Fifth Sunday of Easter - Year B
Christian Family Sunday - May 14, 2006
Fifth Sunday of Easter - Year B
Christian Family Sunday - May 14, 2006
Let us pray: O God, may these words be ones which are faithful to your word among us. Abide in us, that we may be ones who act upon your word. Amen.
††† It seems the present world is preoccupied with boundaries, both physical and figurative. Yesterday at the trade show we passed by the booth where the new GNWT driverís licenses were on display. The young woman at the booth proudly declared that in one fell swoop it will move from being the least secure license in North America to the most secure. One reason for the change of course, is a concern about border security. Even though we seem to be regularly reminded that we will soon need a passport to travel to the United States, this change in our driverís license has been instituted as an interim measure to prevent identity theft and to make sure that only the right people can travel from one place to another.
††† A couple of weeks ago there was a huge demonstration in Los Angeles by people of hispanic descent - most reports said there were a million people - an astounding† figure. Other cities also had demonstrations with equally large numbers of participants - half a million in Chicago, half a million in New York and hundreds of thousands more demonstrated in Orlando, Atlanta, Denver and Washington. They were protesting the proposed tightening of the border to people coming into the United States across the Mexican border, both physically by building a wall, and bureaucratically by increasing the level of documentation required to come to the United States and by enforcing deportation more strictly.
††† Of course, many modern conflicts are centred on border disputes based on where the border is situated or border disputes of another kind where one way of life is set against another. Another recent news item told of the failed lawsuit by a Jewish immigrant to Canada who wanted his passport to say that he was born in Jerusalem, Israel rather than Palestine. That situation of course is but a small window on the huge multi-dimensional boundary dispute that exists in the Middle East.
††† Christianity has been a much too active participant in boundary disputes both past and present. In fact, I would suggest that a particular interpretation of the Christian mission is responsible for much of the negative criticism that is appropriately levelled at our faith. If you will excuse the violent language - it is both a civil war and an interfaith war. Christians have been adept at putting up boundaries between particular understandings of the Christian faith, and establishing divides among other faith expressions.
††† Even in simple situations like the designation of this day can result in a kind of border dispute. I clearly remember having to deal with the moral indignation offered by some mothers when they learned that ďtheirĒ day had been changed to ďChristian Family SundayĒ. I shared some of their concerns, wondering as I have been taught to do by my feminist friends with the hermeneutic of suspicion as my guide, whether the change was an attempt to devalue the importance of women in society. However, it took a bit of research into the history of Motherís day to change my attitude. Motherís Day was not established for mothers, it was established by mothers as a peace making exercise. Mothers who had lost their sons to the horror of war were rallied to speak out for peace. My research does not reveal when Hallmark managed to co-opt the date for their own purposes. Now donít get me wrong - this is not to devalue the importance of motherhood - and the important values that mothers bring to public discourse, and yes I will be phoning my Mom this afternoon, but it is interesting to me that a day originally established to question war as a way of solving boundary disputes has itself in a small way become a border dispute. Christian family Sunday makes the boundary around this day fuzzy - it invites us to open our minds up to new possibilities - to dot the line that defines what a family is, and to help us explore further what can be done to make the circle wider and more open.
††† We canít just blame modern day interpretations of the Christian faith for the hard line boundaries that want to tighten the circle and firm up the requirements for entry. Itís been there from the very beginnings of the Christian church. The different approaches were illustrated so clearly in our scripture passages this morning. On one hand we have the story of Philip and the Ethiopian court official. Philip responds to an opportunity to illuminate the writings found in the book of the prophet Isaiah. In my reading of the passage, new understanding is offered, but only on request and baptism is not required it is requested. Thereís a big difference between responding to a request and forcing a particular point of view.
††† Compare this to the gospel passage. It is unfortunate that the passage is probably given more weight because it claims to be report the words of Jesus. The metaphor is clear and easily understood, even by modern day readers and especially since it comes to us in the context of our northern hemisphere spring when everybody, even neophyte gardeners like myself, are thinking about planting and pruning and encouraging new growth. It may be a clearly understood metaphor, but it has unfortunate consequences. I donít have a problem with lopping off unfruitful branches of whatever plant we are trying to encourage to grow, but I do have a problem with lopping off branches of the body of Christ. I can give up without too much remorse on a dead branch of a garden shrub - but I am not about to give up on a human being. Iím not about to give up on them for any reason - whether they happen to have been born to Hispanic parents, or in a Muslim country, or in a culture where abuse was the norm.
††† There was another new story that had some prominence over the past week or so, and perhaps surprisingly it has some connection with todayís topic as well. The news story was that some Canadian popular artists had formed a consortium of sorts in support of music downloading, not necessarily because it is altogether a good thing, but because they feel that prosecuting downloaders and making it harder to share music will ultimately lead to a backlash against them. Their music companies feel quite differently. In their minds, music downloaders rob them of millions of dollars in potential profits. I must admit that music downloading is not as important to me as something similar - software downloading. A casual conversation after a doctoral presentation while at seminary has led me on a journey of reflection with regard to the whole moral, ethical and spiritual ramifications around intellectual property. A conclusion that Iíve drawn has connections with the topic I drew upon at the beginning of this reflection. Music writers claim copyright as a kind of capital that allows them to earn money. The same goes for writers of prose and poetry. Software writers are similar - they want to use their talent to make a living - sometimes a very opulent living. The connection is always made that way - donít copy our work because it is the way we earn our living. But where does the talent to write come from? Many people when pushed might end up saying that it comes from God - perhaps with lots of practice and dedication on the part of the artist. I can ask the same question about the places we live. Where do we get the land we live on? I expect many of us have prayed to God with thanks for the gift of creation - including the land on which we live. In the Northwest Territories we know that such ownership is not always an easily determined given. But if we consider the land as something given by God, then I ask - what right do we have to consider it ours to decide who gets to live on it and who gets to own it?
††† Boundary disputes both literal and figurative are usually centred on the right of ownership. Ownership of of land, artistic work, doctrine, property. It does not take too big a leap, especially as people who worship God as creator, to see that all such claims of ownership are at the very least quite fuzzy. And should it not be ever thus? Amen.