Sunday, December 7, 2014
Mark 1:1-8

Time for a U-turn.

Look back to the time of John the Baptist.
Not the ‘good old days’ in many ways.

Now, Mark’s gospel does not have a whole lot of details about what was going on – quite concise, Mark.  He just indicates that John was proclaiming a baptism for repentance.

But, of course, repentance is turning around - turning 180 degrees from something wrong, to get headed in the right direction.  Repentance is about a U-turn from what’s wrong to what is right.  

Note that Mark’s definition of John’s baptism limits it - it is not as much as baptism as we know it, for baptism today is about repentance, a new beginning - but much more, including, as Mark says in today’s reading, the gift of the Spirit of God.

So, while concise, Mark’s account gives crucial information.
Now: if the baptism was about repentance, about doing a U-turn, then what was there to turn away from??

That is where the looking at Luke’s account can be helpful:
We hear of the gulf between have and have-not – the injustice of privilege.
We hear of the abuse of power by tax-collectors
We hear of the abuse of power by the soldiers.

And we can think too, of the abuse of power by religious leadership of the day which was a constant issue for Jesus in his ministry.

Time for a U-turn.

In today’s world, John’s call still rings true.

There are things that need U-turns.
We can look off into the distance.

We can be critical of abuse of police power in the U.S.
We can be critical of the actions of terrorists.
We can be critical the actions of Russia in the Ukraine just a few months ago.

Less comfortable to look for the places that need U-turns here.
But John the Baptism calls us to repent.
He does not call us to sit back and judge others.

And so we must look at our own selves and our own society.
As we look at our own society, there are so many issues.
Some of the hearken from John’s own day:
for example,
we can consider, in our own nation, even in our own communities, the gulf between have and have-not – the injustice of privilege.

And while we can be critical of racism in the U.S., the reality is that it is very much present here.  I baptized the son of a man in St. Lambert - Joel Debellefeuille - who had a run-in with the police because he was DWB - driving while black, a statement that was proven in court.  http://www.crarr.org/?q=node/19465

But today, I would like to consider one issue.  
Yesterday, December 6, was 25 years since the Polytechnique massacre.  1989.  When it happened, I was far away in Northern Québec.  It became more real, I think, when I was in Valois, for each year the Women’s Centre had a commemorative service in the church, and one year I was invited to speak.  

I remember the names being read each year.
Fourteen names.
One candle lit for each.
Shot because they were women.

Sure, we can try to dismiss his actions as the actions of one lone deranged individual, a result of an abusive childhood.

But that is too easy.  This incident was, and is, the extreme.  
But it is an extreme of a reality.

It is a reality that comes out from hiding with the accusations against Jian Ghomeshi.
It is a reality that comes out from hiding with the suspension of certain members of parliament.
It is a reality that I have met as I have twice helped abused women move from home to shelter, in one case hastily descending, with a few others, on an apartment to help a woman pack her own belongs and those of her children, and move them out of the apartment, and mostly into storage, in the space of a few safer hours when the husband was at work.

 The UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women states that:
    "violence against women is a manifestation of historically unequal power relations between men and women" and that "violence against women is one of the crucial social mechanisms by which women are forced into a subordinate position compared with men."

Time for a U-turn.

John the Baptism invited people down to the waters.
Waters of repentance.
Waters of new beginning.

And the people came.  
Crowds came.
And people found themselves in the water to be cleansed from the past.
And they emerged from the waters, committed to living in new ways.

U-turn completed.

John the Baptist invites us down to the waters.
Invites us the recognize, individually and as a society, our need to change.

And indeed, that is the first thing we need to do in the face of the reality of violence against women, and the lack of respect for women.

Let us be aware of ourselves, first.

In the United Church, we have driven ourselves a little crazy sometimes trying to make things gender-neutral.
Children of God, not just sons.
People of God, not just men of God.
All people are loved by God, not just all men.

We need to keep doing that.
Yes, there have been awkward constructions.

And yes, sure, many have said “I know that ‘men’ means everyone.”
Does ‘women’ mean everyone?
If not, then what is so special about ‘men’?  

No, we have to keep on paying attention to our language, because language affects how we think.  And equality of language means that we are more likely to think of people in equal ways.

We also have to pay attention to our gender expectations.  Why is it that the sales person at the car dealer this week stumbled more than once thinking that the truck being purchased was for me, or that I would be the one taking off the wheels with summer tires and replacing them with the wheels with winter tires - - when it was my daughter who was buying the truck, and it is my daughter who will be jacking it up and changing the tires, as she has done in the past.

We have to pay attention to these little things.  Our words.  Our expectations.
Because by doing so we form our own thoughts.
And we influence the thinking of the people with whom we interact each day – people of our own age, and children as well.
Little things.  Little words.  Little expectations.  Making a big difference.

Beyond these important little things, we need to be aware.
Of some really big things.

In Québec, I did not find exact numbers of shelters for abused women, but one association has 41 members - as in 41 shelters, and another association has 50.
Chilling fact:
Looked at the domestic violence information website for Québec - one of the quick tabs gives information on how to erase browsing history so that abusers are less likely to discover that the victim is seeking a way out.
And it also has a link at the top: “Quickly exit this website”

I clicked it.  It indeed quickly took me out of the domestic violence information website.  And took me to the front page of the CBC Montreal news.  Ironically, last night, the headline story was the memorials for the Polytechnique .

Now, not all domestic violence is against women.  It is against children.  And it is not a laughing matter that it is also directed by women against men in some cases.  
But today, this day, this week, I focus on the issue of the treatment of women.

We need to pay attention.
Pay attention to people around us.
Pay attention to those who make comments - perhaps because they are starting to look for a way out, but don’t know how to say it, but can only hint.

Pay attention.  97%.
Have you heard that number recently?

The vast majority of sexual assaults against women in this country—about 97 per cent—are never recorded as crimes.  Most of them are never reported.

One media group has launched Project 97 to promote awareness of this concern.  Because awareness brings response and action.

Repentance needs awareness.
Let us be aware.

Let our words, our actions, our attitudes towards the relationship between men and women be informed by the reality of the world around us.

Let our words, actions, attitudes be shaped by the realization that great change is still needed.  And we all must be a part of it.

John the Baptism invites us down to the waters.
Waters of repentance.
Waters of new beginning.

And so we come
To be cleansed from the past.
And as we emerge from the waters, let us be committed to living in new ways.

Not completed.
But, with our participation and that of many more:
A U-turn begun.