Marianna Harris

October 20, 2013


I'm wondering if you have ever had an experience like this. Your congregation is in need of financial support. You are planning a stewardship campaign. And someone who has a passion for a particular area urges the Council to include giving to that cause—maybe it's the Mission and Service Fund, maybe it's First United Church, maybe it's a local outreach program for single parents. And someone, maybe the treasurer, maybe some other influential person exclaims in horror, "No. We can't do that. People won't give the money we need to keep the church running if we ask for money for some other cause."

Maybe that kind of dynamic doesn't happen in Kootenay Presbytery. But I have seen places where that kind of fear and financial insecurity operates. And I have been involved with stewardship experts who challenge such attitudes. Those who understand what is at the core of being a true steward—an attitude of generosity, triggered by compassion, which moves one to becoming more and more generous in one's giving to support the good work of God in the world.

Now, I can see people looking at each other and asking—did we get confused and come to the wrong sermon? Did she mix up her notes? I thought the focus was on justice.

I'm getting there. Because you see I think that the dynamics of being committed to justice are like the dynamics of being committed to generosity. Once one's heart is opened through compassion to any particular injustice, one becomes sensitive to all sorts of injustices and one becomes committed to the work of justice in the world.

The hard part is the first step—moving from the place of viewing the world from the perspective of "It's all about me" to the place where one honestly understands that "It is not all about me". My journey through life is not about how much I can accumulate, how many shoes in my closet, whether my furniture matches some ideal vision, whether I am perfect at the job I do, whether I am the best bridge player, whether I grow the biggest tomatoes, etc. Our journey through life is about how we learn to connect to others, how we come to love our neighbours, neighbours next door and neighbours in far corners of the world, how we come to participate in bringing into being God's dream of a world marked by justice and peace.

The first step is to wake up—to wake up to what is going on around us—to see with new eyes—to hear in a new way the reality that others are living.

At the Presbytery meeting we were hearing stories—stories of how people found surprising hope as they worked for justice. And we pondered what shaped us—experiences that led us to work to create a better world.

I remember seeing the civil rights protests in the Southern U.S.—being horrified at the dogs attacking those who were protesting—people being beaten. A few years later I learned about what was happening in South Africa—the dehumanizing of one group of people by another. People divided into groups—the blacks—the coloureds—the whites—marriage between the groups forbidden—completely unequal educational and economic opportunities. At some point I realized I was not separate from these issues. You see my great grandmother came from Guyana and despite our family's identification with Scotland, with the Royal Family and with my English grandmother—in South Africa I would be defined as black—or at best—as coloured. That would be me—either in the Southern U.S. or in South Africa. And I began to wake up to the systemic injustice that operates in our world.

Later I studied with Lynn Bauman at the Vancouver School of Theology—an important mentor for me. He urged us to wake up and when he talked about Jesus' call to love our neighbour as ourselves he taught us that in reality our neighbours are us—we and our neighbours are one.

In the last 10 years or so I have been waking up to the situation of Palestinians—people who have been dispossessed from their homes so that another people can move in. The colonialism going on in the land that used to be called Palestine is not unlike the colonialism that is at the heart of Canada—settlers displacing the people living here because the settlers believe they have a greater right to this land.

And there are many restrictive laws applying to Palestinians. Palestinians originating within Israel proper and those originating with the Occupied Territories can be forbidden from living together even though they are married because they aren't allowed permits to live in the same place. Palestinians receive inferior medical treatment. Palestinians have their movements severely restricted by hundreds of check points and by the 20 foot high separation barrier. There are laws forbidding Jewish Israelis from marrying Palestinians. Soldiers terrorize families by breaking into homes at night and taking children away to prison. The families have difficulty finding out where their loved ones have gone. Children's lives are shattered by their experiences of being in prison.

So let us listen to the story that Jesus tells. We see a Samaritan travelling along the road and finding a man victimized, bleeding and lying in the ditch. The Samaritan recognizes his common humanity with this Jewish man who according to the practices of the day would have been defined as his enemy—someone for whom he had no responsibility. And so he interrupts his day. He makes extraordinary efforts to have this man cared for. Jesus contrasts the Samaritan's actions with those of fellow Jews who walk by and avoid being involved in this distressing situation. They shut their eyes to the needs of a fellow Jew—of a fellow human being. Perhaps they blame him for the predicament in which he finds himself.

And Jesus asks his questioner—the one who wants to inherit eternal life—the one who appears to be looking for a way around the need to love one's neighbour as oneself—Jesus asks this man—Who was a neighbour to the injured, beaten man? And we hear the answer—the one who showed mercy. We imagine how that answer was given—in wonder—grudgingly—despairingly.

To do mercy—to act justly—those are the basic garments of being a Christian—they are essential to a Christian practice—to a Christian way of life.

And so the words of Jesus to the inquirer 2000 years ago are Jesus' words to us today. "Go and do likewise". Amen.