And then something comes along that I cannot ignore…and so on. But whatever I do, I cannot deny it is not enough. And that I still have more than enough.

 

So here’s the point I am supposed to provide the answers. But I don’t have them. I do think our readings might help us as we try to find our way. Whatever you might think about the Kielburger brothers and their organization, I think they have captured something essential in the phrase “Me to We”. Later in Acts (vs 4:32) we are told “those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything was held in common.” Me to We. A very simple, but very profound and challenging call. I think this is the beginning. The taxes are not mine, they are ours. The gifts are not mine to give, they are ours to share. And the needs that overwhelm me are our needs, not mine or theirs. Our lives are gifts meant for giving.

 

In John’s gospel Christ speaks of himself as the gate. I can understand why (as the reading tells us) “when Jesus used this figure of speech those listening didn’t understand what he meant by it”. I thought he was the Shepherd, not the gate? Turns out he’s also the Shepherd. But for today he’s the gate. At least part of what I think this means is that through Christ, in Christ, with Christ we are called to both the sheepfold and the pastures. We need to move. I recall Fran’s tapestry Doves Getting the Squares Moving. I, we, must engage in the overwhelming, complex, inequitable world all around us. We need to be “called by name and led out”, next door and around the globe. We all need to find a pasture where we feel we can contribute and engage. And we must return to the sheepfold through that gate, along with those we have encountered, for reflection and rest. That too is part of what this space is about. We need both to figure out how to share what we have, and who we are.

 

Peter’s letter speaks of sacrifice, of suffering for doing good. I don’t know very much about this. I have not really suffered for doing good. Rather, mostly I am rewarded and honoured for being generous when I do good. And my sacrifices so far have not cost me very much, not in the big picture. My suffering, if you can call it that, is the struggle to share what I have been given well. Never did I feel this struggle more acutely than living in Malawi, though I feel it here too. Outside our gates (yes our house had a gate), and inside it too, were countless faces and lives that spoke to the inequity of our world, and of our life in it. And sometimes we struggled, imperfectly, to open the gates and go out and listen and respond. Frequently we retreated and reflected and did our best to share with those we met. And it never felt enough, and it never will. And I still cannot drink tea without seeing the women in a green sea of tea bushes picking leaves under a blazing sun.

 

So I am left with my, no OUR, goods and possessions, and our community. I must take responsibility for what I have been given on behalf of us all. Me to we. And we must keep going out and opening ourselves and trying to find ways to share that are authentic. We must keep trying to find spaces and tasks that bring us on to common ground, into common life. The light will shine on our goods and possessions. Our lives will become interconnected and messier and richer as a result. And we must accept that it will not be enough. And that together we have more than enough. And we can only hope there is enough mercy and grace and forgiveness for us all, as together and imperfectly we find our way.

 

 

 

Who’s Included in the Promise? (Dick Moore’s Homily for Lent 2)

My journey of Lent started with an air flight to Los Angeles to visit my daughter and her family last week. I had packed the book Best Laid Plans and was about to begin reading it when my seat mate asked me about the book. I talked about the CBC Canada Reads contest and the books chosen for this year, some of which I had read.

My seat mate, Yilmaz Alimogul, told me that he was an author and had recently published his first book. In response to my enthusiasm and questions, he presented me with a copy.

I began reading it at once and in response to my questions about the setting and circumstances of the story Yilmaz disclosed that the book was his own story, the account of his journey to Mountains and Deserts, (the title of the book) to a deeper self awareness and religious practise

The book’s protagonist, Ali, is a Sufi, a branch of Islam. After the birth of his children Ali returns to the practise of his faith, attending the dragah regularly and praying the zehr. His Christian wife is embarrassed by his fervour and makes sarcastic remarks about it.

Ali feels that what he perceives as his wife’s rejection of his religious practise may be a deal breaker for his marriage and decides to take some time away from his family to undertake a journey to mountains and deserts to find his way.

The Sufis are the mystical branch of Islam. Like their mystical Christian and Jewish, and I asssume Hindu brothers and sisters, Sufis relish and delight in their up close and personal relationship with the divine. Also like their Christian and Jewish counterparts, they often rub up against the mainstream of their religious traditions causing friction. The mystics care less about dogmas and doctrines that separate believers and more about the relationship with God, which they share.

It is this “beyond the differences and beyond the dogmas” that attracted me to the story. I am regularly and painfully aware of the “us versus them” mentality that seems to have captured the world. Reading the papers, listening to the radio I am regularly assaulted by the intolerance and conflict of the “us and them” mentality.

Here in Toronto, the folks at City Hall seems to care more for saving taxpayers’ dollars (us) than they are by the plight of homeless people or low income people housed by the Toronto Housing Corporation (them).

In Ottawa the federal government seems intent on punishing and jailing offenders rather than eliminating poverty, preventing crime or rehabilitating offenders. A very small program assisting Palestinians appears to be sufficient cause for eliminating the funding of all the programs sponsored by Kairos worldwide.

The governor and Republican legislators in Wisconsin declare war on public servants depriving them of the protections of collective bargaining and efforts of common cause.

Listening to the radio I regularly hear comments and commentary on the news directed against Muslims and nothing of such heroic acts as the hundreds of Egyptian Muslims, who after the bombing of a Coptic church by extremists, surrounded Coptic places of worship to protect worshippers there from attack.

If we examine this morning’s readings I believe we can find an antidote to these poisonous “us versus them” messages.

In the Genesis reading we find Abram and Sarai called by God to get up and go. They are called to leave the security of all they hold near and dear: family, friends, their land and their people.

In return for this God makes promises to them:

They will be given a land of their own in some undisclosed future.

They will become a great nation, despite their advanced ages and their infertility.

All families of the earth will be blessed through them (today’s jack pot promise)

The universality of that promise is key here. There are no “us or them”, all families of the earth will be blessed through Abraham and Sarai. This promise recalls to me the teaching of the Second Vatican Council regarding developing a profound respect for other religious traditions (another of the teachings of that council that is yet to be fulfilled).

It seems to me Holy Trinity’s aspirations to reach out and grow, to connect with Ryerson University and its student body and situated as it is near the Islamic Centre at Dundas and Edward Street, that a public education series on the beliefs of the Islamic faith is a timely and feasible initiative.

In the second reading Paul wrestles with the size and inclusiveness of Abraham’s family. He comes down on the side of inclusiveness of the gentiles, the hot button issue of his time. Paul’s conclusion is an antidote to bother modern day Christian and Islamic fundamentalism which both limit the inclusion of the promise.

In the Gospel we depart from the reading of Matthew and have the first of four Sunday readings from John , whose Gospel does not have its own lectionary cycle. On this and the following three Sundays we have the opportunity to explore John’s theological perspective.

We read of Jesus’ first encounter with Nicodemus, a passage that is both dramatic and symbolic. First it occurs at night, a time that in John’s mind is a time of doubt and /or ignorance. Nicodemus is curious about this new rabbi but is not ready to commit or to let his Pharisee colleagues know he what is is up to. One commentator labels his actions “faithful curiosity”. As Nicodemus appears twice more in the Gospel in more committed circumstances, perhaps we might proclaim him as the patron saint of doubters, of whom we count many in these pews.

In this first encounter Nicodemus comes off as weak and undecided. Jesus in answering his questions moves his focus away from Nicodemus and addresses himself to a wider audience: us. Jesus encourages us to wake up and evaluate the evidence of his life and works. Come into the light of belief. Come away from those actions that we fear being exposed to the light. Live in the light plainly and simply and do what you do in God.

This message is an agenda for all of our Lenten journeys.

Taking Ash Wednesday to the Neighbourhood

Following the 12:15 Ash Wednesday service at Holy Trinity, Trinity Square, Nola Crewe (our Assistant Curate), Wendy Telfer (a Trinity College student doing her post-internship here), and I headed out onto Trinity Square into the wet falling snow in our vestments armed only with our little containers of freshly incinerated palm fronds from the 2010 Palm Sunday liturgy, to offer the imposition of ashes to anyone who desired them.

The idea to do so had been suggested after the Ash Wednesday service last year, so we decided to try it this year and see what would happen.  Our route was a loop from Trinity Square to Dundas Street, east to Yonge, south to Queen, west to James, and back to the Church.  The announcement was simple: “Ashes for Ash Wednesday!”  Several dozen people stopped in the snow to receive their ashes and the words “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

A drummer who was busking by the Eaton Centre asked “What is Ash Wednesday?,” and after the explanation, asked for ashes, but hoped he wouldn’t be returning to dust anytime soon.  Amen to that.

As we crossed Shuter Street, there was a steady flow of folks coming from the direction of St Michael’s Cathedral, all bearing the distinctive mark of the day.

A couple in an SUV stopped on Yonge Street and both passenger and driver asked Nola Crewe for ashes.  Fortunately, traffic was light.  The last thing we needed was a citation for obstruction, although since Nola is also an officer of the court, I assumed we could probably wiggle out of it.

One tip to others who might want to try this: do not use the phalanx formation.  What seemed to work best was one of us walking about 20 feet ahead of the other two.  Frequently, a person would decline ashes from our John the Baptist only to accept them from one of the two following behind.  We’re thinking they needed a couple seconds to process the idea before deciding it would be OK to say Yes.

I had seen an Episcopal News Service article about taking ashes to the streets in Chicago, but I thought the photo of the sign “Ashes to Go” was not quite the message we were trying to send.
http://www.episcopalchurch.org/80263_127468_ENG_HTM.htm

We look forward to making ashes of ourselves again next year.

Services:

Schedule: 12:15 PM  Ash Wednesday liturgy; Potluck supper at 6:30 PM followed by a bilingual Ash Wednesday liturgy with the San Esteban community at 7:30 PM.

“What more are you doing than others?” Wendy Telfer’s February 20th homily



Seventh Sunday after Epiphany, Year A

Matthew 5:38-48

Church of the Holy Trinity

20 February 2011

Jesus asks, “What more are you doing than others?”

Here at Holy Trinity preachers often give titles to their sermons. In Matthew’s gospel Jesus gives a title to his entire ministry: Repent, for the reign of heaven has come near. In his Sermon on the Mount, a portion of which we just heard, Jesus sets out how his listeners are to repent in order to allow the reign of heaven, coming near, to break through.

To put today’s gospel reading in context, we need to ask three questions: What does it mean to repent? What is the reign of heaven? How do Jesus’ teachings about not retaliating against, and even loving, one’s enemies hasten the coming of the reign of heaven?

Repent” is a rendering of the Greek word “metanoia”. It means to think differently after having done something. It describes a change of mind that is accompanied by a change of conduct.

Along the same lines, the reign of heaven can be called a tone of mind. When we set the tone of our mind to hearing and following the teachings of Jesus, we turn from the practices of this world to the ideals of God’s reign. We feel the sway of grace in our hearts.

What does Jesus teach? He says that he has come not to abolish the law or the prophets but to fulfill them – to do more. The familiar phrase “the law and the prophets” refers to the message of the Hebrew Scriptures. Jesus reminds his listeners of hearing these Scriptures read in the synagogue when he says, “you have heard that it was said”. Note the past tense.Jesus is going to fulfill these words now, in the present – “But I say to you”.

Earlier in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells the crowd that unless their justice exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, they will never enter the reign of heaven. In order to do this, Jesus asks them to do something more – way more. He asks them to repent, to change their thinking and their conduct in ways that shock them.

Jesus’ first astonishing statement concerns the proper response to those who harm or take advantage of us. In his time a person who was physically assaulted had the right to retaliate in kind. If someone gouged out your eye, you could gouge out theirs in return. Primitive as this sounds to us, it was more merciful than the earlier practice of taking not just your assailant’s eye but his or her life. This represented a breakthrough in justice.

But Jesus asks his listeners to do more. They are not to retaliate in kind; they are not to retaliate at all. In fact, they are to stay open to further physical harm. They are not to act with violence, like their assailant. They are to respond with peace, the same peace that prevails in the reign of heaven.

No doubt this left the crowd speechless. Jesus goes further. He heaps on more illustrations of unthinkable behavior to make his point. If someone takes you to court to seize a piece of your property, don’t defend yourself: offer them more of your property. If a member of the occupying army presses you and your donkey into service to carry his materiel for a mile, offer to carry it a further mile. Give freely to everyone who seeks to beg or borrow from you. Calmly and with grace, offer everything you have and everything you are – do more.

Surely it is bad enough that Jesus asks people to accept insult to themselves and to their property. But then he goes completely over the top – he asks them to love their abusers and to pray for them. Are not even their private acts of caring and of religious devotion spared Jesus’ demand to go beyond what is normal?

Last week a friend e-mailed me photographs of church signs bearing amusing messages. One said “love your enemies, it messes with their heads”. Perhaps it does, but this is not what Jesus is getting at. Jesus is not relenting in his strict demands and allowing his listeners to get some of their own back by playing mind games with their persecutors. As he did earlier with his call to non-resistance, Jesus is asking his hearers to repent, to change, to respond in a way that allows the reign of heaven to break through.

Jesus asks them to love and to pray for people who do them harm. His list of seemingly impossible demands has reached its climax. The crowd on the mountain sits stunned. So do we. How can we possibly do this much more to usher in heaven’s reign?

Last Sunday the leader of the prayers of the people expressed her discomfort with offering prayer for the bishops of Uganda. How can we pray for the leaders of a church in our Anglican communion that does not value the life of queer people? Why does Jesus ask us to pray for people who do us harm? I can speak from my own experience.

A few years ago Jesus moved me to pray for someone who had treated me abusively. As you know, it is much more comfortable to hear the Gospel than to try and live it. It felt like a further violation to utter this person’s name to God in the midst of my prayers for the people I love. I felt like a hypocrite. But I continued to pray for him. And as I did, I felt compassion for the suffering his behavior has brought on him. I began to acknowledge his humanity, to see him as God’s beloved child. I came to peace with the situation and was able to move on.

My experience resulted in repentance. In prayer I came to think differently about this person, and to sever the remaining ties without bitterness. His behavior did not change in any noticeable way, but it did not get worse.

Jesus knows that the only person you can change is yourself. That is why he asks us “what more are you doing than others?” He uses extreme examples to challenge us to think and act differently.

In conclusion, Jesus calls us to love. Not to the treacly sentiment of Valentine cards – but to the active, costly love of God and neighbour. The love that cost him his life.

When we do our best to love others, no matter how much we may disagree with them, no matter how badly they treat us, we model the attitude of God towards us and so become God’s children. God loves every one of us, the just and the unjust, freely, unconditionally, profligately, without regard for our response. God’s love is perfect, or to use a word that is more accessible to us, complete. When we do more, when we try to show God’s complete love to our incomplete and broken world, we show those around us a viable alternative to unending cycles of violence and abuse.

We offer a glimpse into the reign of heaven.

Thanks be to God.