Reflection: Sunday, January 19, 2020

Sermon of the Week (Epiphany 2)

(Rev. Peter Davison composed 90% of this)

The signs of the times are not encouraging – perhaps because we seem to be living in one of those major cultural shifts which seem to occur every five hundred years or so. But when we’re in the middle of it all it’s hard to keep a sense of perspective, because everything feels like chaos. Some have suggested that Donald Trump, dangerously erratic and unpredictable though he may be, is less a cause of chaos than a symptom of it. So, too, his autocratic counterparts elsewhere, who have come to power promising they will give us safety and security, even when they make things worse. Whether we like it or not, Brexit appears to be done, though there will be at least a decade of adjustment and uncertainty. The USA and China have reached some kind of détente, though that may make things more difficult for the rest of us. The weather has given Australia a bit of a break, though there are few signs that its government has really grasped the full reality of the climate crisis. Here in Canada, our attention has been absorbed by the tragedy of Ukrainian Airlines flight 752, blown out of the air by an Iranian missile – whether intentionally or by mistake we may never know. But what we learned from the outpouring of grief and the tributes of families, friends, and colleagues was that the victims all epitomised the best of what it means to be human, and we are all impoverished by their untimely deaths. We were also reminded of the rich variety of humankind, yet of the common humanity we all share. And as Canadians and Fernie’ites we give thanks for this country and this special part of it that we live in, which celebrates both our diversity and our oneness. As we gather here today, within our newly formed shared ministry, we can directly relate and celebrate this diversity and oneness!

The Knox Mission Statement contains the words “united in our diversity” which I think is a very strong expression of what we are and represent. We are all different, but each of us in our own way, are trying to work together for the greater good of all in our community and beyond our community. An example of recent “oneness” that comes to mind was during our workshops concerning the development of the concept of our present Shared Ministry Father David attended! Who would have “thunk” it in the not so distant past!  So again, united in our diversity and oneness, we strive to serve our community – sometimes we struggle and fail but other times we succeed and move forward every mindful that with love and compassion and our faith in the teachings of Jesus we must work for the greater good of all. We are all unique but we are all God’s children in this little corner of God’s paradise called Fernie.

Today’s readings also speak of discouragement, despair, and hope. The so-called “servant songs” of Second Isaiah can be interpreted as referring either to a messianic individual or to the people of Israel as a whole. Either way, they are spoken into a background of failure and exile. Despite all this God promises, not only the restoration of Israel to its homeland, but that the people of Israel will be a beacon for all the nations of the earth. In similar fashion, Paul encourages the wayward, quarrelsome church in Corinth to remember their oneness in Christ. In today’s gospel, John the Baptist testifies that Jesus is indeed the promised messiah for whom he has been preparing the way. Two of John’s disciples (Andrew and Simon) leave him to follow Jesus, and the “Jesus movement” begins to gather momentum.

At the core of our faith is our belief that Jesus came to break down the barriers of ignorance, division, and hostility, and to remind us we are ALL God’s sons and daughters. The idea of universal salvation lies at the heart of the gospel. David Bentley Hart’s latest book, “That ALL Shall Be Saved”, has been followed by his New York Times reflection on his critics, in which he suggests the insistence of some Christians on a notion of hell is associated with their need to divide the world into “us versus them”, into “winners and losers”. This is directly related to confusion of universalism with domination, particularly after Constantine’s decision to make Christianity the official religion of the Roman empire. We see this writ large in American confusion of faith and politics, with America as the new Promised Land and its political doctrine of Manifest Destiny. (Manifest Destiny, a phrase coined in 1845, expressed the philosophy that drove 19th-century U.S. territorial expansion. Manifest Destiny held that the United States was destined—by God, its advocates believed—to expand its dominion and spread democracy and capitalism across the entire North American continent.) We see it, too, in all forms of sectarianism and nationalism. All stem from the false notion that “WE possess the truth and THEY don’t”. This provides us with excuses to denigrate and violate others. But it is at odds with the biblical idea of universal salvation, and the central message of the Epiphany season.

The very nature of God is to love all that God has made, and to seek the restoration and inclusion of the whole of creation. As stewards of creation, we are called to ensure its well-being, and that of all its parts. Our economics are not the economics of scarcity, competition, and possession, but rather the economics of abundance, caring, cooperation, and the good of all.

We have long known that truth is the first casualty of war. When our individual, collective, or national egos come into play we lose all interest in truth, and allow idolatrous deceptions of our false self-interest to take over. We fail to see the tragic irony when Iran is forced to admit its lies about flight 752, while an American administration which constantly lies imposes its own impossible conditions on the Iranians. In another sphere, the downfall of Christendom has forced us to rediscover Jesus and what Christian faith is really about. What the late Paul Tillich called “The Shaking of the Foundations” is indeed happening in our time. It is calling us to lament and grieve, but also to rediscover our common humanity, and our shared destiny.

So if we find ourselves anxious, discouraged, and worried about our own survival, the good news of Epiphany is that God indeed wills all people to be saved. And indeed, the Light shines in our darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it. As the children’s hymn goes “this little light of mine -I am going to let it shine” so as we move forward with this shared ministry, don’t let anyone “wif” it out!  So, may those who have died rest in peace, those who grieve and lament find comfort; and may all of us see beyond our losses and failures to the promise of life together, here and now, as first-fruits of the kingdom of God. For such a possibility, and such a hope, thanks be to God! Alleluia! Amen!

Thank you Peter Davison!

Delivered by Bruce Elson, Member
Knox United Church
Fernie, BC

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