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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

Monday, 28 October 2013

"Never Give Up!" Year C Warren Schell October-20, 2013

Loving God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, our strength and redeemer.
ALA’S STORY
Her name was Ala. She was feisty, just under five feet tall, great smile. Many challenges to pigeon-hole her as special needs.
She was one from a number of group homes who came to Brown’s Corners United every Wednesday evening for an hour of fellowship.
We were making Tibetan prayer flags one night and everyone was making a square. The theme was what are you thankful for.
Ala proudly displayed her flag with HEAGLAK printed in bright colours. “Health. We all want to thank God we are healthy!”
And Janet, another participant, able to read, announced “That is NOT how you spell health!”
Ala was devastated.
Sometimes I’m stunned at my capacity to fabricate.
“Actually it is a perfectly fine way to spell health. And, since God understands everything, there would be No problem
with God’s understanding Ala’s prayer. HEAGLAK is just an alternative spelling.
“Oh”,was Janet’s reply.
Sometime our prayers may seem as confusing to others as Ala’s spelling of health was to Janet.
What are we praying for?
What are we really asking?
Why?
I can’t believe you prayed for that!
But today’s gospel cites Jesus telling the parable of the persistent widow to let his followers know they should always pray and NEVER GIVE UP.
Women were considered the property of their husband’s in Christ’s time. If you were a widow you would be looked at as worthless. Less than a slave.
I like the woman in this story.
She has spunk. She had to have it and nerve too. It’s really all she had and she went for it. Probably she felt she had nothing to lose.
Not a courtroom in our sense with some robed judge sitting on high looking down.
These are pastoral stories.
Once a week bring your griefs before the judge in the marketplace. He would be sitting at a small table. People will be milling about---dogs and kids a part of the picture. I doubt if there was a bailiff insisting on“Order in the court” that we are so familiar with from TV and movies.
And to add a bit of drama we know we have a crooked judge on our hands. Out for himself. Not above taking a bribe from someone.
“I want the money for the land my husband sold Abram.”
“Go away. You have no right to be here.”
One week later:
“I want the money for the land my husband sold Abram.”
“Go away. You have no right to be here.”
Talking to his cronies later the judge says, “This woman is going to drive me crazy.” [And, at that point if he had taken a bribe to ignore her I’m sure he was wondering if it had been enough.]
Many weeks later:
“I want the money for the land my husband sold Abram.”
FINE! The court decides in your favour. Abram, pay up!
In reality this passage is such a gift on a day when, after the service, we will sign more petitions and post cards for Amnesty International.
Like our persistent widow we will keep hounding the unjust leaders / people in power around the world. And we will remember that our own politicians are NOT immune.
Last week John and I were at the Bloor Cinema for “Heart of Sky, Heart of Earth” about the Mayan resistance to mining in Guatemala.
A number of things touched us both deeply:
  • The profound spiritual connection of the indigenous Maya to all of creation
  • The complete lack of respect of corporations for anything standing in the way of the mines
  • The statement, “We don’t expect anything from the “GRINGOS”---their name for the Americans---, but we thought Canada and therefore Canadians were better than that.
  • 70 % of all mines worldwide have their head office here on Bay Street or somewhere else in Canada
  • For the first time in my life I was ashamed to be Canadian
  • The use of cyanide, outlawed here, destroying water and the environment because there are no laws in place in Guatemala
  • I have written letters for the folks whose story was being told in the movie.
  • Many of us here at Glen Rhodes have signed petitions calling the mining companies to task.
It seems like an impossible thing to take them on. It is this call for justice that started it all in 1961 when Amnesty International was formed.

Peter Berensen, a lawyer in London England was shocked and angered by a newspaper report of two Portuguesestudents from Coimbrasentenced to seven years in prison for raising their glasses in a toast to freedom during the autocratic regime of António de Oliveira Salazar.
Peter wrote to David Astor, editor of The Observer. On 28 May, Benenson's article, entitled "The Forgotten Prisoners", was published. The letter asked readers to write letters to the powers that be showing support for the students.
People wrote.
The students were released.

Amnesty International was founded in London two months later in July 1961 at a meeting of Benenson and six other men, that included a Tory, a Liberal and a LabourMP. The response was so overwhelming that within a year groups of letter-writers had formed in more than a dozen countries.

If memory serves when I joined AI there was only one person on staff at AIES. Until that point Sue Nichols who was the wife of the Unitarian Minster in Ottawa was it. A room in the church and one woman.

A priest in Nova Scotia received Urgent Actions by fax, photo-copied them, and sent to AI members across the country. We were constantly reminded to send him stamped envelopes so he could continue his work.

7 people in 1961. We are now over 3,000,000 strong and growing.

And, sadly, unlike the widow whose prayer was answered, we still write. It seems there are always new men and women speaking out for freedom needing us to go to bat for them.
2 years ago Amnesty celebrated it’s 50th anniversary. Heartbreaking when I consider that our letters / cards / petitions are really prayers in the flesh. Why bother? Simply because Christ says never give up in prayer.
Stephen King’s novel The Shawshank Redemption, was made into a movie starring Tim Robinson and Morgan Freeman. Andy Dufresne, a prisoner wrongly convicted for his wife’s murder, is put in charge of the prison library.
Every week he writes a letter to the state legislature asking for funds to buy books for the prison library.
After six years with no response, he receives several boxes of books and records, a check for $200, and a note requesting that he stop sending letters to the legislature.
Andy's response is to start sending two letters a week!
Never give up!
Like this vignette from the movie, Jesus' parable of the persistent widow is a story of perseverance and hope.
The widow presents her case over and over to a judge who respects neither God nor humans. Nevertheless, in order to preserve his own sanity, the judge finally decides the case in favor of the widow.
Jesus' point in the story is that if people can wear down uncaring judges, how much more readily will God respond to our requests, since God really does care about us.
This is a message about perseverance, but it's also a message about hope.
The widow was in a situation in which she was powerless to act.
Only the judge could bring relief.
The fact that the woman persisted with her request shows that she never gave up hope that justice would be done.
In real life, justice is not always done, but like the widow, we must fight on anyway in the hope that God will change human hearts.
Or maybe, with God’s help, we'll just wear them down!
And the prisoners will be free!
And, until that moment comes, we will never give up. We will not stop writing and calling for justice here and around the world.
Amen
A 2011 article by David Reiff in Harper’s Magazine in advance of the tenth anniversary of the attack on 9/11 for me captured some of the primary lessons of war in our current world, and the approach we take at Ploughshares.
September 9, 2001: most of us likely have firsthand memories of that day—where we were and what we were doing when the planes descended on their targets. I started playing golf in Niagara quite early that morning. About 10:30am I saw an unusual number of military jets taking off from a US Air Force base on the other side of Buffalo. In the club house I watched on tv the second jet flying into the World Trade Centre.
Rieff recites what is written on the brass plaque at the lower Manhattan site where the twin towers of the World Trade Center once stood: 
May the lives remembered, the deeds recognized, and the spirit reawakened be eternal beacons, which reaffirm respect for life, strengthen our resolve to preserve freedom, and inspire an end to hatred, ignorance and intolerance.
Unexceptional sentiments, writes Rieff. A time of remembrance, such as a funeral, is not a time for subtle historical revisionism, critical analysis, sharp rejoinder. It is a time for solidarity, deference, and piety.
This is what will take place tomorrow at cenotaphs across the country.
Remembrance of this tragic event, which seared a nation, and beyond, is a time for respectful recounting of the losses—personal for the family and friends of those who died—and for the broader notion of striving to live without these vicious attacks on the calm and mundane of everyday living.
But Rieff also points to the unseen guest at occasions of remembrance, and the fact that remembrance can have a downside. In the plaque’s platitudes is the phrase, “strengthen our resolve to preserve freedom.” This is not innocent piety. It is a call to action. It is a contemporary political claim on the nation. “The ghost at the banquet of all public commemoration is always politics—above all, the mobilization of national solidarity.” The essence of nationalism is that it can create support for collective action.
And such collective remembrance and action are not always wise, nor welcome.
Remembrance doesn’t usher in “closure,” a psychological term that can be, according to Rieff, a malign and corrosive fantasy. Remembrance can nourish illusions about how long we human beings can remember; potentially grave political and historical consequences can be nurtured by remembrance.
Rieff quotes Ecclesiastes 1:11, “There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to happen, among those who come after;” to make the point that there is no telling how long 9/11 will live in infamy in our minds and hearts, and that it may be saner and more healthy for the body politic to get on with forgetting than to dwell on remembrance.
At some point, historical travesties slip from stirring passions to being debating points, to being calendar blips, to being—for all intents and purposes—forgotten.
Consider Pearl Harbor, Rieff says to his fellow Americans. On December 7, 1941 there was an outrage, “a day that will live in infamy” according to President Roosevelt. Ten years later that date would be recalled with angry public denunciations. Fifty years later, Rieff asks, who would refuse to buy a Toyota because of Pearl Harbor?
Wars end, usually through negotiation and compromise. People move on. Old enemies become new trading partners. It can take years—or decades. The length of time can be determined by how much and how long people focus on revenge or exacting vengeance through processes of remembrance and action. Keep churning up the memories and you can prolong the period of getting to yes—that is, to peace.
Rieff delicately suggests that we consider cutting to the chase. The so-called war on terror will never end with what’s left of al-Qaeda in the dock or an acquiescing peace agreement signed at Tora Bora by Taliban leaders. Strategic forgetting may actually be preferable to remembrance if it speeds the process of reconciliation. “Then the peace that must come eventually might actually come sooner.” 
5. Christian Remembrance
As Christians we regularly participate in an act of public remembrance that is apart from political life, but not without implications for political life.
The high claim of the church is that all other forms of remembrance are subservient, and are to be judged according to remembrance of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.
When we engage in the communal act of sharing the eucharist, communion, the Lord’s Supper, we share in confessing that remembrance of Jesus trumps all else:  the passage of battles, empires, kingdoms and potentates. And we not only do this in remembrance of Jesus’ past, but also in our belief in his presence with us today, and that this will continue until he comes again.
It should not surprise us that temporary political leaders, whose lives and actions will, in time, fade to dust, from time-to-time have perceived Christians as a threat to their own standing and proclamations of remembrance of lesser things, such as battles and centennials and their own mighty works. These are but vanities of vanities in the view of the writer of Ecclesiastes.
When we “do this in remembrance of me,” meaning remembrance of Jesus, these temporal realities are put in a different, lesser perspective.
6. Joining the Christian Story
Christianity, like Judaism, is a religion of remembering.
In the Christian rite of baptism, we re-member, as in attach, our memories, our personal histories, to the life and story of Christ.
The Eucharist is our collective remembrance of this primary and life-changing commitment. It is a story of peace, and our shared journey to build it. 
 
References
Oliver, Dean F. 2012. Vimy Ridge Day. Canadian Military History, 21:3, pp. 48-57.
Rieff, David. 2011. “After 9/11: The limits of remembrance.” Harper’s Magazine, August.

 

 


 

 

 
               

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