If we were gathering for worship today in person at St. Peter’s, I am not sure it would be safe for us to do so. There have been trucks outside the church all week; the other day a fist fight broke out between a group of men in the laneway while we were trying to have a Worship and Music Committee meeting. This is not about the headache of noise from all the honking. We have heard more and more stories: a rock thrown at an ambulance, people desecrating our most famous war memorial, demonstrators building permanent structures on Federal property, people who can’t get to work, others who right now have no jobs to go to, the harassment of shelter staff, women at a local shelter – especially racialized women – who are afraid to go outside. The flying of Swastikas and Confederate flags, symbols of hate and bigotry. Yes, maybe it is a few people: but a few people flying swastikas, a few people harassing regular citizens with masks on, a few people urinating on the tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the front yard of the church, a few people barging into stores unmasked, a few people smashing windows at a coffee shop with a rainbow banner. Those few people add up to many people. Whose freedom comes first? We might think we have the answer; but it is not always easy to find the solution. When do my rights trump your rights is a classic question of the gospel. If the Ten Commandments tell us not to kill, what of the soldier on the battlefield? If we are to honour our mothers and fathers, what of those parents who are abusive? The world is not a place of simple answers. Luckily for us, the gospel is not designed for a fictional world. It is meant to inform the real world we live in. A place where even when the answers are obvious, the solutions may not be easy. For starters, protests are part of the DNA of our faith as Lutherans. Our church is built on the foundation of protest, with Martin Luther challenging the status quo at great personal risk. The gospel is about a protestor – Jesus – who also called to account the leaders of the day and challenged the assumptions about the way society needed to run. Protest is an important part of a democracy. It is how regular people speak out against injustice and force leaders to pay attention to their voices. As a country that values free expression, we must, as a collective, protect the right to protest. Martin Luther spoke up for what he believed in and hoped that people would listen. He worked hard to get his message across with writing and speeches and conversations in taverns. He protested by trying to educate people, including translating the Bible so they could read it for themselves. And Jesus protested by inviting people to sit with him, by healing strangers and showing kindness to the vulnerable; Jesus protested by setting an example. It’s true: sometimes, we need to shout; but we should use that tool carefully, always mindful to make sure that what we are shouting about merits our raised voices. One test is asking if it is about us and our own personal reward, or if it is about others and a greater good. We might also ask: if we achieved our goal, would the world be better and safer and more just? Does the current protest pass that test? Last week, our gospel set a standard of love that was aspirational, perfect in its acceptance, free of judgement, ever patient. And this week, we hear the story of Jesus’s calling to the disciples to put down their nets and come with him to catch people. And as we know, the people they were called to catch, were diverse, with many different stories. They were not vetted beforehand. Many of them would surely have been called “deplorables” by those around them. The only qualification required was that they came to hear what Jesus had to say and decide for themselves. Jesus set the example of his first commandment: love one another as you are loved. But here is the thing we should not forget: that commandment may be at the top, but it does not erase the other ten, which serve as norms that keep a society together. The protest this week has pointed to the weakness of democracy – when those norms are not followed, an easy remedy is hard to find; a weakness in the wall can crack open. But it has also shown a strength: restraint. While many are angry and frustrated, we have also been patient; we have held to the norms that we hold dear. But I know many of you are angry. Angry at the protesters holding this city hostage and saying it is about freedom. Or angry at how long this pandemic has gone on with no end, and at the rules and restrictions required of us. It is okay to be angry. So long as we know that our anger is a symptom. It represents our frustration, our exhaustion, our disappointment. Spend too much time dwelling in anger, and this is where we remain. I can’t say what will happen; how long this will go on, and what will finally end it. But if I turn to the gospel; if I consider the words of Jesus this morning to the disciples to set aside their own lives and become catchers of people, I know some things very clearly. The story of the disciples is about a group of people who thought they had their priorities all figured out; and then realized that they wanted something more; that the priorities and values they truly believed in required them to be different, to make a different choice. Is our priority at this time anger, and being right? Or might we also invest in a different choice? Ultimately, we have Luther, who protested by education. We can be voices of reason and insight with our friends and families, and try to keep the conversation going, however hard that may be. And we can be like Jesus, the protestor, by example. If we want to change, we must pay attention to what is distracting us, and see what we are missing. In this case, we are distracted by the constant honking and the blocked-up roadways and the trucks. But we can make a difference: we can look to the vulnerable people who have been most affected and try to help. We can be kind and calm with strangers. We can donate to the local shelters who have been disrupted. We can choose, when this is over, to visit the stores forced to close and express our remorse. We don’t have to be people solely distracted by the noisy gong. We can be people who deliberately look in the opposite direction. In this way, we answer Jesus’s call to the disciples: to be catchers of people. The act of catching someone, after all, prevents them from falling. And that is the task that is placed before us, this day and every day, to look where others are not, and reach out to the one who is falling. And to be that Christlike presence for the sake of others, whoever they may be.
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