Pentecost 7, Year C
(2 Kings 5:1–14); Psalm 30; Galatians 6: (1–6), 7–16; Luke 10:1–11, 16–20
The Sapphires is the name of a delightful movie from Australia, based on a true story. It tells the story of a girl group in the late sixties. Not just any girl group, but four young Aboriginal women. In real life, there were two sisters and two of their cousins. In the movie, this has been changed to three sisters plus a cousin. We see what looks like the idyllic, rural life of an Aboriginal community. We see government officials coming to round up children, especially lighter-skinned children to place with white families, to save them, very much like what happened to First Nations children here for generations.
The group is discovered at a local talent show where they sing a hurtin’ country and western song, beautifully. They are clearly the best act, but racism wins the day. The MC of the event, a failed Irish musician who believes soul music is the only music, recognizes their talent, however. He proposes he be their manager and paints them a picture of big things. If they switch to soul. He explains the difference: in country and western, the songs are about love lost, hurting, but the singer has given up, and is sitting at home on the couch, whining. In soul, the songs are about love lost, but the singer is fighting back, using every ounce of their being to get back what they lost.
There are some obstacles. Mom and Dad have to be convinced. The youngest sister is both too young to leave home and a single mother. They have to impress at their audition. But the women take to soul, and gain more and more polish in their act. Kaye, the cousin from the city is light skinned, so there are old tensions between the four of them, too. When they get to Vietnam, to play for American troops, they are a hit. Racism is no longer a problem, because so many of the GIs are black. Before long, soldiers are grooving to their sound, and proposing dates, and marriage. And then home again, all glamorous. We read at the end what became of the actual members of the group, and it is impressive.
It’s a light movie, and delightful. The songs are numerous—James Brown, Otis Redding, Motown--one of those feel good trips down memory lane. Whereas the readings today are fairly intense. How would this work out with the high-powered Glen Rhodes Film Festival crowd? I need not have worried. The conversation afterwards on Tuesday a good one. The group who went to see the movie all remembered the sixties: the civil rights campaign, the war, Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. One of us had been to Australia, and in 1980 it struck her as a very racist, sexist society. Visitors could still climb Ayers Rock, as the giant red rock in the middle of Australia was know then. Now it is once again called by its ancient name, Uluru, and access is restricted to First Australians, a sign of how much the country has changed.
Discussion turned to how change comes. The last three decades have seen big changes in Australia, Canada and many other places. Respect has grown for women, First Nations, sexual minorities and others. We talked about people who are like a ‘strong mountain,’ as the psalmist puts it. The oldest sister, Gail, is the tough, take-no-nonsense type, the strong mountain in the film. We marvelled at people with seemingly unwavering moral courage, the Martin Luther King, Jrs, the Bobby Kennedys and others. Gail has guilt about the way she behaved toward Kaye in childhood, and that motivates her to work for justice. Those at the after-movie discussion could relate to that. As we told stories about ourselves, we also acknowledged how costly it can be on a person to do the right thing when no one else is speaking up.
And that leads us to this wonderful advice from Paul to the Galatians. Thank goodness we have this letter after all these years. Paul talks about freedom in chapter five, for example. “You were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; so don’t use your freedom in wrong ways, but through love be servants of one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’” (Gal. 5:13-14) And then this instruction in chapter six about bearing one another’s burdens. This feels a little easier than being a strong mountain when all around are quaking, but bearing burdens has its own challenges.
How do you even do this, I wanted to know? You’ve heard that old song, “You’ve got to walk that lonesome valley. You’ve got to walk it by yourself. Oh, nobody else, can walk it for you. You got to walk it by yourself.” That rings true many days, doesn’t it? So what Paul is imagining here? How can Holy Love turn mourning into dancing? Well, said someone after the movie, It is good to just listen, be with the person with the burden. That can really help. Feels better than a lonesome valley. That’s the great thing about a church said somebody else—there is someone around for burden bearing, burden sharing.
And that took the conversation back to the social dimension. How wonderful it was that when people working to make United Churches more affirming for gay and lesbian people didn’t stop there. An Affirming church should affirm everyone, they said, whether the issue is orientation, financial well being or any other difference. “They realized what it is like to be on your own. They didn’t want that to happen to anyone else.”
There is still a way to go in society—Australia, Canadian, many societies—before everyone is fully accepted and the wounds of the past have been healed. All churches, including this one can be more affirming of all people than they already are. Many people are struggling, with things suffered in childhood, with more recent wounds. There are many burdens still to be borne, much ministry to do.
When Jesus sent those people out two by two to tell the story of the reign of God and minister to people, did they think that might wrap things up? A couple of weeks, three at the outside, and change is gonna come? Do we? Philip Berrigan, the radical American pacifist priest, wrote a book called Ten Commandments for the Long Haul. It’s about sustaining hope, sustaining the spirit for the ongoing struggle.
Caring for one another is a long haul. So is the struggle for social justice. Sometimes it feels like that in our own lives, too. We work and wait, wait and work for happiness, or even a little peace in our souls, and it still seems elusive. “Let us not grow weary in well-doing,” says Paul, “for in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart.” In due season. If we do not lose heart. “As we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially those in the household of faith.” Jesus would probably say, Especially those who are not in the household of faith, but nevermind. What we reap is satisfaction, although that makes it sound meagre. This is the deepest kind of satisfaction, the one in which we feel our souls mingled with the Holy Spirit.
We need a break now and then, time to get our dancing legs rested up. There is never a shortage of good to do, but if we’re going to make them dancing days, we need some nature therapy, time with a friend who knows how to listen, a little soul music to perk us up. Take the time. Get a sabbath.