The simple answer to that is what we do should follow Jesus’ commandments to love God and love Neighbor and love self. Loving our neighbors without judging them could have reduced and prevented some of Christianity’s greatest sources of embarrassment and shame, like the crusades or witch hunts.
I wonder, though, if we have let those historic failures become a reason to avoid doing good. We don’t want to make such a colossal blunder again, so we don’t do anything. We become suspicious of eagerness, and we worry about what the neighbors think. We fear slander, lies, gossip, maligning our characters, being labeled a religious fanatic by family and friends if we do. Yet we are not to fear that. “Do not fear what the world fears, and do not be intimidated.”
We are called to be Easter people, people who have heard the good news that there is nothing the world can throw at us that will stop the message of God’s love. We are called to be eager, to share our hope when we are asked, with gentleness and respect. We are called to be lights of the world, to speak out against the evils that we see, and be eager to do something about it.
I remember being on a Habitat for Humanity build one year with my church. It wasn’t a fund raiser, it was a team project to help out families who struggled to find affordable homes. We had one fellow who also was on the build because he was court ordered to do community service. As we cheerfully worked away with hammers and saws and many jokes and laughs, he grumbled and swore.
When he grumpily asked how much time we had to serve, we told him we were volunteers. Why the * would we do that, he asked. Because that’s what Christians do. He thought we were crazy, but that was his problem not ours.
Generosity, love, kindness, gentleness, these are what we are called to be as Easter people. But we’re not called to be nice. We are called to make bold statements, to be a shining light in this troubled world. If we are just nice, then we aren’t really Christians. No, because we are to be prepared to suffer for doing good. We are to be brave and strong for what is right.
But that brings us back to what is good? It needs, first of all, a lot of prayer to make sure that what we think is good is indeed a loving thing and not just an ego trip. And second, it needs to ask the question, ‘will people be angry if we do this?’
When the United Church protested Japanese Internment camps, people got angry at them. When the United Church decided to ordain women, people left the church. When the United Church married divorced people, they were scorned as not Christian enough. When the United Church said it was okay to ordain the GLTBQ community as long as they had gone through the same process as everyone else, they were heaped with ridicule, hate and anger. When they apologized for their involvement in residential schools and for the Port Alberni abuses, there was scorn from Canadians about that too. What will cause scorn and anger today?
One way is by lighting a candle. We light our Christ Candle this Easter season not because it’s a nice thing to do, like putting birthday candles on a cake, but because it is to remind us of who we are and whose we are. It is a powerful act of protest against the anger and hatred and greed in the world.
There is a Methodist church in South Africa who started buying candles made in a poor neighborhood during Apartheid. Each Sunday they would light their candle and name the folks who had gone missing, who had been beaten up, or who had been arrested. Even teenagers were being scooped up and locked up. The church sold the candles to other congregations to help this little neighborhood, and it spread like wildfire. We heard about it even in Canada, as we also have Methodist roots. The candles were being sold around the world.
The South African government did not like this. They did not like the prayer, and they passed a law making it illegal to light these candles in church. Can you imagine, police would charge into Sunday Worship to stop it? They smashed doors and broke windows. The congregations suffered. They suffered, people, but their eagerness to do good did not stop them! It still does not stop them. Even today they gather to pray and to testify that government corruption is not what God intends for this world.
What would we be eager to do good for? Who is it that needs our gentle loving support? Who would we light this candle for even though it might mean scorn and scandal? Homeless people in Athabasca who sleep in the Gazebo or in the pottery studio across the street? Families torn apart by the Fentanyl crisis? People who have lost family members to random acts of destruction by disturbed people using cars or guns in public spaces? People who struggle with mental illness and are afraid to admit that they need help?
Are we brave enough to light this candle?
Let us pray: Oh God, you sent your son Jesus to be the light of the world. The world was afraid and reacted with violence and scorn to silence his light. But You would not let that be the end of his story. The world did not understand your light-bringer, but they also did not destroy him. Help us to have the courage to be eager to do good in wise and loving ways. Amen.