Category Archives: Reflections

Homily by Bill Whitla Pentecost 6 (Proper 11A) July 20, 2014

 

Gwenlyn asked me to preach because she said that the readings were difficult—and I knew that was a golden opportunity. Little did I know that the reading from Romans would be cut off half way through [Sherman later reported it had been taken from a 2011 bulletin where the co-ordinator had abbreviated the reading] and the Gospel was completely invisible, having been left out of the bulletin altogether. A challenge indeed.

First a word or two about Flesh and Spirit in Paul’s letter to the Romans (Romans 8:12-25), since it has come up over several weeks in our readings, and is always problematical until we have unpacked it a little. Paul’s discussion of the body is one of his central themes. In 1 Corinthians Paul makes it part of the doctrine of the church when he says that each part of the body all need the other parts—and then audaciously compares the human body to the body of Christ and uses that metaphor to describe the Church—you are the body of Christ he says. So Romans, Paul, and Flesh! When in Romans Paul is talking about flesh (Gk. sarx) and spirit (Gk. pneuma) these are the two crucial aspects of the body—and Paul often adds a third (soma—soul) or fourth (psyche —psyche). All of these are inter-connected in his anthropology, but here in the eighth chapter of Romans Paul is concerned to show how the revelation of God in Jesus displays God’s mercy and justice, not as it was under the Law of Moses, that he had been discussing, but now what life looks like from a Christian perspective.1 That is the whole point of what Paul calls justification —the making of justice with mercy to be the law of the new Christian order, in which enmity between human beings and God is ended and replaced by the spirit-filled presence of God—and human beings are freed and restored to the family of God. That does not happen by the Law—either the Jewish torah that set up moral hurdles, or the civil law—that of Rome or of the modern day, that sets up conventions of conformity, criminality, and punishment. Instead God’s justice and mercy free the body of the individual, this combination of flesh and spirit that had been bound towards death, to the new morality of justice and mercy that Paul calls the life of the risen Christ in which all Christians share.

‘Flesh’ (Gr. sarx) is a word vitally connected with the subject of the Incarnation. It is the flesh that Jesus took up as in the prologue to John’s Gospel; it is the flesh upon which the Spirit was given to Jesus. Sarx is found in no less than one hundred and fifty texts in the NT. But the deeds of the flesh, so often, and so widely, and so disapprovingly interpreted as sexual sins in Paul’s letters, pre-marital sex, extramarital sex, adolescent sex, The Minister of Justice’s view of prostitution, the activity of prostitutes as workers or as victims, of Johns as clients or as criminals —etc. etc. etc. all of this emphasis on sex is far from what Paul is talking about in Romans —or in any other of his Epistles—for in Galatians 5, he explains that the sins of the flesh are immorality, to be sure, but also “ idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy”

Here in Romans Paul is arguing that the whole creation has, like the individual bodies of the Israelites, like the whole body of Christ, the Church—and all of us as individuals—the whole creation has come out from bondage in Egypt.2 And in this Exodus with Christ that Paul calls the Crucifixion and the Resurrection, has been given the first fruits of freedom in the spirit—and that is the hope that is waited for in patience, as he says in the last verses.

That is the message that he is driving home in this eighth chapter. Not a message of despair, or failure to keep moral or spiritual laws, but a life of profound hopefulness.

In the Gospel (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43), like last week, we have an agricultural parable, and like Susie I am a city boy. But I am the grandson of a farmer, and worked for a summer on a farm near Galt, caring for the wheat, and harvesting it, and gathering it into sheaves —a poor farm, no harvesting machine on that farm that bundled up the grain. We gathered the sheaves into stooks, and then had to lift them onto the truck that the horse-drawn wagon drove past. So a bit of experience on the farm, enough to know that what you want in the sheaves are the wheat and not the thistles. We’ve often commented that one of the characteristics of ancient —and modern—Mediterranean society is that it is an honour culture.3 My friend Tom Cohen has done a lot of research on the courts of Rome in the Renaissance, and he found that over and over the plea was the someone had done a dirty deed—theft, murder, rape, assault, a drinking brawl, whatever, and the upshot of it was not the crime per se, but the fact that one person stole the victim’s honour. We call judges “Your Honour” because that tradition passed from Renaissance Italy into the law courts of Renaissance England, and to 21st century Toronto. And on the civil side, even a mayor, worthy or not, is called “Your Honour.” So in ancient Palestine at the time of Christ, you or I would have been born into a family with a certain amount of honour in the community. We inherited the honour status in that community, and it was shared by all of our family’s friends—but that same honour was also despised by all of our family’s enemies, and those enemies we also inherited—they too were part of the honour code.

Families became enemies for all sorts of reasons in the ancient world for many different reasons—land was the source of a dispute, a marriage went wrong, an insult was not avoided, hospitality was not returned, a sign of weakness became a mark of dishonour, a disease or a disability turned into a contention. But the consequences remained—feuding enmity between families, and between their wider sets of families, relations, and associations. Such feuds could continue over long periods of time

It is precisely this view of inherited honour and friendship and enmity that underlies the conflict between Israel and Palestine and Gaza—of course exacerbated by the 60 years since Britain and the Allies imposed a settlement on the region, and complicated by religion, political factions, and the continuing land disputes. It is precisely this view that has pitted the Russians and the Ukrainians against each other leading to the horrific downing of the Malaysian plane on Thursday and plunging the world in to the accusations about who did it and how, who carries the blame? Who lost massive honour? The Ukraine suddenly encompasses the world in its casualties and its violence.

In to-day’s parable, one of the enemy comes during the night and sows weeks in with the newly-planted wheat. We know that the week was a particular kind, darnel, or false wheat, that looks like wheat until the harvest when its seeds are black against wheat’s golden brown. Darnel is also a poison. Only when the crops have ripened would the shame on the householder would be complete —he would become the laughingstock of the community—and would lose honour and prestige—what a fool he must have been to have planted darnel along with his wheat—his seeds were polluted, he could not even afford pure grain—he would be mocked and derided, and his enemy would have the complete victory

Or so it seemed. As soon as the darnel had been spotted the servants, like all good servants, want to do the best for their householder—they want to pull the weeds out —the logical thing to do —root out the evil by pulling it out. But the householder stops them and gives the astonishing reply—let the weeds grow. What kind of householder, what kind of gardener lets the grain ripen for the harvest? and only then does he allow the good grain and the weeds be separated, the one into barns—another parable of plenty like last week’s parable of the extravagant sower,–the plenty into the barns, and the weeds are put to the fire—giving extra fuel for his needs—thereby doubly shaming the enemy as the whole of the shaming strategy of the enemy backfires.

But, as Susie said last week, the point of parables is to turn things upside down, to reverse expectations, to challenge with something that is the opposite of expectations. So Jesus is not giving his disciples lessons in farming, and there is little doubt that he is not telling the peasant farmers around him how to do their job. Instead, the good householder, who in the explanation is identified as the Son of Man—one of the messianic titles of Jesus—says that there is only one action to be taken, “Let both grow together until the harvest.” There is to be no retaliation against the enemy—that is a refused action; there is to be no revenge; the code of vengeance that operated throughout the honour code was here to be abrogated. No vengeance. The traditional law of an eye for an eye, a life for a life, a Palestinian boy burned alive for a group of three kidnapped and murdered Israeli boys, an Israel rocket for a Palestinian rocket—no —the law of vengeful retaliation is abrogated in this parable. Enacting that very principle of charity, the father of that burned Palestinian boy contacted the father of one of the Israeli boys, and they met together, and they mourned in their mutual grief. It was a small act of reconciliation heard around the world.

And in case we miss the point, Matthew drives the point home. The Greek verb for “Let” (as in let both grow to the harvest) is aphete —and indeed it means let, allow, or permit. But—and here is the point—it has a double meaning —it is used of a debt—and it means, “let it go” —it means “forgive the debt,” or just “forgive” It is the same word that is used in the Lord’s Prayer —“forgive us our sins as we forgive those who trespass against us”—and it has the same meaning. The householder is saying —let the vengeance and retribution against the enemy go—forgive his trespasses in the night when he sowed the seeds of darnel, for we have undoubtedly trespassed ourselves.

In the explanation, there is a further complication —because as Jesus explains the parable, the fires of judgment come at the end of time —that is the time when the wheat and the weeds are separated, the time of judgment —same story of the sheep and the goats—but there is another time in the parable, not only the end-time, but also the “meantime,” the here and now when the parable takes place —and the proper action is to resist judgment about who is right and who is wrong —the proper lesson is forgiveness. That is the lesson of the parable. The parable’s main point is not eschatological redress of wrongs at the end of time, but present forbearance of them.

Bounty of a rich harvest for the household! Warmth and comfort for the householder’s family for the well-stoked fires! Jubilee that Susie was talking about last week. Renewing of honour for all—including the enemy who is now forgiven in the acts of mercy that characterize this community.

This is the overturning of moral, ethical, social values that this parable is presenting to those eager onlookers so long ago, and not only to them, but to all of us who take those words seriously as presenting another option, forgiveness for violence, mercy for vindictive retribution, love, we might say, for hate. This is what loving your enemies means. It suggests and proposes a world transformed. And it directed its hearers then and directs us now to make it happen.

Amen.

1 See Paul J. Achtemeier, “Romans, The Letter of Paul to the,” in The Oxford Companion to the Bible eds. Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan, 1993, 661.

2 See N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, especially pp. 103-4: “This brings us to Romans 8, where we find a further image deeply embedded within the created order itself: that of new birth. This passage has routinely been marginalized for centuries by exegetes and theologians who have tried to turn Romans into a book simply about how individual sinners get individually saved. But it is in fact one of the great climaxes of the letter and indeed of all Paul’s thought.

In this passage Paul again uses the imagery of the Exodus from Egypt but this time in relation not to Jesus, nor even to ourselves, but to creation as a whole. Creation, he says (verse 21) is in slavery at the moment, like the children of Israel. God’s design was to rule creation in life-giving wisdom through his image-bearing human creatures. But this was always a promise for the future, a promise that one day the true human being, the image of God himself, God’s incarnate son, would come to lead the human race into their true identity. Meanwhile, the creation was subjected to futility, to transience and decay, until the time when God’s children are glorified, when what happened to Jesus at Easter happens to all Jesus’s people. This is where Romans 8 dovetails with 1 Corinthians 15. The whole creation, as he says in verse 19, is on tiptoe with expectation, longing for the day when God’s children are revealed, when their resurrection will herald its own new life.

Paul then uses the image of birth pangs—a well-known Jewish metaphor for the emergence of God’s new age— not only of the church in verse 23 and of the Spirit a couple of verses later but also here in verse 22 of creation itself. Once again this highlights both continuity and discontinuity. This is no smooth evolutionary transition, in which creation simply moves up another gear into a higher mode of life. This is traumatic, involving convulsions and contractions and the radical discontinuity in which mother and child are parted and become not one being but two. But neither is this a dualistic rejection of physicality as though, because the present creation is transient and full of decay and death, God must throw it away and start again from scratch. The very metaphor Paul chooses for this decisive moment in his argument shows that what he has in mind is not the unmaking of creation or simply its steady development but the drastic and dramatic birth of new creation from the womb of the old.”

3 see John T. Pilch, “Enemies and Retaliation.” The Sunday Website of Saint Louis University: http://liturgy.slu.edu/16OrdA072014/theword_cultural.html

Listen! A sower went out to sow

 

Susie Henderson

Homily Based on Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

 

July 13, 2014

Listen! A sower went out to sow.

Some seeds fell on the path and were eaten by birds. Some fell on rocky ground and they never took root. Some were choked by thorns. And some, some fell on good soil, and brought forth more grain than could be imagined.

Well, I am no farmer, not even a very experienced gardener, but it sure makes me wonder about what kinda crazy sower we have here who tosses the seed to fall where it may. Most of it never makes it to harvest time. Today he might be sowing while texting. Continue reading

Anglo-concertina-37-button

‘oh you are so big’

May 18th Homily by Michael Shapcott

Good morning. We may be somewhat diminished in numbers today in the midst of this holiday weekend, but we gather as participants in a Christian communion that stretches back some 2,000 years and circles the globe.

I am four and one-half months into theological studies at the Faculty of Divinity at Trinity College in the University of Toronto where I am seeking to deepen my understanding of the profound connections between universal human rights and fundamental faith values. My goal is not simply more knowledge, but a more effective rights-based practice when it comes to fundamental issues of justice and equity such as housing, homelessness, poverty and hunger.

Continue reading

Gaining a Community, Joining a Movement

Baptism of Adam, Easter 3, Road to Emmaus

Homily delivered on May 4 by the Rev Alison Kemper

Today we hear one of the best stories in the Gospels: the appearance of Jesus on the Road to Emmaus. We celebrate a baptism—one of the most wonderful things the church does. And we gather around wee Adam, as happy and bright and darling a baby you may ever see. A Christian hat trick.

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Lost Together

a homily at HT, April 27, 2014

We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.”

There is a famous (or infamous) story in this congregation about a father who insisted on reading the Nicene creed at his daughter’s baptism. And then again at his son’s. How irritating! That’s not a statement we can get behind at Holy Trinity. However, that annoying man was and is a valued member of this community.

He was a warden for a time, he served on the diocesan doctrine and worship committee, spent ten years pouring himself into youth ministry in this diocese, toured with a liturgical band bringing the good news to parishes all over. He even, for a time, considered himself something of an evangelist.

Some of you who know that man know that over time he became more and more like Thomas of the gospel today in his desire for proof, or at least strong indications, of god’s presence. You may think or have heard that he has lost his faith. Continue reading

Created for Community (Homily for Lent 1)

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7    Psalm 32      Romans 5:12-19     Matthew 4:1-11

 Created for Community

 by Sherman Hesselgrave

Human beings were created for relationship—relationship with one another, and relationship with God. When God realized it was not right that Adam should be alone, God set about to create a companion for him—‘companion,’ a word whose roots are in sharing bread together. The stories from Genesis and Matthew that we hear again today are foundational stories for us. The story of Jesus’ temptation in Matthew is Shakespeare’s reference when, in The Merchant of Venice, Antonio says to Bassanio: “The devil can cite scripture for his purpose.” The stories are foundational because they show us how our relationships with God and others can be distorted or corrupted by our everyday human desires.

Continue reading

Taking Ashes to the Streets

So today was Ash Wednesday, and we took ashes from the midday service at Holy Trinity, Trinity Square to the streets of downtown Toronto. We’d done it a few years ago–when I had a curate and an intern–and had already decided to do it again this year, when, a couple weeks ago, I received a call from a producer of the CBC radio program Tapestry, who had read about the ashes-to-go that Sara Miles writes about in her new book, City of God. They were going to be interviewing her for the show, and had googled to see who in Toronto might be doing it as well. Long and short, Diane Eros came Continue reading

Life Together (Homily for Epiphany 3)

Readings:  Isaiah 9:1-4   Psalm 27:1, 5-13    1 Corinthians 1:10-18     Matthew 4:12-23

Life Together

by Sherman Hesselgrave

The week between January 18th, the Feast of the Confession of St Peter on the Church calendar, and the Feast of the Conversion of St Paul on January 25th has come to be known in ecumenical circles as the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. I imagine to many the words ‘Christian Unity’ must seem oxymoronic, for Church history is littered with the bodies and detritus of countless battles. St Paul’s letter to the Corinthians reminds us that Christian disunity has been around pretty much from the beginning.

Disunity comes in a variety of flavours. I have noticed a flurry of online discussion recently about bullying in church, bullying of all stripes—bullying of parishioners by pastors, bullying of lay people by other members of a congregation, and even bullying of pastors by congregations. One congregation, First Assembly of God in Madison, Indiana, a town with a population of 13,000, had a decades-long reputation in the town and denomination for being a clergy “killer.” Four successive pastors had been called and then painfully driven out until the latest pastor helped them to name and own their dysfunction. They made the news for holding a service of reconciliation that involved calling their former pastors back to ask their forgiveness for the way they had been treated. The liturgical action at this service was the current pastor washing the feet of the former ministers on behalf of the congregation.

According to St Paul, one of the conflicts in the new community of Christians in the port city of Corinth appears to be related to people forming cliques around the missionaries who baptized them: Apollos, Cephas, or Paul. I suspect we all have seen the power of personality cults, and the Church is certainly not immune to their seductiveness. But in falling for the charisma of the various leaders, the new converts missed the one thing they all had in common: their baptism into the community of Christ. This passage is emblematic of so many of the things that have caused division in Christian communities when the original vision of what makes up the core of the Gospel is lost. I believe Jonathan Swift, in his Gulliver’s Travels, was satirizing the Church when he described the wars between the Big-Enders and the Little-Enders, those who ate their soft-boiled eggs by cracking them at opposite ends. There are many distractions that make it difficult at times to keep our eyes on the prize, so to speak.

When Jesus invited Peter, Andrew, James and John to leave their nets and follow him, one has to wonder what they thought “fishing for people” would look like. What kind of community were they being called to? From the record, it seems that, even after following Jesus around for quite some time, they weren’t sure. Today’s gospel and today’s Hebrew scripture both quote this passage from the prophet Isaiah: “…the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light,…” In the original context, the darkness that has fallen over the people is the darkness of death that accompanied the continuous warring in that critical geopolitical region. Isaiah was promising that a Prince of Peace would be coming to bring a new dawn. In the gospel context, Jesus was the light who had come to bring a new day, and the way he was going to do it was by inviting people to help him to spread the news that God was taking a new approach to creating peace and justice on earth. He spelled out the details as he travelled from town to town. In the Sermon on the Mount he claimed that God blessed peacemakers, the pure in heart, the merciful, and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. He told his followers that they were the fertilizer of the earth. He taught them how to pray, and how to live one day at a time. And he taught them about the danger of storing up treasure on earth. The kind of community that Jesus’ followers were called to was a community of character that stood in stark contrast to the values of the surrounding empire.

Flash forward to Germany in the mid 1930s. A different empire, the Third Reich, was coming into being, and the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer had been called to lead an illegal, clandestine Confessing Church seminary in the then North German town of Finkenwalde. Sharing a common life in emergency-built housing with twenty-five seminarians, he wrote a book, Life Together [New York: Harper & Row, 1954, p. 26], describing his insights into living as an intentional Christian community. Early in the book he observes that many a time “a whole Christian community has broken down because it had sprung from a wish dream.” The disillusionment that shatters such dreams is an act of grace that helps a group of Christians to discern the true community God is trying to create. Look at Jesus’ disciples and how disillusioned they were when Jesus turned out not to be a political messiah. Until they were purged of that fantasy, they could not become part of the apostolic movement they were commissioned for.

Over the centuries, Christian communities have struggled with the tension between unity and uniformity. There are some who believe that unity requires uniformity, but that is not what either Jesus or the apostle Paul taught. Paul speaks of the diversity of the body of Christ, the Church, and the many gifts with which God’s Spirit has blessed God’s people—but there is one Spirit behind those gifts, so all spiritual gifts are complementary. And, I believe that when Jesus prays that we may all be one, as he and his Abba are one, he is speaking of the oneness that comes from being intimately connected to the source of all life, truth, and beauty.

Diversity, too, can be a source of tension. We have seen how new ideas or scientific revelations have challenged Christian communities over the millennia. And just when you think consensus is about to solidify after decades or centuries of debate, someone comes along and tries to bring back the Middle Ages. As a Roman Catholic nun once remarked to me, “The Church changes very slowly—one funeral at a time.”

To be true to our calling as a community in Christ, there will be times when we will struggle to discern which fork in the road to take, or how to make the most of our resources, or the best way to retool for carrying on our mission in a new context. We may be called to make bold leaps of faith or to overcome a fear of failing. These are all situations that faithful Christians have faced in the centuries leading to this moment in time, so we are not alone as we continue to make sense of our life together—we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses and God’s Spirit is the wind that fills our sails.

Roma Rising, a homily delivered by Michael Creal, November 10, 2013

Today the Canadian Council for Refugees is launching “we’re proud to protect refugees” week and this congregation won’t have the slightest difficulty in being part of it. Over the years, the Refugee Committee at Holy Trinity has organized the sponsorship of 118 refugees with two more currently on the way. That’s a huge achievement that we can properly celebrate. Looking back, on May the 21st, 1992, along with Alex Neve of Amnesty International and Mary Jo Leddy, a number of other people, members of this congregation signed onto a document promising to protect 23 refugee cases – individuals and in most cases whole families – people who were facing deportation on grounds we couldn’t accept. That was the beginning of the Sanctuary Coalition which has always had a home in this parish. So we have been welcoming refugees both those from refugee camps overseas brought here for resettlement and those who came to Canada on their own to make their refugee claim but who were wrongly rejected by the authorities. Both these expressions of support for refugees continue.

 

Let me put this in a larger context. This country has had a mixed record in responding to refugees and immigrants. Some random examples. Think of the nineteenth century refugees from the potato famine in Ireland who received less than a warm welcome in this country. Before the First World War, immigrants in large numbers came to Canada – Western Canada in particular – from central and eastern Europe, but they were often stigmatized, regarded as second class by their neighbors who sometimes called them by unflattering names like “bohunks.” In 1939 when a boatload of 1000 Jewish refugees arrived in our waters, they were turned away, sent back to Germany where they eventually faced extermination in the death camps. Late in the Second World War, when a senior Canadian immigration official named Charles Frederick Blair was asked how many Jewish refugees Canada should accept after the war, his famous – infamous – response was “none is too many” (the title of a book some of you will have read on this issue by the historians Harold Troper and Irving Abella. That’s part of the dark stuff in our history .

 

But after the war, Canada did accept many refugees and displaced persons from Europe. Canada signed onto the Geneva Convention of 1951 which committed this country to give protection to any person fleeing persecution for reasons of race, religion, political affiliation or membership in a particular group. Thousands have come to Canada under that provision. And in 1956 Canada accepted refugees from Hungary, after the Hungarian uprising; in 68 from Czechoslovakia after the soviet tanks rolled into Prague. And in the 70’s some 60,000 Vietnamese boat people were welcomed. And then there were the American draft evaders in the Vietnam war some of whom slept in this church. There were dissenting voices in all these cases but most Canadians took pride in what we were doing. Those were the glory days in Canada’s refugee history, a time of open doors, of welcoming the stranger.

 

By the 1980’s refugees were coming to Canada from all parts of the world and it was a heavy responsibility for immigration officials to determine their fate. In 1985 the Supreme Court made a landmark decision, the Singh decision which declared that all refugees coming to Canada were entitled to protection under the Charter. There had to be due process in determining who was accepted as a refugee. An arbitrary decision by an immigration official was no longer acceptable. That led to the creation of the Immigration and Refugee Board in the late 80’s a quasi judicial body independent of the Dept of Immigration. That was a step forward. The system worked reasonably well – but mistakes were made – poor legal representation, traumatized claimants, faulty translation, misreading of country conditions. But there was no appeal system, the kind that exists in every other area of our law. It was in response to these mistakes – which meant lives were at risk – that the Sanctuary movement came into existence in Canada and continues to this day. But now we are dealing with legislation that has fundamentally compromised the principle of fairness in determining who is a refugee and who is not. And no group is more adversely affected than the Roma.

 

Overall, the number of refugee claimants arriving in Canada has dropped from an annual figure ranging from 25,000 to 30,00 to around 10,000 and this is happening at a time when the number of refugees world wide has never been greater. Canada’s doors are closing at a time when the need to welcome and protect has never been more urgent.

 

There continue to be programs of government sponsored refugees for re-settlement and privately sponsored refugees from refugee camps in different parts of the world. Considering that there are over 16 million refugees world wide – and counting – the numbers sponsored in Canada are pretty tiny. The government’s target for this year is around 7,000. Now I think we want to be responsive to those in greatest need, as generous as possible within our limited resources. That doesn’t, however, seem to be central to the government’s current policy. Recent memos to the Minister propose that Canada select refugees from three targeted areas, reduce the number of refugees with “high needs” and select those who are healthy and who are expected to integrate more easily. The proposed changes all make Canada’s refugee settlement program less generous.

 

So that’s the current picture: 1. reduce the number coming to make refugee claims and make the process as adversarial as possible, and 2.sponsor those who suit our needs rather than those who themselves are most in need.

 

OK, that’s a very brief sketch. I want to leave lots of time for Gina. So I’ll conclude by asking in what way do today’s readings speak to our situation?

 

The setting for the first reading from the prophet Haggai was the time when the Jewish exile in Babylon was over and the returning Jews were faced with the task of rebuilding Jerusalem and rebuilding the temple in almost impossible circumstances. The message of Haggai is a message of encouragement in the face of huge challenges. The situation may be difficult but we are not alone, says Haggai, God’s spirit is with us. Remember this house in its former glory, he says, and look forward to a future where all nations can share in common riches. OK, doesn’t that speak to us today?

 

The Gospel: Jesus words in Matthew’s story of the Last Judgement are straightforward and compelling: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” Need more be said?

 

The reading from Mary Jo comes out of her experience at Romero House. The knock on the door literally happens. We can take it literally or metaphorically. In today’s complicated and stressful world we can say no, we’ve already got far too much on our plate. Or, we can say “this we must do.” Protecting refugees is not an option. It’s a moral imperative.

 

 

 

Roma Rising, homily delivered by Michael Creal, November 10

 

Today the Canadian Council for Refugees is launching “we’re proud to protect refugees” week and this congregation won’t have the slightest difficulty in being part of it. Over the years, the Refugee Committee at Holy Trinity has organized the sponsorship of 118 refugees with two more currently on the way. That’s a huge achievement that we can properly celebrate. Looking back, on May the 21st, 1992, along with Alex Neve of Amnesty International and Mary Jo Leddy, a number of other people, members of this congregation signed onto a document promising to protect 23 refugee cases – individuals and in most cases whole families – people who were facing deportation on grounds we couldn’t accept. That was the beginning of the Sanctuary Coalition which has always had a home in this parish. So we have been welcoming refugees both those from refugee camps overseas brought here for resettlement and those who came to Canada on their own to make their refugee claim but who were wrongly rejected by the authorities. Both these expressions of support for refugees continue.

 

Let me put this in a larger context. This country has had a mixed record in responding to refugees and immigrants. Some random examples. Think of the nineteenth century refugees from the potato famine in Ireland who received less than a warm welcome in this country. Before the First World War, immigrants in large numbers came to Canada – Western Canada in particular – from central and eastern Europe, but they were often stigmatized, regarded as second class by their neighbors who sometimes called them by unflattering names like “bohunks.” In 1939 when a boatload of 1000 Jewish refugees arrived in our waters, they were turned away, sent back to Germany where they eventually faced extermination in the death camps. Late in the Second World War, when a senior Canadian immigration official named Charles Frederick Blair was asked how many Jewish refugees Canada should accept after the war, his famous – infamous – response was “none is too many” (the title of a book some of you will have read on this issue by the historians Harold Troper and Irving Abella. That’s part of the dark stuff in our history .

 

But after the war, Canada did accept many refugees and displaced persons from Europe. Canada signed onto the Geneva Convention of 1951 which committed this country to give protection to any person fleeing persecution for reasons of race, religion, political affiliation or membership in a particular group. Thousands have come to Canada under that provision. And in 1956 Canada accepted refugees from Hungary, after the Hungarian uprising; in 68 from Czechoslovakia after the soviet tanks rolled into Prague. And in the 70’s some 60,000 Vietnamese boat people were welcomed. And then there were the American draft evaders in the Vietnam war some of whom slept in this church. There were dissenting voices in all these cases but most Canadians took pride in what we were doing. Those were the glory days in Canada’s refugee history, a time of open doors, of welcoming the stranger.

 

By the 1980’s refugees were coming to Canada from all parts of the world and it was a heavy responsibility for immigration officials to determine their fate. In 1985 the Supreme Court made a landmark decision, the Singh decision which declared that all refugees coming to Canada were entitled to protection under the Charter. There had to be due process in determining who was accepted as a refugee. An arbitrary decision by an immigration official was no longer acceptable. That led to the creation of the Immigration and Refugee Board in the late 80’s a quasi judicial body independent of the Dept of Immigration. That was a step forward. The system worked reasonably well – but mistakes were made – poor legal representation, traumatized claimants, faulty translation, misreading of country conditions. But there was no appeal system, the kind that exists in every other area of our law. It was in response to these mistakes – which meant lives were at risk – that the Sanctuary movement came into existence in Canada and continues to this day. But now we are dealing with legislation that has fundamentally compromised the principle of fairness in determining who is a refugee and who is not. And no group is more adversely affected than the Roma.

 

Overall, the number of refugee claimants arriving in Canada has dropped from an annual figure ranging from 25,000 to 30,00 to around 10,000 and this is happening at a time when the number of refugees world wide has never been greater. Canada’s doors are closing at a time when the need to welcome and protect has never been more urgent.

 

There continue to be programs of government sponsored refugees for re-settlement and privately sponsored refugees from refugee camps in different parts of the world. Considering that there are over 16 million refugees world wide – and counting – the numbers sponsored in Canada are pretty tiny. The government’s target for this year is around 7,000. Now I think we want to be responsive to those in greatest need, as generous as possible within our limited resources. That doesn’t, however, seem to be central to the government’s current policy. Recent memos to the Minister propose that Canada select refugees from three targeted areas, reduce the number of refugees with “high needs” and select those who are healthy and who are expected to integrate more easily. The proposed changes all make Canada’s refugee settlement program less generous.

 

So that’s the current picture: 1. reduce the number coming to make refugee claims and make the process as adversarial as possible, and 2.sponsor those who suit our needs rather than those who themselves are most in need.

 

OK, that’s a very brief sketch. I want to leave lots of time for Gina. So I’ll conclude by asking in what way do today’s readings speak to our situation?

 

The setting for the first reading from the prophet Haggai was the time when the Jewish exile in Babylon was over and the returning Jews were faced with the task of rebuilding Jerusalem and rebuilding the temple in almost impossible circumstances. The message of Haggai is a message of encouragement in the face of huge challenges. The situation may be difficult but we are not alone, says Haggai, God’s spirit is with us. Remember this house in its former glory, he says, and look forward to a future where all nations can share in common riches. OK, doesn’t that speak to us today?

 

The Gospel: Jesus words in Matthew’s story of the Last Judgement are straightforward and compelling: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” Need more be said?

 

The reading from Mary Jo comes out of her experience at Romero House. The knock on the door literally happens. We can take it literally or metaphorically. In today’s complicated and stressful world we can say no, we’ve already got far too much on our plate. Or, we can say “this we must do.” Protecting refugees is not an option. It’s a moral imperative.