A friend said to me the other day in relation to their new job, “for the first time I am actually able to afford housing in Vancouver.” Now while I was thrilled for their new job and stable income, I was also left shocked at what it actually pointed towards. This, in the same week that many of us will have heard of the sale of Vancouver based cooperative Mountain Equipment Co-op to an american company. Immediately a petition was started to reverse the sale and save the company, garnering over 89,000 signatures on Change.org as of friday. Meanwhile a petition to permanently ensure a Universal Basic Income to all Canadians has received only 4100 signatures on the same platform since March 2020. Is it really possible that our society is more angry about losing a sporting goods store than we are about the economic challenges of millions of Candians across this country? There is something deeply wrong with our city and our culture if this is true, yet the numbers suggest that it is. However as Christians we know there is more, we believe in the inbreaking Kingdom of God where these inequalities are made equal, but sometimes there is a powerlessness in the face of such challenges. So how do we reconcile the kingdom of God with what Matthew is telling us this morning? We seek justice.
Matthew offers an interesting lens into the wisdom of the kingdom that Jesus is calling you and I to follow, a lens which starts with our reorientation of “friend.” As a commentator on this passage suggests, Jesus uses friends often in Matthew especially to those closest to him who seem to lose the plot in association with what he preaches. Yet as a church, we often hear friend addressed to us as a greeting of inclusion and forgiveness. However, we could also hear it as a gentle and compassionate chiding, of one who’s not quite got the idea. And thats important when we hear this morning's Gospel because of the heft that Matthew is placing within our laps regarding the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is a permanent force for and of justice, a kingdom we believe is breaking in all around us, which helps ground Martin Luther Kings assertion that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” However for that bend to actually happen, according to our gospel, we need to perpetually engage with the Justice of God's Kingdom.
Think for a moment about the life and ministry of Christ, and the way in which he has called you and I to follow him. We are to give up everything, to serve, to forgive abundantly, and to grow this kingdom way of life with our skills and abilities, where the smallest is the greatest, the last are first, the king is seated on a weapon of roman oppression and control, a cross, not a throne and enters his kingdom on a donkey rather than a stallion. Do you see the theme there? The kingdom of heaven is the upside down reality to this world, to the kingdom of our own making- to the kingdom of the laws. You see our laws are founded on cause and effect. When we do this, we get this, with the hope that what is learnt is a life lesson to reform our lives and live differently. Sometimes that works, and sometimes that doesn’t. What scripture is saying to us this morning is that the Kingdom of heaven does not operate on cause and effect, we are all equal- of equal value in the eyes of the kingdom. A value we are tasked with enshrining in our everyday lives today.
But Vicar, you sound communist! This idea of sharing everything equally will never work, it's too hard to actually manage- how can we trust those who don't want to work?! Well, you are right, in that this is not an easy way of life and it's hard- Jesus has been saying that to us this whole time despite us missing the plot sometimes, right friends? Says jesus to us this morning. However when we throw labels like communist out onto things like this that are hard and make us uncomfortable that's about distancing ourselves and demonizing the intention of what's at the crux of our gospel this morning. Kingdom Justice; where all are fed, where all are respected, where all have meaning and capacity to create purpose within their lives for the betterment of the whole isn’t communist, its a basic human right. And far too often its not a right that is easily expressed all around our city or even our world. But here then, we face that sense of powerlessness in the face of this challenge. So where do we start? We start with questioning why what we see, is what we accept.
Why do we see outrage over the sale of MEC, but not outrage over Basic Income for all canadians? Why do we see hunger while we throw out food because it's not pretty? Why do we see unequal access to housing markets in this city? Why do kids go to school hungry? Why are indigenous people over represented in our prisons? Why? Well, friend, Jesus would say, it's because we don't fully trust that the Kingdom of God is both possible and real because we still despite our faith cling too tightly to our own laws rather than the kingdom laws. Sure, we take small steps out into discomfort, we donate our money, we serve at soup kitchens, we challenge our politicians, but what our gospel this morning reminds us is that this momentary experience of human dignity disappears when we stop focusing on the root causes of it. Just like the vineyard owner who goes our all day to find workers, workers who were as disposable in Jesus’ time as starbucks coffee cups are to us today, he gives them value that does not last because tomorrow they are right back into the market place to be hired by someone else- without care to what the vineyard owner paid them today. Nothing changes, unless we are persistent in the change, which starts with a bold action.
But what is bold action? Bold action is about holding ourselves to account regarding the requirements of the kingdom of God, in the way we choose to live because of what we’ve just heard. It's about becoming more than just a taxpayer with the government and holding those we elect to account over why we do not have a permanent basic guaranteed income for all. We live in Canada, friends, when there's a will there's a way- so let make the will to show them the way! It's about becoming more than just a passive consumer of goods and services by questioning why those who generate the comfort and services we enjoy are not treated or paid with the respect we expect for ourselves. This morning we must have a will to change what we see from the constraining and dehumanizing laws of our kingdoms into the freedom and worthiness of God's kingdom, where the last are treated just like the first, where we finally see the long arc of the moral universe finally shift permanently towards justice. God knows our world needs that today!
Covid-19 has shown us the need for justice in all parts of our lives and world, economically, racially, and more. Our friends are depending on us to speak up, our Gospel this morning is challenging us into permanent change. How will you answer the call to affect that change towards permanent justice with your life this week?