Get Out of Bed!

(Preached at Melville United Church, Fergus, on January 7, 2018)

This time last year, many of us were very fearful. Donald Trump, who didn’t even think he could ever be elected himself, had just been sworn in as President of the United States of America.

He said he was going to build a multi-billion dollar wall between the United States and Mexico to keep illegal immigrants out.

He was going to dismantle the Environmental Protection Act, destroying the natural world.

He was going to kick out all the Muslims, and stop non-white, non-Christians from emigrating to the States.

Women’s rights would be set back fifty or even a hundred years.

He’d dismantle the new, fragile system set up by the previous government to provide universal health care.

The world as we know it would end, and all of the scenarios in those dystopian novels would come true.

That is, if he didn’t get impeached right away.

Well, here we are, a year later, and there have been some surprising developments.

Yes, he’s done quite a few things that have been cause for grave concern. He’s moved the world almost to the brink of nuclear war by playing chicken with North Korea. He has, as expected, rolled back some of the more progressive environmental laws and laws protecting the reproductive rights of women—such changes are usual in the United States, and the progressive laws will probably be reinstated by the next Democratic government.

In other ways, things haven’t been quite as bad as predicted. The President does not have the power Trump thinks he has. The courts have declared a blanket ban on travel from certain countries to be unconstitutional, and the attempt to repeal “Obamacare” hasn’t yet succeeded, largely because nothing satisfactory has been proposed to replace it. His attempt to ban transgender soldiers from serving in the military likewise was struck down by the courts.

And there have been some rather surprising developments.

The extreme right in the United States and in Canada, emboldened by Trump’s success, thought their time had come, and they started demonstrating.

In Charlottesville, a rally turned deadly when a counter-protester was killed. In response, a later rally in Boston that drew 50 participants drew tens of thousands of counter-protesters.  Further rallies were cancelled or moved on-line.

The Charlottesville and Boston rallies were a wake-up call to the United States. White liberal citizens woke up to what Black citizens had been trying to tell them all along—that despite having elected their first Black president, America is not a beacon of equality, and that there is much more work to do.

Recently, women in the entertainment industry have begun speaking out about deeply-rooted sexism that has resulted in several highly respected men being exposed as abusers of those under their power. While I believe that such deeds would have eventually come to light, the spotlight on Trump’s record with regards to women’s equality likely caused them to be revealed sooner.

In an ironic twist, in many ways, the effects of Trump’s first year in office have often been the exact opposite of those he and his supporters were expecting.

So it was with Herod. The Magi followed the star in the East, but East is only a direction, not a destination. Knowing they searched for a king, they stopped in the most obvious place—the palace.

“Where is this king?” they asked.

The Magi might never have found the infant Jesus if Herod’s scribes hadn’t told them, just as the United States and the world might not have realized that we still have along way to go to reach our goals of “peace on Earth, good will towards all” if the election and the riots and the nuclear posturing hadn’t happened.

Because we were asleep.

North Korea has had its nuclear weapons for a while. Hatred and racism have been endemic in the world for as long as there have been humans of different tribes. Blacks and Muslims in the United States, First Nations peoples in Canada, Aborigines in Australia, Syrian refugees in Europe, Rohingya people in Myanmar—all these and more face life-threatening and soul-destroying incidences of racism every day.

Women still don’t have the same rights as men, queer people still don’t have the same rights as their straight brothers and sisters, poor people still don’t have the same access to justice and the necessities of life as their rich sisters and brothers.

The election of Trump and the resulting riots and media coverage has been, in many ways, like a light shining in dark places. We see into the shadows where our dark secrets were shoved. We see what’s hiding under the bed, what’s been swept under the rug.

We need to wake up.

We need to wake up to the fact that those who would keep out the refugees and set women’s rights back a century and oppress the poor and demonize those who are different are often Christians even as we are, who use scripture to justify the slaughter of innocents.

We need to wake up to the fact that getting access to effective mental health care is difficult, sometimes impossible, even in a progressive place like Southern Ontario.

We need to wake up to the fact that in Ontario in 2018, almost one in five children still live in poverty, and that despite the recent increase in the minimum wage, we still have no universal day care strategy that will allow the mothers of those children to seek employment.

We need to wake up to the fact that right now, as we worship, there are people out on the streets, trying to keep from freezing, because they have no homes. We need to wake up to the fact that our basic income programs don’t provide enough income so that single adults can pay for even the most basic shelter in our larger centres. We need to wake up to the fact that construction of luxury condominiums and huge single family homes is booming, while construction of affordable rental properties has been non-existent in the last twenty years or so.

We need to wake up to the fact that we are called to do more than just be here on Sunday morning, then exit these doors and ignore the work that God has given us to do.

Get out of bed, Fergus! Wake up! Put your face in the sunlight. God’s bright glory has risen for you.

The whole earth is wrapped in darkness, all people sunk in deep darkness.

But God’s glory rises on you, and all will come to your light. The exiles are returning, those who left the church in those days when it seemed like the church was no longer needed—life was just fine without it. The exiles are returning, those who saw the church as outdated, backwards even.

Watch as they gather, watch as they approach you: men coming from great distances, women carrying their children.

They’re searching for God, they’re searching for hope.

They’re following the star. They’ll come in, asking us where they can find God, that same God born in a manger.

When they do come in, will they find Herod, who will tell them where to find the baby, while secretly plotting to destroy any threat to his power?

Or will they find other magi, other seekers who are ahead of them on the road, and who are ready to lay down their gifts before the newborn king?

Will we welcome them with smiles—big smiles? With open arms, open hearts, open minds? Will we learn from them, take a deep look at our own shadows, and give ourselves up to the light?

Wake up, Fergus! It’s morning!

God’s light is shining, and it’s time to get out of bed and get to work!

Amen.

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Say “Friend” and Enter

(Preached at Trinity United Church, Guelph on March 11, 2018)

The word “fan” that we use so lightly to describe someone who likes something or someone has its root in the word “fanatic,” which is often used in a much less complimentary way to describe someone who is obsessed with something or someone.

I’ll leave it to you to decide which of those two descriptions describes someone who has read a particular thousand-page novel at least once every year for the last forty years, and who sat through the three films made from the novel a total of fifty-seven times in the theatre, not to mention uncounted times at home. This person (who shall not be named in order to spare her family the embarrassment) has gone through about six copies of the books in total, owns Lego, light-up plastic wine tankards with the characters on it, has a couple of super-sized plastic drink cups with figurines on top from the theatre, has a lovely knitted character doll that her extremely talented daughter made for her, and has more than a couple of posters, calendars, Valentine’s card sets, planners and notebooks, all based around the book and movies. Oh, and a couple of pieces of jewelry that she may or may not be wearing at the moment. Somewhere in her house, she has the One Ring, but Sauron will never find it under all that other junk, or so we can hope.

Okay, so “fanatic” it is…

It takes all types to make a world, or so the saying goes. Even Lord of the Rings fanatics have their place in this world.

One of the things that many of Tolkien’s 10 million and more fanatical readers may not know or may choose to ignore is the fact that Tolkien, though not writing straight allegory as his friend C.S. Lewis chose to do, did write from a distinctly Christian viewpoint. Tolkien was a devout Catholic, and one of his sons became a priest. The world of Middle Earth comes complete with an entirely Catholic cosmology, including angels, demons, heaven, hell and purgatory.

The stories Tolkien tells of Middle Earth are rich in Christian symbolism and messages. Tolkien gives it to us straight about the dangers of absolute power, power that should belong to God alone. He tells stories of fall and redemption, death and resurrection, and hope amidst unbearable loss and the dark shadows of almost certain defeat.

The facet of the stories that I want to highlight this morning are about friendship, and the value and strength in diversity.

Tolkien’s Middle Earth is a world bedeviled with separatist attitudes. The doors and the trees that you see pictured on the screen were at one time a symbol of friendship between dwarves and elves, two very different races with very different gifts and values.

The friendship as so strong that the password was simply the Elvish word for friend. Not only was it a simple word, but it was actually written on the doors!

It would be, in today’s world, like leaving the password to your phone taped to the back of it, or leaving the door to your home wide open so anyone passing by could enter.

Can you imagine a world like that? That’s how deep the trust was between those two very different races.

But times changed. The beginning of the story that is Lord of the Rings, the free races are all ensconced in their little countries, defending their borders not only against the evil that is the Dark Lord Sauron, but against each other as well.

The fellowship of the Ring seeks to enter Lothlorien, a stronghold of the elves. The elves are willing to allow the fellowship to enter, but only if the dwarf Gimli is blindfolded, so he doesn’t spy out their secret ways.

Gimli, of course, doesn’t take this lying down. He refuses to go forward until he is joined in his blindness by the elf Legolas. The leader of the company, the human Aragorn, states that all the company shall fare alike, and that if one is to be blindfolded, so they all should be.

The elf Haldir, one of the elves of Lothlorien, justifies his actions by saying, “Folly it may seem. Indeed, in nothing is the power of the Dark Lord more clearly seen than in the estrangement that divides all who still oppose him. Yet so little trust do we find now in the world beyond Lothlorien, unless maybe in Rivendell, that we dare not by our own trust endanger our own land.”

It’s kind of like they wanted to build a wall between themselves and the world, isn’t it?

The separation of the races hurts more than it helps, though. Dwarves and elves and humans and hobbits spend valuable time and resources keeping one another at bay, time and resources that should have gone into destroying the enemy that threatened them all.

Fortunately for Middle Earth, Elrond, the half-elven Lord of Rivendell, is charged with creating a force to oppose Sauron by destroying the One Ring, and he commissions a fellowship consisting of representatives of four different race—elves, dwarves, humans and hobbits, as well as the wizard Gandalf. Each of the nine companions has their own gifts—Aragorn is wise and experienced, Boromir is strong and good with both sword and bow, Legolas the elf can see far off, and has an understanding of the natural world, and Gimli the dwarf keeps his head in underground spaces and has exceptional endurance. Even the hobbits, as small and as rustic as they are have their gifts—the appreciation of things as simple as good food, a warm bath, and a comfortable bed remind those who live under the shadow that there is something still worth fighting for, and their friendliness and trust and ability to make friends in a world where distrust and suspicion are the norm win them powerful and unlikely allies.

The diversity of the fellowship, seen by some as foolish or even dangerous, turns out to be their greatest strength, and the key to overcoming the dark power of Sauron.

And so it is in life and in the church.

There are all too many examples in our world of what happens when fear destroys our ability to interact with others who differ from us. Walls, shootings, immigration bans, hate graffiti, riots—these are only the most visible effects of xenophobia. We pat ourselves on the back when we realize that these things rarely happen in “our” city or country or church.

Yet there are more subtle signs that things are wrong in Canada as in Middle Earth.

Look around at who’s here. Do we see many different kinds of people, or do we see a lot of people who look and probably think just like us?

The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King once said that the most racially segregated hour of Christian America was 11 o’clock on Sunday morning. Things haven’t changed all that much in most churches, and in some ways it’s gotten worse. Churches are not only mostly monolithic as far as race is concerned, but also as far as political affiliation, age, sexual orientation, educational level, occupational status, and income. And churches, once leaders of inclusion, are now lagging behind society with regards to those whose physical, psychological, emotional and intellectual abilities are different from the norm.

That lack of diversity impoverishes us immensely.

Paul tells us that each of us has specific gifts—how are we to function as a church if some of those gifts are missing?

Jesus tells us to love our neighbours as ourselves—how can we do that if we don’t know anything about our neighbours beyond what the papers report?

The early church, before the establishment of an establishment, seems to me to have been incredibly inclusive. Jesus ministered to Nicodemus, a leader amongst the Jewish elite, in the dead of night. In the glaring light of the noonday sun he ministers to the village whore, one of the most marginalized people in the community.

His followers were also diverse—although we think of his followers simply in terms of the twelve (who were themselves a pretty diverse bunch), his regulars seem to have numbered about 120 people, including women of means who supported him, a well-to-do Jewish man who offered up his own burial site after the crucifixion, and his own mother and brothers and sisters, who may have thought he was crazy at times, but apparently followed him and loved him anyways.

After the resurrection, in the early days of the church, the diversity continued. In Acts we hear about the crowd at Pentecost being from every nation under heaven.

The individual baptisms mentioned in Acts highlight that diversity—from the baptism of an Ethiopian eunuch, a black man who would have been excluded from full participation in temple rites for a number of reasons, to a magician who seemed to be more interested in the disciples seemingly magical ability to heal than in the message of Jesus, to a Roman military commander, to a jailer and all of his family.

The early church debated whether or not non-Jews could become Christians without following Jewish dietary laws or having the males circumcised, and came to the conclusion that it wasn’t necessary for Gentile Christians to act like Jews in order to be part of the growing community.

As the church grew in numbers and power, and as bureaucracy settled in, the human urge to build walls reared its ugly head. Being Christian wasn’t good enough any more—in order to get into heaven, one had to subscribe to a particular form of Christianity. Still later, one had to also subscribe to European values and culture in order to be considered fully Christian. We lost trust in the world outside us, and the evil that stalks our world rejoices, knowing that as a divided people, our power and influence weakens.

Those walls we built are the source of our greatest sin—the shutting out of the Spirit of God present in those whose gifts and thought processes differed from ours. I would venture to say that those walls we build were also the cause of the near-extinction that mainline denominations have been threatened with in North America over the past few decades.

When our churches are so divided, when new people and new gifts and new ideas find it hard to find a way into our sanctuaries, it is inevitable that with the passing of time we will diminish.

A few weeks ago, Reverend Gaylyn gave a riveting sermon with the tagline, “Trinity—Agents of Transformation!” I think it was during that sermon that she mentioned that everyone is for transformation, as long as it doesn’t require us to change!

I’ve been around Trinity now for twenty seven and a half years, and I can honestly say that I’m incredibly hopeful. Things really are changing, and they’re changing for the better.

Today, we welcomed eiight new adults into fellowship with us here at Trinity. Whereas two decades ago most of our new members would have been either teens who grew up at Trinity being confirmed, or members of some other United Church who were transferring, today only three of our new members are transfers. I don’t know the church backgrounds of those who are reaffirming their faith or being baptized, but I find the trend a hopeful one. We are, for the first time in a very long time, receiving new members who may not share church backgrounds that are similar to ours, who may have different understandings of the bible, of faith, and of culture.

Another change I’ve seen, especially over the past two or three years, is a change in our worship. I know it’s uncomfortable for some, and encouraging for others. I also know that the most valuable thing that’s come out of it is the conversations about what is really important in worship. Why do we do what we do, and why do we do it in the way that we do it? How do we honour every person’s need to feel closer to God? How do we honour the need of every person to share their particular gifts with the rest of the congregation?

I personally don’t know the answers to any of these questions, though I’ve been asking them and trying to find the answers for years. I do know that inclusiveness is a journey, not a destination. As soon as we find answers to our questions, the both the answers and the questions become obsolete.

What I do know is that inclusiveness isn’t just something we ought to try because “it would be nice” if everyone felt welcome. It’s quite literally a matter of life and death for the church and for society.

We need to throw open the doors, make the passwords understandable not just for those inside and those who are like those who are inside, but for those who don’t know what we’re about, who don’t even know we’re here.

We’ll have squabbles, and disagreements. We’ll mourn and wish that the church stayed forever the way it was in our memory of the “glory days.” We’ll be incensed that traditions that we find meaningful and spirit-filled are discarded because the newcomers don’t feel the same way. We’ll grumble when we have to learn new hymns, when the drums are too loud, when the children too rambunctious, when someone sits in “our” pew.

That’s okay. Really. We’re allowed to be human.

But we should never, ever, let our complaints and disagreements blind us to the truth of the gospel, so well put in John 3, verse 16.

For God so loved the world that God gave the one and only Son, that whosoever believes should not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world.

I am a “whosoever.”

You are a “whosoever.”

And the person in this church who is least like you, or least like me, and who may annoy the heck out of you or me, is also a “whosoever.”

We are all friends here. We all belong. We all have gifts to share.

Amen!

Salt of the Earth

Preached at Melville United Church on February 5, 2017

A week or so ago, Reverend Marion and I sat in a coffee shop, and she looked me in the eye and asked, “So why aren’t you ordained?”

Now, there is a whole long litany I could tell you about why I thought ordination wasn’t for me, at least not yet, but the story that Toronto Conference would likely give is this:

At the time of my interview with Toronto Conference, I had not been attending any church regularly for quite some time. They gave me six months to work things out, but six months later I was still not attending church on a regular basis. At that point, my file was closed.

What I couldn’t say then, but can say quite clearly now, is that during the over two years that I didn’t attend church, I wasn’t feeling fed by worship or by the community, and I was questioning not only my need for church, but the whole concept of the church as an institution.

Obviously, things changed. I’m back, and I believe I’m here to stay. In fact, with a lot of prodding from both Rev. Marion and Rev. Robin, I’ve taken the first tentative steps to getting back on the path to ordination.

Why would I question the need for church in the first place? I’d been part of the church for as long as I remember. And not just part of it, but one of those members who was always in the thick of things. I started sitting in the choir stalls when I was ten years old. It wasn’t until I returned to church after my extended absence that I actually sat in the pews as an ordinary worshiper for more than one or two Sundays at a time. I had always been in some sort of worship leadership. I’d been on committees and boards since I was in my teens, I’d helped run bazaars and dinners and concerts and retreats and bible studies and all sorts of church functions. I’m the last person you would have thought would have a crisis of faith in the church.

I never stopped believing in God. At my lowest point, I could always say with conviction, “God is.” But everything else was up for debate, and the church was at the top of my list for re-evaluation.

Do we really need the church?

I came away from my extended time out convinced that the Christian church, and especially our mainline denominations like the United Church, are not only useful institutions, but vital ones for the health of society. Over the next three sermons, I’ll touch on some of the vital roles I believe that churches can play in society, roles that no other institution or group of people seems to be fulfilling right now.

Today, we talk about salt, because Jesus has told us that we are to be the “salt of the earth.”

I googled salt, and re-learned that the phrase “salt of the earth” has come to mean a “dependable, unpretentious” person. I can understand that being dependable is good, and most of the time, being unpretentious is probably the right way to go. But is that what Jesus means when he says we are to be the salt of the earth?

Salt is a mineral. Sodium chloride. It’s not a rare mineral—it’s in every single drop of sea water, and there are deposits of it underground. But it’s not naturally found in its pure state—there are impurities that must be removed before it’s fit for human use. In our time, pure salt is plentiful and cheap. In ancient times, pure salt was so difficult to come by that it was used as a form of money. It’s where our words “salary” and “soldier” come from. Someone who is “not worth his salt” is a slave or worker who doesn’t do enough work to justify the salt given to pay for him.

Salt is necessary for human and animal life. The messages that run along nerves from our brains to our muscles and back again are transmitted by electrolytes like the sodium in salt. Without enough salt in our diets, our muscles stop working, our brains swell, and we die.

Salt is so necessary to life that it’s one of only five things we can taste on our tongues. We can taste sweet, bitter, sour, unami (which is that earthy taste you get from mushrooms and meat), and salt.

Think about it this way—if I eat a banana, or drink orange juice, I can’t taste the potassium in them, even if that’s the mineral I’m craving. But if I eat a potato chip, or beef fried rice, or a fried egg, I can immediately tell not only if there’s salt in or on it, but approximately how much. Are these regular potato chips, or reduced salt? We can all tell without looking at the package, because we’ve evolved that ability to taste it.

But we’re all aware that salt, in excessive quantities, can be a poison. Too much salt isn’t good for our blood pressure—it can elevate it, or at least keep it elevated when it’s already high. And the salt we put on our roads causes the grass and plants at the verge to die, until only weeds can grow.

And we need to pay attention to that last, because interestingly enough, when Jesus tells us that we are the “salt of the earth,” he might very well have been referring to that quality—that ability of salt to kill things.

In Jesus’ time, salt was used by invading armies to destroy the fields of the enemies so that crops wouldn’t grow. That practice was called “salting the earth.” The interpretation of “salt of the earth” to mean someone who is dependable and unpretentious came later, after generations of Christian clergy who were part of the establishment and not outlaws had the chance to put their stamp on Biblical interpretation.

But in Jesus time, and afterwards when the gospels and the letters of Paul and the other epistles were written, the church was either on the fringes of the established order, as it is today, or entirely outlawed. And I believe Jesus was telling his soon to be outlawed followers that they had a place, and that place wasn’t to prop up the complacency and egos of the middle and upper classes.

You are to be like salt, he tells them. Stand up against the established order, and make their fields bear no grain. Don’t let them get rich by oppressing the workers, don’t let them gain power by trampling on those less powerful, don’t let law and order be your goals if the laws and the order unjustly oppress whole groups of people who have no say in what the laws are and how they were made.

The church has a place in today’s society. We need to salt the earth, now more than ever.

I got a text the other day from my dear friend Rev. Robin. “I need to talk. The sky is falling. The sky is falling!” and “He (Donald Trump, in case you didn’t guess) is dismantling God stuff and building walls.”

I told her, we need to dismantle walls and build God stuff.

We need to salt the fields of the rich and powerful, and destroy the crops of hatred that they have sown.

We need to salt the earth of the terrorists, and destroy the crops of fear that they have sown.

We need to salt the earth of the powerful corporations, and destroy the crops of environmental abuse and obscene profits and worker exploitation that they have sown.

And we do that by finding our voice.

Isaiah tells us, “Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their rebellion!”

We need to be brave, and speak out, and say, “No! This is not an acceptable way to act!”

And we need to be heard amongst and above all the millions screaming in terror. We need to be a voice of authority, not one of hysteria.

On Saturdays, I teach swimming to Special Olympians, young men and women with developmental disabilities. And yesterday one young man didn’t want to get out of the pool at the end of the lesson. He was hanging on to the railing and refusing to move. A few of our younger coaches were with him, trying in vain to get him to let go of the rail and move out of the pool. After a few minutes of this I came up and said, “Move. Out of the pool, now.”

And he moved. He didn’t quite get out of the pool, at least not right then, but he moved, solely in response to my spoken command.

I’m not Harry Potter—I don’t have a magic wand or any superpowers. I simply have years of experience in calmly but firmly saying, “No. This behaviour isn’t acceptable.”

The church needs that voice, the calm, firm, salty voice.

There are millions of voices screaming all sorts of things at our governments and terrorists and corporations. Pleas and entreaties, idle and not-so-idle threats, whines and woe-is-me tales that rend the heart. We need to cut through all the drama with the salty voice of calm.

We need to say to our government:

Mr. Trudeau, you said during the election campaign that you would seek justice for our native peoples. Do it. Now.

To the newly installed president of our neighbours to the south:

Mr. Trump, you are president of a country that says it is the “land of the free and the home of the brave.” Live up to that, instead of responding with fear and cowardice to terrorism and to the globalization of commerce. Create policies that give voices and hope to the least of Americans—those out-of-work folks in the rust belt who voted for you, all your black and Hispanic and Muslim citizens who now walk the streets in fear. Use the influence of the mighty American military to promote peace and stability in other countries in the world, not to destroy it in order to contribute to the American economic machine.

We need to say to the terrorists:

Your violence breeds only more violence. You will never, ever get what you want by using guns and bombs. We are brave, and we are many. You cannot kill us all, and you cannot silence our voice. Put down your guns and talk, and we will listen.

We need to say to corporations:

You are not a law unto yourselves. You do not have any right to obscene profits while your workers line up at food banks. You do not have the right to take our water and sell it back to us. You do not have the right to foul the water and the air and the land so that no humans or creatures can survive, because it’s more profitable to pollute than to clean up your mess.

We need to say to the totalitarian governments of the world:

We are watching. It is not okay that you imprison those citizens who disagree with your rule. It is not okay that you use military might to suppress peaceful gatherings. It is not okay that you tell your citizens that they cannot worship God in certain ways. It is not okay that you deny your citizens their democratic voice.

And, perhaps most of all, we need to say to the church, to ourselves and to those others of us who call themselves Christian:

We are not here to preach or listen to a gospel of prosperity. God does not shower earthly riches on us just because we’re Christian, and the poor are not poor because they don’t go to the right church.

We are not here to preach a gospel of hatred and exclusionism. Jesus tells us that judgement belongs to God, and if we say that someone is going to Hell, we are the ones condemned.

We are not here to disseminate Western Culture to all the “heathens” of the world, and to say, “Our way of life is best and leads to the purest form of Christianity.”

We are not here to say, “We are the only true path to God, and everyone else is an idol worshipper.”

We are not here solely to pay for our buildings and have bible studies and programs and worship services on Sunday mornings. Those things are valuable only so long as they contribute to our actions outside this building during the rest of the week.

We are not here to preach a gospel of pop psychology. “God loves you as you are” and “everything will be all right” are fine and true sentiments, but the real, gutsy life that Jesus calls us to is much more than that. Jesus tells us to look and go beyond ourselves, into the big, scary world of people who are not like us. Jesus calls us to touch them and feed them and heal them and love them.

I realized, during my two and a half years in the desert, that I was feeling alienated in part because the church seemed to have lost its way. The church, through many centuries of being the religion of the elite, began to identify with the lifestyle of the elite, which was the very sin against which Jesus seemed to set himself.

Listen to his words:

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.

Let’s change that a little, because we claim for ourselves the title of “Body of Christ”:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon US,

Because he has anointed US

To bring good news to the poor.

He has sent US to proclaim release to the captives

And recovery of sight to the blind.

In a physical sense, there is too much salt in the world today. We have to read labels and watch what we put in our soup. We’ve cut down on the road salt where we can, but it still kills the grass.

But in the world of the church, we’ve come dangerously close to being thrown out for not being salty enough.

And I feel it would be very, very bad for the world not to have the church in it. Although we are akin to Judaism and Islam, although there are other valid expressions of worship to the God who made the heavens and the earth, I have come to see that the Christian Church is unique, that we have a piece of this “God puzzle” that no-one else has, and that piece is the part where we realize that God does not belong solely to us, and that other ways of worshipping God are valid. After all, the historical, earthly Jesus wasn’t even a Christian—he was Jewish!

And that piece is the one that we must keep in mind when we speak to the governments and the terrorists and the corporations and the protesters and most especially to each other.

God is not just OUR God, and God doesn’t especially favour us over all other people. And when our Christian brothers and sisters, or our governments, or our corporations, or our protesters or our terrorists forget it, we need to be that still, calm voice of reason that says:

God is God of all peoples. God is over all the Muslims, and the Christians, and the Jews and the Hindus and the Buddhists and the Atheists. God is God over all nations: the Palestinians and the Israelis, the Syrians and the Americans, the Canadians and the Mexicans. God is God over all individuals: Ruth Cooke and Pierre Trudeau and Donald Trump and Alexandre Bissonnette and of all his victims.

We are all of us made in the image of God, and when we oppress one another, we oppress God. When we deny one another justice, we deny Jesus. When we hurt one another, we crucify Our Lord. Again.

We need to have the courage to stand up and speak for those who cannot speak. That is our salt.

If we, the church, lose our salt, we have no purpose in society, and society will throw us out and trample us underfoot.

If, however, we find our voice, I believe that even those who disagree with us will begin to respect us again, and we will find our place in the soup of the world.

Amen.