Reflection: July 2 – Our 22nd Anniversary

Published on Jul 3rd, 2017 by Rev. David Boyd | 0

         Part of what is delightful about holidays is that you can read novels to your heart’s content. I finished a couple of noteworthy novels in the last couple of weeks. I read a book by Fredrik Backman called A Man Called Ove. It was an excellent book about a rather curmudgeonly sort that exposes the changing culture and rules of society. I highly recommend it and I’ll speak about it at another time.

A second noteworthy book I finished was a rather challenging novel. It is called The Lizard Cage and Karen Connelly, a Canadian activist who has worked for justice in Burma, is the author. It is a story set in the mid-90’s during the brutal dictatorship of the military in Burma. The main character is a dissident who is a singer and song-writer; he’s arrested and the main story takes place in the brutal prison. A young boy comes to live in the prison and the story is about the battle to save the boy from a savage life. A light read it is not!

         There are many sub-themes to this story, the most obvious of which is about the brutality of the Burmese regime and the lack of freedom of the citizens of that country. But there are other sub-themes that centre around reconciliation, forgiveness and Buddhist detachment; these are religious themes and Karen points to the fact that religion can make a huge difference for change to a regime that represses everything that might challenge its authority.

         Teza, the main character, starts out as a restless person in solitary confinement. After a brutal incident, Teza comes to practice compassion more fully and detachment from his body and worldly affairs; his last act of attachment is to save the young orphan living in the prison.

         I found myself over and over thinking about how I would react if I were in a similar situation. You can never answer that question truthfully, but novels like this one challenges us to think more deeply about life and what it means to be part of the family of humankind.

         Well, all of this heaviness is by way of introduction to at least one thing we celebrate about our church community… for this is a day of celebration—22 years as Nelson United Church! One of the challenges we have faced is how to live hospitably and affirmingly of others, and how do we interact and have relationship with those with whom we have difficulty.

         In many real ways, this is what Matthew has related with respect to Jesus, and with respect to Jesus’ teachings to us about how to be in the world. The world can be a hostile place, and injustice abounds; but, we don’t have to be in the world and further the hostility or the rhetoric of fear! We can make a choice to respond to one another with love, deep respect, dignity and grace. We can resist injustice by living fully a grace-filled, compassionate, loving life in which we respond to injustice with grace and kindness… like Teza in The Lizard Cage.

         Matthew used a word in these three verses seven times, and that word has been translated receives or welcomes. There are a number of meanings to this Greek word: it can mean accepting a gift, receiving as in being hospitable, a deep hearing of some word to us, and is also used in the sense of God hearing our prayers, which we sang a minute ago. The sense in which Matthew used the word is with the sense of hospitality. Because Christ was with the disciples, those receiving or welcoming the disciples were welcoming Christ and since God was in Christ, they were welcoming or receiving God. So, there is a deep mysticism to this text, which implies that God is the Ground of our Being and is with us in all that we face in life.

         Another way of saying this is to suggest that if we receive one another with love, we receive the Christ, and if we receive the Christ, we receive God.

         There are many stories about receiving a guest, but one my favourites involves Abraham. There was a common understanding in ancient cultures, that you received a guest who was traveling as you would a family member; you welcome them to stay the night and sup at your table. Abraham and Sarah welcomed the weary traveler, a rather grumpy elder man who was used to his own company. They prepared a feast for the traveler, preparing special foods, and provided for the traveler’s comfort. As the feast wore on, it became apparent that the traveler was rude, crude and disrespectful. He made disparaging remarks about the food, about Sarah, and about the way in which Abraham conducted his affairs; after enduring this for a long time, Abraham finally exploded. Even though Sarah disagreed, he sent the traveler packing into the dead of night. As Abraham watched the man ride off into the night, he heard a gentle voice say, “I’ve been with this man all his life and you couldn’t stand one night with him. Ponder this.” Abraham looked around to see if Sarah had said something, but he was alone.

         Receiving people “where they are at” doesn’t mean that we perpetuate behaviours that are destructive and cruel. We respond, even in the face of deep anxiety and injustice, with behaviours that are loving and compassionate. Even after spending time in refugee camps on the Burmese/Thai border, and after having been barred from entry into Burma, Karen Connelly can still write a novel in which the main character’s behavior is full of grace, compassion and, indeed, forgiveness.

         We need our spiritual elders to teach us how to be together, how to receive one another. And I believe that is one of the things that our congregation teaches… not responding to fear with anger, not responding to disruptive behavior with condemning words… but responding as if the Christ were present in each of us, as if God truly—as God truly does—reside in us as the Ground of Our being.

         Thanks for 22 years together! Peace and blessings to all. Amen.

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