While COVID-19 makes our in-person services challenging, Knox is providing podcast services. Not everyone can access these, though, so we are also posting my sermons on our Knox Talks blog. I would like to thank Shelley Rose for transcribing my notes into text for the blog.
How Relevant Are We?
Recent weeks have given our Canadian self-esteem a serious kicking. We like to see ourselves as Canada the Good; welcoming, inclusive, multi-cultural, diverse.
Then the discovery of the graves of 215 children at the Kamloops Indian Residential School was made public, so we have had to confront our historical and ongoing mistreatment of our aboriginal people.
And then one of our young men in London, Ontario acted out his hatred and Islamophobia by running his truck into a Muslim family on the street, murdering four people across three generations and leaving a child in hospital with serious injuries.
And we want to cry out “This isn’t us, we’re better than this!” but the reality stares us in the face: “who we are” includes this abuse and hatred and has for a long time. We want to be better than this but pretending this ugly side of our identity doesn’t exist won’t make it go away.
We live in an increasingly polarized world where we can have conversations in virtual echo-chambers, hearing only voices that agree with our views. Calling for moderation has become passé and listening to voices that disagree seems like a lost art.
Humans have always distrusted anything unfamiliar: different faces, customs, perspectives. We have always made it possible to label someone as “other” and “other” has always been a potential threat: someone to be feared, possibly an enemy.
Of course, real enemies do exist: people or groups that have wished harm to someone, some going as far as to attempt genocide.
But now it seems so easy to create new enemies of people we don’t really know: people who make us uncomfortable because of their language, skin colour, sexuality, mental health, disability; or because they want something we have, or we want something they have, or maybe because we don’t like what they stand for.
In this polarized world it has become more acceptable to act on these hatreds. People feel more free to lash out; to do terrible things.
Then again, terrible things have been happening for generations,
so maybe people feel more free to admit what they’ve done. They are more honest with their violent wishes to destroy their enemies, whoever they are.
That’s where the teachings of Christ can help us. In today’s lesson from the Sermon on the Mount we have one of Jesus’ toughest teachings: the call to love our enemies; not just to love our neighbours as ourselves which is hard enough, but to actually love our enemies.
This is not a teaching we can dismiss. Anything this challenging and controversial was definitely something Jesus said.
The call to be perfect, even as God is perfect seems impossible, like a hill just too steep to climb. So for years we have quietly pushed this teaching aside as if it’s too impractical, too idealistic to really attempt
when, in fact, it scares us.
To love our enemies would force us to treat them as real people, to wish what is best for them, even while being in an opposing position. These days we seem to have a really hard time remembering how to disagree constructively, how to let someone have an opposing view
and still love and respect them.
To take this teaching seriously would have far-reaching repercussions: we’d have to take the idea of restorative justice seriously, finding ways to restore relationships instead of punishing; we would have to have actual dialogue instead of shouting at the people we don’t like; we would have to find a way to challenge the injustices we see without seeing the people who inflict those injustices as monsters.
This isn’t about being politically correct and it isn’t about being prevented from asking hard questions about another person’s or culture’s practices. Jesus gave us a way to think about that too:
removing the log from our own eye before removing the speck from another’s.
It’s possible, but it’s hard work. It demands honesty, including honestly seeing ourselves as others see us. And it demands respect; the kind of respect best described as love; the kind of respect that is more than a regard for an equal but also a feeling of connection that wants the best; that seeks to share and be helpful.
Loving our enemies is a calling that leaves no room for dismissing anyone as unworthy, or less than equal, no room for being paternalistic or condescending, no room for seeing anyone as less than human or less than ourselves.
It does not call us to pretend that differences don’t exist or that they don’t matter, but it does call us to stop ourselves from the kind of knee-jerk reaction that automatically pushes people away for being different. More than that: it calls us to love, which is where differences can exist without becoming barriers.
Sometimes in recent years it has been tempting to wonder if Christianity is relevant anymore. Many people would say that we’ve developed ways to live in a just society without the need for religion
and that in Canada, where we are respectful, and welcoming and kind and decent, that in such a place our faith becomes so personal that it has little purpose beyond comforting us or giving us a view of the world that matters mostly to the person who holds it. Besides: as a good person in Canada I don’t have any enemies! Right? So I don’t need to worry about loving them.
But then we are challenged with the flood of recent images: the old graves, and the new graves from the recent murders.
And I am reminded of the power of our faith, the power of the principles that Jesus brought us.
We aren’t just taught to love our neighbours, or our friends or our relatives no matter how challenging those teachings may be. We are taught, no, we are CALLED to love our enemies, a call so powerful
that we have struggled with it and hidden from it for centuries
If we can love our enemies and our friends, and everyone in-between; if we can call other Canadians to love just as much then we will leave no room for the kind of extreme divisions that seem to be so common now. It will deny us the comfort of the echo chambers that only say what we want to hear. That call to love will insist on respect for everyone.
I can’t think of anything more relevant, more needed, right now.
Is that too hard? Can we be perfect, as God is perfect?
I know I’m not; but I also know that this isn’t a call for instant perfection. This is a call to change, to improve, to learn from our mistakes. This is a call to love as much as we can and then to learn to love more. With God’s help, I believe we can do this.