Prayer, courage, being shaped by God our mutual responsibility as people in Christian community with each other ran through my head this week as I pondered this week’s readings. The impact they have on each other and their interaction with each other. And so I invite you to join me in a moment of prayer. May these words, offered with humility and hope, draw us closer to you O God and one another, amen.
There are 42 references to courage in the Bible, 35 in the First or Older Testament and 7 in the Second or New Testament. In the First Testament, the word was often used in relation to going into battle. In the Second, it was used more to encourage others to be strong in their faith. And encourage means to ‘take heart.’ So if we look at the references to ‘take heart’ we find many more instances of both Jesus and his followers encouraging one another.
In Matthew 9: And just then some people were carrying a paralyzed man lying on a bed. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.”
Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well.
In Matthew 14: But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
And again in Mark: They all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
In Mark 10, Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.”
Take heart, be encouraged and courageous. Most of you know by now that those words and sentiments are central to my theology. Now if I said you ‘should’ be courageous, what would happen internally? Would you get your back up? That often happens to me with the word ‘should.’
Like when you tell someone about a situation in your life, and they respond with, ‘You should….” Or perhaps even, “You should have….” I can almost guarantee you that if someone tells me I ‘should’ do something, I won’t do it! Should, for me, carries the connotation of obligation, without choice in the matter. My husband and I try really hard to use the word ‘could’ instead of should. We are not always successful, but it does make a difference to how we can hear each other.
The opening words of the letter from James have ‘should’ in them three times! Listen to the words from James in the 5th chapter.
5:13 Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise.
5:14 Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord.
5:15 The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven.
5:16 Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.
5:17 Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth.
5:18 Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest.
5:19 My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another,
5:20 you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
As someone said, “If you live your life in response to shoulds, you wind up ‘shoulding all over yourself! But those words from James sort of sound like a check-in don’t they? There is care and concern expressed for sorrows and illness, and interest expressed in joys and celebrations.
I am much more apt to listen if someone says something like, “Might I suggest” or “have you thought of…” But, and of course, there is always a ‘but!’ Are ‘shoulds’ sometimes appropriate? We don’t know exactly which community James was writing too, but the letter is dated sometime before 70 CE. James was instructing a fairly new Christian community in the appropriate ways to be in Christian community. He was acknowledged as a leader and perhaps had both the authority and responsibility to lead the community in the ways of Jesus. Maybe ‘shoulds’ are the best way to teach some things to people who are ignorant. And I use that word in the sense of simply not knowing. These fledgling Christian communities were surrounded by other faiths and influences. How were they to know, unless someone told them what it meant to be in community with each other? After all, we don’t give suggestions that children stay away from the hot stove, we tell them they should stay away from it.
James was instructing a fledgling Christian community about their responsibility to God and their mutual responsibility to each other. He was teaching them to be a community of faith, one in which praise to God was offered in all circumstances. One in which you could call on the elders for prayers and healing. One in which the entire community is responsible for bringing back the ones who had strayed.
It took courage in those days to be a follower of Jesus. It doesn’t at all these days, at least not here in Canada. Although, it may take courage to speak about Jesus being an important part of your life. Many of us are not terribly comfortable in talking about our faith outside these church walls.
I have been reflecting on courage this week, looking for signs of it…
You may have noticed that I am wearing an orange t-shirt… I don’t usually where t-shirts and I don’t like the colour orange! Today is actually Orange Shirt Day!
Orange Shirt Day is a legacy of the St. Joseph Mission (SJM) residential school commemoration event held in Williams Lake, BC, Canada, in the spring of 2013. It grew out of Phyllis’ story of having her shiny new orange shirt taken away on her first day of school at the Mission, and it has become an opportunity to keep the discussion on all aspects of residential schools happening annually. The date was chosen because it is the time of year in which children were taken from their homes to residential schools, and because it is an opportunity to set the stage for anti-racism and anti-bullying policies for the coming school year. It also gives teachers time to plan events that will include children, as we want to ensure that we are passing the story and learning on to the next generations.
Orange Shirt Day is also an opportunity for First Nations, local governments, schools and communities to come together in the spirit of reconciliation and hope for generations of children to come.
I am encouraged by the courage that residential school survivors have demonstrated in their persistence to have us understand that we are all Treaty people, all relations.
That persistence is bearing fruit in that in that Nova Scotia now allows First people to swear on eagle feathers rather than a Bible.
The RCMP has officially introduced eagle feathers into the Nova Scotia justice system. On Monday the force announced the feather is being added alongside affirmations and the Bible as an object to swear upon while giving a testimony under oath. “To wear or to hold an eagle feather causes our creator to take immediate notice,” explained Donald Julien, a member of the Mi’kmaq community and former veteran for the Canadian Armed Forces and United Nations. He emphasised the important symbolism of the eagle feather to First Nations people. “[This is a] wonderful show of understanding and the acknowledgement of our traditional ways of expressing our prayer,” he said. Nova Scotia’s aboriginal policing analyst, RCMP Cpl. De-Anne Sack, was responsible for the idea and helped process the official introduction into the justice system. “To many First Nations people, when you give them a Bible, it doesn’t mean anything”, Sack said via in an RCMP statement. “But if you give them an eagle feather, it carries more significance, power and clout.” The feather can also be used for all citizens, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, for comfort as well. http://www.whitewolfpack.com/2017/10/nova-scotia-to-allow-first-people-to.html?m=1
This reflection would not be complete without a reference to Dr. Christine Ford, who is testifying with clarity, conviction and courage about a sexual assault that took place in her teens. Testimony that took place in an attempt to demonstrate that USA supreme court judge nominee Kavanaugh is not fit to step into role.
So, what does all this mean for us, the people of Elmsdale Cooperative Ministry?
I am reminded that all of these stories, both scriptural and from the news, while they may start with individuals, all of the individuals are part of a community… perhaps a community of encouragers and supporters.
Parker Palmer says it profoundly:
Can we be encouragers? Can we encourage one another to take heart? Can we be a supportive community that prays with and for each other? Can we be a challenging community which calls each other to account? Can we be a loving community which lifts up one another?
Thanks be to God, for the challenge and the opportunity of living with courage, creativity and compassion, amen.
September 30, 2018
Elmsdale Cooperative Ministry