Sunday, May 08, 2016

Easter 7, 2106 - Mothering Those In Need

So on Monday morning, I was reading these texts, and thinking about the slave-girl in Philippi and about how she was being used by her owners exclusively for economic reasons - for monetary gain, and about how Paul freed her from that life when he got rid of the spirit inspiring her fortune-telling. And I was noticing that Paul didn’t get in trouble in Philippi until he started to impact the market; the people didn’t get upset over what he was doing until he started doing things that affected people’s income.
And so I spent Monday thinking about how everything we do revolves around how we spend money on ourselves, and then on Tuesday morning I got an email from a Nigerian prince who wants to give the church $1.5 million. Of course it wasn’t true, but I got to thinking about what St. John could do with $1.5 million, and what kinds of needs we could fill, and how the money might make everything better for us. We could fix the building, and maybe buy the property next door for parking, and upgrade the carpet, and redo the kitchen downstairs, and do all kinds of awesome things that would ensure that the community of Christians here keeps going. I know that the thought of losing this congregation is really hard for many of you. $1.5 million dollars could make sure that you would worship in this space for years to come.
So I spent Tuesday morning dreaming of all the things we could do with that money, and then on Tuesday afternoon I turned on the TV and saw what was happening in Fort McMurray. I lived in Fort McMurray for a little while when I was 12, and I have many wonderful memories of it. It’s not easy to move in the middle of Grade 7, and the other students in my class were so welcoming of this new kid, which is totally unexpected when you’re in junior high, and I’ll always remember that. I have memories of going to church there - one of the Lutheran churches is a mission congregation that was just starting when I moved there, and I remember the pastor and many of the church members. I remember spring break-up on the Athabasca River, I remember walking through the forest at midnight during the summer solstice which is amazing when you’re that far north. So many good memories, and then the fire. And it has been devastating watching it all burn. Seeing the videos and pictures on the news. Looking at the satellite maps and seeing that the townhouse where I lived and have such happy memories is gone. Completely gone. Burnt all the way down to the concrete foundation. And I think that if I’m so gut-wrenched over losing the place of my memories, how much more so must be the people who still live there? I can’t even imagine their loss. I can’t imagine what the mothers there must have been going through driving their kids out through those flames, knowing everything behind them was burning. So much loss. And so when I compare St. John losing its church to all the people who’ve lost absolutely everything, I’m sorry, but the loss of this building pales in comparison. If I had $1.5 million dollars, I’d give it people in Ft. McMurray. 
And so this is what I was thinking on Wednesday night when I was watching the news, and I’m sitting there and the news fades from an image of people sitting in an evacuation centre in Ft. MacKay and transitions to Aleppo, the largest city in Syria, and to the video of a little 5-yr-old boy lying in a make-shift ambulance, covered in blood. And it was such a shock, to go from the devastation of Ft. McMurray to the devastation in Syria. Because Syria is so much worse. Nobody died in the actual fire in Ft. McMurray. Yes, people have lost their homes and everything they own, and probably their jobs, and their future in the city, but they’re still alive. But in Syria, over 470,000 people have lost their lives. More than 10,000 children have died, killed by bombs or shells. Their mothers will never hold them again. And so when I compare the loss of property and memories in Ft. McMurray to the loss of lives––of children––in Syria, Ft. McMurray pales in comparison. If I had $1.5 million dollars, I’d give it to people in Syria, or anybody fleeing war and the death of their children.
But, we don’t need to compare needs, and figure out where things are the worst. The reality of our world is that it’s full of suffering. In our Gospel reading, Jesus says that he will give the world the glory of God so that we may be one. But the cynic in me says that we are already one. We are one in suffering. If you so choose, you can see suffering wherever you look, and when you look again, you can find someone else whose suffering is even greater, whose needs are so much deeper. But of course, that’s not the “one” that Jesus means. But it’s not that far off. You see, when you look at what else Jesus is saying when he talks about being one in glory, you’ll notice that he’s really talking about love. He wants the world to “become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” Jesus centres the one-ness of the world on love, which is how God’s glory is made real in the world. We are one in love. God loves us, the Father loves the Son, the Son loves us, we love one another––the love goes around and back-and-forth and here and there, and it ties us all together. I am one with you and with the people in Ft. McMurray and with the people in Syria because we are all one in love. We are one in suffering because we are one in love.
And love means taking responsibility for the needs of another. Now today is Mother’s Day. And without getting too mushy about it, I don’t think I really knew what love was until I became a mother because that’s when I became responsible for someone other than myself. That’s when I learned what it’s like to want to respond to someone else’s needs before I respond to my own. We have this word in the English language, “mothering,” which is unfortunately not always used in a positive way, but which expresses very well this kind of love that takes responsibility for the needs of someone else. Moms are very good at mothering, but anyone can mother, and many people who aren’t biological mothers, mother others. Aunts mother, grandmas mother, but also uncles mother, and grandpas mother, teachers mother, even friends mother. Mothering is taking responsibility for someone else’s need. As we’ve seen from the response to Ft. McMurray, even businesses mother. Hotels that are offering free rooms to evacuees are mothering them. Restaurants that are offering free food are mothering. Westjet, who has flown evacuees and even pets out of the northern camps, is mothering. They are taking responsibility for others, and putting those people’s needs above their own. They are putting people’s need for safety above their own need for economic success. In our reading from Acts this morning, even Paul was mothering, taking responsibility for the well-being of the slave-girl and freeing her from her economic slavery. We mother when we send We Care kits to CLWR. We mother when we donate to the Red Cross. One of the stories that keeps setting me off crying is the one about the Syrian refugees who arrived in Alberta in March and are so touched by people’s losses in Ft. McMurray that they’re gathering their own limited resources to create care kits for the evacuees. Canada mothered them when we took them in as refugees, and they now want to mother others. We mother when our hearts weep at every instance of suffering we see––big or small, and we yearn to do something about it.
This mothering comes from God. It is God working in us. When we call God, Creator of the world, we are calling God, Mother of the world. Responding to our needs out of love, providing us with food and shelter and companionship. Mothering is one of the ways God loves us, and so of course it’s one of the ways we love one another. God inspires us to feel responsible for one another, and God fills us with dreams of how we might help. When I said that a Nigerian prince wants to give us $1.5 million dollars, I’m sure that ideas sprang into your head of how we might use that money. Just Imagine, as Lotto 6/49 tells us; what would you do if you had that much money? God has created us to mother, to love those in need. God shows God’s glory, as the Gospel of John says, by filling us with love, so that the mothering love with which the Father has loved Jesus might be in us, and Jesus in us, and us in one another. One, in a community of love.
But God doesn’t stop with just inspiring us to help. God also empowers us to do something about it. God gives us the will, and then God gives us a way. God empowered Paul to cast out the spirit from the slave-girl, God empowered the thousands of generous Canadians who’ve given over $10 million to the Red Cross, God empowers all those who work for peace and to house and clothe the Syrian refugees. I’ve been talking about this mythical Nigerian prince with all this money he wants to give us, and of course it isn’t true. But St. John does have $1.5 million dollars to give away. Or at least, we will when this building sells. We don’t need a Nigerian prince. We have God, and who knows whether or not God has brought us to this day for this very reason, that we would be in a place where we could imagine how we might give $1.5 million to those who are in need, and then have the means to do it?
There is so much need in the world, and God has blessed us with hearts for mothering those in need, and God has blessed us in particular with the means to help. You’ll notice when you came in this morning, that there’s a beautiful board in the narthex that says, “Who would you give $1.5 million dollars to?” Wendy came up with the beautiful design, and my request is that over the next several months, we dream and we listen and we look and we imagine what we might do with the $1.5 million dollars that’s coming, not from the Nigerian prince, but from the sale of this building, which means, really, from God. Look around you in the weeks to come, and every Sunday, bring an idea to put on the board. Who would you give $1.5 million dollars to? Where do you see the greatest need? There’s need all around, but God touches our hearts with particular needs that call to us. My monthly tithing goes to the Calgary Food Bank, the Calgary Women’s Shelter, SOS Children’s Villages, and PFLAG––these are areas God has called me to mother. These are my “children.” But you will have different concerns. Maybe your “children” are the elephants being poached in South Africa. Maybe you are touched by the intense need among the indigenous tribes in Guatemala fighting for access to local water, or maybe you see the needs of families living in poverty here in Canada, or maybe your “children” are the victims of child slavery and trafficking. Who would you give $1.5 million dollars to? What is your dream? Who has God put in your hearts to mother?

$1.5 million isn’t enough to respond to every need in the world, but that’s not the point. The point is that God has given us hearts to look for those who are in need in the world, called us as Christian disciples to be responsible for them, and given us the means to help, even if only in small ways. God calls us to mother those who are abandoned, and draws us together in one community of love, so that in that love, we might point to God as the source of our glory. We see the loss of this building as a loss, but God is blessing us with the means to be mothers to God’s children, using us to respond to the suffering and needs of others. What a gift, and what a glorious God we have. Thanks be to God. Amen. 

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