We do not grieve like those with no hope. – a sermon for Epiphany 5A


Readings included: Mary Oliver, Swan: Poems and Prose Poems
1 Thessalonians 4:13 & Matthew 5:13-20
Listen to the sermon here

Like the poet Mary Oliver, “Sometimes I grow weary of the days, with all their fits and starts. I want to climb some old gray mountains, slowly, taking the rest of my lifetime to do it, resting often, sleeping under the pines or, above them, on the unclothed rocks. I want to see how many stars are still in the sky that we have smothered for years now, a century at least. I want to look back at everything, forgiving it all, and peaceful, knowing the last thing there is to know. All that urgency! Not what the earth is about! How silent the trees, their poetry being of themselves only. I want to take slow steps, and think appropriate thoughts. In ten thousand years, maybe, a piece of the mountain will fall.”

It has been a crazy few weeks; weeks in which the unthinkable has become the norm. We had a few months to prepare ourselves for the inauguration of a leader that most of us had allowed our minds to relegate to the level of a cartoon character. We allowed the swooping waves of hair above the orange hue to help us laugh our way into believing that this fool would be controlled by wiser heads. Then in swooped a darker, more menacing character to firmly place white-supremacy clearly within ear-shot of a man all too willing to abandon common decency in favor of wild conspiracy theories. As tragic as the travel ban is/was/maybe who knows, just thank your lucky stars you’re not the one trying to decide if your skin is the right colour to grant you safe passage while the question of your eligibility is decided in the courts. As distressing as it is to contemplate the individual hardships of refugees, there was some consolation in the reality that we here in Canada are not like them.

We are not Americans. Their troubles may impact our lives in various ways, but we are not like them. We are a welcoming people. We are a multicultural culture. We are a peaceful nation. We are a sane people; sane enough to recognize the need for sensible gun laws. We are not a violent people. We welcome refugees. We “tolerate” people of all faiths and of no faith.   The noise coming from the south, was just that, chatter, that we can turn off, tune out, or shut down any time we “grow weary of all their fits and starts.” “We can wander outside, to see how many stars are still in the sky.” We know in our heart of hearts, “All that urgency!” it is “not what the earth is about.

From sea, to sea, to sea, we feel safe, some might say, smug, in our assurance that the “universe is unfolding as it should.” So, we did our best to put the travel ban into perspective. We trusted that wiser courts would prevail. We resolved to grin and bear it. “Have a nice day.” we said.

“Have a nice day.” And then, it all went horribly wrong. Our nice day turned into tragedy and the unthinkable act of a deluded young man wrenched us from our delusions of immunity from the madness that threatens to encroach on our notions of our treasured reality. It can happen here. It can happen here. It can happen here. It can’t happen here. It can’t happen here. It can’t happen here. Not in Canada. Not here. It’s too much. I can’t even…

Please change the channel. Turn it off. I can’t even begin  to….“I want to see how many stars are still in the sky that we have smothered for years now, a century at least. I want to look back at everything, forgiving it all, and peaceful, knowing the last thing there is to know. All that urgency! Not what the earth is about! How silent the trees, their poetry being of themselves only. I want to take slow steps, and think appropriate thoughts.”

Mamadou Tanou Barry

Abdelkrim Hassane

Khaled Belkacemi

Aboubaker Thabti

Azzeddine Soufiane

Ibrahima Barry

Six of our brothers gunned down, murdered, while they were at prayer. Today, two more of our brothers lie critically wounded, fighting for their lives. Many more of our brothers struggle to recover from their wounds, while countless others from the Quebec City mosque remain shaken to their core; forever wounded by madness. Sisters and brothers all over the country are grieving and wondering why such hatred has been directed at their faith. It is unbearable. It is also, so very tempting to move on; to mimic the media and move on to the next thing, to silently grieve, and then get back to having a nice day.

These past few weeks, it has been one thing after another and we are growing weary. It seems all too easy to fall into a deep dark hole. All this and the gloomy weather of this uncommon winter. Please, let’s just move on. Get it over with.

But along comes Jesus, with words about salt and light. I don’t mind telling you that I was seriously tempted to tell Jesus that too much salt is bad for our blood-pressure, so we’ll pass on the salt and settle for just a little light if you please. Let’s just move on. Let’s get over it. Enough already. As I tried to sake the salt from my thoughts and figure out how to have a nice day, messages began to arrive from our neighbours. Wasim Jarrah of the Newmarket Islamic Centre invited the people of Newmarket to come together in a vigil to support the Muslim community. So, on Friday we gathered together.I don’t know how many we were, except that it was so many more than I had dared to hope. Hundreds crowed into a community hall, standing room only; a hastily gathered community of the shattered and the grieving, together to mourn the loss of our illusions that we are somehow immune from it all. I confess that I was unsure what to expect when I drove to the vigil. As more and more people filled the hall, I felt hope for the first time since the tragedy. As we assembled, Muslims, Christians, Jews, Bhai, Hindu, First Nations, Atheists, Agnostics, Seekers, Canadians, New Immigrants, Refugees, and even an American or two, neighbours one and all; family, one family, sharing our common humanity, our hearts broken.

But I will tell you what I was privileged to say on your behalf to our sisters and brothers, Our hearts are broken, “But we do not grieve as those without hope.” For within our common humanity we share a common vision; a vision of Salaam, Shalom, Peace. In each of our hearts we carry a vision of peace; a vision of the kind of peace where diversity is celebrated; a sacred vision that will be created by the LOVE that lives in each of us. Looking out at the multitude that gathered to express the LOVE that is alive and well in, with, through and beyond us, I was overwhelmed by hope. My faith in the dignity and worth of every human being was restored by the LOVE that was expressed in that hall. The smiling faces and tentative embraces of my Muslim sisters and brothers salted my weary self and I began to see light. Since the vigil, I find myself returning to the words spoken earlier that day by Imam Hassan Guilet a the funeral for three of our slain brothers.

Imam Guillet graciously reminded all Canadians  that none of us can choose the place of our birth, but our brothers, “Khaled, Aboubaker, Abdelkrim, Azzedine, Mamadou and Ibrahima,  they selected the place they wanted to live in. They selected the society they wanted to be their society. They selected with whom they wanted their children to grow. And it was Canada. It was Quebec…”

The Imam went on to say, “It is up to the society to choose them the same way they have chosen this society. They had their dream to send their kids to school, to buy a house, to have a business and we have to continue their dreams. We have to continue their dreams the same way they extender their hands to others, it is up to others to extend their hands toward them. Now unfortunately, it is a little bit late. But not too late.

The society that could not protect them, the society that could not benefit from their generosity still has a chance. The hands that didn’t shake the hands of Khaled or Aboubaker, or Abedelkrim, or Azzedine, or Mamadou, or Ibrahima, that society can shake the hands of their kids. We have 17 orphans. We have six widows. We have five wounded.”

Then the Imam asked a surprising question: he asked: “Did I go through the complete list of victims?

No? There is one victim. None of us want to talk about him. But given my age,” said the Imam, “I have the courage to say it. This victim, his name is Alexandre Bissonnette.

Alexandre, before being a killer he was a victim himself. Before planting his bullets in the heads of his victims, somebody planted ideas more dangerous than the bullets in his head. This little kid didn’t wake up in the morning and say, “Hey guys instead of going to have a picnic or watching the Canadiens, I will go kill some people in the mosque.”

It doesn’t happen that way. Day after day, week after week, month after month, certain politician unfortunately, and certain reporters unfortunately, and certain media were poisoning our atmosphere. We did not want to see it. We didn’t want to see it because we love this country, we love this society. We wanted our society to be perfect. We were like parents, their kids are smoking or taking drugs and your neighbour says that your kid was taking drugs, I don’t believe it, my son is perfect. We don’t want to see it. And we didn’t see it, and it happened.”

The Imam went on to say, “there was a certain malaise. Let us face it. Alexandre Bissonette didn’t start from a vacuum…This guy was empoisned. But we want Alexandre to be the last one to have a criminal act like that. We want to stop it. One of the definitions of madness is to do exactly the same thing and expect a different result. If we do exactly the same thing, my friends, we will have exactly the same result. Are we happy with the result? Are we happy with six dead, five wounded, 17 orphans, six widows and a destroyed family which is the family of Alexandre Bissonette and maybe his friends too? We don’t want that. So let us change.”

We don’t want that. So let us change. In the midst of the LOVE that gathered in Newmarket on Friday evening, in the midst of the LOVE that gathered in cities and towns all over this land to stand in solidarity with our Islamic sisters and brothers, in the midst of one human family in which the vision of peace is held sacred, the salt of the earth began to season our grief with hope; hope for peace. Goodness is stronger than evil. Do not let the darkness overwhelm us. We are surrounded by light! There is so very much goodness everywhere. As the work of healing continues, let us see the light provided by our common sacred vision of peace. Together we are the salt, the seasoning that our world needs. Together the light of  the LOVE we share with all our sisters and brothers will guide us as together we live into the sacred vison of peace that lives in all our hearts. As-Salaam Alaikum. 







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