May these words and these thoughts that I share as a Deacon of your church be true to your word Gracious God …
Thinking about the readings from Proverbs, James and Mark in the midst of our lives today especially in regards to the Syrian refugees and dare I say, the issues in the election campaign, makes me think about the imbalances in our world. About how what we say we believe and what we actually do about what we believe often do not balance out.
We heard in Proverbs
Those who are generous are blessed, for they share their bread with the poor. Do not rob the poor because they are poor, or crush the afflicted at the gate
And later in James …
Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you?
If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?
As this summer began I asked my mom if she could tell me more about what she knew of her family history.
During our discussion I remembered that a few years back I had been researching our family tree but abandoned it when I could not find when my great-grandfather had arrived in Canada. I found my grandfather and other family members on a ships roster for arriving in Montreal but at that time I could not find when my Great-grandfather had arrived.
This summer as I made further investigation into the family I finally found his name on a ships roster arriving in Montreal the year before the other family members.
But a new mystery was opened to me as I went further back to my great-great grandfather, Thomas, who had worked on a farm in England and raised 9 children while working on this farm. His death record is what surprised me as I found him listed on the records of a Poor House in Bradfield England. This Poor House was in the town where the farm he had worked on was situated.
What struck me so strongly was how a person with nine children could be abandoned in a Poor House with no family to care or look after him in his old age.
The conditions in Poor Houses in England in the 1800’s were very inadequate so I wonder what had happened in his life that at least one of the nine children born to Thomas were not able to care for him. I even wondered about the owners of the farm that he worked on for so long and why they did not provide for him in his last years. All sorts of thoughts have come to mind about the kind of person he may have been but I guess this is part of our family history about which I will never know.
We heard from the writer of James
2:8 You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.
I wonder about these ancestors that would not even love their father as themselves and allow him to be sent to a Poor House. I know through family records that they were people of the Church of England and through family stories that my grandfather had been a part of passing this faith on to my mother.
After I had exhausted my search for family records I picked up a book by Phillipa Gregory titled The Kings Curse. This is a story about the Plantagenet and Tudor claim to the throne of England and the early life of Henry VIII up to his 4th wife.
The description of life in England then also caused me to wonder how people of so much wealth could take such advantage of the working people by taking much in taxes from their minimal earnings while they
‘covered their robes in gold and diamonds’
to quote Gregory in describing a robe that Henry wore while travelling to gather payments from his tenant farmers.
With the readings for today in mind as I read The Kings Curse I struggled with the thought that throughout history how often the poor are abused by the wealthy.
Readings these passages from Proverbs and James and thinking about my family history and the life of this Royal family caused me to wonder if I am doing enough with my riches. Am I showing partiality and not keeping the whole law thereby becoming accountable for all of it.
The challenge for me is; am I doing enough for others, am I obliged to do more, is what I do enough in the eyes of God. How do I balance my wants and my needs with what I do for others. It is really hard to know if looking after myself and my family and helping where and when I can enough for me to say that my actions do balance out with what I say I believe.
Do I truly “Love my neighbour as myself’ Or am I really just saying to those in need or those that are poor….
“Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet do not supply their bodily needs
I think these are the sorts of questions for all of us to ask ourselves at various times in our lives. I make this statement with no judgment on anyone, it is only a reminder that it is something each of us, and definitely myself included need to look at regularly.
As I think of how well we live in North America and contrast this to the struggles of so many people in war-torn countries, and especially now the refugees of Syria I can’t help but think that there are a lot of jewels on robes in North America that could easily help others not only throughout the world but also in Canada.
During the time of the 22 Days of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as I looked at the vignettes offered by First Nations Peoples from when the abuse at Residential Schools finally came fully out into the open I spent much time searching about how the First Nations People are living today. It was challenging to read about life in the Attawapiskat Ontario community.
My friends, these are almost worse than 3rd world conditions. It is no wonder to me that so many young people are taking their lives either by choice or through substance abuse. Something needs to be done and I don’t have the answer . The churches have offered many words of reconciliation and the government has ordered restitution but do our actions reflect what we say we believe.
I have felt this way since at least grade 10 when I questioned the living conditions of some of the First Nations People in Merritt when I went to live there for a week on Student Exchange. In my youthful innocence I commented on this in the speech I gave to the school before I left Merritt and I was chastised by their principal for my comments. Back then I felt helpless to make a difference and today I feel helpless
to make a difference in Attawapiskat and other issues that are surfacing in Manitoba.
We have problems with how we still treat many First Nations People in our country, I know there are all sorts of things that could be said in judgment as to why this is
but, for me the bottom line is, there is no excuse in a country so full of riches that people live this way. We are not called as Christians to pass judgment before we offer help, we are called simply to
Love our neighbour as ourselves.
In the Gospel today we heard that Mark’s Jesus even had to struggle with how to relate to a person not of his people. He was called up short by the Syrophoencian woman for his judgment on what type of person he perceived her to be.
My prayer for this world today is that the day may come when we will truly care for all and that our ‘poor houses’ will be closed, our rich will not gather rent while wearing clothing of gold and jewels, our First Nations Peoples will live in conditions fit for humans and war will end so that people fleeing their homelands as refugees will end.
To paraphrase the words of Suzanne Guthrie, Episcopal priest, theologian and educator writing on her blog ‘At the Edge of the Enclosure’…..
We are called to help others belong.
As we find ourselves including more people in our cares and concerns, we will find that inclusion continually softens all boundaries, reaching deeply into the soul and expanding widely into the world, growing more profoundly in both directions, within, without, loving God and neighbor.