Weekend after Charlottesville
20 Aug 2017
“Thus says the Lord: Maintain justice and do what is right.” (Isa 56:1)
In the name …
This is a beautiful church building. It is a place of quiet refuge from all that is outside. I believe we need to fill these sanctuaries again so that we can be a voice against the hatred and violence that is becoming more and more common among us. We are less civil than we used to be, one to the other. Old hatreds are being resurrected. Confederate flags are being waved by people who want to make this a white man’s country. Didn’t work so well 150 years ago. Don’t know why it would today. Nazi flags are being carried by people who forgot our history. They think they’re standing up for America, but America went to war to defeat the Nazis. A teenager threw a rock through the glass of a Holocaust memorial in Boston. People reacted by laying flowers at the site of this desecration. Later a man was arrested for kicking the flowers over. Are we going to try and forget what the Nazis did? Are we going to start targeting Jewish businesses? Making them live in ghettos and walk around with yellow stars on their clothes? Far fetched? I heard the son of the Holocaust survivor who was the man behind the Boston memorial and he said he’s beginning to ask for the first time if he and his family are still safe in America. These are the voices that are starting to enter our discussions. These are the voices that are coming to the table. Before they become normalized, we need to be the voice that stands up to them and says “No. This is not acceptable.”
Church is a sanctuary, a holy place, a safe place. Now, a wildlife sanctuary is a place where animals can stay and be protected from hunters and poachers. Churches are legally recognized as sanctuaries in a similar sense and this has become front page news now that immigration enforcement has been ratcheted up. They can arrest people in court houses, schools, hospitals, but they will not violate the sanctuary offered by church. People can enter the church as a sanctuary and as long as they stay within the church building they remain protected. But there’s another aspect of sanctuary as a holy and a safe place. It is where we come into a closer contact with God so that we are then refreshed and empowered, and able to move on and out to confront the world. Church as sanctuary in this way is not so much a safe place to remain as it is an oasis that refreshes us so we can continue on our mission as Christians to battle hatred and segregation.
And you want to know how important this confrontation is to our faith? Its boundaries even shocked Jesus. I think the story of Jesus’ encounter with the Canaanite woman that we just read is the most honest in all the Gospels. There are indications that Jesus was under the impression that He was sent only to His Jewish brothers and sisters. For example, as He sends out His disciples ahead of Him, Jesus gives them these instructions: “‘Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’” (Matt. 10:5-6) In today’s Gospel, Jesus is in foreign territory. He seems out of place. Somehow a Canaanite woman discovers who He is and begs that He heal her daughter. Jesus ignores her, just as He had told His disciples to do. She persists. Finally, in words that make us feel awkward as believers, Jesus tells her curtly: “‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’” There is no way to soften this statement or to deny its meaning. The woman and her people are the dogs. But the woman does not give up for the sake of her daughter. And then our Lord and Saviour has an “Ah-ha moment.” Jesus in that instant no longer sees her as a foreigner beyond His ministry. Jesus for the first time sees her as a mother worried about her child. For the first time, Jesus sees her in the common bond of our humanity rather than through the separation of our categories. And Jesus changes. That’s how hard it is to see that we are more the same than we are different, that we are meant more to build community than walls. It’s so hard that even Jesus had to overcome His own bias and see others not through His human eyes, but as God would have us see.
This is the message and the challenge of our faith, and this is the place where that message has a chance to be heard, internalized and then proclaimed through what we say and more importantly through what we do. This is church as a sanctuary from the downward spiral of our world, this is church as oasis so that we can leave here and make a difference. A young woman was murdered in last weekend’s violence in Charlottesville. Her mother said these words as she was laid to rest: “You need to find in your heart that small spark of accountability. 'What is there I can do to make the world a better place? What injustice do I see?' … You poke that finger at yourself like Heather would have done. You take that extra step. You find a way to make a difference in the world. Find what's wrong. Don't ignore it, don't look the other way. You make a point to look at it and say to yourself, 'What can I do to make a difference?' And that's how you're going to make my child's death worthwhile.”
Our church denomination belongs to an ecumenical organization called the World Council of Churches. Like the name says, this is a world-wide organization of Christian communities. I have posted a picture from this group’s website on our FaceBook page and it has been viewed over well over 700 times. It was taken in Charlottesville last weekend. You can see the Neo-Nazis in their camouflage uniforms and carrying their guns. Facing them are clergy men and women holding nothing but each other’s hands and offering prayers. To me, as they say, this picture is worth a thousand words. It shows the stark contrast between the ways of the world and the way of Jesus. We have to stand up to the people and words of violence because if we don’t actual violence will follow. Isaiah says it short and sweet and maybe we can leave and memorize his few words and act accordingly, and may this be our prayer in Jesus’ name: “Maintain justice and do what is right.” Amen. (+)
Fr. Randy Calvo