Tag Archives: Ferguson

Advent Waiting: Ferguson, Sexism and Black Friday

I have been hesitant to add my own privileged commentary to issues surrounding Ferguson and sexual violence against women. I normally try to share and retweet the voices of the oppressed. But as a preacher, I can’t keep silent. Here is the text of the sermon preached to my congregation this morning. 

Mark 13:24-37

“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near…

Therefore, keep awake– for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.” (Read the whole lesson here)

Sermon

Keep Awake. The world is waiting. 

The world is waiting for justice. Waiting for peace. Waiting for healing.

Keep awake. This week we watched as the people of Ferguson waited for answers, waited for justice… and then we saw a system stacked against justice rule to protect the privileged. And we saw the results. As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr said, “Rioting is the language of the unheard.”

The world is waiting for Justice.

Keep Awake. This week we witnessed hoards of people flock to malls and stores in order to get Black Friday deals. In order to engage in retail therapy, the attempt to fill empty hearts by emptying full wallets.

The world is waiting for healing.

Keep Awake. This week heard news and reminders that violence against women, misogyny and sexism are not things of the past. We heard the charges laid against CBC radio host and celebrity Jian Ghomeshi, the allegations made by elected MPs of harassment. We have heard that two men have been charged in the case of Rinelle Harper, a 16-year-old girl left for dead on the banks of the Assiniboine left after being assaulted and violated.

The world is waiting for peace. 

Today, is the first Sunday of Advent. And we know it is Advent, not just because of the calendar, but because we are no longer surprised by the Christmas music playing in the malls, or the Christmas lights that light up night-time streets and highways, or the fact that the Santa Claus parade was already two weeks ago.

Last Sunday, we concluded the church year, and today we turn the page onto a new one. As Christians, we observe a calendar slightly offset from the secular one. Our church year begins with Advent in late November, a good month or so ahead of January 1st. And like regular New Year’s, Advent is partly about a chance to start over, to leave behind the baggage of the previous year, and make a fresh beginning.

But Advent is no so much about resolutions, as it is about preparation. Preparation and waiting. Advent is the 4 weeks before Christmas, and is centered around hearing the stories that prepare us for the birth of Messiah. And like the season of Lent before Easter, Advent is season that is toned down, a season for reflection and thoughtfulness. But Advent is not about penitence or preparing ourselves to hear about Christ’s death is like Lent is. Instead, Advent is hopeful and full of anticipation. If Lent is the church season of waiting on Death Row or in Palliative Care, Advent is the season of pregnancy.

And each Advent season, we start on week 1, Sunday 1 hearing about the end. Hearing about the coming of the Son of Man. Advent waiting begins with waiting for Jesus. Waiting for the Messiah to come with the people of Israel, waiting for child to be born in a manger, and waiting for the second coming, for Jesus to return for that big cosmic ending.

And so today, before we get to John the Baptist, or before we get to angels making announcements to virgins, we hear Jesus’ words about the end of time. Keep Awake, he says, because no one knows the day nor the hour.

What an odd place to begin the church year. What an odd place to start Advent. December should start with digging boxes of Christmas lights out of storage, and checking off lists for Christmas shopping. This end of the world stuff doesn’t seem to fit.

As Jesus tells his disciples to Keep Awake, it becomes abundantly clear, that as modern people, we have no idea what waiting really is. The people of ancient Israel lived in a world of waiting so different from ours.

The world of the disciples was full of waiting… as Jesus reminds them of the lesson of the fig tree, we too can learn something. The people of Ancient Israel lived by a lunar calendar. This means that they organized their months by cycles of the moon rather than by the earth moving around the sun. More concretely, their months were all either 29 or 30 days long. Any month could be 29 or 30 days. Their years were either 12 months or 13 months long. Any year could be 12 or 13 months. So how did they know?

Well, when at least couple of people observed the new moon at end of the month, they would tell the temple authorities (the church council) who would then send out messengers to let the people know that the month had changed. And then at the end of the year (which was usually around our February or March), if spring still seemed far off, the temple authorities would just add another month to the end of the year.

Take a moment and think about that. Imagine if we had to read the papers or watch the news to find out which day our months ended on. And imagine if a couple of weeks before the end of the year, we found out there would be another December.

The is why the Ancient Israelites had to watch the leaves of the Fig tree to know when summer began, their calendars couldn’t be trusted. Instead, they had to trust the signs around them, they had to trust their community to keep awake together, trust their leaders to make sure good decisions were made.

We wouldn’t know what to do with ourselves in a world like that. We don’t know how to wait in that way. We don’t live our lives with an openness to things happening sooner than we expect, or not happening when we want them to. We live with set schedules, with fixed time limits, with predictable dates. In fact, you can tell just how bad we are at waiting by the question we love to torture kids with this time of year, “How many sleeps until Christmas?”

And while we are not good at waiting in the same way the people of ancient Israel were used to, we do wait. We wait just like they did. Maybe not for extra days or extra months but we wait for salvation like they did. We wait for Justice like them, we wait for peace, we wait for healing.

And in Advent, we wait for Messiah too.

They waited for Messiah in Jerusalem, on the banks of the Jordan and Bethlehem. They waited to be freed from oppression from Empire, they waited for God’s mercy and love to make them clean, they waited to be lifted up from their suffering.

And we wait for Messiah in Ferguson, in Ottawa, on the banks of the Assiniboine, and here right now among us. And whether we are good at it or not, our waiting is not measured by the number of sleeps until Christmas, nor on calendars, schedules or to do lists.

Like the ancient Israelites, our waiting for Messiah is measured in small glimpses of Hope.

Messiah came to Ancient Israel in the form of a carpenter turned preacher telling of the coming of the son man to expectant crowds. Messiah comes to us as people of faith speak out about the injustices of Ferguson and stand with a community grieving and oppressed.

Messiah was preached by a hermit crying in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Messiah is preached today, as we refuse to consume and spend as if it were therapy, as we proclaim a counter-cultural message of waiting and anticipation, instead of immediate gratification.

Messiah was promised and announced to young woman, not yet married. And it was an unremarkable girl, overlooked by the world around her who bore God’s promise into the world with a man who should have stoned her instead of staying faithful.

And Messiah is promised and announced here as a community rallies around a young girl left for dead on the river banks, declaring violence against women and minorities is unacceptable.

Our hopeful waiting is for a Messiah who comes in small unexpected places, who comes no matter how good we are waiting, who comes to bring justice, peace and healing.

Keep Awake, says Messiah. The world is waiting.

Keep awake and see that Advent is not a countdown to Christmas, but a chance to see that the signs of Messiah’s coming, Messiah who may come tomorrow or in a lifetime.

But Jesus also says something else.

Today Jesus declares that no matter how dark the world seems,

The Son of Man is coming.

No matter whether we wait with patience or with anxiousness,

The Messiah is entering our world. 

Regardless the powers of injustice, violence and suffering,

Salvation promised, will come to us. 

Our waiting will not be in vain, our longing for a better world does not go unnoticed by God.

Keep Awake Jesus says, not as command to keep vigilante. But Keep Awake is a promise. A promise that in our Advent waiting, there will ever growing light in our darkness, that our hope is in Messiah and the signs say Messiah is on the way.

Amen, Come Lord Jesus.

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It is overwhelming to care about Ferguson, Gaza, Ebola, Syria, ISIS, Ukraine, etc…

These days, checking twitter feeds, listening to news updates, reading online articles can be depressing. There are so many crises facing the world at the moment, with new information and action happening moment by moment. As a pastor, the prayers I write and pray for things going on in the world is getting as long as it has ever been in my memory.

0819_ferguson_social_970-630x420
Protestors in Ferguson

Ferguson, Missouri is boiling over with tensions between the white police and african american community after the shooting and murder of an unarmed Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is committing atrocities with the hopes of drawing more to their cause.

Syria continues to be a mess with millions of refugees spilling into neighbouring states.

Skirmishes in Ukraine have brought down planes and resulted in death.

Israel and Hamas can’t seem to stop firing rockets and launching airstrikes at each other.

The Ebola outbreak in Africa is spreading and more people are dying.

Red Cross agent disinfected a hospital room
Red Cross agent disinfecting a hospital room

And these are just events from the past week.

This year we have seen #BringBackOurGirls, #YesAllWomen, issues of poverty and homelessness, environmental damages caused by resource extraction and more ongoing issues.

It is exhausting keeping up with it all.

It is harder to invest what little energy we all have to care about all these things. I am sure many are getting tired of it all.

As Christians, called to pray for our world and to serve our neighbour it is hard to know where to begin. What articles should we read? How much do I need to educate myself about each issue? What does it look like to get involved?

imagesAnd in the face of these overwhelming issues, the ultimate apathetic question is always just below the surface.

What difference can I make?

As with most big, complex issues that we face, the prevailing wisdom is to start with small steps.

Pray for our neighbours, help our children develop healthier attitudes towards those of different ethnicity, religion, socio-economic class. Getting involved locally is a logical step. Volunteer, help educate others, support active charities and organizations that are working in the midst of crisis to alleviate suffering.

Last fall, Canadian Lutheran World Relief, managed to collect nearly 80,000 sweaters for Syrian refugees living in camps. Our small national Lutheran NGO managed to do this amazing thing and response was overwhelming when the initial goal was 10,000! Yet, the UN estimates that there at least 2.5 million refugees. That means we collected sweaters for 0.032% of them…

Our achievement feels hopeless in the face of so much need.

And that was one small piece of the Syrian refugee issue? What about the war? What about medicine and food? And what about all the other crises?

Now, I am not trying to say that this is all hopeless… but I think there are a few things we need to admit to ourselves before we can figure out how to respond as people of faith.

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Crisis in Ukraine

Firstly, our political leaders are in over their heads. I often hear that politicians don’t care or are only interested in re-election. Some might be that way, but I think there is good news and bad news. I think most politicians would make the world a better place if they could. However, it is becoming clear that our modern political systems are failing us. At the end of day, most politicians – from top to bottom – probably feel as powerless as we do. The systems that they serve value the status quo. Governments, electorates and human beings are not good at accepting sweeping change, despite our clamour for it. Politicians realize that daycare credits, cheaper cell phone bills, and lower taxes buy votes in elections. Not social reform.

I wish these crises are left unresolved because of political apathy… because then we could elect un-apathetic leaders. But it is worse than we thought, those whom we trust to fix these problems are not capable of fixing them.

Secondly, we need to admit that we contribute to these problems. I need to admit that I am complicit in the poverty and lack of development that is allowing Ebola to spread. My prejudices contribute to tensions in Ferguson. People are dying at the hands of ISIS because of my lifestyle. Russia is breaking apart Ukraine because of the people my grandparents, my parents and I have elected to power. Israel and Hamas are constantly at each other’s throats because of the freedoms I enjoy. Syria is at war because of my attitudes about Islam and the Middle East. I am a part of the problem.

Thirdly, these problems are really just symptoms of a larger issue.

The crises that we are facing today are not entirely caused by one problem, but there is one issue more than any other that fuels their fires:

ECONOMIC INEQUALITY

I recently watched Robert Reich’s documentary Inequality for All (you should all watch it on Netflix). The movie clearly lays out, over and over again, the relationship between an unequal society and social problems. The last time inequality was as high as it is today was during the 1930s. The world was starving, unemployment was sky high and wealth was concentrated in the hands of very few.

I have no doubt that a large reason the world fell into World War II was because inequality had pushed people to edge, allowing them to find reasons to justify racism, intolerance, and eventually global war. Germany was putting Jews in concentration camp. The United States and Canada were putting Japanese in internment camps. Racism and intolerance was on both sides, the world was recovering from economic crisis. People needed someone to blame.

I also have no doubt that during the period of the highest level of equality, the 1950s and 1960s, civil rights issues and the liberation of women gained momentum and achieved change in leaps and bounds.

6490813449_f0c51a7cc0When people are struggling to make ends meet, they become more conservative, more fearful and more close minded.

When people are not worried about paying bills, buying groceries or affording a home, they are able to open themselves to new ideas and different people.

We are in a time of high inequality today. Extreme global Inequality. In fact, this year 85 people are more wealthy than the bottom 3.5 billion.

Yes, I wrote billion.

The number of people that can fit in a public swimming pool have more wealth than half of the people on the planet.

What chance does peace, tolerance, development, open-mindedness, or social change for the better have in a world that is so unequal?

What chance does Ferguson have at bridging the racial divide when it is based on a 400 year old economic one?

What chance do under developed African nations have at fighting off a deadly disease like Ebola when hospitals are tents and sanitation is nearly non-existent?

What chance does peace in Gaza when both sides are fighting over the scraps of the western world?

What chance does democracy have for the people or Iraq or Syria have when the fighting is just as much about control of resources and wealth than it is issues of religion?

What chance does Ukraine have at bettering its quality of life when Russia desires to keep Ukraine under its thumb to prop up its own power and wealth?

We treat wealth and equality like a zero-sum game. For you to have more, I need to have less. But it is not zero sum. We can all become more prosperous together.

Christ.In_.A.Suit_In the Bible nearly 2000 verses deal with money or wealth, more than prayer, faith, and hope combines. Jesus talks about money in 1 of every 7 verses. Over 1/4 of his parables were on wealth. And let’s not forget that when Jesus talked about keeping the law, clean and unclean, or making sacrifices in the temple, he was talking about inequality. Those who could afford access to God, and those who couldn’t.

In a very unequal world, Jesus declared the abundance of God’s grace. God’s love is not a commodity to be hoarded or controlled by a few at the exclusion of the many. Wealth and prosperity are, likewise, not to be hoarded. God’s creation, wealth included, is not to be hoarded or controlled by a few at the exclusion of the many.

As one christian, one pastor, one blogger sitting in relatively calm Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, it can feel overwhelming to hear about every crisis that seems to be popping up this week, and wondering what I can do about it. It is like trying to play Whack-a-Mole with one mallet on a game the size of a football field. There isn’t even time to see all the moles popping up, let alone choose which one to think about whacking.

But if there is something that can be done to address all these issues at once, even in some small way, it would be to work towards greater economic equality. Elect leaders who will introduce policies that help level the playing field. Support programs that encourage education, which is the greatest tool to help us all become more prosperous. Look for ways to stand for political change that will distribute wealth more equally. Teach our kids that everyone deserves the same access to education and opportunity, and they will see past the racial, religious and political divides on their own. And lastly, find others who are talking about this issue. Join with them. Educate yourself.

And if you are a Christian, remember that Jesus thought this issue was important too. He talked about it more than heaven or hell, he preached against the extremities of wealth and poverty more clearly and definitively than just about anything else.

And when you pray for peace, for tolerance and understanding, for help for those who are suffering, remember to pray for a more equal world too – because equality will help bring about the rest.


How does this news cycle make you feel? What do you think we can do about it all? Share in the comments, on the Facebook Page: The Millennial Pastor or on Twitter: @ParkerErik

A Sermon on Ferguson, Robin Williams and the Canaanite Woman

As a blogger, it can be hard to know where to begin with all the things happening in the world. But as a pastor, I can’t help but preach about where God is in the midst of this mess…

Matthew 15: (10-20), 21-28

Jesus left Gennesaret and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord… (Read the whole passage here)

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Have mercy on me Lord. 

These are familiar words. In fact, we just sang them this morning. Given the times and places where we usually say these words, it can feel strange to sing them while we are safe and sound at church. Normally it is in moment of distress, moments of trial and hardship, moments when there is nothing else but to ask for God’s help.

Have mercy on me Lord. 

A news alert flashes across the televisions, computer or smart phone. The top story of the evening news. The front page of the newspaper. They all declare the same thing:

Robin Williams is dead.

Mork is dead, Adrian Cronauer is dead. John Keating is dead. Garp, Peter Pan, Mrs. Doubtfire, Sean Maguire, the Genie from Alladin, Patch Adams and so many more beloved characters from our favourites movies. They are all dead.

And the world mourns, the world cries out for healing, the world begs for more understanding and help for those suffering from depression.

This news is a shock and yet it isn’t. Another star whose personal struggles and demons meant that we all share in the tragic results. We all grieve when a famous star dies.

Have Mercy on me, Lord.

The canaanite woman that approached Jesus must have been desperate. She must have been willing to risk any humiliation for her daughter. She also must have known that God in flesh would hear her plea. The woman who calls on Jesus does so knowing that she is repeating the language of worship, the language that Jesus and all Jews would have used in worship. Words that are spoken to God, this woman speaks to Jesus. A sign that she knows just who this Jesus fellow is.

And yet the disciples try to send her away.

They send her away because she is a gentile, because she is a woman, because she is a beggar. They send her away because she is different. She isn’t one of them, and as open minded to the poor, to the marginalized, to the downtrodden they think they are, this woman is too different and therefore undeserving of their mercy.

Even Jesus doesn’t have time for the woman. She begs him to help her daughter and Jesus says some pretty offensive word to her: It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.

This is not the Jesus we know. This is a cruel, uncaring Jesus who doesn’t even see this woman as human, but more like a street dog.

Have mercy on me, Lord. 

In Ferguson, Missouri an 18 year old black teenager was walking down the street, and was stopped by a white police officer. The two got into a scuffle and the police officer shot the teen 8 times, killing him. The boy had his hands in the air, and was saying, “Don’t shoot” as he was killed.

The small suburb of St. Louis is shocked and outraged that a white police officer can kill a black teen without repercussion. Neighbourhood vigils and protests turn into a national movement calling for justice and for acknowledgement of the systemic racism that led to this incident.

Have mercy on me, Lord. 

The canaanite woman who has asked for mercy does not let up. She has a sick daughter, a child suffering from a demon, from an unknown illness. She asking for Jesus’ help not her own behalf, but as a parent. And she is willing to risk rejection, and to keep asking, even if he says no at first.

And Jesus gives a resounding no. He hasn’t come for gentiles, he has only come for the people of Israel. Jesus has come for God’s chosen people… yet this woman, this unclean gentile woman challenges Jesus… challenges Jesus to change his mind.

Have mercy on me, Lord.

Wars continue in Syria, Iraq and Gaza. People are dying in Africa from the deadly Ebola virus. The need for mercy in our dark world feels overwhelming these days as the news is a constant flow violence, sadness and shock.

Have Mercy on me, Lord.

These words are familiar to us. They are words that we pray, words of desperation and words that we practice week after week when we gather for worship. Words that are handed on to us and that we are entrusted to use faithfully.

And so when we don’t have the words and when we don’t know what to say, those familiar words like Have mercy on me Lord, or Peace be with you, or Thanks be to God, they spring to our lips without needing to think of them first. These are the words of the community of faith, they are the words of our forebears in the faith. These are the words that we teach each new generation as they come to worship.

And most importantly, maybe most surprisingly. These are words that change the mind of God.

To imagine words with such power is hard for us. Words that change the mind of God seem like too good to be true. And yet, that is exactly what happens each week, each moment we worship. The words that we hear in this place and the words that we share remind us over and over again, that God’s mind has been changed about us.

We have chosen condemnation, we have chosen death for ourselves. We are sinners who can only choose to die over and over again. Yet with mercy and love, God comes and speaks to us, with forgiveness and grace, God choses life and love for us. As Jesus changes his mind today, he doesn’t just change it about one woman. In Gospel of Matthew, from that moment on, Jesus’ mission was not just for the Jews, but all creation, for Jews and Gentiles alike. We are the ones asking Jesus for mercy and we are the Gentile members of the body of Christ who have received it.

Today, the Good News is that God changes God’s mind to include us. To include Gentiles, to include 21st century Canadians, to include the people of The Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd. God in Christ has come into our world, to be born, live and die for us. God in Christ has come to give us so much more than scraps from the table, but to give us a place at the table, to welcome us and feed us with God’s own body and blood. To make us into One Body. To hear our cries for Mercy.

And despite the horrible news that we have encountered this week there has been mercy. Since the death of Robin Williams there has been renewed awareness for those who suffer from mental illness and increased giving towards charity.

Mercy given.

In Ferguson, as tensions grew between police protestors, faith leaders and community leaders joined the call for justice but also the call for peace.

Mercy given.

In Africa there is help being sent, including new medicine with the hopes of helping.

Mercy given.

There are calls for peace and an end of violence in Gaza, Syria and Iraq, but most of all people of faith are standing together in solidarity promising to pray for innocent victims of conflict.

Mercy given.

Mercy isn’t about taking the problems away, but mercy is the promise that God walks with us in the midst of the darkness. God promises to be our light in a dark world, to be our healing balm for our suffering, to be the compassion that we so desperately need.

Have mercy on me Lord. These words will cross our lips over and over again. They will be ingrained into our bodies and into our souls, they are the words that change God’s mind, they are words that change us from dead sinners into members of of the body of Christ – forgiven and alive. Mercy is what we need these days.

We cry out,

Have Mercy on us Lord.

And Mercy is what God gives.

Amen.