Second Sunday in Lent, Year C
13 March 2022
Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18
There are times when I know that to be silent is more appropriate than to speak. And I am not referring to preaching on Sunday mornings.
I believe that as a descendant of those who carried out the holocaust I have no right to speak to the conflict between Israel and Palestine. You do but I do not. My ancestors forfeited that right for me.
There are other situations perhaps easier for you to identify with, when I as a man join a conversation in which women speak about sexual harassment it would be best for me to simply listen.
Or when I am in the company of any group of people who would be considered a visible minority and the conversation is about their experience as a minority, it would be best for me to only listen. After all, it is their conversation and they are kind enough to allow me to listen in.
But during the last few years things have gotten more complicated.
At our Synod’s study conference last year two speakers addressed racism as they saw it and experienced it. The conference was on Zoom and while usually anyone can unmute themselves, this time everything was tightly controlled. It was not possible to unmute yourself or to post to the chat, for fear that someone may say something inappropriate which may be offensive to guests or colleagues.
This was disappointing. Firstly, because such restrictive measures for a relatively small group of colleagues are an indication of a lack of trust. Yet trust is required for us to learn.
Secondly, while thoughtful and considerate speech should be the expectation, community does not exist without injury to one another. And while I am not advocating for anyone to say anything hurtful or inappropriate, moments when we hurt one another can be moments of learning and of growth not only for individuals but for a community.
In the Letter to the Philippians from which our second reading is taken, Paul stresses how people are connected with one another. This inherent relationship people have is the foundation on which Philippians is written, and so Paul can say in chapter two,
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” (v3-4)
If we follow Paul’s words, then our lives are not centred on ourselves but on others. Turning toward others in this way empowers and encourages others for it understands that they are essential to our life together. Just think of when people pay attention to you, or conversely when they do not. Paying attention to others not only empowers them but also allows us to learn from them.
Paul’s encouragement to regard others as better than ourselves is rooted in seeing Jesus Christ not simply in us and our own lives but in the life of others.
Earlier in chapter three Paul spends time emphasizing that we do not have a righteousness of our own, but one that comes through faith in Christ. (3:9) This is important for it suggests that our zeal for justice alone will not bring justice. Rather, when Paul emphasizes that we have a righteousness not our own, Paul appeals to our common baptism into Christ: No one is higher and no one is lower, but we are all one in Jesus Christ.
So keep in mind that we are baptized into Christ and that all of us live in Christ. And from there turn your attention to the verse that stands at the centre of our passage where Paul says that “… our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.” (20)
That our citizenship is in heaven is the determinative reality of our lives. We assumed this citizenship through our baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection.
The Anglican theologian Sam Wells makes this verse the basis for how we can relate to one another. Wells talks about how our conversations often begin with where we’re coming from. We want others to know where we’re coming from. That is good and I want to know where you are coming from. But if it’s all about where you are coming from then there is no room for me in this conversation. And so Wells says that while where we’re coming from, and our past history and experience is important, it will not be able to bring us together. It will always be about making sure others know where we’re coming from and there is little room left for those who are listening. Not leaving room for those who are listening is unfortunate because we will need those who are listening if we want to make things more fair, and just, and equitable. Wells says, God invites us all to be at the heavenly table, not because any of us have a right to be there, or because God is trying to set straight a historic injustice or present imbalance, but because God chooses never to be except to be with us in Christ …1
And so to look at the word about our citizenship being in heaven makes sense because our debates about identity are really about belonging. When someone is hurt by your question of where they’re from, it’s because what they hear is that they do not belong.
And so, Wells suggests that we ought to start not with where we’re coming from but where we’re going. We are citizens of heaven, that is where our resources are and that is the determinative reality of our lives.
So to return to what I said about silence at the beginning. There are times when I need to be silent and simply listen. Yet if, for example, only the victims of colonialism speak2 when colonialism is something we all need to talk about, we will never get to imagine what our life together could and should be like, and for that to happen we need the goal and imagination of heaven, and we need a conversation that does not exclude people simple because they are perpetrators or the descendants of the colonizers. There is a place for restorative justice not only outside of the church.
Or if we have a conversation about the role of women in society and in the church, men will need to do a lot of listening. But we won’t be able to reorder our relationships unless we have before us heaven, i.e. how God intends our relationships, and it is a conversation that will eventually need to be owned by everyone.3
In his second letter to the Corinthians the Apostle Paul exclaims that anyone who is in Christ is a new creation to then proceed to remind us that God reconciled us to Godself in Christ and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.
Thanks be to God.
1 What it Means to be an ‘Inclusive’ Church: https://www.abc.net.au/religion/sam-wells-what-does-it-mean-to-be-an-inclusive-church/11400088
2 And yes, we will need to do a lot of listening, likely more than we can imagine.
3 See Abigail Favale, Dignity or Victimhood: https://churchlifejournal.nd.edu/articles/dignity-or-victimhood/