The necessary risk of being prophetic. Learning Time for January 30, 2022 at Harrow United Church

Audio File of Learning Time

My sister is married to a trucker. We talked Wednesday night as the Freedom Convoy rolled towards Thunder Bay, on its way to Ottawa.

My brother-in-law hauls big loads of logs out from where they are cut, north and west of Thunder Bay. A look at the map told him the convoy would congest his route.

My brother-in-law works hard, puts in long hours, and is one of the people that literally keep the northern economy rolling. It’s no small irony that a protest about Freedom would interfere with him doing his job.

I’m pretty sure my brother-in-law and I don’t agree on everything. We probably don’t vote the same way, watch the same things on tv, or even have the same favourite foods.

But on important things, we are on the same page. His dad is 90, and my parents are in their 80’s, and we both get nervous when hospitals are clogged with COVID patients, and short-staffed because of illness. We worry about longer wait-times, or there being no available beds, when someone we love needs urgent care.

I hear stories these days about families who are divided, and can’t talk about COVID, or the vaccines, or about lockdowns and mandates.

How do we get along, and work together, despite the reality that as humans with history, and strong opinions, we are bound to have disagreements? There is a temptation to fall back on just being nice, and totally avoid the hard conversations.

For the last little while I have been learning about Autumn Peltier. She’s so young, and so committed to her work as a defender of water. She brings intelligence, perseverance, and composure to discussion of hard questions, such as why successive governments fail to protect the environment, and many First Nations communities have been without clean and safe water for decades.

Our bible readings over the last while remind us that living a faithful life means some times we must take a stand, and call people to account. The biblical name for someone who does that is prophet.

I think Autumn Peltier is a prophet. But is that because I agree with her?

There are probably some who see the Freedom Convoy organizers as prophets.

How do we get along with people with widely varying opinions? Do we have to try? Yes, the Bible even says so!  We heard scriptures read today from The Message. Eugene Peterson did a particularly good job. In his version of Jesus’ words we hear:

“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the supple moves of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.

 “In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”

That’s beautiful and challenging. When someone gives us a hard time, we are to respond with the supple moves of prayer. I wish I could say I always do that, or even that I was that mature.

In my mid-twenties I lived in rural Georgia, as a volunteer on a communal Christian farm. It was founded just after World War 2 by people who resisted the racism of their culture, and has been active ever since in the ongoing struggle for civil rights.

Our house had bullet holes in the kitchen wall, from drive-by shootings. The folks on the farm back then didn’t call the police, because they knew the local sheriff had deputies that were in the KKK. That was decades before I lived there, but the holes were left as a sign the struggle was real and could be dangerous.

I met people who knew the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. When Dr. King used the word “Freedom”, it was in a very different context. The Civil Rights movement in the U.S. worked to end discrimination on the basis of skin colour, something none of us have a choice about.

When I worked and lived in the south, I learned that those who took part in the Montgomery Bus Boycott and other historic marches were trained in non-violence, based on the ideas King learned from studying Mohandas Gandhi.

Gandhi was also a prophet, who helped lead the people of India to independence from the colonial powers that had claimed their country.

Gandhi taught that “Nonviolence” is more than promising that you won’t attack your enemy. Gandhi referred to his form of nonviolence as satyagraha,  (Sut-ya- gruh -ha ) meaning “truth-force” or “love-force.” It means a person should seek truth and love while refusing, through nonviolent resistance, to participate in something they believe is wrong. 

The Freedom Convoy organizers promised their protest would be non-violent, but I wonder how many of them have the training, the maturity, or the spiritual strength to live up to that commitment. It takes prayer, and practice, and the support of like-minded people.

I worry about all the fringe groups that have latched on, who bring their own issues and disruptive motives along for the ride, and who have not said whether they are committed to non-violence. Some appear to be aligned with groups that are antagonistic towards people of colour, non-Christians, and people who identify as LGBTQ+.

I have some biases, which I freely admit. I find it hard to see how people who militate for their own freedom of choice could agree to work with those who want to limit the freedom of others to simply be who they are.

It definitely takes prayer to love those who disagree with us, and who may be hard to like. This kind of prayer is not so much about asking God to give us strength, but opening ourselves to God’s presence, and becoming aware that God is the strength we need, the ultimate source of love. God is the love force that Gandhi taught about, and which empowered the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and others in the civil rights movement, which I see as a spirit-led movement for freedom.

Our reading from First Corinthians, also from The Message, points to what life looks like, when we are steeped in, deeply connected to the source of love:

Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

That’s the way we are called to make our way in the world. Amen

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