Text: Luke 5:1, 5-8 (Jesus sends out the twelve)
The year 2020 is marked by three related crises — a global pandemic, an economic collapse, and a leadership vacuum. Within these crises I see both promise and peril. I believe their resolution could catapult the world towards greater justice and peace or help consolidate the rule of racist fools.
As individuals, as members of Mill Woods United Church, and as citizens of Canada we do our part. We follow public health guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19. We reach out to our neighbours for support and nurture. We advocate for long-term care residents, agricultural labourers, and others whose dangerous living conditions have been revealed by the pandemic. We support leaders whom we think are sensible.
But there is only so much we can do to ensure that today’s crises lead to the world we want. Since this is true, perhaps we shouldn’t focus too much on the world.
Four years ago, many of us were shocked by the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States. He seemed to be an unhinged bully committed to ethnic cleansing and misogyny. Given the dominant role the United States has played since World War II, many feared that having him as “leader of the Free World” would lead to a disaster if there were a world crisis.
The COVID-19 pandemic has validated these fears. The United States seems to be tearing itself apart, and no other centre of world leadership has yet emerged.
The difficulties the world is experiencing in controlling the pandemic give me little encouragement that it can tackle greater challenges like war or habitat destruction. And yet, last Sunday I suggested that we move from love of self to love of the world. But how can we love the world if it is so troubled?
Love always begins at home. As children we first encounter love in our family of origin. As adolescents, we learn to love our friends. As adults, we learn to love our spouses and children. So, why should we move from these close relationships in which love can be such a joyful blessing to an attempt to love the world when the latter confronts us with so many problems?
This week, a friend asked me why I thought so much about problems like weapons of mass destruction and climate change especially since there are no solutions. I said the point was not to find solutions, as wonderful as those would be. I see the world less as a puzzle to be solved and more as a gracious reality filled with things we love and things we loathe and into which we can expand and grow.
When Jesus commissions his friends to minister to their communities, he asks them to heal the sick, to wake up those who are asleep, and to refresh those who are suffering; and any of these tasks might be familiar to the members of Mill Woods United Church.
But Jesus says their first task is to proclaim the Reign of God. The meanings assigned to the phrase “Reign of God” vary. For many, it connotes a society of greater equality, justice and peace than either the world dominated by the Roman Empire of Jesus’ time or the world dominated by the American Empire today. Proclaiming this Reign of Love and Justice doesn’t mean we know how to overthrow the world’s empires and solve its many thorny social problems. But it gives us a direction to follow in solidarity and hope.
The Reign of God is also a spiritual reality. When we are young, our focus is narrow. But as we grow, our connections widen and our love expands. When we create families of our own, love can become very focused again. But with Grace, the love we show to family and friends lifts us out of our selfish desires and towards a joyous life of sacrifice, community responsibility, and an ever-widening circle of care.
At any given moment, our focus might be on a family member or a friend. But by acting in love towards them, some of our selfishness dissolves and we may glimpse more of our connections to the community. Now, this expansion of love often gets stuck, perhaps at the level of neighbourhood or nation, or with the partisans of a particular sports team or the enthusiasts for one type of music. But the power of Love is such that our boundaries are continually being challenged and our hearts are continually being stretched.
This might involve serving clients at The Clothing Bank while also being aware of some of the social forces that generate poverty. It might mean caring for an elderly parent while feeling gratitude to all the elders who offer their families gifts of wisdom and joy. It might mean acting in love to the person in front of you while also glimpsing a vision of Love and Justice for all.
Rising above the ego towards a Love that is worthy of the name of God takes us deeper into the world. We will find many of things we love there – music, science, religious practice – as well as things that trouble us – poverty, weapons of mass destruction, infectious diseases.
Love embeds us in reality. It is a path of death and resurrection that wakes us up to our individual fragility and mortality and then leads us to a new life of deeper love. It also involves confronting global promise and peril.
If Donald Trump is defeated in the U.S. elections in November, and if he hands over the Presidency to a successor next January, many of us around the world will be filled with joy and relief. We will experience a mighty gust of collective energy that could help us to tackle not only the ravages of COVID-19, but other social challenges.
If Trump does NOT hand over power next January, this will be a tough pill for many of us to swallow. Nevertheless, the world will still remain a gracious gift filled with things we love and things we loathe. It will continue be the backdrop against which we raise our families, love our neighbours, and try to rise above the small desires of the ego to a deeper, more joyous, and eternal love of the world.
Either way, may it be so. Amen.