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February 13th, 2022

And so, on this third weekend of the protest in our city, with the bonfires still lit on streets and in parking lots, and the trucks clogging up the downtown core, we find ourselves left to contemplate these most eloquent and graceful words from Jesus. The scene is set for us. Jesus is walking among a crowd of needs. People from all walks of life. People needing to be healed. Others looking for purpose. Wanting to touch Jesus, to feel his power; and to hear him, and know him. And Jesus, we are told, looks at the disciples – looks at us – and gifts us with the Beatitudes. And what do they mean for us in these modern days? What should they tell us during this tumultuous time of protest? During this uncertain time of pandemic? In fact, they define the very nature of discipleship. The challenge for the disciples of the gospel is to find a way to keep that path when times are most trying. When we are hurt, when we are angry, when we are fearful of the state the world is becoming, and the best approach seems to fight violence and aggression with an equal response. And yet, on this Sunday, we find ourselves reminded of our core responsibilities: to care for poor, for those who are powerless, and for those who are filled with sorrow. We are not to be trapped by wealth or cruel laughter. Taken another way, the Beatitudes are a very direct message to each and every one of us – of the qualities to which we should aspire. They remind us that God is closest to us when we are most open to hearing from God. When we need God the most, the gospel echoes loudly in our ears. Blessed are those who are humble, for that is the way to see the reign of God. Blessed are those who are hungry – for knowledge, for understanding, for self-awareness – for in that search we will be satisfied. Blessed are those who grieve, for having loved even what is lost leads to laughter again. Blessed are those who defend justice in the name of the gospel; it may not be easy, but the reward will be worth it. And what of the woes? Those are our missteps: wealth for wealth’s gain, selfsatisfaction, and laughter at the expense of others. For those missteps, the warning is dire: a price will be paid, a hunger will come, sorrow will follow. And then this last one, at the very end. Left to leave its mark upon us: Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that, Jesus says, is a person who believes in whatever works for the moment, and not in whatever is needed to make the difference. And so, how might that discipleship fit into the protest that has seized our city and our country, that suggests a grim force of intolerance, misinformation, a destabilizing of civil society. This very week, a woman called St. Peter’s to ask if protestors could use the space to stay overnight while they were in town supporting the protest. “If we were good Christians, she said, we would make room.” That is a challenging notion because we are supposed to make room for everyone. But in this instance, we need to look to the example of Jesus. For people who came, asking him questions, Jesus always answered. But he invested his time with those whose questions were not listened to, those who had no voice at all. With only so much room, he made space for those who had nowhere else to go, for those who were poor or afraid. This week I was asked to sign a “In Solidarity with our Neighbours” letter from clergy of downtown Ottawa Christian churches. I was hesitant to sign because I didn’t want to add to the polarization that is so evident around this protest. A colleague called and asked: “Joel, why haven’t you signed the letter?” I hummed and hawed, and he cut me off and said, “Do you know what it’s like for me to walk downtown as a black man right now? When you don’t sign the letter, you are saying it’s okay for me to have to continue to feel this way.” Our society survives when we unite. And sometimes, we must unite with others against forces we know to be wrong. We must stand allied with people of colour and the Jewish residents who say they are now afraid to walk their own streets. We must call out those whose sense of freedom means trampling the rights of others to live freely. We must risk this, even if it means that some people may call us bad Christians. This is the challenge of discipleship, and it is the most important line in the Beatitudes. For to keep them, we must be agitators for the gospel; we must be controversial; we must speak up. Sometimes, we need to be angry for the sake of others. We must walk, as Jesus did, among the crowd in need, and with our voices, help them find theirs. Amen

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