I volunteer at my son’s school on Friday mornings, I have since my daughter started there 10 years ago. I sit at the front door and I write down the names and divisions of the children who come in late, so that when the attendance comes in to the office, we can be sure to account for all of them.
And it’s my job to call the homes of any children that are marked absent and who haven’t come in late, just to make sure we can account for them that way, so that we know that everyone is safe and where they should be. I love this little volunteer job. The tiny children in kindergarten who can’t remember their divisions and the shy children who won’t tell me their names and whose parents have to tell me for them to pre-teens who looked like they literally just rolled out of bed and are trying to pull themselves together.
Regularly they have to help me spell their names, whose origins are unfamiliar to me. There is a little rainbow of beautiful kids, who are hilarious and lovely and sometimes barely awake.
I didn’t pay attention to social media at all on Friday. I just couldn’t face it. I didn’t want to hear what was being said – who was arguing with whom, smart 140 character statements to try to get us to think, express anger, fear, sadness, hope.
I just didn’t want it. So I Ieft the school, folded laundry, I bought groceries, chatted with the woman in the bakery – all of the things that I normally do on Fridays. But I kept thinking about those children.
You see I’ve just felt sad recently. I have not felt ok about the permission that seems to have been granted to say things that are divisive and hurtful, to use language that separates us from one another.
I’ve been sad – but Friday night, I checked facebook one time and I saw pictures of the schools in my friends school district just outside Seattle, where (I’m not sure whether it was teachers or parents – maybe both) were lined up outside the entrance to schools with signs that said, “You belong here” ‘You are safe here” “LGBTQ people, your lives are beautiful”, to welcome the children as they walked into their schools.
There is hope.
And I feel conflicted even about my feelings about this – which sounds silly – but I’ve been worried and saddened about something that is happening in our neighbour country – not my own. Do I even have a right to speak to a process and a leadership race that isn’t mine?
I mean we can all have opinions, sure – who doesn’t ? But I feel as though permission has been granted to say and to do things that are just not ok. And that permission does not care about borders.
I’m worried that there is space being granted to draw lines that divide, rather than working together. I cannot stand how women are being talked about. I am not interested in building walls.
I’ve been thinking about the bit of letter that we heard this morning in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. He seems to be constantly writing to a people divided – constantly appealing them to listen to him and today it’s not different. The people of Corinth seem to have separated into particular camps of one thing or another.
I appeal to you (all), in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that they may be no divisions among you and you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.’ – a lovely thought but we know that that is never going to happen. Divisions exist – we do not always or sometimes even often agree. Even those of us who follow the same Christ, even those of us who have been baptized. We do not all agree even on how we are to be baptized. But then Paul says something really important, he writes: Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
He is reminding the readers of this letter that we are not baptized in the names of any of the rest of us – not the leaders of our churches not the leaders of our countries. We are baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. He turns us around to pay attention to the one that we should be following. The one who proclaimed over and over a new way of being and incoming of the kingdom of God. We listen to one another, we have conversations with each other but we follow Christ. We follow the one who said that the greatest commandment that we have is to love the Lord our God with all our hearts and minds and the second is to love one another – everything else comes after.
This has to inform our every action. This has to inform how we participate in the world. At no point does the commandment include: love your neighbour only if they look like you, or talk like you or only if they too follow Christ. That is not in there. You just have to love your neighbour who we believe was made in the very image of God.
Which in my opinion includes allowing them dignity and respect and a safe place to be.
I am saying this here because I believe that we have some work to do. I believe that in a world where social media runs rampant and it’s too easy to share things without really thinking them through – where permission seems to have been given to choose ‘us’ over ‘them’ – that we need to be the sign holders and the people lining the doors to make sure that there is a place for everyone. We need to be checking to makes sure that no one is lost.
We need to make space for conversations and debates that state their points but are respectful. So how do we preach the Gospel? How do we share the good news? What does it mean to us when we say that Jesus died on the cross for all? And where is the power of the cross for you? And what does the Kingdom of God that Christ talked about throughout the Gospels look like?
For me it’s in the life that Jesus led that got him there. That he spoke to and for a world that must not be governed by the search for more – that includes listening to the least powerful and making space for healing.
It was the power of Jesus’ message and the fact that he lived what he taught that got him to the cross. And now it’s the power of our knowledge that his death was not the end – but the invitation for us to carry on his ministry – that he continues to reside in us, in our ministry, in the work that we do, in the space that we make for one another.
And it’s complicated. It’s complicated to try to stand together. It can be difficult to make space for even those with whom we disagree – and Lord knows that this is an area where I need work. I’m not always known for being slow to judge.
But I am not ok with permission being granted for disrespect. I am not ok with a belief that any of us is better than another.
We are in this together. We will probably never all agree on everything – but I hope that we can agree to make space for one another. I hope that we can agree that every human is made in the image of God and deserves to be and to feel loved. I hope that we can agree that none of us is better than the other. Because we are baptized in Christ – we are called to follow him, to consider even the least powerful, to share what we have to love our neighbours and to be so good at it that other will want to come along.
There is so much to pay attention to. We have a lot of work to do.
We don’t all have to think the same things or agree on everything – but if we are a people who follow Christ, then we at least have to agree to follow him. To remember as we are sent from here back to the places where we have been given responsibility – to take our work as Christians seriously. To remember that the good news must be good news for all of us not just a few. That they ways that we talk to and about one another matters. That the ways that we use the power that we have is important.
This is the season of Epiphany: the season that celebrates God coming to us as Christ. It’s the season in which we celebrate the recognition of God here in the world at work in all of creation. I don’t want to touch on all of the readings from today – but the bit in Matthew that we hear today comes right after the story of him in the desert with the devil, in which he is asked to prove himself and is offered kingdoms and splendour and Jesus resists. And it’s after this that he heads out and begins to preach and gather his disciples.
It’s easy to be tempted – it easy to do what we want – it can be easy to dig in and make sure that our own ideals or thoughts or particular ways of seeing the world take up the most space. But I think that through the invitation of our baptisms we make room, create space, make sure that everyone is accounted for and that the kingdom of God is reflected in the ways that we love one another.