Sermon for the 6th Sunday after Epiphany

Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Psalm 119:1-8
1 Corinthians 3:1-9
Matthew 5:21-37

So anyone drive by Cambie and Broadway in Vancouver this past week?  If you did, you probably found that you actually didn’t.  Instead, you had to take an inconvenient detour around the small streets and other routes that the many other commuters just trying to get home took as well, because the intersection of Cambie and Broadway, the busiest intersection leading to the busiest strip of 5 blocks in the entire Lower Mainland, was closed was because of the Wet’suwet’en protest that was happening at Vancouver City Hall. 

In case you didn’t hear about these protests and what they’re about, the news say it’s about the pipeline going through Wet’suwet’en land, but it is actually more about the human and legal rights of the Wet’suwet’en that the Canadian government is supposed to respect but apparently didn’t.  And there were these protests all over Canada by the Wet’suwet’en and others with them in solidarity, and inconveniencing settler Canadians from their daily lives as they blocked roads, railways, other things areas of settler life that are taken advantage of.

It was times like these that I feel lucky that live only 10 minutes away from work regardless of road conditions or congestion, which makes it so easy for me to get here to shovel the snow.

But there are others who aren’t so lucky.  Others like the roughly 20,000 vehicles that drive through that exact intersection on any given day during rush hour.  Others like Roger, who was having a phone meeting with me at that exact time and luckily I was able to somewhat direct him through the maddening traffic.  Others like those who took to the radio stations to voice their complaints and anger toward the Wet’suwet’en people for causing this inconvenient disruption in their day.

So much anger.

And to be honest, I get it.  I get there is anger on every side of this equation.  There is anger of course from the Wet’suwet’en who feel wronged.  There is anger from the Canadian government who feel like they’ve done what they could to just get this pipeline put in.  There is anger from the general public who were inconvenienced by the protests and just want to get where they’re going.

It seems like almost unintentionally, the natural gut reaction from everyone is to just look out for themselves and their own interests.  It is easy to feel frustrated and wronged in this situation, point fingers and exclaim, “but they did it first!”  We usually don’t like to blame ourselves as the instigator in any kind of conflict.  We feel uncomfortable with the thought that we could be the ones that need to change.  We would sooner claim that we didn’t start the fire, and claim that it always burning since the world was turning.

It is just easier, more desirable and more comfortable to shift the blame off us and put it on others.

And that is how conflict starts.  We sit on our high horse thinking that we’re just minding our own business when suddenly someone comes and inexplicably pulls the rug out from under us, and we have no choice but to retaliate.  In fact, it is our legal right to retaliate and say that they started it, and we are acting in self defense.  But of course, the one who pulled the rug didn’t do it with intention or malice, so now they are forced to retaliate to our retaliation.  And the cycle perpetuates until someone caves, dies, or perhaps most unlikely, forgives.

Because we all feel like it is in our right to be right.  We think that if we are wrongfully blamed for something, or maybe rightfully blamed for something, then we must defend our honour and self-imposed innocence.  We think that the world is simply about us.

This is what Jesus is talking about here in this portion of his Sermon on the Mount.  After surprising the folk of who are actually blessed and called the salt and light of the world, he goes on and talks about how we should deal with conflict.  Because you know there’s going to be conflict when we see those who shouldn’t be blessed being blessed, or those who are called salt when they’re just salty, those who shine light on the world but totally get on our nerves and in our eyes are constantly wrong and continually wrong us.  And so Jesus gives practical ways of nipping that conflict in the bud, except they really seem kind of undoable. 

I mean, I like to be angry at people who anger me, maybe to the point of calling them names or sticking up a finger that I shouldn’t be sticking up when no one is looking.  I like to cut people out of my life who don’t agree with me, who don’t fit into my narrow view of what they should be like, who don’t treat me like I’m their whole world.  I like to look at people who I find attractive, I mean I spend way too much time in front of the mirror.  How can I possibly stop doing those things?  Short of cutting that eye out, that is.

I think what we need to remember is that the entire Sermon on the Mount is one sermon.  They weren’t split up in different weeks like how we get it, but the people who were there caught the whole sermon from start to finish and no intermission in between.  Whether they listened the whole time is a different story.  So the flow the sermon, the whole teaching here is a single thought, growing and manifesting and building on itself.  If we look at the flow thus far we see Jesus blessing the outcast, lifting them up and holding them with great regard, and explaining to everyone there, rich and poor, male and female, young and old, that they are all equally loved because they are all equally children of God.

You see, we aren’t judged by how well we keep the law.  We aren’t condemned because we’ve messed up here and there.  We aren’t excluded from God’s love if we fail to amputate the eyes and hands that cause us to sin.  Rather, God loves us first, wholly and unconditionally, and has this hope that we can learn to love others in return.  If and when we get there, we’ll see that we aren’t as angry with each other because we’ll see that we all make mistakes.  We won’t want to cut each other out of our lives because we’ll see that we all have roles to play and things to contribute to the community.  We’ll see that other people aren’t but objects for our gratification or pleasure, but are companions and partners on our journey in life.

This love melts away our selfishness and entitlement.  This love removes grudges and power struggles.  This love reminds us that our salvation isn’t a personal thing, rather it is a communal thing in which we as a community are saved out of and from our hatred, guilt, and shame.

So what can we do with the protests that are happening right now?  I don’t know, maybe nothing.  But I firmly believe that if both sides were to come down a few notches on the self-preservation ladder and maybe up a few notches in the love and equality and reconciliation ladder, then maybe this conflict would have ended before it even started.  For in the midst of all this conflict I believe Jesus’ words of wisdom and promises of love and grace are especially true, and that if we see each other, all people as equal partners in this thing called life, we won’t be so quick to judge but rather we’d be slow to anger and hopefully abounding in God’s steadfast love and forgiveness.

As we near the end of this season after Epiphany and look ahead to Lent, may we rest on God’s promises of love, grace, and meaning in our lives that we can see more fully God’s love, grace, and meaning in the lives of our neighbours.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

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