Thursday, December 7, 2017

Finding Hope in WhatsApp and the Prime Minister of Canada

Mark 13:24-37

I thought made a tactical error this weekend. I waited until yesterday to start my sermon—my sermon for Hope Sunday, this first Sunday of Advent. Each of these next Sundays, the four Sundays leading up until Christmas have their own, preset themes in this season. Hope, Peace, Joy and Love. Hope Sunday marks the beginning of the wait—the anticipation of the arrival of the baby Jesus—the great hope that was promised to come to save the world, and after he was executed some thirty odd years later, was promised once again to the world of his return so that the righteous may be separated from the not-so-righteous and all would be made whole in God’s Kingdom. Anyway, it is somewhat expected that a preacher might preach on these specific, positive and hopeful themes, in the darkness that starts this season and then in the growing light of all that is good as it is represented in the recalling and celebrating the birth of the one who came not as a sword to conquer and vanquish the cruel and unjust leaders, but came instead as a vulnerable baby, needing protection and care until he was ready, until he, himself heard the voice of God calling him to a ministry like no other.

I am supposed to be preaching on hope today. I was supposed to prepare a sermon that speaks to the hope that is to come in the celebration of the Christ’s birth. But I made a mistake this weekend. I waited until Saturday morning to start writing. As I started my day yesterday, I heard the news that the American Senate passed the dastardly republican tax bill sometime after midnight on Friday. And, while I am not American, if half of what is being said about how this bill will impact everyday Americans, those going to college, those who rely on Obamacare, those who do not own planes or have massive estates to pass onto their children—if half of what they are saying is true, the world is about to witness a turning in the States like never before. This bill is the absolute epitome of the rich becoming richer and poor becoming poor. And many who have not consider themselves poor before now, may discover poverty in the coming years.

Hope felt thin yesterday morning. You might ask, why does it matter so much to me about what is happening in the States? They are not us and we are not them. That is true, but we cannot ignore what happens with the people who are our next door neighbours. If you ever doubt their socio-economic impact on Canada, just remember we are coming off a week of massive sales called Black Friday. Black Friday is a strictly American concept—it is tied to Thanksgiving, their most important holiday, which always takes place on a Thursday. The Friday after Thanksgiving has become the kick-off for Christmas shopping. It is called Black Friday and in the past it has meant nothing to Canadians other than maybe it was a good time to be the States for shopping. But, over the past few years there have begun to be more and more stores that have sales events based on Black Friday. So, the long and short of it is that I seem to have this chronic sense of despair of the losses the American people are experiencing with the presidency of Donald Trump and I am wary of similar sentiments that go him elected being revealed elsewhere in the world, particularly in Canada and here in Calgary. Some days hope is hard to find.

And, let’s face it, it’s not like the scripture reading really helped. The Lectionary this Advent is challenging. Here at Symons Valley, we don’t always follow the schedule of readings offered by the Lectionary but we chose to for Advent so that we could hear the familiar stories during this tradition-rich time. Except that I failed to take into account that today is the beginning of the church year that we read mostly from the Book of Mark. Although Mark is the second book of the Christian Scriptures, the New Testament, it was actually the first of the Gospels to be written and it is the most bare-bones. Matthew and Luke build upon Mark’s Gospel and fill out the life and ministry of Jesus for us. But Mark is pretty cut and dried. The Marconian community—the time and life out of which Mark was written, was living in an era of crisis after of crisis. Jesus had died, tensions had grown steadily between the Hebrew people, the new Christians and the Romans. The Temple was destroyed and all hell seemed to be breaking loose. Mark writes as if time was of the essence, there was no time for embellishments. Did you realized that Mark does not even have a birth story—the first chapter of Mark starts right with the baptism of Jesus. So, in this Lectionary year in which Mark is the Gospel of focus, the first few Sundays of Advent are spent reminding us of the power and strength that the baby Jesus will grow into—that the one who is coming will be named Son of Man, that he will be revealed as the Christ, that he will be more powerful than the baptizer John, that he will be the light of the world. We are being reminded that the one who came as a helpless infant, grew to be the One who best revealed God’s love on earth and who led, not with an armed force but led, instead, by offering healing through relationship—relationship with each and every person that is met along the way of life, relationship with God, the one who moves as Spirit encouraging us and helping us remember that we are not alone, we are never alone, and, finally, relationship with ourselves because all healing begins first with ourselves.

The hope from Mark is not about the upcoming birth because the birth is not there. Instead, the hope comes with the reminding of what Jesus was the first time he came. Hope in this Advent season is the promised second coming and, if Jesus was so powerful the first time around, can we possibly imaging how powerful he will be upon his return? But how will it be known that he has returned? It was pretty uncertain the first time he arrived. The Lectionary guides us by taking us right to a mini-apocalypse for the First of Advent. The sun will be darkened, the stars will fall from heaven and the powers will be shaken. No one know when the master of the house will come. In other Gospel versions of this ‘keep awake’ narrative, these stories are referring to the end of time however our scripture reading today does not talk about the end times, about the end of the world. The reading today speaks only of the coming of the Son Man. Remember, Jesus had not yet been crucified. It had been discussed amongst the disciples that Jesus might be the messiah, the Christ, but Jesus had not confirmed it. What is interesting is that the scripture reading today foreshadows the events of the last moments of Jesus’ life—the sky becomes dark just as it did before Jesus died, the cock crows just as it did signifying the denial of Peter and the dawn comes as it did with the women at the empty tomb. That’s why this scripture reading is referred to as the little apocalypse of Mark’s Gospel.

And that’s why I was struggling a bit with hope yesterday because it kinda does feel, some days, with the state of the world is a little apocalyptic right now. With increasing nationalism, the rise of protectionism, fear and distrust of the other being encouraged, individualism working against the common good—all of this feels a little like we need a messiah to come set us straight. I woke up yesterday and heard the news of passed tax bill in the States. I read our scripture reading looking for inspiration for what to say about hope. And then I did some housework. I scrolled around on Facebook a bit. I made a list or two—making lists helps my brain. And then my phone began pinging. I was surprised to see it wasn’t a phone call but a voice call on the app WhatsApp—the app that we made connections with new friends that we made on the youth trip to Zambia. Douglas, our driver, was calling me to chat. Douglas spent nearly the whole three weeks with us that we spent in Zambia in August as he was our driver. He has just finished his second of three years of theological training and is at home with his family in Lusaka. The internet sucks in Zambia so we couldn’t really chat. I could hear his five-year-old daughter laughing in the background but our voices were too delayed to talk. We ended up visiting by texting back and forth. He mentioned that he liked the book that I gave him and we discussed its merits. It was lovely to connect so directly with him after these few months. Not only to make the connection but to hear his voice. Things have sure changed since I first went to Zambia. For a Zambian to be able to make connections with the wider world with the use of a free app is remarkable.

After Douglas and I finished chatting, it occurred to me that I was looking for hope in all the wrong places. I was trying to find hope in the negative. It would be easy to stand here and tell you why hope is lost but when I was in school we were taught that it short-changes the discussion to talk only about what you are against instead of talking about what you are for—about what you believe and what you support. Our scripture reading today gives us the foreshadow of the coming crucifixion but it is not speaking to some far-off time. It is speaking to the now and then. Remember, for the author of Mark, the Temple had just been destroyed, Jesus had been dead already for years, the second coming of the Son of Man was eagerly anticipated. But our reading does not speak of the end of Jesus—it speaks of his reentry into our lives. We begin this church year, this Advent season by looking ahead to the promise of the second coming but here, today, we are told we know not how or when Jesus will return—he will come in to our lives in many and varied ways. And maybe that is the message of this First of Advent. That there is no perfect time in which the Son of Man will make himself known. It is a reminder that this time of Advent is time to direct our gaze to this very present moment, imperfect yet beloved, fragile yet important, flawed yet beautiful, the very time and moment in which God chooses to meet, love and redeem us. Here.

So, with the phone call from Douglas, something that would have been impossible even 7 years ago when I was in Zambia last, I need to say what is good and right about our world. While the States is undergoing this monumental turning in it’s moral, political, social and economic systems, I need to say what is good and right in our world. Here in Canada. Right in the here and now. I need to say where I see the love of Jesus and the work of God is reentering our world. Right now. Not waiting for some far off time. So, I see good and right in the public act of what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did on behalf of Canada this week. He spoke in the House of Commons, sending a message out to our country and to the entire world about who WE are as Canadians. Sending a message about what we believe in and how we want to be as citizens together. This is what he said in his apology to LGTBQ community (insert all other areas that we marginalize people after 'gender identity or expression...race, faith tradition, culture):
For all our differences, for all our diversity, we can find love and support in our common humanity. We’re Canadians and we want the very best for each other, regardless of our sexual orientation or our gender identity or expression. We will support one another in our fight for equality.
What I love best about this is the use of the word "very". Not, 'we want the best for each other' but 'we want the VERY best for each other'. That is what makes us Canadian. That we want the very best for each other. We are not them. We are we and we want the very best for one another. Not just ourselves. Not just our friends and family. But for all of us who live in this world together. For these words and the apology offered to the LGBTQ community by the Prime Minister, I see hope in the here and now. I see the love of Jesus and the work of God reentering our lives in the here and now. An for that, I give thanks. Thanks be to God.