This past week I have been thinking a lot about equality and welcome and inclusion. There have been so many things happening in the news that triggered these thoughts, of course there are the things happening in US politics, but also the reactions I’ve read around the announcement of the Richmond School Board adopting the SOGI policy, and Burnaby School Board emailing me saying that they will be hosting a float at this year’s pride parade, and I also heard that Burnaby will be having their own pride parade just up the street from us on Imperial Avenue.
My thoughts were around what my response as a pastor should be, my response as a father, an Asian Canadian, or just a guy living in this city. What should our response be as a church, a congregation? What should my family’s response be as two out of three of our kids are in the Burnaby school system? What should my personal response be as a visible minority, someone whose family has faced a great deal of racism back in the day, and as an individual that still faces racism today however subtle?
The fact of the matter is, it is hard to see each other equally, isn’t it? We make assumptions of each other, we size people up, we look at each other and make snap judgments of who we think they are and how we rank up against each other. While most of us would probably deny that we do that, we actually do that. It is almost unavoidable. But what we’ve gotten good at, most of us at least, is to not act on our assumptions and give people the benefit of the doubt.
So maybe we vote in the young sort of immature guy, maybe we trust the underqualified and seemingly not suitable, maybe we hire the Asian guy to be our pastor in a mostly German/Norwegian church. But if things go sideways? Well then it’s somehow their fault and they brought it upon themselves.
Sexually harassed? Well you shouldn’t have dressed like that. Bullied? Well you shouldn’t be different from the status quo. Homeless? Well you shouldn’t be so lazy. Separated from your kids? Well you shouldn’t have tried to cross the border illegally to save your own life. Don’t try playing the victim card because these things are pretty much your fault, our hands are clean.
We see a little bit of this mentality in today’s gospel reading. We have a huge contrast in class between the two people that Jesus responds to. There is the religious official named and recognized as Jairus and the unnamed woman whom no one barely notices and was suffering from hemorrhages for 12 years, both in pain, both needing help, both reaching out to Jesus. But as we look at the story we see the reaction from the crowd for these two cases was very different.
With Jairus, concerned about his sick daughter, drew compassion from people, they worried for his well-being, and they followed this large procession to his house, and if not walking with them probably at very least sending thoughts and prayers. But the woman, unnamed and unknown, snuck into the procession and no one even noticed her. No one seemed to care. All the money she had was spent on doctors that were unable to help and she appears to be very much alone.
Notice even how Jesus reacts. Jairus just approaches him and makes a request for healing. Jesus is like, sure ok, and they’re off on a journey to help. The woman inconspicuously touches his cloak and he’s like, whoa whoa you guys feel that? Clearly Jairus comes from a place of privilege, when something tragic happens to him people are concerned and wonder what they could do to help and alleviate his suffering. But this woman has been suffering for 12 years and people probably just wondered what she did to deserve it and pretty much just want to avoid her.
Two very different people. Two very different classes. Two very different needs. Two very different interpretations on what happened, and who is a victim.
But still, Jesus hears them. Jesus meets them where they are, either a place of privilege and prestige, or a place of poverty and pain, and Jesus holds them. Jesus cares not who they are, where they’re from, or what they’ve done, only that have a need, reached out in faith, and believed that they are worthy enough to be loved, and Jesus heals them.
See Jesus wasn’t at all concerned about class, or race, or gender. In a time when human right was determined by structures put in place by those who would benefit the most, in a place where nationality and ethnic borders meant the difference between people and non-people, in a mindset that “welcome” needed to be painstakingly earned and “inclusion” was a threat to your own well-being, in a world that looked pretty much exactly like ours does now, Jesus had compassion. Jesus opened his arms to community and care. Jesus reached out to the vulnerable and the outcast and the alone and brought healing, wholeness, and the love of God.
This is why I must have issue with families being separated at the border because those are people. This is why I must support the rights of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters because they are people. This is why I must speak up against the injustices toward the poor and marginalized because we are all people.
We are people created by God in God’s own image. We are people brought together and joined at the body of Christ. We are people invited and welcomed in Spirit, revealing to us a gracious love and mercy that surpasses all understanding. And at times, we are people in need. We are people who feel lonely. We are people who need community and see that we too can be included and welcomed and loved.
It has been said that the bible says we must obey the law of the land, and this is true, it does say that. But the bible also says that the greatest law is to love God, and the second greatest is to love each other as we love ourselves. And however you want to slice it, disregarding the human rights of our neighbours, classifying each other more as a statistic than as an individual, judging others in what we believe they deserve or don’t deserve and what they only brought onto themselves, and thinking that your interpretation of right or wrong weighs more than basic compassion and empathy for those in need, is not love. It is many things, but it is not love.
But then some say that there needs to be justice against those who break the law. To that Jesus says love. Some will say we need to act strictly in order to make sure others live right. To that Jesus says love. Some will say that we need to ensure people obey God in order to save themselves from hell. To that Jesus says love.
This isn’t to say that all the world’s problems will just melt away as we enter into this giant lovefest, but it is to say that we need to take steps in the right direction, learning and growing together as we live in community, and be open to what new acts of love, grace, and welcome God is doing in and around our lives, that we might see God present and working and be reminded of who we ourselves are.
In my travels around the internet this week I came across a video that struck me. This fellow by the name of Prince EA talks about racism, sexism, and classim and all that, basically exactly what we’ve been talking about here. Let’s just let the video speak for itself:
“We are one”. Not just because we share that energy that he talks about, but also because we are invited, welcomed, and included by the Spirit in the Spirit and for the sake of the Spirit, seeing each other as equal as God’s children, and holding us up in love.
See God lifts us up, all of us out of death and restores us to health and life with God and all the saints, granting us God’s favour as we are brought to joy with every new morning. This is what God does, what God has done, and what God continues to do for us and all people, that we might see each of us together in love as one.
In this season after Pentecost, may we embrace the love graciously given and reflect it out to all people regardless of who they are, where they’re from, or what they’ve done. Thanks be to God. Amen.