Our Purpose and Mission Statement

Working to build God's dream. Help wanted!

We the people of Glen Rhodes United Church, are determined that our life together will be fully inclusive for people of all ages, races, genders, sexual orientations, differing abilities, ethnic origins and economic circumstances. Therefore, we hope that God will work in us so that we will be a sensitive congregation, willing to share our faith and gifts in language and worship, in the life and work of our church and wherever God calls us to do justice in the wider community, with compassion, fun and laughter

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

“Who’s in”   April 28, 2013   by Robin Wardlaw

Easter 5, Year C
Readings: Acts 11:1–18 Psalm 148 Revelation 21:1–6 John 13:31–35

A new vision from Peter, a new heaven and earth in the Revelations reading for today, a new commandment from Jesus. It must be spring. Our readings have us throwing open the theological windows, dragging the eschatological rugs to the back yard to beat the dust out, putting up new wallpaper on how to live out our faith all through the place. A feast of freshness, a bevy of beginnings, a nest of newness.

Are we addicted to the new? Do we pant after cars or cuisines or consumer goods just because they are a bit different than the ones we have now? We do get bored. We do get tired of same old, same old. Advertizers don’t have to work very hard to hook us with the ‘new’ label: new size, new shape, new label even, and we can be lured into buying it.

The bible is doing something different. Peter’s dream is about a new way of looking at the same world. A more inclusive way of looking. On the surface it’s about the kosher laws, what is permitted to be eaten and what is not. The early Christian community takes it to apply much more widely: who’s in. The big question in those days was about non-Jews. They were welcomed to the movement, but what did they have to do to get in? Be circumcised (if they were male)? Follow all the laws for Jews around clothing, disease, interest, the sabbath, facial hair as well as food?

The United Church of Canada had similar challenges twenty-five ago. Could self-declared gay and lesbian people be ministers? Could they even be members of the church? No, not at all, said some. Yes, with conditions, said others. If they are celebate. That’s not fair, said others. Gay and lesbian people said we have just as much right as anyone to be ministers if we feel called to it. Just like two thousand years earlier, it was not an easy discussion.

This old problem of the ins and the outs will never go away. If someone wants to get in, that gives a lot of power to the person or group who gets to say yes or no. It surfaces early, at school, with the bully wielding his or her power this way, shunning people, or making them pay dearly to get into the in group. Hazing, a crackdown on so-called illegal immigrants, membership fees at clubs–there are many forms of this kind of power over.

Our faith is about power with. The early church comes to the conclusion that the movement is a new thing, and that many of the old rules don’t apply, at least the ones about circumcision and diet and so on. And the one we heard earlier--love one another–is not exactly new. It’s been around for a long time. But John is painting Jesus as the new Moses except with only this one commandment. The Golden Rule is OK, but love one takes it to another level. Treating others as I want to be treated leads to respect. That’s a good thing, but it’s not the same as loving others.

Speaking of respect, today is Workers’ Memorial Day. Can you handle some numbers, some startling numbers? According to the International Labour Organization: Each year, more than two million women and men die as a result of work‑related accidents and diseases; Workers suffer approximately 270 million accidents each year, and fall victim to some 160 million incidents of work‑related illnesses; Hazardous substances kill 440,000 workers annually – asbestos alone claims 100,000 lives; One worker dies every 15 seconds worldwide. If our service lasts an hour, that’s 240 people across the globe. 6,000 workers die every day. Far more people die at work than fighting wars. Respect is lacking, you could say. Love is absent altogether.

What would the workplace be like if respect were a key component? Never mind love for the moment, just respect for starters. Three hundred and fifty bodies have already been recovered from that collapsed factory in Dacca, Bangladesh. Nine hundred are still missing. Twenty-five hundred survived. Daughters, sisters, mothers, aunts. The deaths of these workers has generated a great deal of media coverage. But we heard nothing in the news about the other five thousand people who died on the job that day. Mines cave in, scaffolding collapses, heavy equipment falls over, factories go up in flames, equipment fails, gases leak. And on and on. Cheap goods are not a bargain after all. Diamonds, or food, or smart phones from low wage economies may be very, very costly to someone, to some family hearing the news about a loved one who won’t be coming home today after all.

A new thing. The Golden Rule would be a start: do unto others what you would have them do unto you whether they own the factory or work in it. What would respect for all workers look like, and how will we get there? Let’s ask Mary Harris Jones, better known as Mother Jones. Mary Harris became a feisty organizer for workers’s right in the nineteenth century. She was born in Cork, and left Ireland with her family when she was a teenager, some time in the 1850s. She attended a Catholic school in Toronto before moving to Chicago. It took two tragedies to turn into an activist. Her husband, George Jones and four children all died of yellow fever in Memphis, Tennessee in 1867. She went back to Chicago, started another dressmaking business, and four years later lost everything in the Great Fire of 1871. Her husband had been a foundry worker, and she somehow got mixed up with the United Mine Workers Union in a time of vicious struggle between mine owners and workers.

Jones believed in family. A man should make enough that his wife could stay home with the kids. She became a socialist. She organized miners. She organized garment workers. She organized the wives and daughters of miners to put on demonstrations in support of the men. At one point, a district attorney in Pennsylvania called her “the most dangerous woman in America” because, as he put it, “with one crook of her finger, she could get twenty thousand men to lay down.” She was arrested. She was sued. She kept going. Her motto? “Pray for the dead, and fight like hell for the living.”

Who’s in? Who gets in to the high priced events to speak to decision makers? Who can get in to the inner circle, whether that’s government, or the parent advisory council or the team? It’s always about power. Who has it, who wants it, how it gets shared. Love one another. Give your power away, he said. Lavish it on the person with the dread disease, the traveler mugged and lying on the road, the child, the tax collector. Oh, oh. This is April 28. Who has a good word for the tax collector at this time of year?

Here in Canada, we’ll probably tighten up the temporary foreign workers program now that abuses have been exposed. We’re all temporary foreign workers in a way. Why can’t the love command apply to work, to international arrangements about capital and labour and workers’ rights and human rights? Why do some of us end with more houses, more vehicles, more toys, more power than we can ever use or earth can sustain, and others end up working for two dollars a day in conditions that can kill or injure us? Where is the vision of a world more just? It’s here, in this church, and many other places.

Our efforts to focus on this mission here, our telling it, will be contagioius, people coming to join us to build a world more just. We have to pay attention to what we wish for. If new people do show up, they will have suggestions, ideas, visions that are slightly different. Then what? How do we know whose vision to honour? What ideas to try?

My Scottish grandmother used to say you had to be lying in High Street cemetery for twenty years before you were really accepted in Edinburgh. That would be reassuring to newcomers to the city, I’m sure. At least there was a definite date for getting in.

Maybe it doesn’t have to take so long. Maybe there are ways to honour different visions. A couple of professors at Harvard, Roger Fisher and William Ury, put out a great little book thirty years ago on negotiating called Getting to Yes. They had come up with a few simple and powerful ideas to help people get along, get to yes. One of the ideas is to base negotiation on interests, not positions. Positions are often the source of conflict. When we’re playing at the beach, we can’t both have the digger right now but maybe there is a creative solution, instead of win-lose scenario. Ury and Fisher suggest all parties to a conflict state their interests, the things behind their position that matter, and then work together to meet everyone’s interests. It’s a surprisingly effect technique.

At church, positions are sometimes called traditions. “We’ve never done it that way before.”  What we usually mean is that we have conventions. Our tradition is worship, for example. Our convention is doing it this way, at this time, with this kind of flavor or leadership. Today’s scriptures seem to be calling us to look intensely at ourselves and our attachment to the way things are presently. When the bible talks about a new thing, it isn’t talking about superficial change, a new package, a new colour. It’s talking about seeing ourselves as ‘in’–accepted, needed, loved. It’s talking about seeing ourselves with new possibilities, seeing ourselves as God sees us, full of yearning and capacity for respecting others, and going beyond: transcending ourselves to love others. So who’s in?

“Creation’s voice”   Wednesday, April 24, 2013   by Robin Wardlaw

Season of Easter, Year C
Readings: Genesis 1:29–31; Romans 8:18–24

Theodor Geisel raised all kinds of topics in his children’s books, writing under the name Dr. Suess. Who knows how many millions of children have been sensitized to the plight of minorities by Horton the elephant, or helped to appreciate boundaries by a risk-taking cat in a hat. Theodor Geisel died over twenty years ago. Over forty years ago, he gave the world the Lorax. The Lorax was "shortish and oldish and brownish and mossy ... with a voice that was sharpish and bossy." He saw what people were doing to the world, cutting down truffula trees to make thneeds, which everyone needs. There was lots of work, and lots of pollution, until the last tree went down. All that was left in a ruined landscape was the sad industrialist, the Once-ler, who had invented thneeds, and a plaque left by the Lorax, before he too vanished, upward, into the clouds. The plaque said merely, “Unless.”

The Lorax keeps crying, “I speak for the trees.” He was an Old Testament prophet, raising the voice of the voiceless over and over. In his case, it was no use. He remained alone in his opposition, and he was heavily outnumbered by all the people happily working in thneed factories, making all that money, and satisfying all those customers. It turns out the Once-ler is now old. He has been telling the whole story about his rise and fall to a young boy. And he has one truffula tree seed left. He has finally realized what people need are the trees.

In between bills, family matters, jobs, health, cars and computers and houses that always seem to need attention, we think about “unless.” Unless we get serious about things as a society, as a species... Unless someone speaks for the sharks, or the reefs, or future generations... Unless we start relating to planet Earth differently... Sometimes our reflection gets us motivated to do something. Sometimes it makes us angry. Much of the time it disables us with sadness, helplessness, trapped in the via negativa.

This is a far cry from the optimism of the bible. The creation story bubbles over with the via positiva. 
The apostle Paul acknowledges present distress, even distress on a planetary scale, but insists that adoption is coming, the redemption of our bodies. I’m not sure what he means by those phrases, but you can feel the confidence. It won’t serve us to be too positive. It won’t serve us to be too negative, either, although we need them both. It is transformation and creativity to which we are called. To hang on to a seed of hope, and to find in bread broken a symbol of both woundedness and healing. To find in a cup shared a symbol of our interrelatedness to all creation, our solidarity with it, and its solidarity with us.

We eat and drink, not as giddy diners on a sinking cruise ship, ignoring the catastrophe about to swallow us up, but as the crew of the rescue ship, about to launch into the swells to bring hope to a situation that seems hopeless. Our government seems determined to make news of the situation impossible to get, and speaking about what we face a crime, or treason. We will resist. We may be shortish or oldish or brownish or mossy, but we have voices, and if they have to be sharpish, or bossy, we will use them. To speak for the whales, the lakes, the climate, the trees. Let us eat and drink health, health to all creation.

Monday, 15 April 2013

"Getting re-oriented"   April 14, 2013   by Robin Wardlaw

Easter 2, Year C
Readings: Acts 9:1–20; Psalm 30; (Revelation 5:11–14); John 21:1–19

Malala Yousafzai will be sixteen in July. She has been nominated in a worldwide petition for the Nobel Peace Prize. She has been an activist for girls’ education in Pakistan since she was twelve. At first she wrote an anonymous blog, but then the BBC came to do a documentary about her. You may remember that a Taliban assassin tried to kill her recently. What call did she hear to become an activist? Why her and not the girl two doors down? Why not all the twelve years olds in her town of Mingora, up in the foothills of the Himalayas.

In 1995, when Craig Kielburger was twelve years old, he saw a headline in the paper about a Pakistani boy, Iqbal Masih. The headline read “Battled child labour, boy, 12, murdered.” The story told how Masih was forced into bonded labour in a carpet factory at the age of four, became an international figurehead for the fight against child labour by twelve years of age, and was then murdered. Kielburger got angry and began researching child labour. He took the article to school, a Catholic school in Richmond Hill, gathered friends his age and together they founded a group that evolved into "Free the Children." That group has become an international organization that has forty-five countries participating in helping the world become a better place.

Malala and Craig’s stories raise the whole question of call. AnjezĂ« Gonxhe Bojaxhiu from Albania was fascinated by stories of missionaries to Bengal. When she was twelve (what is it with twelve year olds?), she decided to become a nun. When she entered the Sisters of Loreto at age twenty-one, she took the name Teresa. By then she was teaching in India. At her second school, in suburban Kolkata (Calcutta), she experienced first the 1943 famine in the area, then the intense conflict between Muslims and Hindus during the partition of India and Pakistan in 1948. She was noticing the plight of the poor more and more.

Something happened while she was on her way by train from Kolkata to Darjeeling, on her annual retreat. Here’s how she describes her road to Damascus experience: "I was to leave the convent and help the poor while living among them. It was an order. To fail would have been to break the faith.” She called it “the call within the call.” She ended up leaving the Loreto Sisters and forming the Missionaries of Charity. Its mission was, in her own words, to "the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society, people that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone." Sister Teresa was on her way to becoming Mother Teresa. But by “all those who feel shunned by everyone,” did she mean everyone including the LGBTQ community, or women who found themselves pregnant but did not want to have a baby? Also, she never felt a call to ask the why question: why are they hungry, naked, homeless, crippled, unwanted, unloved, shunned?

She went through at least two re-orientations, to become a nun in the first place, and then to discover a vocation with the poor, but perhaps, like Peter, she needed a third call, or a third and fourth. The word orientation is because of the orient, the east, where the rising sun appears. If I know where the sun rises, I can figure out all the other directions. Malala Yousafzai, Craig Kielburger, Mother Teresa, Saul/Paul, Simon Peter, Thomas the Twin, Nathanael of Cana, the sons of Zebedee– it’s about call today, re-orientation, turning to the feeding of sheep, caring for the flock. It’s not just these people, of course, or even famous people. It’s about us. What is our orientation, and are we facing in the direction we are meant to go?

It’s not about sexual orientation, today, although we could talk about that a little bit, too. It looks like I can’t really get a new sexual orientation. If I’m hetero, bi, trans, homosexual, that seems to be it. Heaven knows people try. They try to change themselves, they try to change others. I’m not hearing that this can happen. What we need is for society to accept that, to re-orient itself. The kind of conversion, the kind of transformation our scriptures are speaking to today is to our outlook, our hearts, our souls. Martin Luther King, Jr. pointed out that it doesn’t have to happen all at once: “You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”

Can we turn toward, take another step toward "the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, the unwanted, unloved, uncared for, shunned by everyone?" And what will it mean to undergo a transformation such as that? Having scales fall from our eyes is one thing. That’s just the first stage. Which sheep did we not notice as we first got re-oriented? How can we keep scales from re-occurring? How can we take the next step?

Saul was mingling with Christians all the time. It was his job, supposedly, to gather evidence so they could be prosecuted. He would have to infiltrate Christian groups. In the process of hunting down followers of Jesus, he seems to have gotten a little too close. Something happened. He ended up taking a new name and following the Way himself. Seventeen hundred years later, John Wesley wrote that “my heart was strangely warmed,” to describe his transformation.

Wesley, like Paul, like Teresa, was in transit when change began. He had been in America, a Church of England priest who went to preach to First Nations people in Georgia. That went poorly. He had to leave suddenly over a little incident to do with the affections of a woman who was betrothed to someone else. On the way home, he got talking to a Moravian on the ship. In those days it took six weeks to cross the Atlantic, not six hours, so there was time for an extended conversation. And then back in London, in a chapel in Aldersgate, Wesley had the life-changing experience that led to the appeal and spread of Methodism.

There was a story in the paper this week about an Iraqi woman, an architect, who can’t go back to her homeland because she has become an activist for women. One of the consequences of getting rid of Saddam’s harsh regime was that men freed from jail formed gangs to kidnap women to sell as sex slaves. Yanar Mohammed and a colleague, Nasik Ahmad, started organizing women to report on who had gone missing each day. She does her work here in Toronto, and communicates with the staff and volunteers back in Baghdad. Why does she do it? Three reasons: other feminists, supporters and co-workers who share her passion, and her own conviction about the cause. “I will not rest in peace until there are better conditions for women, and for the whole of Iraqi society.”

Many different ways to hear and answer the call, to get re-oriented. There’s no point coveting any of these people their conversions, though. The call to you is the call to you. How you are answering it, how you will answer it, that’s up to you. Personal experience seems to have a lot to do with getting re-oriented. “I was opposed to gays and lesbians until my son or daughter turned out to be one.” “I never liked those foreigners until I ended up working with one of them.” “I never thought my in-laws would be those kind of people until my child came home with a sweetie who was one.” And on it goes.
Personal experience doesn’t always work, or at least, not by itself. We probably all know someone who should have had a change of heart if personal experience was going to do it, and somehow clings to thoughts, feelings, opinions that are stuck.

No, if personal experience such as getting to know the other is the seed, that new acquaintance has to fall on fertile soil. There must be some readiness to let go of old notions and replace them with an open mind, an open heart. “Put our nets over the other side of the boat? It’s the same lake. What does he think that’s going to get us? Put them over the other side. What does he know about fishing?” Versus: “Put our nets over the other side? Sounds wacky, but you never know. We’ve tried everything else. It’s fish we want, after all, not status as expert fishers. Nothing ventured...”

We’re in the transformation business. What is happening for children around here, the eight year olds, the ten year olds? Do they know by the time their twelve that they are called to change the world? Are they in settings where they will be supported when scales from their eyes? Will someone be there to affirm them and show them what to look at with their new vision? We know that young people who have not committed themselves to the good, can make other choices by the time they are fifteen or seventeen or eighteen. And who else is in the transformation business with us? There are many, many allies to discover. There will be an Interfaith Walk toward the end of June where we can discover what we have in common with Muslim and Jewish lovers of peace. Then we walk a week later in solidarity with the LGBTQ community. We’re on the road, and anything can happen.

The old joke is “I must hurry and find the others, for I am their leader.” Which way are justice and peace headed, and how can we join that number?

Friday, 12 April 2013

Hiding fearing doubting  April 7 2013  Rev. Malcolm Spencer

We have become a fairly skeptical people. We see something on TV or read something in the paper and we wonder if it is true and others often challenge us about that. We are people who require proof. Like after a betrayal of a secret or a relationship we need   proof of change before we trust. The disciples were unsure if they could trust the women who claimed that Jesus was alive –they were scared and returned to the family home where they had had the Passover with Jesus and then they wondered would the authorities come after them. Here they were hiding and fearful. Sudden out of nowhere come Jesus and says Peace be with you. There is no fearful hiding from this saviour he will find them and He finds us even when we fear and hide he finds us.

Jerome Herauf  an America Catholic writer puts it this way “ when there is a crisis or tragedy, we eager await the first words of those who have come through the trauma, knowing their survival is exceptional, we hang on their every word, they are charged with so much meaning.”   When I took disaster training a few years ago I became aware of the situation for survivors and the first thing one does is comfort and also check their clothing for anything in their clothing that might assist in hurting themselves.

That is the sort of trauma the disciples came through – a violent death of Jesus and before that a harrowing night of being accused of being with him – but he comes in peace – in reassurance. Often the very thing we need after tragic events is the warm hope of peace.

Dean Feldermeyer, used the latin term cogito tute which means Think for yourself to describe our doubting Thomas after all he was not with them the first time they saw the risen Jesus. Here was a guy who thought for himself. Feldermeyer was fascinated by the case of Bernie Madoff who was a highly believable character who bilked thousands of their savings after promising high returns on their money- they were not thinking for themselves but they will be very skeptical after that. I am sure those who have3 e-mail are used to claims that we have money in a foreign bank if we send our banking particulars to them. The delete button and junk mail place is where those claims go. So perhaps we can identify with Thomas who really wants proof of a fantastic claim.

John’s Gospel is about relationship and especially the relationship between Jesus and the disciples and with parent God. He came with deep warm peaceful love to the fearful hiding disciples and put them at ease and gave them hope. Something that is hard to share yet they tried with Thomas but they couldn’t convince him.  Then Jesus comes again and this time come in peace and asks Thomas to touch his wounds and put his hand in his side. Thomas’ doubt dissolves and he becomes a believer.

But before we say doubt goes away Jesus does not criticize his doubt he invited him to explore further. Doubt is often the doorway to faith not it’s opposite. It lets us think for ourselves and helps us to grow further in love and finding peace. We too can touch wounds in ourselves today sometimes spiritual wounds or wounds of the heart and also physical wounds which trouble us and we encouraged to see the wounded around us, the lonely, forgotten and troubled, those who cannot see a way out and who don’t believe anymore in hopeful words from anybody. We have the example of risen Jesus who brings peace and accepts the wounds of others sharing his own wounds. Here is a template of love and Justice because he touches us in love and we touch him in prayer, praise and ritual we can face the wounded broken society and those who say nothing can be done. We can stem the tide of apathy and feeling helpless and turn our striving for justice into ways to restore right economic and environmental relationship. And we can do that by ourselves and with others. This started right here from the doubt of one man to the work of faith people for a long time. This is our time our place to find and renew our relationship with Jesus to understand that we who celebrate Easter celebrate his new life with us and his desire to see us, know us and give us the inner peace to keep going on our faithful Journey.

As a congregation we are on a new journey a journey of renewal- we hunger for the peace, love and Justice which comes from the touch and vision of our risen Lord. Our hungry spiritual heart is matched by one who is anxious to see us through and be our guide assuring us of his love but allowing us to doubt but in the context of knowing how loved we are. I think anyone who desires a closer understanding of a mystical but powerful relationship with Jesus read the book of John as it explores in detail the hope of redemption through a deep and abiding opening to him as a friend and guide and spiritual healer.

Jean Vanier spent a year on that book with his spiritual director and it changed his life and he went on to help set up L’arche giving support dignity and equality with those of limited intellectual. Ask Jean if he thinks rationality is what makes us humans human he would say no it is compassion and the ability to relate with others.

Doctors without Borders did not start from a rational plan it came from the compassion of a group of French doctors. Our food bank and community dinner did not start from an experiment in better living it started from compassion.

We are people formed in the crucible of a violent action at a Passover many  years ago but now we are the people of a  risen saviour who has led us to this time and is with us to heal the wounds to touch the wounds of ourselves, our city, our country and globally.

We are given a fresh path of renewal let us take that with a joy that only comes from our Easter knowledge and a joy that is ours as a people of God.
Let us taste and know the joyful peace of Christ.

Let us pray
Risen and loving Lord you have given us a sign of great love and hope –help us to open our hearts to you and to love as you have loved and keep us ever in your love.
Jesus Name we Pray Amen

Friday, 5 April 2013

“Heart unfold”   March 31, 2013   by Robin Wardlaw

Easter , Year C
Readings: Acts 10:34–43; Psalm 118:1–2, 14–24; 1 Corinthians 15:19–26; Luke 24:1–12

There are radicals meeting all over the city, plotting this morning, I understand. Somehow none of the security forces have heard about them–not the police, not the Mounties, not the security people. Their leader was martyred by the authorities, but they keep meeting as if nothing had changed, and they have an agenda. They are challenging the system, talking crazy talk, proposing a weird alternative to the status quo.
I’m talking about Christians, of course–you! Christians are filling up churches today to celebrate a vision, a way of life and a simple ritual involving a table, and bread and a cup. And I don’t know how radical the message will be in all those other places of worship, here and around the world. If we were doing this right today, there might be informers inside every church, reporting what is being said and done, and maybe a police presence outside.
Instead, we’ve let chocolate and bunnies and ham get most of the attention. And for many, that’s about it. If I’ve been doing serious personal work on my faith in Lent, Easter might be a culmination for that, the conclusion of my inward journey. But being here today or most churches won’t get anyone arrested, or even video-taped. How did that happen? How did it get to be so polite?
Let’s review. Easter is the answer to what question? Easter is the question to what answer? According to Acts, Peter tells the crowd at Cornelius’ house that Jesus was all about forgiveness of sin. (Acts 10:43) “He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil,” says Peter. Maybe that’s all there was to it. Something Jesus was saying and doing brought him to the attention of the authorities. “Love one another,” may have been part of it, but that never got anyone killed, anymore than doing good and healing people. According to the gospels, the charges against him were that he was stirring up the people, encouraging them to withhold their taxes, and claiming to be a sovereign. That was enough to get him bundled off to the killing field in his day, apparently. The gospels paint a picture of a reluctant Pilate, unwilling to condemn an innocent man.
In real life, a week before the Passover, Pilate was riding into the city in a military procession, a magnificent show of imperial might, hooves clomping, boots tromping, harness jingling and armor clattering. A good show to look at, too. On the other side of town, Jesus was spoofing the governor’s cavalcade, riding on a donkey or something. The crowds got the political theatre. They hailed him as the Coming One, the Messiah. The Messiah. Jews were waiting for their liberator, and Roman officials were dreading yet another claimant to the throne of David, stirring up the people, and costing all kinds of overtime and disruptions that could interfere with the smooth flow of tribute to Rome.
Jesus proves a bit of a disappointment in that regard–no fiery speeches, no guerilla campaigns to take out officials and collaborators, seemingly no plan for liberation at all. But he’s enough of a threat to someone to get him arrested and dispatched. It didn’t take much, of course: Roman crucifixions were a dime a dozen. We are gathered here because somehow the Jesus movement didn’t fall apart. Some seed had been planted, some bonds forged that survived the execution of the leader.
Since then, there has been a lot of water under the bridge. Christianity has played every role from a persecuted little sect to an oppressive empire of its own, murdering Jews, women, first nations, non-Christians, you name it. In the process, the vision of the founder may have gotten a little bruised, a little bent, a little deformed. OK, more than a little deformed.
The original question was, how can people live a free and dignified existence, the kind that was supposed to happen when the people got out of slavery in Egypt and back to Canaan? It was a good question then, with the Jews suffering under a vicious empire. It’s still a good question, one women are still asking, all over the world. It’s one First Nations in Canada and many nations continue to ask, with increasing volume and skill. Arab people began rising up two years ago all along the Mediterranean, trying to get rid of the corruption, the inequality, the fear. And the list goes on. Why is it so hard?
If I’m not at all worried about ethics, or human rights, or other such trifles, violence and threats are a quick way to get what I want. At your expense. How can we reign in the bullies of this world? Bullies rule by fear. They are never large in number, whether they’re in a high school, a work place or riding into someone else’s capitol in a show of force. Easter is an intoxicating idea to people who are resisting that mining company coming to tear up their land and push them away or struggling to take control of their own country back from some ruling elite. Easter claims that breathtaking push back from an elite against a people’s movement, even violent push back, even execution, only looks like an ending, like failure.
And when we back away from things even more, away from regions or nations, when we take a space station view of things, the whole planet faces the question of how we do this. With our numbers, our technology, our capacity and willingness to wreck land and sea and air, the question is can human beings live a free and dignified existence and do it alongside every other species and ecosystem on the planet? Elites like to get their way. They are used to it. They behave badly when they don’t. I’ve been reading theology from Palestine and South Africa recently, and noticing a string of stories from the war against women. They inspire many feelings, including a scary urge to “take up arms against a sea of troubles,” as Shakespeare put it.
Jesus would not resort to violence. One of his followers had a sword on the night of his arrest, but Jesus would not permit fighting. We know what happened next. But his followers would not use violence either, at least not at the beginning. Many, many of the disciples and other early followers went to the same violent end Jesus did. This speaks to a very high commitment. How come? They had been close to something amazing, something life changing, something holy. They had had a glimpse of how things were meant to be. Their hearts unfolded into new, startling shapes, full of selflessness and compassion.
My wife, Rita, is a teacher. Especially with younger grades, she always made a point of discussing holidays with her class, to talk about the reasons for them. Just before the Easter long weekend one year, it was Grade 5s. She was reviewing Good Friday and Easter itself, what Christians believed, that not everyone believed them. One girl said, “But miss, I believe those things, and I’m not Christian, I’m Anglican.” Someone asked about the Easter bunny. Where did it come from? Could anyone help? Robert could. “When Jesus rose from the grave, he was holding a bunny.” Rita said, no, she didn’t think so. “Yes, Miss” said Robert. “It’s in the bible.”
Distortions creep in, don’t they? Rogue bunnies somehow pop up. They would be harmless, except they can cloud the real story, the tale of daring and radical love. If there is reason to celebrate today, and every Easter, it is because of the original vision, the heart of our faith, the profound mystery of redeeming Love. Easter love does not fight fire with fire. It does not advocate some sort of purge of the elites. To listen to the gospel stories, Jesus didn’t even criticize the authorities as they were going through the motions to dispatch him. Easter is the question to that answer. It’s been tried, over and over again. What’s the saying: “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”
The unfolding heart of our faith is a deep commitment to the vision, a very deep commitment. And an equally deep assurance that freedom, dignity, equality are the way to a world of peace and justice, a sustainable world. We have been given the challenge and the privilege of seeing Christ in everyone else. Not an obstacle to our success or a resource to be exploited, but a sister or brother, a sacred and unique source of creativity and wisdom. That’s why this meal, this table are so subversive. No one gets a bigger serving based on their bank account, their IQ or their charm. It’s a sharing of the loaf and the cup, an according of dignity to each participant that anticipates an Easter society, an Easter world.
And this is something to celebrate, a wonderful reason for a feast. Enjoy the ham if that’s on the menu later, and resolve to eat lower on the food chain. Enjoy the chocolate, and resolve to find more fair trade products. Enjoy the Easter flowers, and resolve to leave the planet better than you found it. Go ahead, be a friend to any bunny you see giving out eggs, but remember the unseen guest at this table, and that we commune here with all who praying for an end to fear, and end to violence, that their hearts may unfold in a new world, a world of peace.

“Not the same old meal"    March 28, 2013   by Robin Wardlaw

Maundy Thursday, Year C
Readings: Exodus 12:1-4, 11-14; Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19; (1 Corinthians 11:23-26); John 13:1-17, 31b-35

You’re sitting down with the women of the book group for the evening. Everything is familiar–the surroundings, the food, the interesting book, something to drink. But you have a surprise. Tonight, you will propose that the book group to become a book writing group.
Or you’re with the guys for the usual get together–watching the game, poker, whatever. Snacks, check; drinks, check. But your agenda is to have the men’s group become dedicated to working with other men to reduce violence toward women. How tough would that be?
Jesus is with men and women in an upper room. They’ve made it to the capitol in time for the biggest event of the year, the remembrance of the flight from Egypt to freedom in Canaan, the Passover supper. Preparations were all laid in–rented room, food and drink. They would look to Jesus, I suppose, to lead the ritual. With the Romans running things, the Passover was always a tense time. Local people celebrating their independence and status as chosen people meant that there was defiance in the air as spring dawned each year. Maybe there was extra excitement in the upper room because this rabbi included women in his circle. He was willing to break the ancient taboos that kept them separate, and unequal.
Everything goes as usual, until the end. Then he does something different, takes the ritual into his own hands. Did they get it right away, the magnitude of what he did with the bread and the cup? Or did they slowly realize over weeks, or months, or even years afterward? A new covenant. No lamb needs to die for the feast. The blood can be symbolic. Violence has no place now.
The new freedom is freedom to love one another, love one another fully. The new liberation is liberation from all forms of domination. And as we will see on Easter day, the new covenant quickly breaks free from any ethnic constraint. It becomes available to any kind of person, any kind of person who commits to this love ethic, that is.
The Passover is a very political meal. It celebrates a people’s escape from slavery, and their destiny as a people who will be a light to the world. Communion is just as political. It confronts violence in all forms, against everyone. Taking this bread and this cup is an act of defiance. We can forget. And it sometimes becomes routine for us. The other gospels describe communion. John doesn’t even mention it, did you notice? His focus is on foot washing as the ritual to replace or supplement the Passover meal.
Footwashing is important for a community. It reminds us that no one is greater than anyone else. We will lovingly wash one another’s feet. It’s a beautiful symbol. But it will never cause any tremors in the seats of power. It doesn’t challenge the Pilates and the Herods and their modern equivalents. But to eat all together, to share bread equally sends a message to the world, a message it always needs to hear. And we are the messengers.