Rev. Lyle McKenzie Lutheran Church of the Cross of Victoria
Ruth 3:1-5 , 4:13-17 / Psalm 127 / Hebrews 9:24-28 / Mark 12:38-44
The Gospel today, and the story of Ruth and Naomi are stories of solidarity. Ruth will not leave Naomi, and her and their faithfulness, and God’s to them, result in the blessings we hear today. Jesus speaks up for the widows whose homes are taken by religious leaders who like their privilege and status over justice and care for those who have no protection under the law, and for the one widow Jesus sees putting her last penny, all she had to live on, into the treasury of that same religious system.
These stories of injustice and solidarity are especially relevant given the last two weeks of events in our world and community, and on this 100th anniversary of Remembrance Day.
The shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, the apology to the Jewish community for the Canadian Government’s refusal to receive the over 900 Jewish refugees fleeing Germany aboard the ship the M.S. St. Louis in 1939, and the Kristallnacht commemoration this past Thursday evening on the 80th anniversary of the breaking of glass and fires in Jewish Synagogues and shops in Germany and Austria all point to the critical need to stand against injustice, racism, oppression and violence whenever we encounter it. To stand in solidarity with the oppressed, and with Jesus, who stands with them.
Following the shooting and murders at the Synagogue, and a discussion at our Confirmation class and the following morning’s prayers, we decided to put on our exterior sign, “Standing with our Jewish neighbours.” We had put up a similar message following the shooting and murders at the Mosque in Montreal. That time we heard from a neighbour thanking us for our message of solidarity. This time also, we received phone messages from our Jewish neighbours. One said, “I was driving home from the synagogue and thinking about Pittsburgh and I saw your sign and it lifted me up. The support of the community has been wonderful, and you are part of that in my heart. Thank you.” Another said, “I live around the corner and I saw your sign and it brought tears to my eyes, that’s what we need, you nailed it, so visible…for everyone to see…. Thank you.”
And we received this written note…
All of this to say not, “Good for us.” But instead, do we hear how significant even this small expression of solidarity and support is to our neighbours? So also, our acknowledgement of lands and work towards reconciliation with indigenous friends and neighbours, sponsorship and support for refugees and new Canadians, help for those struggling to access healthy food and more. It is Jesus’ solidarity with the widow, children, the foreigner, the poor, the physically and mentally disadvantaged again and again that is a sign of God’s dominion coming near. The small gesture of a sign and these other acts of solidarity witness to the same, God’s dominion of compassion and hope coming near.
As I mentioned, Thursday was the Kristallnacht commemoration at Congregation Emanu-El synagogue in downtown Victoria. Several people from our community were able to attend. It was an important gathering of community support, represented by many local, provincial and national government and community and religious leaders that included “A pledge of mutual respect and support” that said:
All this is a reminder and commitment that we stand up in solidarity with those who suffer prejudice, oppression, hatred and violence in every time.
By chance I watched a movie this week based on a book by the same title, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne. It is the story of two young boys and their unexpected friendship. Set during the second World War, one boy lives with his family in a country house, having moved there because the father is a commander of the nearby concentration camp. The other is a Jewish boy of the same age imprisoned at the camp. They meet through the fence as the one boy goes exploring from his home and reaches the camp fence, finding the other boy resting behind some rubble. They continue to meet and visit almost daily as the one boy brings the other food and they learn more about each other but remain naive to the deadly circumstances for the Jewish boy. In an attempt to help the Jewish boy find his father, the other boy decides to enter the camp with him, digging a hole under the fence and putting on an extra pair of striped pajamas the Jewish boy brings him so he can fit in. This leads to tragic consequences for both boys, and their families because of the one boy’s willingness to be with and attempt to help his friend.
The same solidarity is remembered and asked of us on this 100th Anniversary of Remembrance Day. Solidarity with those who have suffered and are suffering, lives sacrificed, or health and wellbeing, and the pain for family members and friends, at war, and in other conflicts, and in the cause of peace. We remember and stand with them and together today to recommit ourselves to God’s justice and peace for the world. One of our Confirmation students, Ethan Walker wrote the following fictional diary entry of a WW1 soldier for his assembly at school and gave me permission to share it today: That blanket my mom gave me, I had to tear it up, to save a friend. He was shot in the arm. Now, what’s left of that lovely white blanket is a gruesome, dark red. I wish it wasn’t ruined, because sleeping is already hard enough. My ears are shouting in pain at me from the gunfire, and bodies are everywhere.
We’re surrounded in what used to be a lovely French village, now a crimson pile of rubble. It’s impossible to find shelter, because the roof of every building is gone, allowing the frozen flakes of snow to fall on us in our sleep. That blanket from my mother would’ve been great. I wish I could have enjoyed being here, but our supplies are fading, and most of us have this empty void forming in our stomachs.
When I joined the frontlines, I was told that I would be very helpful. Now I just feel like one of the bullets used in this war. Only useful for the first couple of seconds, before being left behind, forgotten.
To remember, to understand, to stand with and against that which is opposed to God’s love and justice and peace for this world is our sure hope and promise in God.
The conclusion of the Ruth and Naomi story is full of hope and promise fulfilled. The widow and her daughter-in-law once alone and destitute, now enjoy security and the birth of a child, who the community of women name Obed, who is the father of Jesse, who is the father of David – promise fulfilled by God! God’s solidarity with them is their hope and promise.
God’s solidarity through Jesus with all who are oppressed, with our fallen humanity and this broken world, is our hope and promise fulfilled, calling us and giving us the Spirit of strength and courage to do the same in solidarity and compassion and hope and promise for the sake and salvation of this world; in the Spirit of Christ Jesus, and in all our relations; let it be so, Amen.