I really struggled with my sermon this week… I can’t tell you how many times I imagined myself sitting in the pew and wondering what I would need to hear. And wondering what you needed to hear. And wondering if what I need to preach is what you need to hear?
Please know that every time I stand before you and say aloud the words that have been written on my heart that week, it is with the sure knowledge that not everyone will appreciate them. We all come to this place with a variety of hopes, dreams, desires and circumstances.
The scripture and my words will speak very differently depending on our life circumstances, our upbringing and what we have been taught and not taught over the years. Words are heard very differently, depending on what else we ‘listen’ to. My hope and prayer this morning is that you hear my words, and even if you don’t agree with me, that it can be the beginning of an ongoing dialogue.
We heard a short passage of scripture from 1 Kings. It’s part of a much longer passage of course and I’ll give you some background:
In the preceding chapters, Elijah is a prophet “in charge.” Everything seems to be going his way — confronting kings and followers of Baal, performing miracles, including raising the dead from their graves; he even calls lightning down from heaven. But now, in 1 Kings 19, we find Elijah intimidated by his opponents and filled with self-doubt, complaining that things are not going his way. Elijah is on the run because Ahab and Jezebel, like those entrenched in power often are, will stop at nothing to protect themselves and their advantages. He heads to the Sinai area… Why would he go there? Probably because the tradition associates that place in a special way with the presence of God. And Elijah needs to talk with God about his desperate situation. And so he leaves his home country, moves out into the wilderness, for forty days and nights, and then on to the Sinai area. (Adapted from http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2876)
He has been passionately, singularly, utterly devoted to Yahweh, without qualification. That very passion has now put him at risk. He is at risk because Israel (not to say the crown) is disloyal and on a rampage against the prophets of Yahweh. He is where he is because his faith and courage have made him a wanted enemy of the state. (Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary 1 & 2 Kings, Walter Bruggeman)
1 Kings 19: 11-12
…[Elijah] went into a cave and spent the night… The Lord said, “Go out and stand at the mountain before the Lord. The Lord is passing by.”
A very strong wind tore through the mountains and broke apart the stones before the Lord. But the Lord wasn’t in the wind.
After the wind, there was an earthquake. But the Lord wasn’t in the earthquake.
After the earthquake, there was a fire. But the Lord wasn’t in the fire.
After the fire, there was a sound. Thin. Quiet.
The great wind that split mountains and broke rocks is like the time of Moses. The earthquake is replicated from Moses. The fire belongs to the tradition of Moses.
These are all the characteristic features of theophany, God’s coming, marked by cataclysmic disruption of natural phenomena. (Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary 1 & 2 Kings, Walter Bruggeman)
That’s a really long lead up to actually preaching. 😉
The questions that I sent out in my Thursday Thoughts rolled around in my head all week, even more so than usual… and yes, I realized I sent them on Wednesday! If we can listen for the ‘still, small voice,’ how do we know it’s God and not our own desire? What voices do we privilege over others? Are there things we can do to make us attentive to God’s voice? And what happens when we are betrayed by a voice we trusted.
These questions were framed against the tapestry of two key happenings in our world:
1. The ongoing challenges and misunderstandings we have of Indigenous People and Treaty rights.
2. The report on Jean Vanier’s sexual exploitation of women.
And I am going to suggest that they are connected… connected by ways of understanding power and control.
A couple of months ago, I went to see Just Mercy, a movie about civil rights, racism and the legal system in the USA, hinging on one story in which a man is convicted of murder based on the testimony of a convicted felon. It’s a true story. It’s a disturbing movie… and it engages all your emotions… hope, fear, frustration, disbelief, joy, celebration, anger, resignation. As we watched the closing credits, which were interspersed with pictures and words from the actual people on whom the movie is based, I heard this comment, “I can’t watch anymore, that’s why I hate Americans!”
I think she was doing what is written in Matthew’s gospel: Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.
I am not suggesting that the racism that many people in the USA experience is a speck, but I am suggesting that we have a log in our own eyes when it comes to the racism that our Indigenous people experience every day.
How many of understand the multitude of Treaties that govern the relationship between us the settlers and Indigenous people? How many of us learned anything about treaties in school? I know I didn’t… I have only learned about it by doing an extended project while at the Atlantic School of Theology. How many of us continue to believe that Indigenous people have unearned rights and privileges rather than doing a bit of research and discovering that reserves actually get less funding than municipalities?
I didn’t know until this latest crisis that there is a difference between band councils and hereditary chiefs. Band councils were imposed on by the Indian Act to replace hereditary chiefs, in other words, they are not part of traditional ways of governance.
Hereditary chiefs don’t necessarily mean hereditary by blood, but rather they are chosen for their wisdom and they can only speak for their own clan.
The goal of the residential school system was assimilation and to take the Indian out of the Indian. I suggest that indigenous people have assimilated our ways of protesting and legal action and some of us don’t like it! There are many loud voices, some pretty horrible statements and images being distributed in various media.
Can we listen to the small, still voice like Elijah did? Can we tune out the voices that would drum up division and hate. Can we hear the God that calls us to reconciliation?
I encourage you to read the article in MacLeans, Canada is Not Broken. In the midst of loud voices that proclaim otherwise, it’s good to be reminded of this.
Those loud voices are rooted in power. Power to impose, power to enforce and power to inflict. Much like the situation with Jean Vanier.
He was a much-revered person, and the L’Arche Communities are wonderful models of living in community and the honouring of all persons. And yet, Jean Vanier did not display the same honouring of personhood with people with whom he was in a spiritual direction or counselling relationship.
There is an intimacy that can arise in pastoral relationships and we are human beings and so when we feel seen and heard deeply by another person, it is profound and real. As clergy we are cautioned about this in our training.
Cautioned that we cannot act inappropriately on any feelings that arise between minister and parishioner… because there is an inherent imbalance of power and so there can be no consent in those kinds of relationships.
If we are single and there are feelings developing between you and another parishioner, you must disengage from the pastoral care of that person and make arrangements with someone else to be their confidante. That is part of the Ethical Standards and Standards of Practice for Ministry Personnel that we have agreed to adhere to.
When someone or an institution has power over you, no consent is possible. And so it was with great sadness that I read about Jean Vanier’s exploitation of women who were in his spiritual care. But I rejoice that L’Arche did not try and cover it up. And I can still rejoice in the hundreds and thousands of people around the world who live in the L’Arche communities and have built them into a place of love and inclusion.
Our Bible is full of people who were simultaneously sinners and saints and our challenge is not to make saints of people, because none of us is without the capacity to sin. Krista Tippett said in a special On Being podcast: And there are no saints. We make saints. But if you look at the Bible, there are no saints on pedestals in the Bible.
Sometimes there are people with great gifts who also have great, great failings.
So, in the midst of a 24 hour news programing, a constant barrage of misinformation, and the lack of silence in our world, how can we listen to that still, small voice and know that it is God? Prayer is the only way I know, whatever that may be.
Find your cave… find that space or frame of mind where the wind and the flame and the shaking of the earth are not consuming you. And then listen for that still, small voice… that voice that calls all people to be reconciled to one another… and know that it is God.
Thanks be to God for the challenge and the opportunity of these times, amen.
1 Kings 19: 11-12
March 1, 2020 – SMUC
Resources used for this sermon