Notes for a More Coherent Sermon: Faith, Co-ops, Justice and Gandhi

I wrote this sermon about a year ago.   Seeing the newspaper this morning, it seems to continue to be relevant.

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NOTES FOR A MORE COHERENT SERMON
Faith, Co-ops, Justice and Gandhi
1 P.M.
Sunday, September 10, 2006
Thirteenth Sunday After Trinity/23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
St. Andrew’s Old Catholic Church
Chapel, St. Simon’s Anglican Church
525 Bloor St. East—East Entrance (Toronto)

*FIRST LESSON* Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23

A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches,
and favour is better than silver or gold.
The rich and the poor have this in common:
the Lord is the maker of them all.
Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity,
and the rod of anger will fail.
Those who are generous are blessed,
for they share their bread with the poor.
Do not rob the poor because they are poor,
or crush the afflicted at the gate;
for the Lord pleads their cause
and despoils of life those who despoil them

*PSALM OF MEDITATION* Psalm 146

Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord, O my soul!
I will praise the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God all my life long.

Do not put your trust in princes,
in mortals, in whom there is no help.
When their breath departs, they return to the earth;
on that very day their plans perish.

Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord their God,
who made heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that is in them;
who keeps faith for ever;
who executes justice for the oppressed;
who gives food to the hungry.

The Lord sets the prisoners free;
the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the strangers;
he upholds the orphan and the widow,
but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

The Lord will reign for ever,
your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the Lord!

*EPISTLE* James 2: 1 – 17

My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favouritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, ‘Have a seat here, please’, while to the one who is poor you say, ‘Stand there’, or, ‘Sit at my feet’, have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?

Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonoured the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?

You do well if you really fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For the one who said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’, also said, ‘You shall not murder.’ Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgement will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgement.

*GOSPEL* Mark 7: 24 – 3

From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, ‘Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ But she answered him, ‘Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’ Then he said to her, ‘For saying that, you may go-the demon has left your daughter.’ So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

SERMON PROPER BEGINS

If there is any doubt that our shared faith has a radical edge to it, the Old Testament and Epistle readings should put that doubt to rest. What we hear from James, what we hear from the psalmist and the collector of proverbs is a clear statement that the God who calls to us to live out our faith is a God that calls for justice. In a city where people have to beg on the streets, in a province where essential health care is rationed and those with wealth or connections get better treatment, in a country where the law of fear is replacing the law of liberty, in a world where war and other expressions of political violence is glorified and weapons are entertainment, we live in the same world where Jesus walked and David sang and James preached; we live in the same world where peace and justice and compassion are radical demands from an all loving God.

Dates take on different meanings, depending on what information is assigned to them. May 1st is a different festival for organised labour than it is for a troupe of morris dancers. September 11th is a jumble of meanings. We can call up the vision of the world trade centre being destroyed by a highjacked plane — evil being done in the name of religion. That is September 11, 2001. We can call up the vision of the CIA supported coupe in Chile, the assassination of Allende and the nightmare of the stadium in Santiago, Chile—evil being done in the name of capitalism. Or we can call up an older September 11th, a day when radical, non-compromising love in opposition to racism was expressed.

On Sept. 11/1906 Gandhi addressed over 3,000 South Africans of Indian descent, primarily Hindus and Muslims, who had gathered in opposition to the Asiatic Law Amendment Ordinance, one of the building blocks of Apartheid. This law reduced individuals of Indian descent to second class status. Gandhi called for mass non-co-operation with this law, a major non-violent civil disobedience campaign. It was the birth of the philosophy of Satyagraha.

Satyagraha can take different forms in different situations-indeed, many non-violent practitioners believe, with Gandhi, that there is no situation, however extreme, in which it cannot work. There are certain basic principles that most activists and scholars agree make up the core of Satyagraha:

* Means determine ends: we can never use destructive means like violence to bring about constructive ends like democracy and peace.
* Evil is the enemy, not the person committing it. In Christian terms, ‘hate the sin, but not the sinner.’ The clearest sign that ‘truth power’ is at work is when your opponent ends up becoming your ally, even your friend. Indeed, activists often discover that the more they can bring themselves to accept the person opposing them, the more effectively they can reach common ground.
* Our actions have far more consequence than the immediate, visible results. In fact, it is perfectly possible that our efforts may ‘fail’ to deliver the immediate result we want but succeed in doing more  than we may have dreamed of.

Gandhi’s philosophy of Satyagraha didn’t require success, but rather the living out the philosophy as best as one could with the trust that such an experiment in truth would bear fruit.

There are many September 11ths. Like every day, it is an opportunity to embrace love and compassion and justice or to embrace fear and anger and turning away from one’s neighbour.

Yesterday I went the 20th anniversary of Perth Avenue Housing Co-operative. It is a fairly large, federally funding housing co-operative with a very diverse membership. Among its members 34 languages are spoken. It provides a home for singles, couples and families; gay and straight; first nations and immigrants—a true cultural mosaic.  Housing co-operatives in Canada have a long history. However, the longest uninterrupted stream is rooted in the work of the Student Christian Movement, and particularly Art Dayfoot and 3 other members of the U of T SCM, who, in 1935, went to a conference in Indianapolis where, among other speakers, was the Japanese Christian labour, peace and co-op activist Toyohiko Kagawa. Kagawa spoke on “Brotherhood Economics” — how co-operatives could help create a more socially, politically, and economically just society. Those that attended that conference over the 1935-36 winter break in Indianapolis, Illinois returned to Toronto inspired by this new vision and particularly the call to share one’s resources together to jointly meet the needs of everyone. They formed Campus Co-operative Residence, Inc—which recently celebrated its 70th anniversary. This experiment in living out the Christian call for  justice continues to bear fruit. It may no longer have the stated faith identity, but the works of the spirit in calling for a sharing of the gifts of creation with all and for all continues to be at the heart of the co-operative movement. Perth Avenue Co-op continues this tradition, being truly a place where people share together to meet the common need of a home, the common need of a community in which one is welcomed.

In the epistle of James we are asked to consider why the people who are called to create a community “Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, Barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free: but Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3: 11) can become a place where those with the power to oppress in the wider world have no greater power and status in the community of faith that those without power and status. James is no calm, gentle social democrat—he points a finger directly at those responsible for the oppression of the early church, representatives of whom have also
gained high status in the church. “Why are the rich among you? Don’t you know that they are those who oppress you?” This is a clear, unambiguous statement, the heart of liberation theology, the clear expression of a preferential option for the poor. It doesn’t state that the rich shouldn’t be present, but rather questions why they should be present. If they grasp the essential call of faith community to embrace a loving call to active justice and radical equality they’d be present in the community in a different way than if they were in the community with expectations of privilege. Paul expressed this essence in Act 2: 44, 45 as clearly as  if it had come from James: “All who believed were together and had all  things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.”

This is a call to a radical turning away from wealth to  commonwealth as the gathered community worked to ensure that no one was in need. This is not a call to charitable giving but actively sharing. All have something to offer the community; all have needs that can only be truly met by accepting what others have given. In the excerpt from proverbs we are reminded that all are equal in creation; this equality is expressed in the way we order our community life as people of faith. And, as in Matthew 25: 32 and following where we are told that the final judgement is based on how we treated the poor and hungry, the homeless and ill and imprisoned, the author of Proverbs makes it clear that those that harm the poor are to be condemned.

As a justice seeking people, as individuals called to a faith we are called to by one stated ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free and to proclaim the year of Jubilee” (Luke 4:18, 19).

Hearing the gospel passage today is a surprise. We have Jesus, the ever giving prince of peace, turning away a woman in need. He was clearly wanting to be left alone, but was being bothered by a most persistent mother. Turning her away meant her daughter would continue to suffer. Jesus clearly thought his work was limited to one people in one place at one time, although he suggested that if the woman waited until he met the needs of one community, he’d turn his attention her way. However, he was challenged to share even the tiniest portion of his love by a rather scathing comment. Her persistence and cutting humour changed the mind of Jesus. He reached out beyond his own community to meet the needs of a woman and her daughter. He embraced, at that moment, the reality
of the law of liberation—a gift of the creator for all people.

In the not distant future we will be leaving this sanctuary to return to the world we are accustomed to. Our view of the world will not be primarily shaped by what we read in James or Proverbs but by the daily stresses of life, just like those that first read James epistle or shared in hearing the proverbs when they were fresh. We will be challenged, like the early Christians, to share what we have with those that have not, to try the difficult task of being a people of peace in a world of war, to not be a community where power and privilege makes one more important to the community than one who is dispossessed.

We will not be perfect in this, all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, but we are expected to try.

Let us go in peace and proclaim to the world
God’s jubilee of justice and liberation;
and may God’s blessing be upon us now and forever.
Amen.

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