Some one reminded me this week of a line from one of my father’s sermons. He may have even preached it here. It was a metaphor about boats, which is not surprising – he is always happy to talk about boats. He was describing the St. Lawrence River, and the tankers that plow down it on their way to deliver cargo. They make huge waves, tossing and turning the small boats around them. But however large a wake those tankers leave, the small boats stay afloat. The river is large, and it endures.
I imagine many may feel that this week, the river experienced a massive wake.We cannot pretend that what happened in the United States does not effect us in Canada. We are all on the same river, more really than any other two countries in the world. Perhaps like myself, you looked over at the big tanker plowing by, running over many things we hold dear and sacred, and thought this is not a river for me anymore.
Our gospel for this morning is strangely timed: “When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified,” Jesus tells us, “for these things must happen.” He was in fact warning the disciples that hardship lay ahead, that their message would be hard for many people to hear, that everything would not go as they hoped. In preparing them for the worst, Jesus was urging them to keep working for the best. That is where I know many of you especially the women close to me, are this week, looking at the man who will soon be sitting in the White House. It was for me particularly tragic watching the first black president, a man of integrity and dignity that we won’t again see soon, forced to sit with the one who will take his spot, who, in his path to the White House, levelled such racist accusations against Obama, that the president was forced to prove he was actually American.
We can tell ourselves, the people have spoken, maybe it will work, and maybe things won’t go as we dread they might. We have watched what is surely a decay of values of tolerance and welcome in the United States, the very opposite of what the gospel teaches us. We might hope that these were just words said in battle, and that now, in the peaceful transition, wisdom will come. We have plenty of evidence to the contrary. But that hope is essential: God and the gospel teaches us that hope is on the same side as faith, a restorative balm to help us look ahead.
Hope, however is not enough. We must look to the words of our second lesson: if you want to eat, you must work. Now Paul was speaking in a particular context: after the death and resurrection of Jesus. A member of the community assumed he would quickly return and take care of things, so they had stopped working, living off the kindness of others. But Paul gives them the gears, and tells them, basically, to get up and get going, that just as the disciples worked when Jesus was alive, so should they now.
But for us, the part that we must be mindful of is the tendency among human beings to count on someone else to take care of difficult problems. As the racist and sexist level of debate rose in the United States, people constantly reassured themselves – surely someone would stop it. Even here, I heard people speaking as if the problems with the two candidates were equal – they didn’t like either of them, they were both bad. But that is just another version of scapegoating. In the gospel, we are called to welcome strangers in need, to see past the law to what is right, to respond first with love and kindness, to celebrate difference, to exchange opinions without judgement. We are not to be bullies, we are not to abuse others because we have power, we are not to cast aspersions on people because they look different, we are not to incite hatred against other faiths and races. These are not the lessons we learned in the gospel. They are not the lessons we teach out children.
So what now? Now we work. We learn a lesson, a hard one, on the poisonous attitudes that can, with relative ease, seep into a democratic society. We learn the consequences of the anger of those people who feel left out of a society, or displaced. We recognize the role we play in standing with those who are vulnerable. We begin to see with clear eyes, some of the problems bubbling under the surface in our own waters. We can already hear its rumblings.
The hardest part of this result on Tuesday, for many parents, was what to tell their children. As Noah said before going to bed: “What will I tell my own kids about 2016? A crazy man wanted to build a wall…but instead the first female president was elected.” That is not what he woke up to. What could I say to that: sometimes the world doesn’t go the way we thought it would. When that happens, we don’t give up. We work even harder to correct its course, to safeguard the values we treasure.
The very notion of Jesus returning is not meant to keep us static, waiting for that great, marvelous day. It is meant to fire us up: Jesus left us in charge, with clear directions, what world might he return to? Are we expecting Jesus to start over from scratch?
No, we work. There is no excuse for us to stand silent when someone is being subjected to racism. There is no excuse for us look away when we see a women being mistreated. There is no excuse for us not to educate ourselves about the people who would lead our own country, and the policies that they would bring. There is no excuse at all. If we do not work, Paul would say, we get the meal we deserve – one that will surely taste sour in our mouths.
I am lifted by the words of scripture, quoted this week. A line from Galatians, Chapter Six: Let us not lose heart and grow weary and faint in acting nobly and doing right, for in due time and at the appointed season we shall reap.” Set aside the events of this week, put aside politics. That is the core lesson we need to instill in our children, while they are still small boats on a large river. And when we tell them so, may we be believe those words for ourselves.