Online Service for July 12: Rights and Survival

Here is the link to the video of the service: https://youtu.be/gSmwOFdZAcs

Here is a copy of the message for the online service, The service in the Sanctuary on Sunday will have a slightly different message.

Exploration of the Word:  Rights and Survival

The story of Esau trading his birthright for a ready to eat stew prompts a low opinion of Esau and one to see Jacob as a scheming opportunist.  I looked closer at this story. 

First, birthright meant the right to 2/3 of the father’s property upon his death, with the rest of the property being divided among the remaining sons.  In this case Esau was trading 1/3 of his father’s property upon his death.  That extra property meant twice as many sheep to herd, twice as many shepherds to manage.  I suspect that had little appeal to someone who loved to spend his time in the field, hunting and enjoying his freedom. His father was about 80 years old and his grandfather had lived to 175 in this story.  As a hunter, Esau lived with the possibility of death by a predator such as a lion or a poisonous snake or accident every time he went out hunting.  Knowing this, it is easy to understand that Esau would not have placed a high value on his birthright.  He valued his immediate survival above whatever value his rights might eventually have been worth.

The Genesis story paints Jacob as a schemer from his name through his stealing of his brother’s blessing to dealings with his father-in-law.  In the end the birthright was not important materially as he was successful in building up the worth of his own property.  For the story teller, the birthright and blessing give validity to Jacob’s descendants as the chosen descendants of Abraham.

While people may want to make judgements on Esau or Jacob, I remember no places iwhere God offered a judgement on either man.  They just were and they just did what they did. 

Over the centuries, many people made difficult choices between their rights as they understood and valued them and what they understood as needed for their survival.  Rights, whether they are birthrights or human rights, are often yielded in order to survive.  The story of suffragettes in England risking their lives along with prison and beatings remind us of the costs of what we understand as rights.  Some women valued their rights highly, and paid a stiff price.

Workers fighting for their rights in Winnipeg in 1919 were beaten and killed by the RCMP and restricted by federal troops for standing up for their rights.  It took 30 more years for workers to gain their bargaining rights.  In every strike individual workers are making choices between support of the strike and what they understand to be their own survival.

Today, in many countries, individuals of colour or are distinguishable from the people with power in other ways, frequently, sometimes daily, face difficult decisions between claiming their rights and improving their chances of survival.  When we lived in Saskatchewan, the story that Saskatoon police officers were taking Indigenous men outside of the city and dropping them off to freeze to death broke out.  Whether black or Asian or Middle-eastern or Indigenous, in the United States or in Canada or in many other countries, these people often walk on eggshells in confrontations with police officers: some officers are fair and treat everyone properly, most respect the law and try to act impartially, and a few are eager to express their racism or their anger for some reason in their interactions with people they see as vulnerable.  These people never know which police officer faces them.

In a service earlier this year, we considered a passage by Paul in which he acknowledged that some followers were more able to make a complete commitment to their faith than other people.  When we see struggles in Canada and around the world by people fighting for their rights, we might observe that if everyone affected by a struggle was to act together, they would almost certainly succeed, but some avoid the conflict.  We are not to judge their decisions because we do not know their personal circumstances or capacity.

I have two tasks when I feel like judging someone else.  The first task is to identify my fear or anxiety that prompts the desire to judge as fear and anxiety are at the root of judging.  The second task is to remember that those I feel like judging are one with me in the Holy Mystery.  Here is a little story about that oneness.

Inyoon Hwang, who we always knew as Paul, felt a strong call to serve God through music over 20 years ago in Korea, and he did this for a while.  He then felt a call to serve Indigenous people in Canada and moved with his family to Canada.  In 2009, he and his family visited Morley United Church where I was serving at the time on the Stoney Nakoda nation.  He, his family and his friends belonged to a Korean Presbyterian Church which was not affiliated with the Presbyterian Church of Canada due to its theology and polity.  I assisted their volunteer work in the community and they supported our ministry, mostly with delicious food.  He made a living as the operator of a café in an industrial area of Calgary.  This week I received a message from him that he was being ordained this week at Morley by the Korean Presbyterian Church and asking me to pray for him.  Different nationalities, different speech, different theology, different appearance, one with each other in service of the Holy Mystery, even though we only worked together for about 15 months 10 years ago.

This week we celebrate communion online, a ritual and sacrament that proclaims our unity with one another and with the Holy Mystery, a meal that feeds our spirits and bodies and minds.  People of all colours and far more languages than I can identify in countries around the world share this meal that proclaims our essential oneness.  In our sense of oneness, how can we invest carelessly in judging others in the choices they make between defending their rights and seeking their survival?

Let us prepare to share a meal that transcends time and space.

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