Dr Rick Tobias
Proverbs 13:22a. “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s Children.” I expect it is acceptable to understand the passage as “A good person leaves an inheritance to their children’s children.”
When we think of inheritance, we usually think in terms of money or land or possessions. Yet it is appropriate to read this passage of Scripture as “a good parent leaves a good heritage to their children’s children.
The assertion is rooted in two assumptions. First, if you are a good parent the inheritance you leave your children will be a good inheritance; not necessarily the biggest or best or even average in size, but simply “good,” and the best of which you are capable. The second assumption is that if you have made provision for your grand children, by extension you will have made appropriate provision for your children.
The extension of what you leave behind beyond your children to your children’s children introduces the concept of legacy, an inheritance the worth of which goes beyond that of silver and gold. Legacy includes the value of tradition, culture and family honour. Legacy incorporates core values and faith. To those who follow, we are to provide culture, prestige, ethics and faith, upon which they can build their lives. We may pass down wealth and fame but if we have not passed on a “good” inheritance – an honourable legacy – we have left our descendants precious little.
What is true for families is equally true for communities and neighbourhoods and cities and nations. What is true for them is true for the church of Jesus Christ. While gathered here tonight, where graduates offer lifetimes of service, we would be wise to ask ourselves ” What legacy will I leave? How will my family and community and church be better because I have passed by this place?” The very fact that as graduates we have committed ourselves to the service of the most high God means, by extension, that we have committed ourselves to serve all God’s people, and to leave a good inheritance, a rich heritage, a righteous legacy to our children’s children.
This legacy has many facets, too many in fact to discuss tonight. Among those I will not explore is the most important facet – our own intimacy with Christ and a deep personal faith. Someone else must instruct you in that, however, and indeed we hope and believe someone already has. Tonight, I will focus on what I have learned about the “good inheritance” during my 18 years of involvement with Yonge Street Mission and its community.
A Legacy of Gratitude
The good inheritance for our grandchildren is rooted in gratitude. We leave little of lasting value unless our descendants see in us a people who gratefully recognize and acknowledge our good fortune. For us, gratitude runs deeply because we believe the most important things in life come as free gifts from the Creator. Indeed James says that every good thing comes from God above.
Our presence in this chapel tonight makes us among the most privileged people on the planet and, in fact, among the most privileged people in Canada. In an era of worldwide suffering and want, and in a day when a growing number of Canadians no longer can aspire to higher education, we are a blessed people.
Yet we are called to be grateful for more than our possessions and privilege.
One of the great expressions of gratitude is found in the last half of the twelfth chapter of Hebrews. The author suggests that those who follow Christ are heirs to an amazing, eternal kingdom. I can imagine the author sitting at a table . . . excitedly writing of heritage, of a great cloud of witnesses, of standing firmly on the shoulders of those who went before us, celebrating a long history and legacy of faith. Then he or she begins to unfold what faith has meant to her. We the audience are told that we have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, where we encounter angels, the heavenly assembly, Jesus the mediator and God Himself, transforming the spirits of righteous people into something perfect.
I can feel the author’s excitement and thanksgiving grow as the impact of the verb tenses take hold: not that we will come, but that we have come; not that we will be heirs but that we are heirs and citizens of a heavenly kingdom. Then comes this wonderful exclamation: Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire. (Heb 12:28-29)
Our ministry as individuals and as the Church are a chorus of gratitude, an anthem of thanksgiving to a God who loved us so dearly that even the Gates of heaven are opened to us. Our service is not some debt to be paid, nor a cosmic IOU to God. We offer ourselves as a heartfelt thank-you to our Creator and redeemer.
Why do we accept the call to ministry? If we are wise, it will not be because we think God is the universal bill collector and we have karmic debts to pay. Nor because we are not unworthy, and must prove our worth to the Almighty. Or because we are such hotshots that the Creator cannot get along without us, and certainly not because we hope to strengthen our bartering position with the King of Kings.
Rather let us embrace the life of ministry as a thank offering “because he has done great things for you, because he has done exceeding abundantly” above all that we ask or think. Apart from the grace of God our lives would have been considerably different and not for the better. If we thought seriously about the alternatives to receiving God’s grace, and if we had charismatic leanings, we’d have our hands in the air and be shouting “Thank you Jesus; Thank you Jesus.”
Others too deserve our gratitude. I would not be here tonight had I not spent the past 18 years at Yonge Street Mission. I have become the public face for the work which is carried out by 90 staff, 15 Board members and countless volunteers. They are the real Doctors of the Divine. I may be the recipient of this recognition but they are significant shareholders. I am also deeply grateful to the poor for sharing with me their secret knowledge of the divine; for as James teaches: “God has chosen the poor to be rich in faith and heirs to the kingdom of God.” I am one of the most fortunate, blessed and lucky people I know. Yet I would be the pathetically poor if I could not recognize how generous God, and the people of God, have been to me.
A Legacy of Compassion
The second legacy we should leave to those who come after us is compassion. Compassion is waning in Canada. Calls for stricter sentencing of young offenders, eroding tolerance for diversity, harsher treatment of welfare recipients and the disabled points to a diminished national compassion. Before we journey too far down these roads we best look again at the nations we have chosen as our models ask again if this the Canada we want.
Matthew 9:36 reports that Jesus looked upon the multitudes and was moved to compassion because they were distressed and downcast like sheep without a shepherd.
The “multitudes”, now as then, are those excluded from economic, social, political, and judicial power. They are not even accepted as bona fide members of society. Sadly they also neither find acceptance or have influence within the religious community.
The “multitudes” dwell among us even now. Who else will be “moved to compassion” for the broken, the lost, the neglected, rejected, and dejected if not we who claim the ministry Jesus established? Whose hearts break for the battered women, abused children, and abandoned seniors this nation continues to produce in record numbers?
What of the child on the wrong side of the digital divide, or the sole support mother who was just downsized? What of the children who have no Sunday school worker to teach them right from wrong? Or their mother, who also had no moral teacher? what about the dad who never learned how to bond and walked away when his family needed them the most? Does the Church of Jesus Christ have heart for them?
Who will cry out for justice for the poor, the homeless, the mentally and emotionally disabled that we leave fending for themselves on our city streets? And who will stand with First Nations’ peoples who have been stripped of treaty rights. Who if not us?
During the past 18 years it has saddened me that the view of churches on poverty and its causes differ little from the wider societies. Our thinking is informed by governments, media, activists from the left and right; in fact our view on poverty and justice has been shaped by everything but Scripture. The Scripture says Jesus was moved to compassion. Even further, Jesus knew full well Father’s heart for justice, expressed repeatedly in early Jewish prophecy: Did not your father eat and drink, And do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him. “He pled the cause of the afflicted and needy; Then it was well. Is not that what it means to know Me?” declares the LORD. (Jer. 22:15-16)
Our compassion also must move beyond the poor and those in obvious need. Can we summon compassion for affluent parents whose children are addicted or dying or prodigal, parents facing despair when all their wealth and influence afford no hope?
The rich, even among the household of Christian faith, have peculiar struggles. Is there a warm spot in our hearts for corporate presidents and bank managers who struggle and fail in their personal lives? As the rich young ruler walks away Jesus says it is “hard” for the rich to enter the Kingdom. The comments brim with compassion and sorrow, not judgment. Can we then share that compassion because the person we follow says its hard for the rich?
What about those not defended even by political correctness – the police who face violent protest in Seattle or Quebec, or full term sexual predators released into our community?
Can we have compassion for those who live in communities where we will not plant churches or have removed our churches, for people groups who never have experienced the love and embrace of the Gospel: gays and sex trade workers, gang members, transsexuals and trans-gender people, or the kid who wants to wash our windshields with a dirty squeegee. I am reminded that there is no exclusion clause in John 3:16’s statement that God loves the whole world.
If we do not nurture compassion we will become a hard nation, one in which we would not want our grandchildren to live. And if the church does not embrace compassion and pass it on as a legacy, we will become a church that we would not want our children’s children to inherit.
Compassion is also our privilege. We who embrace ministry as a calling are allowed to enter into broken places, tender places, holy places; we are allowed to embrace the wounded, the crushed and shattered, to hold the suffering Christ in our arms and hearts. How devoured are we? Could we be heirs to a more privileged and fortunate calling?
A Legacy of Peace, of Shalom
The third legacy we must leave for our children’s children is peace, an inheritance of shalom. “Blessed are the peacemakers for they are the children of God” is the pinnacle of the Beatitudes. Our highest calling is to be agents of God’s peace; we have been given this ministry of reconciliation
When I came to Toronto in 1983 to work with the poor, I wasn’t counting on working with the broken poor, people who the Hebrews called the “aniy”, the oppressed, the beaten- down poor. After 18 years I’ve concluded that one cannot work meaningfully with broken people unless you become pro-peace and pro-safety. In the midst of violence we must stand for peace and we must be a safe people, a haven, to others.
I now believe that the first thing a hurting person asks when they arrive at Yonge Street Mission or at your church is whether or not this is a safe place. And are you a safe person, or a safe people. Will those I serve experience Shalom with me?
Long before people want to explore our theology or learn about our moral codes, they want to know if they are safe among us, regardless of whether or not they can articulate their concern. Experience has taught the broken people of society that few places are truly safe; if they seem skittish and suspicious, they have learned well from their past.
Consequently, we need to leave a legacy of peace that begins with first a legacy of personal safety. The Apostle James describes it this way, ‘the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace’. He might have said that if we want a harvest of righteousness, we must sow the seed of the kingdom in a peaceable way and with a peaceable spirit. Anything less betrays the core values of the kingdom.
Beyond our attitude and atmosphere, peace is also our role. If we would leave a legacy of peace, we will become agents of reconciliation. You who graduate this week inherit a nation split by regionalism, by anger and hostility between First Nations’ people and the rest of the country, by multiculturalism, and globalization and the familiar but deeply hurtful political tensions between French and English. And we are also a nation profoundly divided between the left and the right, between the rich and poor.
We are passing on to our children and their children a nation with no sense of core values held in common, so we war among ourselves to see whose values will carry the day. Families are in disarray. Abuse and neglect and divorce are at record levels. Churches have split and split and split again; those who do not become a collection of fragments focus on building empires and palaces while the poor slide further and further from view That is, unfortunately, the legacy that my generation leaves to those who graduate this week.
The disarray I describe is our concern because it arises from spiritual dynamics and it destroys people God created and loves. In the Genesis account of the Fall, six sets relationships were broken. First, whatever Adam and Eve did, the outcome was that their relationship with their individual selves was broken. They sewed leaves and covered themselves.
Second, their relationship with others was broken; they duck responsibility, Adam blaming Eve, and Eve blaming the serpent. A generation later brother would kill brother and several generations later Lamech would say if you hurt me, I’ll hurt you seventy-seven times more. Relationships fragment under the human impulse for revenge.
Third, the relationship with God was wrecked; instead of intimacy, Adam and Eve hide from the presence of God. And millennium later, we still hide.
Fourth, the relationship with the earth and human work was broken. Today, despite what we know, we continuously abuse the earth and our work, create by God before the Fall, remains unredeemed. Our actions as North Americans proclaim a lack of concern for either the earth itself, or the availability of meaningful work or futures for our children or their children.
Fifth, the relationship with the past was broken. Today, as with Adam and Eve, we cannot return to the garden of innocence. Anyone who has betrayed their own core values knows that you can never go back to the place of innocence.
And sixth, we’ve lost our relationship with the future. Through the Fall, death entered the world and the human race has no future. The same angels who guard the gateway to the Garden stand between us and the tree of life.
Standing knee deep in the fragments of broken relationships, the task of the church is to be peacemakers; agents of reconciliation. We are a people called to restore broken places in people’s lives and within their family and community networks. We are to act as agents of reconciliation wherever the impact of the Fall is evidenced in circles of exclusion and walls of division. No aspect of the life in our community or nation should fail to be touched by the peace of the kingdom of God.
I pray that those of you who accept your degree on Tuesday will also accept the mandate to leave a legacy that is more peaceable than the one you inherit.
A Legacy of Courage
Finally, we need to leave a legacy of courage. The Apostle Paul instructs the young Timothy to “stir up again the gift that’s has been given to you through the laying on of hands.” Timothy had become fearful, perhaps even of his calling, because calling to ministry leadership is a big thing.
It takes profound courage to give thanks to God and to credit others in a world that worships the independent and self-made success. It takes courage to be compassionate, because we prize strength and fear the weak. Repeatedly people at churches ask me: “If we help people won’t they take advantage of us?” I answer: “Of course they will and we would too in their position. Why are we afraid of that?” It takes courage to be a people of compassion.
It takes courage to be a peacemaker. The Beatitudes of Matthew 5 begin :”Blessed are the poor in spirit ” and progress to the pinnacle: Blessed are the peacemakers.” That’s wonderful. It’s what we aspire to, to be recognized by God as a peacemaker, the highest of all the “blessed ares.” What a great title to be awarded. But what concludes the thought?
The passage continues: Blessed are you when people beat you up – because peacemakers get in the middle of fights. That’s what they do. Beyond blue-helmeted United Nations peacekeepers, every pastor, every church leader, every person who values other people will get in between people who are fighting. And there is no more dangerous place to be then in the middle of fights, skirmishes and pitched battles between husbands and wives, sons and daughters, rich and poor, churches and neighborhoods, warring ethnic groups and competing cultures, and between people and God Himself. We’ve been called to be peacemakers and it’s a dangerous calling.
So Paul writes to Timothy: “you need this extra gift” the gift of courage . . . do not be afraid, but rather be filled with power and love and wisdom. (Instead of the traditional reading ‘self-discipline,’ I accept the alternative reading “wisdom.)
Power and love and wisdom are the component parts of courage. Power is about the will and capacity to involve ourselves. Love is about caring enough to put ourselves at risk. And wisdom is about knowing how and when to intervene for maximum benefit.
Courage doesn’t come easily to me. Many times in my life I would have liked to run away – or at least just fade into the background – when things seemed to be getting out of control. The good news is that we don’t have to be courageous. Courage comes through the laying on of hands, through the prayers of the church and through the gifting of the holy spirit.
And so, to those of you who would graduate on Tuesday, my prayer is that your legacy to your family, your church, your community and to your nation, might be a legacy of gratitude, that you would be known as a people so filled with thanksgiving that it overflows your life and touches all about you.
I pray that you would be known for your compassion, that compassion would be the great motivator of your life. I pray that the great end of your life will be that you have brought peace to the places where there has been no peace. And finally that you will be known as men and women of courage, prepared to stand boldly for God, boldly for humanity, boldly for the things that are important to God.
I pray God’s blessing upon you, His anointing over you, and I pray that your peace, the peace of Christ would rule over this country through you because of who you are.
THE BOY I HATED
Grace. God, grant us grace;
enough that we can see the beauty and value in individuals, even when their outward appearance obscures it completely;
enough to see their honor, however deeply hidden
and to grant respect, even when we think it is undeserved.
Help me to recognize the wounds and understand the shame that lies behind each act of rejection and moment of repulsive behavior.
Grant me grace to believe that most of us are doing the best we can in the midst of our personal brokenness.
God, grant us grace.
God grant grace to a dad who cannot love;
to a man crushed by the weight of his own neglected childhood and facing a son who spends his wealth and spits his name.
Grace to a parent who gives up, and who drugs the pain by choosing vacation over children.
Grace when the weight of failing, and of being failed, overwhelms.
Grace to dads and grace to moms who, having no grace left to give, receive little in return.
God grant grace to the orphans whose parents, preoccupied in busyness, abandoned their children in castles of plenty.
Grace to the prodigal who will not be loved, who rejects every overture and spews abuse at all who draw near,
and to the child whose mind-numbing pain breaks out in a whirlwind of violence.
Grace to the child who turns their hostility inward, poisoning their soul with self-loathing.
Grace, to the children who, never knowing grace, have none to give.
God grant grace to the caregivers who over-spend every loving emotion, and who, finding themselves empty and void, act out love through sheer strength of will and commitment to justice.
Grace to all, who having poured their lives into others, discover that love is not all you need, and who live to see those in their care self destruct.
Grace to those who so freely give themselves to others yet sometimes forget to grace their selves.
God grant grace to me, when there is no place in my heart for a wounded child;
when my life is so consumed with me and mine that I have little love to give.
Grace to me when I pretend not to see, or turn away in fear from the ugly, untidy, or strange.
Grace to me when I am so absorbed in my own life that I forget to be grace to others.
God, grant us grace.
Enough for all we have experienced, and all that we have become, and enough to be all that you desire.
it wasn’t warm enough to be sitting outside for lunch and the dive masquerading as a restaurant
wasn’t really equipped for sidewalk dining. Yet Angel and I perched on the SCSI plastic lawn chairs, drinks and sandwiches and and, and acted as though this was a great outing we discussed aging and out living friends, abuse and rejection, isolation and loneliness. We reviewed unfulfilled dreams and chronicled the toll that the streets and institutions had taken on her well-being. The content of the conversation is always identical –as are the set of old photos We study each time. Each visit is about loss, and each is a template for the next. And everyone who’s been at why SM any length of time has someone like Angel in their lives
I always resist going. I feel too busy and the time is never right. Even if I book it well in advance, on the day of the visit. I can name 10 important things I should be doing instead. I may go begrudgingly, or I may cancel and feel guilty. Or I may welcome the break from the pressures of the mission and enjoy wandering amongst the shadows and ghosts of Angels past. And I have learned that, whatever my state of mind when I arrived, we will laugh and delight in each other’s company.
I’ve also come to understand that Angel represents something important at the mission – and important to me as a human being.
When I came to the mission in 1983. I didn’t know I was making a 20 year plus commitment. The thought of committing my life to an old established mission would’ve overwhelmed me. I agreed to stay for five years quietly vowing that I’d be gone in five years plus a day.
What he didn’t grasp was that I would be grafted to people as much as to an institution. Had I known that, I would’ve been even more afraid.
My first days of the mission were dominated by strange faces, several critical incidents, the chaos of life on the streets and smell that powerfully suggested they had been a long time in the making. The cat lady hissed at me. Stumpf threatened me. Street preachers cursed me and an array of supporting characters worried aloud about extraterrestrials, demons, and government plots. Front and center. Meanwhile, stood the extraordinarily needy people who grabbed onto anyone emotionally clung like leeches. After my first few shifts at the mission. I was not confident I could even last five years.
Now, more than 20 years later, I’m dreaming about the next 15 years at the mission. But I’m also planning my next outing with Angel, who has already dictated that were going to go somewhere much nicer for our coffee this time. When the day comes, I’ll be too busy and I’ll toy with excuses. But I’ll go one will talk about old hurts and lifelong losses and what it means to be elderly and alone.
Never would I have deliberately chosen to spend 20 years with Angel. So it’s a good thing. I didn’t know I was making that choice. It’s a good thing. I didn’t know that the five years plus a day would become more than 20 years. Because what I know now is that being grafted to people and to this institution makes me one of the most blessed and grateful people that you know.
No one looks forward to warmer weather more than I do. I can’t wait to get the chiller my bones in my motorcycle out of storage. But today as I write it is cold, twice last week when it was -12 during the day and -20 or worse at night, I met with mission supporters at a downtown business club. Each time I passed a homeless old man rolled up in blankets trying to suck up the heat rising through the heating grates. They asked for nothing. There is little energy for begging, when you’re trying to stay alive.
This winter. We heard a frozen fingers frozen toes, and even eyelids frozen shut on people exhausted by their struggle. It’s a true tragedy. In fact, this city is in desperate shape. The change in the weather will reduce the immediate risk. But another kind of chill blows through the city – the chill caused by a shortage of services, resources, and even interest in the welfare of the poor. It won’t disappear with warmer weather.
Welfare payments are down and fewer people qualify for social assistance. Low-cost housing is being destroyed, social housing programs have been terminated, and jobs for unskilled people are vanishing. Hopes are stirred by the promise of action by all levels of government, but the wise have learned to temper expectations
meanwhile, a young street mission. We are swamped with desperate people, during one of the worst winters in memory we are seeing more people than ever
at the mission.
Our donors are generous and loyal, but we have more individual supporting us than ever before. But overall revenue stable. It best. That’s worth celebrating, and we do. Yet, I’m faced the fact that our resources will not sustain what should be done, or even what were already doing. We are responding with no additional staff. Everyone just reaches deeper inside the focus is on remembering that we serve people, groceries and toys are simply tools. However, as Executive Director, I’m acutely aware that something must give, and soon. We can keep doing more with less. At some point everything breaks down – including the staff.
When I consider the big picture, I hear Jesus speaking. I hear strong words about nations being judged on the basis of how they respond to the poor. I hear the sobering truth the people who are generous to the poor are being generous to Jesus, and that when we neglect the poor. We neglect him – and suffer in eternal loss.
When I face the troubling significance of the words of Christ, I do not exempt myself. I’d like to hide behind my own estimation of my commitment to serve the poor. I’m tempted to look at what I already have given, and to tell myself that I do enough.
But as I enjoy lunch in one of Toronto’s
most comfortable business clubs and daydream about spring and motorcycle riding, I wonder how we will explain to God why old people and youths sleep on the streets in -20° weather, and one of the richest nations in the world–. That’s a chill. I just can’t shake.