Luke 6:27-38, Genesis 46:4-15
There’s an old story about the author and theologian C.S. Lewis, on his way out for drinks with a friend. Approached by a beggar asking for money, Lewis emptied his wallet and gave the stranger everything. His friend then said to Lewis, disapprovingly, “He’ll only spend it on drink,” to which Lewis responded, “If I kept it, so would I.”
Today’s Gospel reading is about love. More specifically than that, though, it’s about the risk inherent to genuine love. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. …love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.” This is not just about doing good and being loving; Jesus is talking here about showing others love even when it is obviously risky, even when it obviously might result in our own pain or loss.
This is not the law and order Jesus many of us may have grown up with, the Jesus who commands us to do what is socially acceptable for the sake of a well-ordered society. Equally, though, this isn’t the Jesus we’re often likely to encounter in progressive, well-educated circles either. I grew up being told not to give money to beggars, because they should get a job. Once grown, and having rejected that teaching, and having moved from a red state to a blue state, I still get told not to give money to beggars, because I should really be giving that money to a shelter, and voting for the right people to enact official homelessness policies, because I don’t want to encourage someone not to use services that may better their situation, and I don’t want to fuel a person’s addiction or irresponsible use of money.
Simon Gibbons, First Priest from the Inuit, 1896
In the calendar of the church, we remember today a Canadian missionary priest of the Anglican Diocese of Nova Scotia, Simon Gibbons, who died on this day in 1896. Simon Gibbons was an Inuit, a member of the indigenous people, a majority of whom inhabit the northern regions of Canada. He was the first Inuit to be ordained to the priesthood.
Simon Gibbons was born in Labrador, and both his father and mother died before he was six years old. He was raised in an Anglican orphanage, showed early signs of being very gifted intellectually, and eventually went on to King’s College in Nova Scotia. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1878. He began his ordained ministry on foot as a missionary in the northeastern tip of Nova Scotia on Cape Breton Island. On Cape Breton, the “nor’easters” and the snows begin in November, and by April the typical snow accumulation is 10-12 feet. Winter temperatures typically drop to 5° or colder. Simon Gibbons regularly walked in snowshoes a one hundred-mile circuit on the island to the many small communities to comfort the sick, to teach the hope of Christ, and to administer the Sacraments of the Church.
As a pastor, Simon Gibbons was described as “very joyful.” He was also very industrious. He eventually moved onto the Nova Scotia mainland, where he was appointed the rector of a parish on the northeastern coast. He pastored a multitude of people, and supervised various building projects for the church. He was greatly beloved. He was also greatly spent in his physical stamina. His health had been compromised in the strain from his arduous earlier ministry as a missionary on foot. He died at the age of forty-six.
The Gospel lesson appointed for today mirrors the life and ministry of Simon Gibbons. Jesus was saying, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” Simon Gibbons heard this message, and he went out as what Saint Paul called “an ambassador of Christ.”[i] I find it impossible to imagine taking on a missionary ministry in any way similar to Simon Gibbons. The mere thought of it sends shivers into my spine. Simon Gibbons is an amazing example of why the church commemorates the holy ones from times past. The reason we remember such souls is not that we are to replicate their life and ministry. Rather, it is for us to draw inspiration from their lives to encourage us in our own life and ministry.
When we awaken in the morning, we can be reassured both of God’s presence and God’s provision – that we will be companioned by God and equipped by God. We can also be assured, with the dawning of each new day, that God has given us a mission, which is why we are still alive. Ignatius of Loyola – the 16th century founder of the Jesuits – said that the purpose for which we have been given life – and why our life has been sustained into today – is “to know God, and to love God, and to serve God.”[ii] We are all missionaries. By our own cultural heritage, by our own geographic setting, by our training, education, life experience, and unique access to certain people, we are to bear the beams of God’s light, and life, and love, knowing that God is with us and that God will provide.
Some years ago my younger brother, Kyle, was visiting us here in the monastery. I adored him. He was a career Air Force officer for more than 20 years, he was lay minister, he was married, and he was the wonderful father of eight children. Eight children! I remember saying to him on this visit, “I don’t know how you do it. How do you juggle your life and all your responsibilities with such amazing grace?” He looked at me rather incredulously and said, without a pause, “This is what I was made to do. This is the glove that fits.” And then he said to me, “What I don’t understand is how you do what you do as a monk. That to me is impossible.” We both chuckled because we both had found our respective vocations, our very unique callings, and we were thriving.
With each new dawn God’s calls us and equips us to be God’s own missionaries, and in ways which only we, personally, can do. Our missionary field may be as expansive as Cape Breton in northern Canada, or as focused as the neighbor next door, the clerk at the checkout counter, the person we encounter on the street. We are missionaries, all of us. That is why we are still alive.
And today we take as our own inspiration Simon Gibbons, blessed Simon Gibbons.
[i] 2 Corinthians 5:20; Ephesians 6:20.
[ii] These are Ignatius’ opening words from his “Foundation and First Principle” of his Spiritual Exercises.
It’s not unusual for me to get something in my head, and be convinced that I have it correct, only to discover that I have it backwards. For the last few weeks, I have been repeating to myself a phrase, which I was positive I had right, but was actually wrong.
In the midst of death, I’ve been telling myself, we are in life. The phrase comes to us from the Prayer Book burial rite, and we Brothers sing it at the midday service on Holy Saturday. The problem is, I have it backwards. What the text actually says is, in the midst of life we are in death.
It seems however, that the trick my mind has played on me, has some merit. This past year, has been one long, long season of death. It will not surprise you to hear that the number of cases of Covid-19 in this country alone, will soon reach 31 million, with over 555,000 deaths. In the midst of death.
Nor may it surprise you to hear, that since the beginning of the year, there have been 125 cases of mass shootings, with a total of 481 people wounded, and 148 others killed. In the midst of death.
We see unfolding in the news, reports of anti-Asian hate crimes rising. The other day the George Floyd murder trial began. In the midst of death.
Much of God’s provision for us is mysterious, dark, and frustratingly hidden. I know this has been true in my own life, and I suspect it is probably true for many of us. Times when it’s hard to take Jesus at his word when he says, “Ask, and it will be given you.”
Not only now, in this time of seclusion, isolation, and separation, but in many parts of my life it has been tempting (and I use the word tempting with all of its sinister weight) to read the world and not see God’s provision whatsoever. I admit that this is frighteningly easy, at least for me.
Yet, in hindsight all of these situations that I have read as set-backs or crises—graves for my soul and my character—have really in fact been rich times of provision. And always right under my nose. And I am put in mind of these temptation as we continue our Lenten walk together.
It occurs to me that so often it is easy for us to talk about the disciplines we engage during Lent as “curbs”—to use a word that we brothers have used in our Rule to contrast the living reality of our life and the disciplines that form it. We say that the disciplines of our life are not mere curbs. And so then, what are they?
1 John 2:18-25
“And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God; but whoever denies me before others will be denied before the angels of God. And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.”