Thursday, 25 July 2013

For the sake of ten...

Lectionary Readings for July 28. Gen 18:20-32, Ps 138, Col 2:6-19, Luke 11:1-13

Here at the Maison de l'amitie (House of Friendship), a well-situated guest house in a "happening" area of Montreal, the internet wasn't happening for me this week-so I'm a little late with this!

This week I'm struck with Abraham's discussion with God in Genesis 18. He pleads for the people of Sodom and Gomorrah-pleads for the sake of the few righteous among the population, arguing that it is not fair for them to be destroyed for what they did not do. So the Lord responds that for the sake of 50 righteous, the rest will be saved. The discussion goes on and Abraham finally haggles the number down to 10. If there are 10 righteous people to be found, the whole city will be spared.

Montreal, like so many of our big cities and towns, is a place where a lot of the edgy side of humanity is on display. I guess I've seen a bit more of it here than at home in Edmonton because the hot weather is conducive to people being out on the streets and on display. I'm also downtown instead of in the suburbs, and Montrealers are great walkers and users of public transport. It seems to me that Montrealers are less modest that Edmontonians. While hot weather is part of it, it's certainly also a different culture. When I mentioned to one person that maybe Montreal is Canada's Brazil (think skimpy bikinis) she laughed, but didn't dispute it! There is also a great availability of alcohol-every street corner sells it and the street side bars are hopping every night. We've also been hanging out with people who've seen the worst of what society has to offer. Many of the people who live on the streets have been abused, dished out abuse, been victimized by drugs/alcohol, suffer from mental illness...but in the middle of all of this too, we've met some amazing people. The righteous who give of their time to care for the hurting, people who advocate for change, people who don't condemn others but see the good in them.

Reading Gen. 18, I think there is a call here for God's people to be those 10 that Abraham argues on behalf of. It's not that these good folks can necessarily change things, but cities are made liveable because of them, other people benefit from their work even if they don't realize it. For the sake of a few, the whole can be saved. Instead of reading the story as a tale of depravity, we can read it as a tale of encouragement. God is merciful. There are good things, if small, happening that we should be aligned with. And, like Abraham, our petitions on behalf of others make a difference!

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Who Shall Abide in God's Sanctuary?

Readings for July 21: Gen. 18:1-10a, Ps 15, Col. 1:15-28, Luke 10:38-42.
Donita Wiebe-Neufeld

We've been in Montreal for 5 days now and have spent 3 of those at the ST. James drop-in-centre getting to know the men who call it theirs. This is an interesting place. While it's called a drop-in, it's not really for just anyone. Who can be part of the centre? The men who use the centre become members of it, agreeing to certain behaviour guidelines, pitching in to help where they can, and deliberately becoming part of intentional community. This is a way to develop long-term relationships and belonging. If they treat others poorly, they are asked to leave. Alain says that when some of the men get back on their feet and don't need the help anymore, their space get freed up to take on a new member, but they always try to keep some spaces in case a man needs to come back for awhile. Getting off the streets and on your feet sometimes is a matter of try, try again.

There is a very wide variety of men using the centre, from a few who are quite mentally or emotionally disabled, to some who seem (at least at first glance) to be completely "normal". (Whatever normal is). It is really neat to get to know some of the personalities behind the appearances. It has taken away some of the "fear" I might have had in approaching a ragged looking person. There's one man I noticed that gives off a first impression that he is scary, rough, and who knows what else. Then, when you speak with him, he has the most gentle eyes, an engaging personality, and he's almost painfully polite. It's a good lesson not to judge people by their appearances! What matters here is how people treat each other, not how they look.

"O Lord, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on Your Holy hill?" Ps 15:1. The Psalm talks about what membership in God's family involves. There is nothing about how wealthy a person is, or what they wear, or how they smell, or what has befallen them in life. There is nothing about how smart or talented or appealing someone is. Membership involves committing to certain behavioural guidelines, truth telling, and treating others with respect. God's "tent" rules involve actions that build community with no mention of status or deserving-ness, other than that each member treat the others well.

On another note, it's been interesting to see the vast number of beautiful old sandstone cathedrals here, yet the population does not go to church. Church has a negative stereotype in this culture. Alain says that church planting here does not work according to old mission models. Here it has to be about long term relationships, slow growth, and community. Hard, long term work!

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

From Easy Answers to Difficult Actions

Lectionary Passages for July 17:Deut 30:9-14, Ps 25:1-10, Col 1:1-14, Luke 10:25-37
Donita Wiebe-Neufeld

I'm blogging from a room in the Maison De L'Amitie (House of Friendship) in Montreal on Tuesday, July 9. We've had a warm welcome here. (Very warm in our room, even 2 fans aren't cooling it off much!) I'm hoping to keep the blog up while we are here for the next three weeks, but since I'm never quite sure where and when I'll have time and access to the internet, I apologize if I am a bit hard to predict!

Today I read Luke 10-the story of the Good Samaritan-knowing that the next two weeks we will spend a lot of time interacting with homeless people at the St. James drop in centre a few kilometres from here.

The lawyer asks his first question; "what must I do to inherit eternal life", not to really hear the answer. He did it to test Jesus. (Lawyers, according to the study bible I have here, were experts in Mosaic law and were teachers of it.) In response, Jesus asks him a question about what is written in the law, a question the lawyer can't resist. He gives the simple answer every Jew knows. Jesus affirms him and says; "go do it and you will live."

Now the lawyer is hooked. Jesus really tricked him into answering his own question, and the answer sounds too easy-something every child knows and the lawyer doesn't want to end up looking like he asked a stupid question. So the lawyer pushes Jesus, "who is my neighbour?" After telling the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus gets the lawyer to answer his own question again. Once again, the answer is clear, but this time it is far from easy because it carries implications for how the lawyer is living. The lawyer is a respected religious person, like the priest and levite in the story. And like them, he would be loath to make himself ritually impure by touching a body that was almost dead. Yet, if he is to be the neighbour and merit eternal life, he has to make himself like a Samaritan. The Samaritan wasn't worried about his status. He just quietly went out of his way to help the unfortunate man he found by the road.

We are privileged people like the lawyer. We don't often have to get our own hands dirty-we can pay others to do the things we don't want to, to take care of the poor. Often, that giving is a good thing, but if that's all we do we stay a 'clean' arms length from the real people and issues. Our understanding is largely head knowledge that may or may not really affect our hearts. Tomorrow, and in the weeks to come Tim and the boys and I get to meet some of the less fortunate, hopefully hear their stories, and also meet the people who run a drop in centre that helps them. I wonder what motivates these 'samaritans' and what helps them to reach out. I wonder what sorts of things we worry about, our status as individuals, faith groups, etc...that get in the way of what should be the simple acts of loving God and our neighbours.

Once again, I am struck by how the lectionary passages are helping me to think about things that are happening in my every day life.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Sharing, not comparing.

Lectionary Passages for July 7. Isaiah 66:10-14, Ps. 66:1-9, Gal 6: (1-6), 7-16, Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
Donita Wiebe-Neufeld

Tomorrow morning our family leaves for Ontario and Quebec. The "feature" part of our month long trip is to spend 2 weeks in Montreal with Alain Spitzer and his family. Alain was baptized at First Mennonite and is an associate member of our congregation. He is the director of a drop in centre for homeless men. We are going to stay at the Mennonite "House of Friendship" and spend our days seeing what goes on at the centre and helping out where we can.

Reading Galations 6 is an excellent preparation. The ideas of carrying one another's burdens, sharing, not comparing, and doing good to all people are helpful in developing a mindset ready for learning. I expect to do a lot of listening to stories from people in very different situations than my own. I am looking forward too, to hearing our kids use their French skills and I want to listen to what they learn from all of this. So often I am impressed by the observations and ideas that young people make.

I wonder how verse 9 reads for the people, like Alain, who do this ministry and work all the time. "Let us not become weary in doing good..." When we do feel tired, or ineffectual, or plain burnt out, where do we turn? It is an incredible blessing for me and Tim to have sabbatical time to reflect and rest and think about the ministry and work that happens in our church, but really, it's not a "break" from ministry. As Christians ministry is a life orientation. Sabbatical is different than working at the church, but it's not a holiday from ministry. It's a break from the usual and a chance to experience new aspects and insights into God's work in the world. It's a way to keep from getting weary, to find new ideas and energy, a way to keep going and being positive. This Galations passage leaves me feeling positive and encouraged.

The past few weeks I've had time to be there for a friend. I'm thankful for the time to be there, but also for the ability to be mentally/emotionally there too. Verse 2 says; "Carry each others burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ." There is so much of this, people supporting each other, in our church community. Most of it is 'off the radar', non-programmed, informal. This is God's work and something we are all called to do for each other. I am so very thankful to be part of a community where I find people who take this ministry to each other seriously. People who don't only help their close friends and family, but are willing to offer help where ever it is needed. It is sometimes, quite literally, a lifeline. There is always a challenge here, however, because there are people who don't seem to get the support they need, they "fall through the cracks." How do we open ourselves up so that people feel we are approachable when they need a shoulder to lean on? How do we open ourselves up to ask for the help we need instead of feeling disappointed or angry when we need support and it doesn't seem to be there?"

My intention is to keep up with the readings and blogging while we are away from home. I'm looking forward to reading the scriptures in a new (for me) environment. I'd love to hear some of your comments about what you see in your readings, whether you are at home this month, or doing some summer travelling too!