Rev. Michael Blair – Volunteer Associate Minister

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

August 30, 2020

Matthew 16:21-28

From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.  And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.”  But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.  For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life?  Or what will they give in return for their life?  “For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done.  Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

In a 2019 interview with the CBC program Unreserve, Hayden King, the Anishinaabe writer and educator at Ryerson University, expressed his regret at composing the territorial acknowledgement for the University.  In his reflection he raised the concern that the acknowledgement is a risk of becoming superficial.  He argues that the treaties are a living institution and need to be engaged.  He offers:

“It’s one thing to say, “Hey, we’re on the territory of the Mississaugas or the Anishinaabek and the Haudenosaunee.” It’s another thing to say, “We’re on the territory of the Anishinaabek and the Haudenosaunee and here’s what that compels me to do.”

So, our response Sunday after Sunday to the acknowledgement where we say, “As treaty people, we commit to listen, learn, and work toward justice and reconciliation” is both critical and necessary and must move us to specific actions.

In recent days, we have seen players from Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League boycott their games to draw attention to the issues of racial injustice, in particular, Anti-Black racism.  We have seen nightly protests in the US in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and the shooting of Jacob Blake.  In our own context, we see protest and calls for the defunding of police services.

We are in a moment of ferment; we are in the throes of labour – something is a-birthing – a historical moment that will/can change our world forever.  This is a liberative moment.  This moment is calling for action and engagement… it is not a moment to either stay neutral or in the comfort of our heads and our books…

The lectionary readings for this season have invited us to hear in parallel the stories of the patriarchs alongside the ministry of Jesus.  Today we have the story of the call of Moses (at the burning bush) with Jesus’ articulation and clarity of his ministry, and its implication for those who would follow.

In Moses’ case (Exodus 3:1-15), God has seen and heard and is moved by the cries of the people who are suffering under the oppression of the Egyptians – God comes to Moses in a dramatic way – burning bush – Moses instinctively understands the implication of the call/invitation, Moses understood the personal cost of responding to the issues of his time.

Jesus, too, understands the moment in which he found himself… to respond meant he risked his life… Peter, wanted to play it safe.  Jesus rebukes him… and reminds us that the invitation to be a follower – disciple – is a costly venture.

To follow Jesus is to participate in the liberative activity of God in the world.  It is to engage in the upending of systems that dehumanize, commodifies, and oppresses people, and abuses the earth.  One cannot be part of God’s initiative for the liberation of God’s creation without being willing to pay the cost.

So, this morning from the text in Matthew, I simply want to raise these questions with you:  What will it cost you to engage with indigenous peoples in this land?  What will it cost you to engage with reparation with people of African descent?  What will it cost you to engage in human rights with the people of Palestine?  What will it cost you to engage in the end of Human Rights abuses in the Philippines?  What price are you willing to pay to engage with God’s liberating action in the world?

May God grant us courage to be willing to put our bodies where our ideas are, to put our monies where our thinking is, and to engage in the liberation of peoples who are oppressed in this world today, and the days to come.  Amen.


Image:  Burning Bush – Maria Karajovanova

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