June 20, 2021 Sermon & Worship Link

Picture of Rev. Janet Gear

Rev. Janet Gear

Guest Minister

feast of faith

Ecumenical: What do you See?

Scripture Reading: Jeremiah 33:14-16 and Luke 21:25-36

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Text punctuated for delivery.

I know I’m not alone in this because I’ve heard it so often. If I put an unfinished book down for too long, when I pick it up again, I have to start again at the beginning. If we had time on a Sunday morning, we would begin every reading of scripture (especially the odds ones like we just heard) by going all the way back to the book of Genesis. We would start again, “in the beginning” and remind ourselves that the world was made beautiful, remind ourselves that we live in God’s world, a world whose fabric is love and whose future is peace. Each Sunday, if we had all day, we would sing psalms to remind us that we too are made in the image of this love – fearfully and wonderfully made to belong to and bestow, to gather and give away, this peace, goodness and love – made for God’s love to flow through us in this on-going story of creation’s unfolding and the kin-dom’s promise. We would surround ourselves with beauty because every story is meant to be read bookended by the goodness of creation and the promise of shalom for the whole inhabited earth. The first text we heard this morning is from the middle of the book of the prophet Jeremiah. You may remember that Jeremiah himself needed reminding of the beginning of the story before God could convince him to become a prophet. “I knew you before you were born,” God reminded him. In other words, “you are not alone; you’ve been mine since the beginning.” Jeremiah is famous for his initial reply, “don’t pick me, I’m too young,” he says. But when we meet him here in the middle of the book, his prophesy is in full swing, “In those days” Jeremiah says, speaking for God, “I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.” Clearly, being reminded of the bookends of covenanted love around his life, reminded of the power of love to flow through his life – made Jeremiah’s prophesy possible. Not a bad idea then, to remind ourselves of the bookends that hold our life and hold this world. To remind ourselves in difficult times, especially, of the fact that we are not alone, that we belong to God, to creation’s loving purpose, to the very household of all things, and to a long story of the goodness unfolding from the beginning and the kin-dom of abundant life making its way toward us from the end. We don’t know where Jeremiah’s initial hesitation for prophesy lay, but he claims to be unsure of what he would say. As the story goes, God puts a hand to Jeremiah’s lips and promises the words will be there. But it’s what God does next that has everything to do with prophesy, the Lord said to Jeremiah, “what do you see?”. We are right to associate the prophets with what they said. Micah, Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Ezekiel – the whole lot are famous for calling God’s people to task, keeping them in line. But the call of the prophets was always, is always, first to see – prophesy begins with paying attention, careful measured attention. God turns the prophets in the direction of what is coming undone. Tells them to look around. Instructs them to measure, count, collect evidence. Calls them as witnesses. Asks them to speak. Jeremiah did that. He paid attention to what was distributed and what was withheld. What was needed and what was flaunted. He saw who suffered and who profited. He looked through the lens of divine justice and saw the deceit and the greed and the undoing of the common good. Witnessed it and named it. Told the truth about what he saw. Others do the same, of course, in every time and place. Greta Thunberg witnesses: sees, measures and speaks about fossil fuel emissions. Harvey Milk gathered evidence and spoke the truth about discrimination of the LGBTQ community. Mary-Ellen Turpel-Lafond notices, measures and reports on systemic racism as a social determinant of health. They pay attention, careful, measured attention, and name what they see. If we remember any of them as prophets, that’s what we mean. To collect evidence of the way the world comes undone and then to speak the truth about it is not something anyone signs up for willingly. Most of us need to be tugged or torn by something – something that rings with an echo of Holy urgency, “what do you see?”. Like the holy urgent echo tearing through Kamloops, Port Alberni, Ahousat, Coqualeetza, Kitamat, Port Simpson, and every residential school ground in this country. Every one of us hears that divine summons, “Christians, Canadians, what do you see?”. Despite the pain of it, the list of witnesses to the way the world unmakes its own God-given goodness is long. It includes human rights workers, archivists, investigative journalists, advocates, photographers and poets. The list also includes those with what we are calling an “ecumenical faith” – a faith beautifully lodged between the bookends of God’s story of the goodness of creation and the promise of the reign of peace, the story of how this whole inhabited earth is fashioned to flourish despite all evidence to the contrary. Maybe it’s because of these bookends that they consent to the heartbreak that comes from paying attention to the way things are, that they surrender themselves to the long, slow work of witnessing to reality – to speaking, painting, singing, dancing, protesting and mourning the undoing of this good earth and the love that holds it together. – It’s not glamorous work – the research, writing, and organizing – it’s work the United Church has done since the day it was born, being for some reason acutely attuned to that divine summons to witness. Maybe it’s because of their faith in the divine wholeness beneath the broken surface of things that such witnesses commit to allowing things to matter to them that can’t be fixed on their watch or in their lifetime, that they consent to sharing the broken heart of the One who fashioned every living thing for the beauty of its own flourishing. Consent to opening their hearts wide enough for God’s own love to flow through them. Not everyone feels cut out for that kind of thing, that kind of heart-breaking reality. Even Jeremiah put on the most youthful voice he could and said he’d prefer to remain innocent of the truth, if at all possible. Wouldn’t we all? Very honestly, reality hurts and we all have plenty of it anyway. If only the blind eye were an option. But we know it’s not. We can cancel the newspaper, turn off the car radio, take a bath or go shopping, but the world doesn’t go away. The heart-breaking world does not go away. Jeremiah learned that. And Jesus knew it too. In the reading from Luke’s gospel that we just heard, Jesus has just grabbed a bit of attention in the temple by tossing a few tables. Now that people are listening, he reminds them of what they already know: that the heart-breaking world does not go away, that they can distract themselves all they like, turn their back on the undoing of God’s justice (participating in the undoing of God’s justice), but the cost of pretense will be disaster. So he tells a cosmic horror story – an earthquake in the sky and the sea. It’s apocalyptic. Jesus spares no details about “fear and foreboding,” in his speech in the temple, but we have plenty of our own disastrous details to draw on. Like the disaster we are hauling out of the oceans. The disaster we watch sweep in flames across the forests. The disastrous, monstrous tragedy of what is pulled from the earth. We know apocalypse. We’ve seen it. The word apocalypse means “exposed.” It refers to what’s been made visible when the veil has been pulled back and we see what’s behind the façade, hidden in plain view. Apocalypse refers to seeing things as they really are. It does the work of the prophet without needing to be a prophet. The pandemic has done that in spades. It has given the previously distracted a prophetic angle on the world the way it is, in all its glaring inequalities and violence. There’s a difference though, isn’t there, in what is exposed and what is seen. Just because the world is an open book doesn’t mean we’ve read it. It doesn’t mean we’ve actually consented to pay attention to the way things are, to welcome the painful truth of it and allow it to remake us if it needs to. Hearts don’t change without breaking so if our hope is to protect ourselves from grief, we might as well keep shopping. That’s why Jesus wept over Jerusalem, by the way. His heart broke twice – once for the suffering he witnessed and again because of the deliberate inattentiveness, the hearts of stone. Jesus’ life wrote a divine echo of prophetic witness across the injustice and indifference of his time and of ours. The prophesy of our time is a chorus of that same echo, “what do you see?” spoken not by one voice or life, but by the beautiful movement of attentive companionship across communities, countries and continents together becoming witnesses. Drawing attention in their pink shirts, orange shirts and rainbow flags. Witnessing with white poppies, black armbands and hoop dances. Pushing back against indifference using umbrellas in Hong Kong, street art in Palestine, songs in Chile, marches in the Philippines. Elders on logging roads and women at the factory gates together naming reality with their feet, their art, their song, their campaigns and their movements – witnessing with broken hearts open wide enough for the power of love to flow through. It’s not for everyone, we say. Maybe not. But it’s for those-who know the story and remember what happened “in the beginning,” how good and beautiful the earth, and for those who read the story all the way to the future of the reign of love and its flourishing household. It’s only for those, we say, who live their lives between the bookends of that story, who know that every reality on this earth, no matter how apocalyptic, is meant to be read in light of the truth of our belonging to a household of love and abundance. You might call that having hope. Or you might call it faith. Some call it resistance or revolution. By whatever name, it begins with a steady gaze fixed on what is real. It carries the broken heart of the truth-teller. And it takes the shape of friendship and art, prayer and protest. We might call it prophesy, if we like, or we might, as Jesus did, simply call it love. Call it joyful, passionate, God-given love. A love broken like he was for the sake of this beautiful world. May it be so. Amen.