Monday, 21 October 2013

Being Invisible - Seeing People

Three Sundays ago, we had the following Gospel reading. It's the kind of reading I wish (am I alone?) we didn't have in our lectionary - or better still, that one of those guys putting the Gospels together hundreds of years ago had left out. You'll see why momentarily. However, since it's there, the escape route to preaching on the Epistle or the reading from the Hebrew Bible is the coward's way out.

Luke 17. 5 - 10
The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’ 6The Lord replied, ‘If you had faith the size of a* mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea”, and it would obey you.
7 ‘Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from ploughing or tending sheep in the field, “Come here at once and take your place at the table”? Would you not rather say to him, “Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink”? 9Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, “We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!” 

Is Jesus approving, accepting of slavery? Yikes! 

So, our little congregation wrestled with this passage. Some thoughts and questions:

This is the kind of passage that reminds us that we cannot take the Bible literally, and/or use it to justify our behaviour. Well, it WAS used to justify slavery. Those were all good Christians, right, who transported, sold, and owned slaves? What do we do with THAT??!!

And today - who are the slaves today? What is it about a slave? Slaves are invisible. Seen, if at all, as inhuman, sub-human, objects to be used. 

One person used the personal approach - it's part of our story and a valid response, but inadequate by itself - that we are enslaved to sin. I was wondering about actual slaves? 

Who are slaves today - who is invisible, seen/treated as inhuman or sub-human?

People responded: "Children in factories and fields around the world. Prostitution rings selling youngsters and adults. The people who lost their lives in Bangladesh, making clothes for us in unsafe buildings - doors locked - so they could not even escape when fire broke out. People who suffer from mental illness and are alone and sometimes homeless... people begging on the streets ... the poor, people who are different from us ... AIDS orphans ... and on it went." 

What is our call in the midst of this? I'm still working on it...

Question: What do you do when you see someone on the streets (say, Ste-Catherine) begging for money? One person told a powerful story of how difficult she finds it to see people on the street begging. She doesn't have very much. She is afraid. She wishes they weren't there. She wants to get past them as quickly as possible. And while she was speaking, others were nodding their heads. 

Another asked, "How do we know if the need is real, or if we're being taken advantage of?" Again - nods.

These are human and natural responses. Not right. Not wrong. REAL.

Next comes what do we do about it? What can we do? What does it mean - going back to the Gospel to have faith enough to move mountains. Jesus actually took that question, and as he so often did, turned it on its head. He seems to be saying you're asking the wrong question - you don't need huge amounts of faith. (And anyhow, I add, when people have huge amounts of faith, or believe we do, sometimes we can be pretty self-righteous, comparing ourselves with whomever... judging  those who don't 'believe enough'! What would be enough??)

Maybe, we decided - though we're still working on it - maybe we only need a grain as small as a mustard seed. 

Say - I don't have any money with me. Say I ... whatever... what is it that someone sitting on the street begging needs most? What is it we all of us need most? Slaves. Free. Men. Women, Children. Poor. Wealthy. .... we need to be seen. To be visible to the world around us. Acknowledged as human. As a person of worth who is judged simply as being a child of God (or whatever language one wants to use) and of immeasurable worth. No matter our life circumstances.

So, the mustard seed. It is small. It doesn't cost anything. Give money if we can and feel we should. But it costs us nothing to acknowledge the person. Smile. Speak. Nod. Look them in the eyes. It does cost something of course, because most of us are - maybe - afraid. But, we can do it!

Work in progress.

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