Can you imagine Jesus among us?

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We are entering the season of Advent. It is a time of waiting and preparing for Christ to come among us. And while we wait we sing hymns that talk about silent nights and babies that don’t cry. Babies that don’t cry means there’s something wrong. A birth in a barn would not be a quiet affair. Not only would there be human noises but the animals would be distressed by the disruptions to their surroundings.

But somehow we want the magic of Christmas. The images that our stories and hymns provide add a layer of magic and mystique to the story itself and to the season but prevent us from really understanding the power and radicalness of this story. If we really stop and think about the story, it should turn our world upside down.

The Christmas Story opens with a young, unwed, pregnant woman and her betrothed setting out on a trip. The fact that Mary is alive at this point is a miracle. It was not uncommon for women pregnant outside of marriage to be stoned or at least turned out their home. The fact that Joseph has remained with her is amazing. Betrothals were contracts between families—not between individuals—and so either Joseph’s family is very understanding (maybe, maybe not) or Joseph has defied his family to stay with and support Mary with her child.

The scripture tells us that Jesus was born in a stable or a manger (depending on translations). Richard Rohrbaugh and Bruce Malina suggest that Mary and Joseph probably arrived in Bethlehem several weeks before the birth and it is likely that Joseph had family in the region and would have been obligated to stay with family. Because of Joseph’s connection to the community someone would have found room for them. What we translate as “inn” might better be translated as a guest room.  In this case the guest room is already occupied by someone of higher social standing and so Mary and Joseph had to stay in the main room with the family of the house and the animals.[1]

Peasant homes would often consist of one room with people living at one end and the animals living at the other. The manger would be in the centre of the room and was the normal location for peasant births. [2]

In this light, the story tells us that Jesus was not important in status nor in the circumstances of his birth. His birth was very ordinary.  The story serves to ground Jesus in the reality of ordinary people and lives. We see it as miraculous and think that because Jesus was born in a manger, God must be there.

And of course it is true that God is present at the birth but so far in the story there’s no reason to believe that this birth is any different from any other peasant birth. But the story only matters to us if it has something to say to us and to our world. The story begins with travellers looking for a place to stay. What would we say if Mary and Joseph came to church on a Sunday morning? The conversation might go something like this…

Greeter:          Good morning.

Joseph:            Good morning. I am Joseph and this is Mary. It’s cold  outside and we are strangers in town. Mary is about to have a baby. Do you think she could have it here?

Greeter:          Here?

Joseph:            Yes here. She could just stretch out on the back pew or…

Greeter:          I’m going to call an ambulance. A baby can’t be born here. It would be disruptive to worship: all the groans of childbirth, the cry of a baby. We can’t worship while a baby is being born and besides it might get blood on the carpet and then we’d have to get it cleaned. No, an ambulance is best.

Joseph:            But isn’t a baby a sign of new life? Isn’t it a sign of God among us? That is what your scriptures say isn’t it? Why wouldn’t you want to experience God among you as a baby?

Greeter:          Well, yes but this is too noisy and messy to be an experience of God. We like our experiences of God to be proper: in our thoughts, in our beautiful music, in our prayers.

Joseph:            But this baby will be born in the midst of all the messiness of life. He will not shy away from God in the midst of illness and death or God in the midst of violence and poverty. You like the story of this baby sanitized as a sentimental story but this baby is as ordinary as any other and yet will change the world forever.

Greeter:          Well, maybe we can find some blankets for Mary and the baby. Our scriptures also teach us to welcome people in need of shelter and that too can be messy. It can also be a bit scary to welcome strangers and to risk turning our comfortable lives upside down.

(Thanks to Hebert Brokering for getting me thinking along these lines. See his book Making Room for Christmas: Preparing a Place for the Christ Child (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 2001) for conversations that might occur if Mary and Joseph arrived looking for a room in a variety of places looking for a room.

We talk about Jesus being born among us but if Jesus was actually born right here we might find ourselves more resistant to the story. The birth added people to an already crowded house. More mouths to feed and more people to share the space with and get underfoot. Jesus birth among us should unbalance us, it should make us ask ourselves awkward and difficult questions. It should make us uncomfortable about how we live.

In the scripture, the next characters to enter the story are the shepherds. They are in the fields, protecting the sheep. Sometimes a starlit night can feel safe and comforting and allows us to feel connected to the wider universe. Sometimes night can be a wild and scary place to be. This night may have started as a pleasant night under the stars but it didn’t stay that way for the shepherds. Suddenly, there was a bright light in the sky and a voice says to them: “Do not be afraid.” But wouldn’t you be afraid if in the middle of a calm peaceful night, a bright light appears and then you start hearing voices. Either something very strange is happening around you or something strange is happening in your mind. Neither scenario is very comforting. But that’s what’s happening for the shepherds.

Fear is a normal part of our lives. All of us have particular things or situations that we find frightening. The shepherds could have allowed their fear to paralyze them. They could have just remained on the hillside with the sheep thinking they had imagined the angel. They could have just pretended that nothing happened. But the angels had a message for the shepherds: I am bringing you good news. And that good news is that God is among you. God is among you as a baby, an ordinary baby. God is among you in life.

Sometimes our fear, our comfort and our need for security prevent us from meeting the Christ child. We want the Christ child to be among us is ways that are non-disruptive and that maintain our comfort. Examining this story too closely can upset the Christmas season. We might be forced to acknowledge that Christ is born in poverty. If God is born as an ordinary baby in poverty 2000 years ago, God is still born as an ordinary baby in poverty today. The Christmas story didn’t magically change the world.

The shepherds faced their fear and headed off to find the baby. And when they had an experience of God in their midst they told everyone. The started out the night being afraid but in their fear they could recognize God was among them. And when they recognized God’s presence they wanted to share the good news.

That is also a challenge for us. We think we want God among us but God among us can scare us and stretch our comfort zones. God among us isn’t always easy to spot because sometimes God is very ordinary. Sometimes so ordinary that we want to look down our noses or turn our backs. The Christmas story challenges us to seek the Christ child in our own lives and in own world even in the midst messy life challenges and in unexpected places. The Christmas story invites us to overcome our fear and share our experiences of the Christ child in our midst.

[1]. Bruce J. Malina and Richard L. Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), kindle e-book, screen 4965.

[2]. Bruce J. Malina and Richard L. Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), kindle e-book, screen 4941.

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Giving Thanks in All Circumstances

This is a guest post from John Oussoren (Rev. Dr.) who shared the following reflection in worship last Sunday as we celebrated stewardship at St. Andrew’s. The reflection is based on 2 Corinthians 8:1-9 (Encouragement to be generous) and 1 Thessalonians 5:12-22 (Life in Christian Community) with particular focus on 1 Thessalonians 5:16: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Hopefully, on this Stewardship Sunday there is a word for all of us saints, sinners and those-in-between so we may be inspired to continue, where possible, to generously give our time, talents and shekels!

Time, Talents and Money is the definition most of us have for the word “ Stewardship” but, of course Scripture invites to think about more than the meaning of the three familiar words.

The bedrock motivation for Christian stewardship is found in 2 Cor. 8:8 when St. Paul writes to the congregation in the city of Corinth, Greece:

“I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others.   For you know the generous act [charis or grace] of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.”

Christian Stewardship at its heart is an act of thanksgiving to God for placing, as David Demson, at Emmanuel College taught us many years ago:  a huge free gift in our bank account.  All we have to do is draw from that account grace upon grace and readily respond, with thanks or gratitude.

One potential response to the amazing gift given to all God’s children is found in our text today:  “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16)

A wonderful example of giving such thanks is the faith and attitude of Edward (Eddie) Mac Murchy, Marg’s grandfather, who lived just south of Semans (in the Raymore district of Sask.) and was an integral part of the Semans U.C.

Eddie in the summer of 1947, couldn’t help but admire the beautiful crop of wheat.  But, as many farmers know only too well, before long, a massive hail storm hit the house and crop and pounded the wheat into the ground.  Did Eddie: weep, cry or become angry?

Eddie Mac Murchy responded creatively, he went to the cows—fetched a pale of milk, called Margaret, his seven-year old granddaughter, to come outside and help scoop some hail stones into the bucket and said, “let’s go and make some ice cream for, this is the best ice cream ever– it came strait down from heaven!”

Eddie had a basic trust that God will provide, take care of us and seek our well-being or shalom.  That faith and attitude to look for the best in a considerably difficult and challenging time is part of a resilience that many prairie people have learned and received.  That response also reflects St. Paul’s reminder to Christ’s followers to give thanks in a variety of circumstances.

Scripture teaches us that God intends a heavenly kingdom or reign of shalom, peace and well-being for all God’s children on this globe and universe.   God encourages us, as individuals and congregations, when difficulties and challenges hit, to look for silver linings or shafts of light.

Stewardship for me covers just about everything in life.  For example, it includes environmental stewardship such as the mundane but necessary taking out of the garbage and making sure we have re-cycled as much as we can.

It includes caring for local and far away neighbours in small but significant ways.  A recent example helps to portray that.

Meriam Yehya Ibrahim was convicted by a Sudanese court for marrying someone supposedly of another religion and for refusing to give up her Christian faith.  Meriam’s mother is Christian and her father is Muslim.  Meriam was raised in her mother’s faith but, because her father is Muslim, the Sudanese government did not recognize Meriam’s marriage to a Christian man.

On July 24 of this year, she was convicted by the Sudanese court to suffer 100 lashes and death by hanging.   While she was 8 months pregnant Meriam was thrown in jail & forced to give birth in chains.

Thank God literally, about a million persons around the globe, including a number of Canadian Christians and others, by means of on-line petitions, other activities and embassy visits plus considerable efforts by Amnesty International, all these were able to pressure the Sudanese to relent and set Meriam and her family free to join her brother-in-law live in New Hampshire.

Stewardship for Christians and others is thus also thinking about the human rights of others and, when we are able to do so, of saying something when a flagrant abuse is taking place.

Our text reminds us to: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Closer to home what does the text mean for us individuals and congregations as we try to live humbly and faithfully our daily lives with its many hills and valleys, ups and down, challenges, joys and sorrows.

Now Marg, my spouse, was kind enough to review the second draft of this sermon, she said that she was overwhelmed, ready to put her ”pjs” on, get into bed and cover her head with a big blanket.   And here I thought this was a nice tame sermon!!

So draft 3 or 4 which you folks are receiving this morning is considerably toned down.  And by the way, John does not pretend to have the corner on stewardship ideas.  Any examples or projects mentioned in this sermon should be dealt with as any other sermon—with a pinch of salt.  By all means listen to a preacher holding forth, think about it, critique it and, if the suggestions fit, by all means use them. But please remember it’s not the only or last word on the topic.

The text reminds us that in spite of all the difficulties and challenges of daily life, God our Creator and Sustainer loves us enough to create us, and always supports us, shelters and nurtures us.

We know spiritually and intellectually that God intends shalom, peace, harmony and well-being for each and every person in this church, in this community and on the globe.   But, we also know that creating/building a new heaven and earth, will take a week, 10 days or so!!  Thus we are encouraged to bring, when we are able to so,  gradual and approximate improvements  to life in general and, to the church and our faith in particular.

Thus when it comes to the local church, stewardship means, using our imagination, setting do-able goals and finding, with God’s help, realistic solutions.  Every person has certain gifts that are their unique gifts and these can be offered for the well-being of friends, families, churches and beyond.

I’m impressed with The U of T development theme: “Boundless Imagination” and they’ve set two goals: 1) to encourage all friends, alumni, and others connected with the U of T to share their comments, ideas and possible connections and, secondly, set a $2 billion dollar fundraising goal over a couple of years—and would you believe it– they’re close to achieving both of those goals!!

In the Christian Church, we’re obviously not working with billions or millions —it’s more a ballpark of hundreds and thousands but we can readily use the “boundless imagination” concept!

One example of using the imagination comes to mind:  Kenville UC congregation  has served a number of Swan Valley people for over 100 years.   About five or six years ago the congregation decided  it was time to upgrade 12 large single pane windows covered in the winter with plastic to keep the cold out.  The new windows were pricey, about $18,000 in total was needed.  About 15 or 20 worshippers participated on an average Sunday and about 100 or so members, adherents and friends were on the mailing list.

During the annual fall canvass, one of the farmers and his spouse gave the first $1,000 towards the project.  The ball really got rolling when an 80 plus year old woman decided that instead of leaving $1500 to the church in her will–she would spend it on a window and enjoy the gift while she was still living.  One Sunday morning during the announcements she said: “my family will take care of one window and, we encourage our friends and neighbours to please do likewise.”

Within a year, the money for the new windows was raised, a dedication service was held, a plaque was made from parts of the old windows and listed all who were able to support this project.

Locally here at St. A’s UC, I commend you for the stewardship ways you folks use your Church building to strengthen the good work of the  Yorkton and District Choir and Band as they use your sanctuary and lower quarters.  You help provide sounds of music and choral song for the congregation, community and district.  Hopefully, you will continue that stewardship by finding ways to use your building to help meet a variety of church and community service and justice needs.

The most recent UC Observer also reminds us that many of us look for a spiritual home where we belong.  Page 9 of the November issue has a picture of Beach U.C. in Toronto warmly welcoming people up the stairs into the sanctuary—that’s clearly thinking, saying and doing stewardship!

“People are looking for community, compassion, and hope….  Strong, healthy congregations help people in their search.”  That says to me personally, that a congregation helps individuals like you and me to belong when people provide a warm welcome to all, readily makes information about the life and work of the congregation available, and are befriended over coffee, tea, or something stronger in our homes, at work or the like.

Finally, one program group called by Marg “for the  old guys and girls” may be of interest to St. A’s U.C.  It’s called UTA, University of the Third Age (older adult learning).  Might this church be the regional home for a pilot program on faith, ethical issues and related learning topics.  The topics could be identified  by a representative group of older adults.  A couple of potential topics could be:

1) Creating Helpful & Healthy Relationship with grand-children, nieces/nephews, and the like.

2) Practical Ways of Ensuring Financial, Food and Personal Security.

3) “Oil and Water: Two Faiths One God” by Amir Hussain.

The book & discussion covers beliefs held in common in Christianity and Islam, shared scripture and spiritual values of peace and social justice.

The Lifelong Learning Centre at the U of R offers a number of short courses/seminars per term dealing with every conceivable religious, ethical and other topics.  Older adult education programs elsewhere offered discussion of  ethical issues such as abortion, euthanasia, etc.  These attracted instructors and older adults from a variety of locations across North America with federal New Horizons often helping to fund program aspects.

In closing, if you think that John has the corner on stewardship, you’ve missed the message!  The above are suggestions, ideas and not be all and end all examples.

Instead, all of us are urged by St. Paul, to give thanks in all circumstances;

My father, when he was alive, would remind us of “Ora et Labore” (to pray and work); and William Carey, the great missionary, would remind us to “Expect Great Things from God;  attempt Great Things for God” and all God’s children.

Email: joussoren@sasktel.net 

For Unto Us a Child is Born…3000 years ago

This piece of music from Handel’s Messiah will be familiar to many of us. Many of us know the scripture reading Isaiah 9:2-7 through this piece of music. It is a beautiful and powerful piece of music. And it misleads us in understanding this particular scripture. We hear the scripture or the music and we think we know what it has to say to us:

“The world was a horrible place, full of destruction and Jesus came and released the world from sin. Now everything is wonderful because Jesus is the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father and the Prince of Peace.”

And that’s not actually what the passage is about. The early Christian church used this passage to talk about Jesus but the passage isn’t about Jesus.

The passage begins by describing the setting and helping us to get a feel for the mindset of the people. This part of the book of Isaiah was written when Assyria was powerful. In Bold and Brazen, Barbara J. Essex writes “Isaiah shows that social injustice is evidence that Israel’s relationship to God is shaky. Since the people fail to live up to their communal values, they will be subject to superior military and imperialist powers. Isaiah challenges the people to put their trust in God and to live public and private lives that reflect that trust.”[1]

So the context of the original writing is that the Hebrew state of Judah was a smaller and weaker country with the Assyrian empire nearby always threatening. As the Assyrian empire dissipated the Babylonian empire was coming into power. The people hearing this writing for the first time were hearing it as they watched their enemies become stronger and as they lived with the threat of invasion. And in the midst of that uncertainty, Isaiah offered some comfort.

“You are living with violence on the horizon. You are living with the threat of being overrun. It will not always be like this. Into the midst of your fear and uncertainty, a bright spot will come. There will be someone who will come and be a great leader and when this happens, you will be safe from your enemies and you will be filled with joy.”

This was not a hope for centuries in the future but at hope for the immediate future grounded in real life political events.

Following the exodus from Egypt, the Israelites pushed out the people of the land where they were settling and set about creating a state. This was originally a theistic state with God as the head. There were various leaders, followed by a system of judges who managed the various needs of the community and were military leaders, in conjunction with the priests and religious structures. But the Israelites looked at their neighbours and recognized that their neighbours, who were becoming powerful, all had kings. The country eventually split into two states: Israel and Judah. Israel was overtaken by Assyria and Judah was left to fend for itself against much more powerful nations.

In ancient Israel and Judah, the king was to protect the people and there was a belief that the people’s fate is directly tied to the king’s fate. The king was to be just in judgement, but the law did not come from the king. The law came from God as set out in what is now our Hebrew scriptures.

Within Biblical tradition there is a common expression of the king as God’s son. The intent with these images is not to imply that the king is divine but to remind the people that the king acts as the judge of God’s law and that the king is under God’s protection. In this model, the king is accountable to God and not to the people. As part of the coronation covenant made between the king and God, if the king is not ruling justly, God may choose to end the dynasty. According to 2 Samuel, God promises king David an eternal covenant. Any future, legitimate, king of Israel must be descended from David.

While it was common to anoint the king in many ancient traditions, Israel and Judah are the only places where the title of “anointed one” or “messiah” is given to the king. This becomes one of our names for Jesus but it was originally intended for a very human king.

Our scripture passage is reminding the people that even though the future looks bleak there will be a king who will renew the nation. Isaiah’s contention is that the king, and therefore the people, have not been following God’s law but there will be a king who will return to God’s justice and law and when that happens, there will be joy and peace in the land.

This particular passage was probably used part of a coronation ceremony. There are several different ideas about which king is represented here but it was intended for very real life context and not a future dream. The dream was of a political king who would come and save the people in their own time and place.

This passage contains the words which we associate with Handel’s Messiah, “wonderful counsellor, Mighty God, everlasting father, Prince of peace.” According to the Jewish Study Bible[2], names would often contain descriptions of God. The descriptions were not of the person being named but of the God followed by the family.

The Jewish study Bible translates the verse this way: “The mighty God is planning grace; The eternal Father, a peaceable ruler.”  It changes the verse from being about the king to focusing on God. The passage is not predicting Jesus, nor does it say anything about his divinity. What it does tell us is that any future legitimate king will live up to the descriptions of God. This future king will be just and bring peace to the land.

The people hearing these words originally hoped and prayed that this king would come in their time. They prayed that hope would be restored to the land. They prayed that there would be justice and safety. They prayed that violence would end and prosperity would come to the people and the land.

It is an ancient prayer that is repeated 3000 years later. We continue to pray for the fulfilment of these words. As Christians, we recognize that Jesus embodied the traits that the people longed for in a king. And we continue to pray for peace and justice in the world.

Throughout his ministry, Jesus reminded the people that the kingdom of God is among you and that the kingdom of God is near and that the kingdom of God is yet to come. The words were true when this passage was originally written and it is still true today. On Reign of Christ Sunday we continue to recognize the ways in which Jesus brings the kingdom of God among us. We continue to pray that this scripture will be fulfilled in our time.

[1].  Barbara J.Essex, Bold and Brazen:Exploring Biblical Prophets (Cleveland: Pilgrim Press, 2010), 25.

[2]. Jewish Study Bible, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004) Isaiah 9:5.

The Lepers are Welcomed Back

http://www.garypaterson.ca/tag/muslims/

http://www.garypaterson. ca/tag/muslims/

This stewardship reflection is based on Luke 17:11-19.

In every community, there are lepers—the people no one wants to associate with. Maybe it’s the person who appears unkempt, maybe it’s the person who appears ethnically different from the majority, maybe it’s the person with a mental illness or disability, maybe it’s the person who just has a way of irritating people and getting under everyone’s skin.

In this story, Jesus is travelling through a border land—a place that is neither here nor there. It is significant that the story takes place on a journey and that it takes place in between. Jesus often walked the line between the powerful, wealthy people and the poor, outcast people. We need people willing to walk the line in between.

Jesus often stood up for the people on the fringes against those in power. You might hear this story and think it is a story about healing—and it is. But it is also a story about changing and transforming relationships.

Jesus is travelling through a land that is in between two different geographic regions and always within a land where many different ethnic groups are living. On his travels in this land he comes upon a group of lepers. We think of a very specific disease when we hear leprosy but in biblical times leprosy was a category for many different skin diseases and deformities. Some were curable and some were not. Anyone with these types of diseases was removed from the community and could not interact with those who were healthy. It was at heart a measure to prevent the spread of diseases which were not well understood.

At the same time, the Jewish religion prevented its members from eating and drinking with non-members and tended to segregate itself from the surrounding ethnic groups. So Jesus comes upon a group of people who are all outcasts by nature of their various illnesses and within that group there are people who would not normally interact because of their ethnicity.

The lepers know that they are forbidden from getting too close to Jesus or anyone else and so they call to him from a distance, ‘Jesus, master, have mercy on us.’ They just want his attention. They haven’t asked for healing. They haven’t asked for anything except mercy. Mercy is about compassion and deeply felt love. It is about our response to people who are suffering for whatever reason. So the lepers are asking Jesus for his compassion and love.

So Jesus says to them, ‘go and show yourselves to the priests.’ The priests are the ones who decide who is clean and healed and who would be welcomed back into the main community. It would be a bit like the minister setting boundaries around the congregation and deciding who was welcome and who would be shunned. Personally, I don’t want that kind of power. I don’t want to decide who is welcome and who is not. I could decide that everyone with brown hair should be disallowed in the congregation. If you do a good enough dye job I might let you back in. In ancient times the practical reason for segregation was to prevent the spread of disease. With medicine and more understanding of how disease spreads, segregation only becomes necessary in very specific situations.

If the priests were the ones determining who is out and who is in why didn’t the lepers go to the priests and ask for mercy, for compassion and love? Perhaps they knew that priests had already decided they were unworthy, hopeless cases. Perhaps they recognized that Jesus would look beyond their illness and see a real person. But Jesus sends them back to the priests, to the very people who keep them excluded and apart from society. In sending them to the priests, Jesus is requiring the priests to put their teaching of compassion and mercy into practice. The priests will have to look again and see the people they have given up on in a different light.

We don’t hear what the priests say to the nine lepers who arrive at their door asking for permission to re-enter the community. There would be ceremonial washing and a waiting period of seven days to see if the healing was permanent. Then they might get readmitted.

But we do see the Samaritan return to Jesus with gratitude. And now the Samaritan can get close enough to touch Jesus. He kneels at Jesus’ feet and kisses him. He gives thanks to God through Jesus. His healing does so much more than restore his health. His healing also allows him to be a part of the community again. He can go home. He can be welcomed at meals and eat with other people. He can touch someone. He is allowed to be in relationship.

Imagine the life that the lepers had before their healing. They could only touch each other, speak with each other and eat with each other—when there was food. We have examples in our own history: residential schools, internment of Japanese Canadians during WWII. These are relatively fresh in our history. We also have people in our own communities who are isolated, for a variety of reasons, for the wider community. We have people who live in care homes and see only other residents and staff. We have people who may appear unkempt and so we keep our distance. Our community tends towards racial and economic segregation. There are always people who are not “one of us.”

Relationships are an important part of good stewardship. It is easy to maintain relationships with people that we see on Sunday morning. It is easier to maintain relationships with people we have known for a long time or whose paths we cross regularly. It is more difficult to build and maintain relationships with people that either we don’t see or that we see as being separate from ourselves. But Jesus calls us to offer mercy—compassion and love—for the ones who are forgotten, for the ones no one else will welcome.

You have probably seen pictures and heard about the mosque in Cold Lake that was vandalized after the shooting on Parliament Hill. In the moments when the vandalism occurred, the Muslim community was like the lepers. They were being identified as their own group separate and apart from the main community. And like Jesus, many people in Cold Lake—including some soldiers—crossed the borderline and offered mercy to the Muslim community.

And in those moments, faith in Jesus who draws people together was being expressed in a concrete and visible manner. We pray for a world in which peace lives. But we cannot have peace without relationships that cross the boundaries. As people of faith we have a role to play in intentionally offering our mercy—our compassion and our love—to people that might seem unlovable. We can offer that mercy to people who might appear at first glance as the enemy.

Relationships are something that all of us possess. Stewardship is about making good use of the resources available to us and in the case of relationships, nurturing them. We all have the ability to cross the barriers that tend to separate us from others. Sometimes the barriers are obvious, like a fence or a wall. Sometimes the barriers are more subtle.

In this congregation you might sit beside someone you’ve never sat with before. Introduce yourself to someone you don’t know. Invite someone to stay for coffee. Participate in an activity or sign-up help with something.

In our community, we can volunteer with organizations or participate in events that connect people across the boundaries. We can look for opportunities to interact with people who are different from ourselves by age, appearance, ability or lifestyle. All people are worthy of the mercy that Jesus shows in this scripture.

When we show mercy in our relationships and are good stewards of our relationships, we create healthier people, healthier communities and a more peaceful world.