What Do We Have That They Should Want?
Episode 12 – June 12, 2018
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“Why we Build the Wall”
(written by Anäis Mitchell)
Clementine – “All You Need is Love”
Reading No. 1
Read by A ROBOT
Love for the World
What do we have that they should want?
A few weeks ago, I met with a women’s group from one of the congregations who are partnered with Living Presence Ministry. I know many of these women, as I’ve visited with them on different occasions. At this point, I’m pretty such I’ve consumed coffee in every United Church within a 30km radius of my home.
So I’d met with these women before, but this was the first time they’d decided to visit in The Burrow – the Living Presence Ministry house. I told them about all the really cool things we’ve been up to. I spoke about how much I love the people I’m serving and how delighted I am to see the community come together for impromptu community clean ups, or to offer food to the Living Presence food pantry, or to help each other out in childcare emergencies. Just living and being together. You have to understand – I am so passionate about this ministry, I feel like I need to tell EVERYBODY EVERYTHING. I want to tell them ALL THE THINGS.
But there was one woman there…there was one woman there I knew was not impressed. Not impressed at all. As the conversation lulled, this woman – let’s call her Susan – seized an opportunity and said, “Yeah ok…but when are you going to start sending people to our church?”
Now, I gotta be honest: I hate this question. Mostly because, that’s not how this ministry works. Partly because I get asked about the bums in pews all the time. It’s not that I’m not sympathetic – church attendance in our area, like many areas of the country, is declining, and people are legitimately worried about how long they can hold on. But there’s only so much that I can do.
So, I turned the question around…
“Susan, when I’m out in the community talking to people, what should I tell them about your church that would make them want to go? What do you have that they can’t get anywhere else? What do you have that they want?”
It’s an important question to ask ourselves as each church congregation attempts to work out how best to attract new members into their communities.
The song the choir and I just sang for you is from a folk opera called “Hadestown” by Anais Mitchell. “Why We Build the Wall” is performed by Hades, the king of the underworld. Hadestown recounts the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, where Orpheus journeys to the underworld to rescue his wife from Hades’ captivity. When Orpheus arrives, the entire town, under the enslavement and direction of Hades, is building a wall. Obviously, a wall around the underworld would be primarily be meant to keep people in. But the most effective way to keep people in is a mental and spiritual wall: the idea that something outside is even more threatening than the fear we know.
The cyclical argument made by Hades to the residents of the town is that building the wall provides meaningful work and a common purpose: specifically, the work of keeping out people who lack meaningful work and a common purpose. Stories of the underworld often tell of people forced to perform meaningless, never-ending tasks. In Hadestown, the people have been convinced to do so willingly. Pretty saavy, Hades. Pretty saavy.
So we’ve heard from a folk opera. We’ve also heard from the Mark’s gospel…
At this point in Mark’s story, Jesus has just selected 12 men to accompany him and become his apostles, promising that they too will soon have the power to cast out evils spirits. A running theme in Mark is that Jesus is, like, the worst kept secret ever. Despite telling his followers over and over again not to tell others about the miracles they have witnessed, Jesus’ fame is growing, and so are the crowds….to the point where there are so many people present and looking for Jesus that they aren’t even able to eat! This reminds me of the days I was deep into early motherhood with my babies — the days where I realized it was supper time and I’d needed to go pee since 10am but hadn’t had a moment to do it.
But the crowd is there. Jesus and the 12 are starving. And we hear that his family is on their way over. I’m actually pretty glad we’re dealing with this reading today and not next week on Father’s Day, because Joseph is noticeably absent from this story. In fact, Joseph is absent from Mark entirely.
Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.
What Jesus is saying is revolutionary and it is dangerous. Jesus redefines family as those who are sitting with him. Jesus calls people to care for others in a way that is radically inclusive. The idea that one can create a “Chosen Family” out of shared values and over blood ties is remarkably freeing. But it is also terrifying for the leaders and the people who rely on their protection and guidance.
So, Jesus’ family says he’s crazy. The religious leadership says he’s evil.
But this notion of an expansive, all encompassing love actually threatens the foundation of how to function and relate. It questions the established roles and protocols of 1st century Jewish society.
I doubt Mary and Jesus’ brothers actually thought Jesus was suffering from a mental breakdown. What’s more likely is that they understood there was only one place this level of subversion leads, and that is a cross…the ultimate and most shameful of ends. Jesus’ family wasn’t just embarrassed of of him. They were terrified for him. Execution enabled by the Judean leadership and committed by Imperial Roman rule. That is the cost of challenging the status quo.
What do we have that they should want?
We have just come out of one of the most intense and divisive provincial elections of my memory. The anger. The mudslinging. The Facebook trolling and name calling. The pettiness. The constant rhetoric of us vs. them. As if anything is really that simple. The trenches were dug. The foundations were laid. The walls were built. And we continued to build them. There are very smart, very saavy people who work behind the scenes who know how to use these walls to pit us against one another. To keep us distracted while creating a culture fear and anxiety. So we build the walls higher and higher…and we have been convinced to do so willingly.
But walls are made of stone, and stones get rolled away… we are an Easter people after all.
And so, I think of Susan again, and my question, “What do we have that people want?”
What do we have? I think people are tired. There are people who are tired of carrying on with the pettiness. With the division and nastiness. And they are looking for an alternative. Att our best, when we are truly fulfilling our calling to follow in the ways of radical inclusiveness that Jesus exemplified – that is when we have that something that people need, and that they may not have been able to find anywhere else.
A profound, subversive, expansive love that knows no limits. That is NOT passive. That calls us towards action and justice. That breaks down the barriers between us and them. That challenges the status quo. That has a cost. Love that’s handed out with a chisel and a hammer and a hard hat. That feeds the demolition crews to tear down the walls.
Love is Action. Love is something that has a cause and effect. Love is something that makes a difference.
There is a yearning for this expansive, barrier breaking love. In a world increasing partisanship and othering, there is an yearning. I see it all the time. A longing to stare down Hades and say, “We refuse to labour for your benefit. We refuse to build your wall.”
Because the only ones who benefits from the wall’s existence are also the only ones who will perish when it’s all burn down. The people who are harmed and the ones convinced that the pain on the other side is scarier than what’s here…we have everything to gain. Everything.
We are a demographic of Christians who recognize themselves as a people, rather than the people, of God…and we have so much to offer this beautiful and aching world. But the only way we can offer it is if we find the people who need it and commit to living it out alongside them. As equals. What do we have that they want? What do we have that they need? What do they have that we need? What do we need?
In the words of one of the great philosophers of the 20th century:
Love. Love. Love. All you need is love.
An expansive, radical and subversive love that includes everybody… Love…and a way to live it out, together.
May it be so…
The Living Presence Ministry is a community ministry of the United Church of Canada