Last week we heard the first healing story in the Gospel of Matthew, the healing of the person with the skin disease. In that first healing story the person to be healed was someone considered to be from the outside of society, outside the fold, an outcast, someone with very little social status. Today’s healing story is the one that immediately follows in the Gospel of Matthew. This healing story takes things a step further. Not only is the one being healed – a slave – who at that time was considered to be a nobody, with less than no social status… but also a Gentile, so in the community he would be considered the ultimate nobody. In this healing story, the Centurion, a commander in the Roman army, was the one to request the healing. The army commander, a non-Jew, is also someone outside of the community of Jesus’ followers. So in this story – the one healed AND the one requesting the healing are both outsiders.
None of this matters to Jesus. Jesus came for everyone and he made that very clear through this story. The Centurion was bold enough to ask Jesus, admitting that he was not worthy to have Jesus help him, and Jesus responds to this boldness by granting the request to heal his slave, sharing that authority to heal, transcending cultural boundaries and expectations, and thus expanding his definition of community.
Community health is something that has been impacted in significant ways throughout this pandemic. In some ways for good and some for the worse. I’m going to highlight a few that have stood out for me recently.
One of the ways that our community has suffered during this year is by the increased economic disparity. The wealth gap has grown significantly. The poor are getting poorer and the wealthiest are getting wealthier.
Diana Sarosi, the director of the non-profit organization, Oxfam, that works to fight the injustice of poverty and inequality, said: “We stand to witness the greatest rise in inequality since records began. The deep divide between the rich and poor is proving as deadly as the virus.”
“Women and marginalized racial and ethnic groups are bearing the brunt of this crisis. They are more likely to be pushed into poverty, go hungry or be excluded from healthcare. And yet, they are more likely to work frontline jobs that increase their exposure to the virus. COVID-19 has also led to an explosion in unpaid care work, which is done predominantly by women. This kind of extreme inequality is not inevitable, it is the result of policy choices.” She says “Canada and governments around the world must seize this opportunity to build more equal, more inclusive economies that end poverty and protect the planet.”
I read in an article recently that in Canada, the fortunes of the country’s 44 billionaires have increased by almost $63.5 billion (CAD) since March 2020.
To put that number into perspective, it is estimated that this would be enough to give 3.8 million of the poorest people in Canada a cheque for $16,823 (CAD).
But even for those of us who are not billionaires, some of us may have found ourselves to have more disposable income than pre-Covid, because we are not travelling, we are not going to restaurants, or movies, or the theatre, concerts, or festivals, or many of the other social and entertainment type of events that we may find ourselves participating in to pass the time. And so if we find ourselves in that position, as individuals and as part of our communities, we can be bold enough to approach Jesus, even if we think we are not worthy or think we cannot make a difference. Jesus grants us the authority to participate in the healing of our community in the places and the ways that we can. So when we see in the news that there has been a 20% increase in demand at the Greater Vancouver Food Bank during Covid, we can respond by making an extra financial donation there.
Last weekend Rev Nancy, Mary Sparks, Bette Shippam, Kim Branch and I all participated in the Coldest Night of the Year fundraiser, which happens all across Canada in to raise funds for different organizations who support people experiencing homelessness and hunger in their communities. We participated in the one supporting First United Church in the Downtown Eastside. This year’s event was virtual, so we walked on our own wherever we wanted, and our Mount Seymour team raised over $3500 for First United. This year, First United’s total goal was $20,000. So far they have quadrupled that goal! Over $80,000 has been raised so far. The last time First United had a Coldest Night walk was in 2018, and $46,000 was raised. What a beautiful response. And the optimist in me wants to see it as an indication that people recognize that disparity that exists in our community, especially this year, and responded by participating in the healing of the community in one small way that they can.
This past week on Wednesday it was pink shirt day, a day that began in Canada in 2007 after a student was harassed and threatened for wearing pink to school. Two other students took a stand against the bullying by distributing pink shirts to the rest of the school to wear as a pink protest against bullying. The movement has since spread around the world, as a day to bring awareness and stand up against bullying. Bullying is a major problem in our schools, workplaces, streets, and yes, even in churches. Often, the simple act of wearing a shirt can start conversations – and conversations can be a huge step towards healing and helping!
Those two students took it upon themselves to stand up for their classmate, and stand up to the bullies, and their small act to support one person, has brought awareness and healing to communities in ways they would have never imagined.
Last month I told you about the Indigenous Book Study Group here at Mount Seymour. We have since finished our third and final book from our initial commitment, but the group decided that they were not finished. They recognized the need to learn more and have further conversation about Indigenous issues in our community and our country. So we are continuing on. You will see in the newsletter the opportunity for you to join. Recently several of the group members have been feeling compelled to DO something. Our conversation often ends with – now that we know this, what can we DO about it? Several of them have mentioned that news stories about Indigenous issues JUMP out at them now when they are reading or watching the news, and they find themselves discussing them with friends. Many of them have talked about the books or leant the books to friends and family members. Some have been watching for ways to support Indigenous artists in the community. Every little bit that each of us in the group does to bring awareness to the systemic injustice that impacts our Indigenous neighbours, or every step we take to build individual relationships with our Indigenous neighbours, helps towards reconciliation and healing of our community. We can be bold and take responsibility for our participation in that healing.
If you are watching this on Sunday, then tomorrow, Monday, we will hear from Dr. Bonnie Henry with more details about how our seniors in BC can register for the Covid-19 vaccine. Whether or not you are in the age group who can register, I invite you to reach out to your neighbours, friends, family members – and help them to register once we find out the details. This is a big step towards healing our community by protecting the ones most at risk. Helping our neighbours to be protected and kept safe from the virus, helps our community to stay healthy and whole.
Last week as we began Lent, we invited you to focus on one aspect of healing throughout the season of Lent, and if you chose Community Health there were a number of ways suggested in the newsletter that you could engage with this topic. Each of these things I mentioned today is a way that we can participate in the healing of our community – but there are many others, closer to home – by reaching out to contact someone who you haven’t spoken to in a while, or to offer a meal to a struggling family, or a lonely neighbour. To send a note of appreciation to someone, or write to your local MP or MLA about an issue that you want to advocate for. Any act of kindness that works to build up our community, will also contribute to the health and growth of the community.
In today’s healing story, Jesus was willing to transcend social boundaries of various kinds, especially boundaries that exclude individuals from participating in the community of God’s holy people. The Centurion, an outsider, was bold enough to ask for healing, and then to participate in the healing of his slave, another outsider.
As people of faith, we too must take the time to notice – who in our own community are kept out or left out, or not included fully? Are we bold enough to participate in the healing of our community? In healing the slave, Jesus gives new life to someone who is socially dead, expanding his community of followers even broader.
Who are the ones in our society today who need the boundaries of our community to be extended to let them in?
May we as individuals and as part of our communities be bold enough to approach Jesus, even if we, like the Centurion, think we are not worthy or think that we cannot make a difference, because Jesus grants us that authority to participate in the healing of our community in the places and in the ways that we can – in those places that need the boundaries extended. And by participating in that healing, it brings new life to our community, and new life to those who are changed through the process.
Thanks be to God for the boldness to participate in the healing of our communities.