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Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Fourth Sunday of Advent

21st December 2014


First Reading:
2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16
Second Reading:
Romans 16.25-27
Gospel:
Luke 1.26-38


Our Advent series , which we'll finish tomorrow, invites us to explore Advent in the new universe story. Looked at this way the Nativity narratives are about the birth of Jesus, the Incarnation. However, the birth of the Christ is God's love made manifest with the birth of the universe. During our Advent retreat we looked at the holy disturbances God placed in the lives of the scriptural characters we encounter in the Christmas story. Today's first reading and Gospel emphasize the theme of God's Presence throughout the holy disturbances God places in people's lives as well as how God is present in the new universe story. 
 
First let's look at God's holy disturbances. The first reading refers to how God transformed David from a simple shepherd boy into a King of Israel. God is there for David throughout each stage of this sometimes painful transformation. God doesn't even abandon David when he repeatedly transgresses but sends his prophet to nudge David to return to the right path. Like us, David is not always open to what God or his prophets have to say. Even when we ignore what God is trying to tell us, God's is present. But because we are closed we may not understand God's promises to us, which are always kept but not always in the way that David or we can understand. For example, David's legacy is not an earthly dynasty.

Mary believes Gabriel when he says, “the child to be born will be holy.” But she must have been wondering, holy or not, this is going to mean trouble for her, trouble with her betrothed, with her parents, with her community. She is aware that what God is asking of her is not going to be easy. Although she is young, Mary is a practical woman, she only asks one question, “How can this be?” Once the technicalities have been explained, that nothing is impossible with God, and, she is told of the equally impossible pregancy of her kinswoman, Elizabeth, Mary is open to what God is asking of her.

We know that Mary's life had sorrows that are almost too much to bear. But we know that God was and is with her, and she is with us as her miraculous appearances attest. We also know that with the birth of Jesus, the Incarnate Christ, God's presence became immanent. Human beings were able to see and touch and feel God's love made manifest.

We are not alone in our pains and sorrows, just as we are not alone in our joys. Just as God was with David and Mary in their times of trial as well as triumph, so Christ is with us—always. God instructs his prophet Nathan to tell David, “I have been with you wherever you went.” Likewise, the Angel Gabriel tells the overwhelmed young Mary, “The Lord is with you.” This Presence, Christ Sophia that became manifest at the moment of Creation is what some call the Cosmic Christ and is God-with-Us-Always. This is the Christ of the prologue of John's Gospel. This is the Wisdom or Sophia of Proverbs 8, who says, "YHWH gave birth to me at the beginning, before the first acts of creation....” The is the Christ Sophia who Proverbs 8 also tells us, rejoices in the whole world and delights in humankind. 
 
Christ is God's love made manifest. Jesus is human, the Incarnate Christ; and, Jesus is divine, the Cosmic Christ. Just to keep it Trinitarian, I suggest the Holy Spirit is the voice of God conducting the music of our hearts.

The New Testament tells the story of Jesus, the Incarnate Christ. The Hebrew Scriptures, New Testament, and the whole of creation tell of and are permeated with the Cosmic Christ. The Cosmic Christ is constantly being born and nurtured with each act of love and communion/community. Like the universe, the Cosmic Christ is expanding, expanding through people trying to live the Gospel in the imitation of Jesus, the Incarnate Christ. What I am trying to describe is not how the different pieces fit. Rather, it is that everything, all that is, belongs to One Reality: All-that-is, is infused with and reflects God. 
 
This is a brief summary of my reflections on themes we have explored together this Advent. Nothing I have said here is dogma. It is but one person's way to conceptualize the humanly unconceivable, to describe what is beyond our language and ability to describe. 
 
I hope most of you have had the opportunity to set aside time for yourselves to reflect a bit on the Advent season or, at least, the opportunity to slow down from the hectic demands on your time the season brings.

Take a moment now to reflect on some of your own thoughts or insights this Advent. When you're ready, please share one or two of your insights?


Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Second Sunday in Advent

Dec. 7, 2014 - Shared Homily Starter (see note)


First Reading Isaiah 40:1-5,6-8, 9-11
Second Reading 2 Peter 3:8-14
Gospel Mark 1:1-8


Every Sunday during the Lord's prayer, I say the words, “protect us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.” Although it's hard to be hopeful with all that's going on in the world, Advent is our liturgical season of joyful hope. Today's second reading tells us that we are to wait for the fulfillment of God's promise for “new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.”


Isaiah tells us, that “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord” and Mark's gospel suggests that John the Baptist is “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord.” So Advent is also a wilderness time, a time where we too, prepare the way for the Christ to be born again in us.


For the Jews and early Christians, wilderness was a favourite place for great expectations. Wilderness was a reminder and a symbol of the expectation for a repeat of great miracles like the parting of the Sea and manna from heaven. The wilderness was also the favourite place for preparing for new acts of liberation. John the Baptist begins his work of preparation in the wilderness. Later, we see that Jesus undergoes his testing in the wilderness before setting out to spread the good news. The wilderness is the entranceway to hope.

St. Mark has John the Baptist eating what the wilderness provides, locusts and honey. By this, the Evangelist is really reminding us of the age-old tensions between living by farming and building settlements on one hand and living simply by hunting and gathering the food that nature provides on the other. In today's terms, we are called to consider the very serious question of whether the globalized values of international city dwellers are not only marginalizing the rural peoples but threatening the well-being of the planet and all its inhabitants.

When someone deliberately returned to the wilderness to live off the land, that act was a challange to the lifestyle chosen by others. John's behaviour was a challenge, a call to repentance. It is a call to examine our lifestyle choices. Throughout Israel's history, the alternative lifestyle called people back to a sense of God in the natural world and to a way of trust that inevitably sought to live with the land not against it.

Jesus called for the same repentance as John. But, Jesus carried the confrontation into the settled areas of Galilee by living the lifestyle he followed and invited his followers to share this lifestyle. They were to live simply. By calling many to abandon wealth, land, and family, Jesus was subverting traditional values and calling for a radical reassessment of priorities. At one level his challenge could bring dislocation but at another it invited a new and different relationship to land and to people. Jesus' vision of God's reign included a right relationship with creation, a synergy such as we find in today's Gospel.

The lifestyle confrontation that the good news brings is an opportunity for us to be part of the good news for the Earth and all creation. We can't all move to the actual wilderness hunting and gathering but we can all simplify our lives and most of all, slow down. Advent is a time to take the opportunity to enter into our own wilderness spaces and prepare the way for the Godseed within us to flourish; a wildernes place where we prepare and wait in joyful hope for Jesus to be born again in our hearts, so that by our actions, we participate in fulfilling God's promise of a renewed earth, where justice is at home.

I conclude with this question: Jesus had John the Baptist to “cry out in the wilderness” and “prepare the way.” Who in your life has played this role? Who has paved the way for you in your journeys?

NOTE: This homily leans heavily on the work: Loader, William. “Good News—for the Earth? Reflections on Mark 1:1-15” in Habel, Norman C., and Vicky Balabanski (eds.). The Earth Story in the New Testament. London: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002

The Feast of Christ the King

23 November 2014 – Shared Homily Starter


First Reading
Ezekiel 34.11-12, 15-17
Second Reading
1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 28
Gospel
Matthew 25:31-46


Today is the feast of Christ the King or Reign of Christ Sunday. The mental images that the words “king” and “reign” bring to mind are based on our knowledge of the actions of kings and political leaders. Today's first reading from the priest and prophet Ezekiel gives us God's view of leadership. The image of the shepherd is commonly used to portray good monarchs in biblical literature. So, if we think of Christ the King as Christ the Good Shepherd, we have a truer sense of what this day is about.

Now, Ezekiel lived during the time the city of Jerusalem and it's Temple were destroyed in 586 BCE. He experienced the early years of the Babylonian exile. So through Ezekiel, God is saying that the "shepherds" have not taken care of the "flock," and because of their poor kingship the people of Israel were "scattered," that is, sent into exile. Later in this chapter of Ezekiel, portrays the leaders as stronger sheep who trample the pasture and dirty the water that others must use, and who push the weaker aside.

If we look at what's happening around the world today, Syria, Iraq, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Hungary, Columbia, and for Indigenous Peoples, the Americas. The people who wield the power push the weaker aside, “trample,” destroy or confiscate their lands and pollute the water that they need to use. Where will it all end?

Ezekiel tells us that God says “the fat and the strong be destroyed.” To give you an idea of why we should have faith and hope, I'll relate a bit of a conversation that I had with Jun, whom some of you know. During the conversation, I was wondering how corporations could think they would survive and make profits when most of them seem to be downsizing and working to impoverish the majority of the people. These fat cats are against a living wage; engage in union busting; export jobs to bolster profits, and buy up or take over smaller less avaricious companies. I asked who do they think is going to be able to afford to buy their whatever they're selling. Jun said something quite profound and speaks to what God is saying about the destruction of “the fat and strong.” He said, they are like male Siamese fighting fish. They are going to feed on or fight each other to the death, thereby destroying themselves.

But Ezekiel reassures the exiles --and us-- that God intends to uphold the covenant with his people and will restore a remnant of the people to the land and with a new Temple at its center. For us, 21st century people, let us consider the land as our hearts and the temple as the presence of God at the center of our hearts and lives. Yes, there will be cloudy and dark days, windy and stormy ones, which scatter us like sheep. The dark times may have sent some of us to various distant places—figuratively and in reality-- for sustenance and/or safety. God will gather together the sheep that were scattered, and bring back those who have wandered from the fold. God promises not only to gather and restore the outcasts but to nourish them, and to soothe and heal those that are hurt.

God's promises are accomplished through us: first, in communities of good-hearted people; and, second in the teachings of communities of faith. All communities of faith have teachings on aligning ourselves with the heart and will of God. The presence in the different faiths of “golden rule” variants is an example. As Christians, the Gospel is our guidebook. The beatitudes two weeks ago are an example, as is today's Gospel from Matthew 25, which is the basis of the first six of the Corporal Works of Mercy. The 7th, burying the dead, comes from the Book of Tobit. The first six are:

  • To feed the hungry.
  • To give drink to the thirsty.
  • To clothe the naked.
  • To shelter the homeless
  • To visit the sick.
  • To visit the imprisoned.

The original wording for the last one was "To ransom the captive.” The conditions of many in the world today, make it appropriate to reclaim this understanding. It calls us to compassionate acts of kindness and comfort to victims of imprisonment, captivity and any other form of just and unjust confinement, such as people in sanctuary, prison or jail, and refugee camps.

The works of mercy may seem like a tall order but we help bring about the Reign of Christ, the Good Shepherd, with each act of kindness and love, each act of creativity, each act of speaking truth. God is Love, Creativity and Truth beyond our comprehension. Small compassionate acts performed in our daily lives nourish these attributes of God within us. Each prayer for more peace, love and justice in our world is the Spirit of God working in us. So I will close with this prayer, adapted from Becoming Neighbours' World Day of Prayer for Migrants and Refugees.

Holy God, You are a God on the move. You move in the world and in our lives. You shape and direct Creation, and us. Your people have always been on the move. Moses led your people out of slavery in Egypt. The Holy Family fled to Egypt as refugees. Today, people continue to move. War, poverty, oppression and violence drive people from home and country. We pray that today's refugees, forced migrants, internally displaced people, and victims of modern slavery and trafficking may know you are always with them in and through us. May they find their journey’s end as we open ourselves to their stories, their needs and, their hopes. Together may we experience filial solidarity and friendship, and recognize that as Your children, we are all relatives. Amen.1

Question: Take a moment and recall a time when you felt lost or like a “in a strange land” and share who or what helped you find your way?


1http://www.becomingneighbours.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/World-Day-of-Prayer-for-Migrants-and-Refugees-January-19-2014.pdf

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Thoughts of Peace for Remembrance Day

9 November 2014

Shared Homily Starter


First Reading:
Isaiah 2:4
Second Reading:
Romans 8:19-25
Gospel:
Matthew 5:3-11


Today, the whole of creation is certainly groaning. We know the earth and all its species, including us, are experiencing ecological devastation. Remembrance Day is in two days. It's the day we remember those who died in war. It's the day we are supposed to remember that we should no longer wage war. The first reading like today's Gospel speaks of God's design for us in that regard.

In ancient Israel, when the ruling classes forced peasants to fight their wars, unlike the military class, they were not provided with armor or weapons. Rather they had to reforge their farm tools such as pruning-hooks, hoes, rakes, and ploughs into weapons. Today's first reading refers to when we learn to live as God intended, peasants will have no need of weapons and can return the spears and swords back into tools for farming. Their tools will not longer be death-dealing but tools of life-giving. A few current statistics tells us that, although we should be, we are not there yet.

In 2013, there were 28 active armed conflicts in 25 countries.1 Currently taking place are 586 armed conflicts, not technically classified as such because the fighting isn't between nations or political parties but between militias or guerrillas within a nation over territory. Of the estimated 740,000 people who die each year from armed violence, 490,000—or the majority of these deaths—take place in these unofficial war zones. According to new research by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), the last seven years have seen a rapid deterioration in world peace. The cost of global violence stands at $9.8 trillion, as much as the economies of Britain, France, Germany and Italy combined.”2 Enough to end poverty and hunger worldwide

With statistics like these, how can we not know that the whole creation is groaning, groaning for us to help her bringing forth life-- life lived in peace. With statistics like these, it's hard to have hope. Paul is writing to the early church in Rome, but it has never been more relevant than today. Paul writes, “For in hope we are saved.” It is our hope that will return health and peace to our war-loving world. Right now things may seem hopeless but today's Gospel tells us another story. But first another look at the word “blessed.”

Throughout history, makarios (μακάριος ), the Greek word meaning “blessed”, had always referred to those who were rich and powerful. Jesus turns this upside-down. Matthew, reflecting Jesus' thoughts, uses this word in a totally different way. It is not the elite who are blessed. It is not the rich and powerful who are blessed. It is not those with the weaponry and power to wage war who are blessed. Rather, Jesus pronounces God's blessings on the the poor, the hungry, the thirsty, the meek and those in mourning.3 The elite in God's kindom, the blessed ones in God's kindom, are those who are disposable, those who are dismissed as collateral damage.

But the beatitudes are not statements about general human virtues. They do not describe different kinds of good people who get to go to heaven. They are declarations about the blessedness of a community living in accordance to God's plan. Today, that means the global community-- and like all else in Matthew, the beatitudes point to life together in the community of discipleship. There is an ethical dimension to the beatitudes. The community that hears itself pronounced blessed does not remain passive, but acts in accord with the coming kindom. Matthew's beatitudes are not practical advice for successful living, but prophetic declarations made on the conviction of the coming-and-already-present kindom of God.4 The beatitudes are promises of Jesus, who told us the kindom of God is within us. So what this means for us today is that we are to nurture that kindom of God within us. We are cultivate peace within ourselves individually and-- as communities, support each other in this.

This Remembrance Day, let us remember that it is only through internal transformation that we become co-creators of the peaceable kindom. It is not through desiring others to change or through changing the our external circumstances that we will achieve peace and happiness. Rather, it is through committing ourselves to the process of inner transformation that we may become better human beings with each passing day; more conscious and compassionate. This is the way we are gradually transformed and endowed with extraordinary possibilities to transform creation's groaning into the joy of a renewed creation, where nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.


Question: What do you do to cultivate inner peace?


1Http://www.ploughshares.ca
2“Cost of global violence and conflict reaches $1,350 per person” RT Question More. 19 June 2014 Retrieved 11 November 2014 from http://on.rt.com/hwcdf1
3Stoffregen, Brian P. "The History of the Word "Makarios" ("Blessed"). Crossmarks Christian Resources. Accessed 7 November 2014 from http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/allsaintb.htm
4Ibid.

 


Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Book Release

On October 15, 2014, my book, Transforming Addiction, was published.  


Addiction is a problem of concern in many communities around the globe.  Assorted strategies have been studied or implemented to address the problem with varied amounts of success. This study investigates spirituality, a largely unexplored factor in recovery from addictions, and its role in the learning processes that transformed the participants from addicts to abstainers.  In addition to examining sociological factors, this study explores the questions of how powerlessness and surrender translate into sobriety as well as the motivation to help others in the recovery process.  Through exploring the participants’ stories, this study deepens understanding of the role of spirituality in recovery from addictions and presents spirituality as the catalyst that led the participants to undertake compassionate service with people still in active addiction. This exploration should provide new insights into addiction issues for health care professionals, spiritual leaders, students of the social sciences and anyone concerned about addiction and recovery issues.

Click on the here to check it out on amazon.com 


Thursday, October 30, 2014

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time – 26 October 2014

Shared Homily Starter

First Reading:
Exodus 22.21-27
Second Reading:
1 Thessalonians 1.5c-10
Gospel:
Matthew 22.34-40

Today's Gospel sums up the Exodus chapters on the Law, which include today's reading. In the First Reading, the author of Exodus presents just a few ways we show love for our neighbour. If I were to contemporize the first two, it would go something like this.

You shall not exploit, oppress or make life difficult for immigrants and refugees. Remember you or your ancestors were also once strangers to this land. You shall not refuse the necessities of life to anyone. Everyone should have security when it comes to their sustenance and health, especially single mothers, children, the disabled and the elderly.

Unfortunately the truth is, we, the ordinary folks of the world, are witnesses of oppression on a global scale. This mega-oppression operates as a pervasive erosion that touches all life and all aspects of life: the erosion of social safety net policies; the erosion of human and civil rights, especially for Indigenous peoples and marginalized groups; and, the erosion of the environment and environmental protection policies. Pope Francis was speaking of human trafficking and corruption but it also applies here when he said, none of this could happen “without the complicity, active or passive, of public authorities.”

When we consider all this, we may ask what about the part of today's text that says, “If you do abuse them, when they cry out to me, I will surely heed their cry; my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword” and so on. We know God doesn't go around smiting people. We also learn from biblical texts like Job that good people suffer and we know from our own experiences that oppressors don't seem to get punished. To get to some sort of meaning for us in the 21st century, I'm going to take a short detour using Ecclesiastes.

In Ecclesiastes (4.1), the author writes that he, “observed all the oppression that goes on under the sun: the tears of the oppressed, with none to comfort them; and the power of their oppressorswith none to comfort them.” Now one biblical commentator translates the last part of this verse as, “and power rests in the hands of the oppressor, and there is no one to comfort the poor.1 However, elsewhere in the text the author of Ecclesiastes author suggests that power and riches don't necessarily bring happiness or even satisfaction. So I suggest what the scripture writer is saying is that although power rests with the oppressors, it brings them no comfort. More importantly, since by their oppression they have probably alienated everyone, “there is no one to comfort them”.

This brings us to the connections. If we love God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind, we act in concert with God. We too, hear the cries of which, the author of Exodus speaks. When Jesus says we are to love our neighbour as ourselves. It means were are meant to comfort the powerful along with the poor. You might say, why do the powerful need comfort. We have all heard the phrase “power corrupts.” Those with power who oppress lend truth to the phrase. Pope Francis said, “The corrupt one does not perceive his own corruption. It is a little like what happens with bad breath: someone who has it hardly ever realizes it; other people notice and have to tell him.” The Pope continues saying “Corruption is an evil greater than sin. More than forgiveness, this evil needs to be cured." So we can look at comfort for the powerful in terms of bringing them back to health. If they resist invitations to heal and persist in their death promoting ways, they ultimately learn that the single-minded pursuit of money and power is a lonely one. Therefore, it is not God who smites them. They themselves commit spiritual and emotional suicide.

But Jesus is telling us love of neighbour requires that we tell the powerful to restore health in all the areas mentioned above where they have caused erosion. In so doing we help them heal our world and themselves. Once again, I am not saying that we can change the world. But Jesus calls us to universal love and that requires we act as if our actions will change the world.


Let's not forget that we are to love ourselves. Right relationships with God, our neighbour and ourselves; community prayer and liturgy and communal play, all help us to live the Great Commandment of today's Gospel. An excerpt from the Message of the Hopi Elders of Oraibi, Arizona, encapsulates what I've been saying.

There is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid. They will try to hold on to the shore. They will feel like they are being torn apart, and they will suffer greatly. Know the river has its destination. The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off toward the middle of the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above the water. See who is there with you and celebrate.

At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally, least of all ourselves! For the moment we do, our spiritual growth and journey comes to a halt. The time of the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves! Banish the word struggle from your attitude and vocabulary. All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration. We are the ones we have been waiting for.2

I leave you with this question to ponder and if you would like to please share your response. How does celebration and communal play help you live the Gospel?

1Shapiro, Rami. Ecclesiastes Annotated and Explained. Woodstock, Vermont: Skylight Illuminations, 2010, p.39]
2The Elders. “A Message from the Hopi Elders”. Oraibi, Arizona: Hopi Nation

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Help me reduce the retail price



To reduce the retail price, I'm aiming to buy 20 copies. The list below shows how the number of copies and price per copy that I buy reduce the retail price. 1 € = $1.5 CAD.

I buy at least 3 copies: 46.67 €/copy (retail price 54.90 €)
I buy at least 5 copies: 38.17 €/copy (retail price 44.90 €)
I buy at least 20 copies: 34.77 €/copy (retail price 40.90 €)
I buy at least 50 copies: 32.22 €/copy (retail price 37.90 €)
I buy at least 200 copies: 25.42 €/copy (retail price 29.90 €)
I buy at least 500 copies: 22.87 €/copy (retail price 26.90 €)
I buy at least 1000 copies: 16.92 €/copy (retail price 19.90 €)

If you would like to help, please click here 
thank you.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

12 October 2014 - Thanksgiving Weekend

Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

First Reading
Isaiah 25.6-10a
Second Reading
Philippians 4.12-14, 19-20
Gospel Reading
Matthew 22.1-14

 

Sometimes in our dedication to being good Christians, we forget that Jesus was a Jew. We forget that much of what Jesus says in the New Testament is an expansion of themes found in the Hebrew Scriptures, especially the Prophets. We also forget that Paul's writing comes from a man grounded in the Torah and the Prophets. One of the central themes found in the Hebrew Scriptures is justice.
Jesus' parable in today's Gospel can be viewed as a prequel of sorts to today's passage from Isaiah, in which the Prophet tells us of the feast God will prepare. But our God is not content just to feed our stomachs and relieve our thirst, God is going to soothe the hurts we have received. God “will wipe away the tears from all faces” and take away the disgrace of all the earth and it's people. Our God is a generous God and it is right to shout our thanks and praise.
In the second reading Paul tells of going through good times and bad, sustained by faith. However, the lectionary omits the middle verses of the passage for today. In those verses Paul, praises the Philippians for their support of his mission. Paul clarifies what he means and says to them, 17Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the profit that accumulates to your account. ...I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.” When Paul says, “And my God will fully satisfy every need of yours according to his riches,” he is not advocating that you give so that you can get. Rather, he is saying that if everybody gives or shares, everybody will have what they need. He is saying all gifts are from God. Generosity with our gifts imitates God's generosity with us.
The phrase, “many are called but few are chosen” at the end of today's Gospel has often been used as an exclusionary device. But if we look at it in the context of the whole parable, we see it shouldn't be. Jesus is familiar with the writing of Isaiah and, of course, with God's will for us. “ The Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast.” Put in today's terms, our Creator invites us to participate in making the Kindom a place of plenty, a feast. Therefore, justice is key to one's participation.
The rich and important folks are invited but they are too busy with agribusinesses or corporate affairs to accept the invitation. The poor of the world are crying out, extending God's invitation to governments and corporations to be just. We hear of Coca-Cola or Monsanto executives that hire paramilitaries to silence those cries and the government of Canada ignore the rights of Indigenous Peoples and refuse deal fairly with refugee claimants. They refuse to be part of the feast. After their refusal, the invitation is extended to the ordinary folks. But even among these, there are those who refuse to put on the clothes of justice and compassion.
The distinction made in the Gospel between “those who have been invited” and “those invited from the streets” does not mean that God invites the important people first and then the ordinary people last. Jesus uses this to show that acceptance to participate in God's plan for us doesn't depend on one's station in life, but more importantly, to show that those with more power have a greater responsibility to use that power for the good of all but usually don't.
God invites us all to help “wipe away the tears from all faces” and it can start with little things. A particularly significant example for this weekend, is the issue of Columbus Day. In 1992, the city of Berkeley, California, has replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous People's Day. Since then, other cities including Sebastopol and Santa Cruz, California; Dane County, Wisconsin; Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Seattle, Washington, have done the same.1 This may seem trite or insignificant but as a Seattle city councillor said, “Changing Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples' Day is about taking a stand against racism.2” These city governments didn't decide to do this on their own. There were those, who like in the parable, refused to change but most peoplethe people in the streets took a stance of solidarity with Native Americans. Their concern and perseverance for justice finally got their municipal governments to act.
I now return to “many are called but few are chosen”. The Greek, κλητός (klétos) translated as “called” could also be translated as “invited”. Likewise, ἐκλεκτός (eklektos) translated as “chosen,” typically describes people who choose to follow God, to follow in the footsteps of Christ. God's gifts are always dependent on our acceptance. We show our gratitude and thanksgiving for God's invitation and gifts by the way we act, by the way we treat our neighbour. Rather than a declaration of the superiority of the few or endorsing exclusion, Jesus is saying, “many are invited but few make the right choice.” Our God is a generous God and it is right to shout our thanks and praise in word and most of all in deed.

Point to Ponder: Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day. Let's take a moment and think of something that we take for granted, then express our thanks to God, and/or, think of something that God may be inviting us as individuals to do and name it.
1https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Columbus_Day#Non-observance
2http://www.upi.com/Top_News/US/2014/10/07/Columbus-Day-now-Indigenous-Peoples-Day-in-Seattle/9581412715558/

Monday, September 01, 2014

August 31, 2014 - Celebrating the Sacredness of Work

On August 31st, 2014, the Our Lady of Guadalupe Tonantzin Community joined with congregations across North America in lifting up and honouring the sacred link between work and faith. This is an opportunity to educate ourselves about the issues that impact workers, especially those in low-wage jobs, and reflect on the true meaning of Labour Day.

Readings for Celebrating the Sacredness of Work
Deuteronomy 24: 14-15
You shall not withhold the wages of poor and needy labourers, whether other Israelites or aliens who reside in your land in one of your towns. You shall pay them their wages daily before sunset, because they are poor and their livelihood depends on them; otherwise they might cry to Yahweh against you, and you would incur guilt.
James 5.1-6
Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you. Your riches have rotted, and your clothes are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you, and it will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure for the last days. Listen! The wages of the labourers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts on a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous one, who does not resist you.
Matthew 25:41-46
Then he will say to those at his left hand, You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.Then they also will answer, Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?Then he will answer them, Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the just into eternal life.
Patricia McSherry, a community member and representative from the Metro Vancouver Alliance (MVA) Poverty Research Team gave the following homily on the Living Wage movement. Patricia's work is an illustration of what it means to be a person of faith and a worker advocate.

Homily

For me the readings today show that the church has the moral authority to make employers pay fair wages and to demonstrate to the world that looking after those of us with the greatest needs is what God wants of all of us. Can we make this happen?
I’m going to read to you from a homily that a fellow member of the MVA Poverty RAT, Adolf Manz, delivered to his congregation at First Lutheran Church, about what we learned from our research.

He started by describing…the purpose of the Christian life: fellowship with other believers, worship of God, sharing of the Good News of Jesus in what we say and do, service and care for all people in the example of Jesus, and working for justice and peace for all, - especially those who are suffering and oppressed regardless of their: age, sex, religion, colour, language, nationality or position.

Yes, its a tall order, - not for those faint of heart, and those afraid of commitments and sacrifice, for the benefit of ourselves and others with whom we share this globe.

Our capitalist societies and corporations have elevated the Market and its demands, for competition and higher profits to the highest level, so that even our governments are pressured to give in to the never satisfied profit motives, to sell out our land and its natural resources, and our democratic political rights.  In the process people lose their jobs and work benefits, and are paid non-living wages and salaries, which destroy families and our society. 

The result of corporate goals is that the gap widens, in which the poor get poorer and the rich get richer.  This is not the way of justice, the love of kindness, or the way to walk humbly with God.

Its time for change for fairness and justice.

In the Bible we often hear the call to care for widows and orphans, the poor and strangers, the least and the lost.  This is the way of Jesus, the truth of Jesus and the life of JesusIt is the example for all who claim to be his followers and disciples.”

The founding of the Metro Vancouver Alliance was in March of this year as a volunteer organization of people representing faith groups, unions, education and community organizations.  Through a listening campaign within the membership of these diverse groups, four problems were identified for action:  housing, transportation, poverty and social isolation.
  
What follows are some of the shocking things the Poverty RAT learned.

British Columbia has had the highest poverty rate in Canada, for the last 13 years, and is the only province besides Saskatchewan, without  a poverty reduction plan.

The problem of poverty to a great extent is low wagesIn BC only 3% of people are on welfare, but 10.7% live below the poverty line.  87,000 or 43% of BCs poor children live in families where at least one parent has a full-time job. Poverty for these is largely due to a low minimum wage of $10.25 an hour.
BC communities need a living wage which is the hourly rate, at which a household can meet its basic needs. In Metro Vancouver this is now at $20.10 per hour for a family of four with both parents working full time, which is why people working full time on minimum wage cannot make it.

Welfare rates in BC have been frozen since 2007, and are deeply inadequate at $610.00 per month for a single employable” person, and $906.00 per month for a person with a disability.

The cost of poverty in BC is $8 9 billion per year in:  higher public health costs, increased policing and crime costs, lost productivity and economic activity.

In contrast, the estimated cost of a comprehensive poverty reduction plan for BC is $3 4 billion per year, a potential saving of $5 billion, not counting the cost of human suffering and tragedy.

Over the past 30 years (since 1985), the richest 10% of BC residents have become 40% better off, while the poorest 50% of BC residents are only 19% better off, and those on welfare have experienced a shocking 20% cut in income.

Obviously food banks, handouts, and other forms of charity, while a stop gap, are not the answerJustice needs to replace charity, which robs people of their self respect and dignity.  There needs to be a change in government policies.”

Now following are some of my thoughts on this.
Taxation changes the incentive to do stuff. It’s a balancing act. How much money do we want to raise in taxes and then how much do we want to spend and on what? Do we truly value our public services to pay for them? Ask a BC teacher? In contemporary society those who work in public service - education institutions, hospitals, police and fire stations, government offices, etc. are the labourers of today.

But do we really control the tax system? Or is it built to suit corporate goals. The researchers and the economists and the teachers of economics have the charts and the facts to show that we can afford to fund the services that poor people need but they can’t force the decision makers to make the policies. It is up to us to forge the moral arguments that can make a difference.

Poverty is self-replicating - people who believe that they have control of their lives are less likely to be poor. We, as a society, have to buy into the idea of equality. We need to start with poor children. We, the people of faith, need to make the moral argument to decision makers not just show them a cost benefit analysis. Their bean counters already know that we can afford to erase poverty; we need to convince them that it is the right thing to do and it is the will of the majority of the people to do so. Not easy as we have learned from history and scripture!

Raising the minimum wage to $12 an hour would do more to reduce children’s poverty. But we have chosen for consideration by the MVA membership this fall that our ask for the upcoming municipal elections is an ask for living wage to be paid not only to all civic employees but also to all city contractors - usually that’s the cleaning staff. A living wage campaign has more political capital than raising minimum wage or welfare/disability rates plus it is something within the power of municipal governments whereas minimum wage and welfare/disability rates are established by provincial government policy. Next time!

Instituting a living wage won’t do as much for poor people but it starts the conversation of the morality of paying people fairly for working. It’s the balancing act again - the moral argument for looking after the most needy in society, “the least of us” doesn’t go as far in public opinion or media attention as wages for real work. Two of the costs that make Vancouver’s living wage so high are the cost of housing and the cost of day care. Families typically spend more than $50 per day per child for child care (plus $1 per minute for every minute they are late in picking up their children). For a family with two children in day care, that can be more than a family pays for housing. Compare that to Manitoba’s subsidized rate of $20 per day per child or Quebec’s subsidized rate of $10 per day per child.

This year the costs of supporting a family are rising fast in Vancouver. The living wage of $20.10 an hour for two adults working full time with two children reflects the actual costs of raising healthy children in our communities: local rent, child care fees, food and transportation costs. When we look at the numbers we find that the costs of the basics for families with kids is rising considerably faster than general inflation. In Metro Vancouver the living wage rose by 48 cents from last year.This is an increase of 2.4% well outpacing Vancouver’s inflation rate of 0.2%. The 2014 living wage numbers reveal a big gap between the low wages a large number of Vancouverites earn and the real costs of raising a family. Cild poverty is a serious concern in our cities.

One out of every ten children living in Metro Vancouver was poor in 2011 (9.9%), compared to one in 17 children living in non-urban areas (5.9%). Metro Vancouver’s child poverty rate remains the second-highest in Canada and has actually seen an increase from last year’s 13.8% to 14.1%.

The researchers and economists can show us the facts and figures about why we have so much child poverty but they don’t have the moral authority to ask the decision makers to do something about it. We do.

I’ll close with more of Adolf’s inspiring words:

By citizen action and cooperation of different groups, such as the Vancouver  Metro  Alliance, change can be brought about for justice and kindness, to improve the lives of people.

As we, the people of God, take seriously the plight of the poor and impoverished, the despised and rejected, the ignored and shunned, and take action for justice for all, I believe the followers of Jesus will regain respect, and churches will regain their relevance in society.