Saturday, January 28, 2017

Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, Year A

Beyond Call

Readings: Micah 6:1-8; Psalm 51; 1 Corinthians 1:18-31; Matthew 5:1-12

During the season of Epiphany the readings focus on God’s call to us. It is a call that goes beyond giving gifts to God. It is a call to give of our deepest selves. That is very much reflected in the readings for this particular Sunday.

The Old Testament reading begins with a courtroom scene; God is the prosecutor and the mountains are the judges. God is upset that despite all of God’s generosity and grace, the people of Israel have turned away. Micah reminds the people of how blessed they have been by God’s grace. And then he asks them a question. “What does the Lord require of you?” Not waiting for their answer, he follows it with a very succinct and poignant response. “Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with your God.” It is the call of the people of Israel. It is the call of the Christian, yet it goes far beyond even the Christian call. It touches our deepest humanity. It is a call to social responsibility, to the kind of personal behaviour and interior spirituality that epitomizes ethical living. What God requires goes beyond the norms of everyday living, of society. God requires people to turn their lives around, to live their lives differently.

Micah has so much to say to us today. He reminds us that, although it is a sign of spiritual awareness, it is not enough to go to church. It is not enough to have the outward trappings of religion. Our lives must reflect our relationship to God. If we truly want to worship God it must show in our daily lives, not simply in our practice of worship. Our lives must reflect that desire to live justly, to do the loving thing.

Furthermore, for Micah it has nothing to do with religious rituals. No animal sacrifice could begin to make a difference. It has to do with a sacrifice of the heart and the spirit. It has to do with the way we live our lives. It has to do with the change that takes place in our lives when we decide to follow God.

The Gospel also reflects that need to change the way we live our lives. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus proclaims a new way of living, a new character of faith. “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” Jesus says knowing that the poor in spirit already belong in the kingdom of God. They are the ones who know that the kingdom of God is not yet fully realized here on earth. They know that society leaves out too many people. There are too many who suffer, who starve and who are abused.

The poor in spirit are the ones who want to change all that. They want a world where justice reigns. They want to put an end to injustice. They want a world that is free of weeping and arrogance, of homelessness, injustice, darkness and war. They look out on our world and weep. They weep for those who will go hungry this day. They weep for those who languish unjustly in prison. They weep for those shot down on our city streets. They weep for the child abused by a parent. They weep for the family in turmoil. They weep for the denuding of our forests and the polluting of our waters. They weep for those who are excluded because of the perceptions of those around them.

“Blessed are the meek,” Jesus says. Doesn’t that contradict everything that the world stands for? To the world the meek are the ones that get walked all over. It challenges the world’s moral values. The very ones the world dismisses as unrealistic and na├»ve become the radical subversives who can change the world into a place of peace and justice. They are the advocates for the poor and for those in need. In terms of Christian faith a seeming defeat emerges to be the great moral victory of history, inspiring and calling people in every age to give their allegiance to Jesus Christ.

Our Christian faith searches for the paradox at the heart of everything. The unimportant becomes important. The marginal becomes central. Think of the blessing that the Martin Luther King’s of this world bring to society. The course of action of the meek is often the most courageous. It is often the most effective as well. While God will use those with gifts, the powerful and influential, the bright and talented, it is often the rejected, the despised, the imprisoned, the martyred who become real instruments of God’s peace in the world.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness”, Jesus says. And I wonder, do I hunger and thirst for righteousness? Do I hunger and thirst for righteousness or do I find excuses and simply look the other way? Do I assume that it is not up to me, that someone else will look after things, make certain that justice is served? Do I hunger and thirst for righteousness, or am I indifferent to the suffering I see around me? Do I avoid becoming too caught up in it? Do I keep silent when I see injustice so that I do not offend those around me?

The message of the beatitudes is not for the past. It is not for some distant future. It is relevant to the present moment. We are called to trust in God in difficult circumstances. They are unavoidable in our lives. There will always be times of difficulty, for it is part of the human condition. The beatitudes help us, not simply to endure life’s difficult times, but to accept and live a sustaining relationship with God throughout our whole lives. This was never more true than at this moment. In Africa, in Asia and the Middle East millions of our fellow human beings suffer disease, privation and the effects of war and natural disasters we have never experienced, let alone imagine. Many of our First Nations People live in poverty in the midst of our plenty.

That call to give of our deepest selves is reflected in our Baptismal covenant. Can you hear Micah’s powerful words reflected as we make this promise? “Will you strive for justice and peace and respect the dignity of every human being?” What a challenge that presents to us!

We know that to live as Micah proclaims is to live as God would have us live. We know in our hearts that what Jesus is saying calls us to change our lives. It calls us to the sense of joy that comes with serving God. It calls us to see our sacrifice of love as the way in which we serve God and bring about God’s kingdom of peace. And there lies the challenge! For to even come close to living our lives that way we will have to make changes. We will have to make a commitment to follow God and live our lives in a way that reflects God’s love. We will see it in the face of Jesus. We will want it in our own lives.

Sunday by Sunday we gather at the table. We break bread. We share the cup of salvation. As we do so we see foreshadowed the gathering of the hungry, the poor, the marginalized in the kingdom of God. As we come forward to receive the body and blood of Christ, we are responding to the altar call. We are committing ourselves to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.” Amen

Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Third Sunday after Epiphany, Year A Sermon Series Pt 3

Truth and Reconciliation: An Ongoing Process

Readings: Isaiah 9:1-4; Psalm 27:1, 4-9; 1 Corinthians 1:10-18; Matthew 4:12-23

I begin this sermon by acknowledging the First Nations in whose territory we live and express my thanks for this opportunity to meet here today. And once more I put before you two questions. How will you in this parish share in the ministry of truth and reconciliation? And more importantly what does it even mean?

It is no mistake that during the season of Epiphany the consistent theme is our call to discipleship. Epiphany is about the many ways in which God is revealed to us. From the revelation of God to the Magi to the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan to our own call as Christians, it is about our relationship with God. It is about how God's coming to us changes us.

God calls us as a society. Isaiah speaks to Judah, a nation in exile. They have lost their relationship with God. Here finally he gives them a message of hope. In spite of their lack of faithfulness, they will know joy in the midst of darkness. God will not abandon them. It is such good news to people who are experiencing pain and suffering. Isaiah links the coming of new light with regaining their freedom, with bringing an end to the oppression that has caused them to abandon their faith in the first place.

God calls us as Church. Paul writes to the churches in Corinth tackling the problem of their many divisions. He reminds the people that their loyalty must be to Christ and not to the particular leaders in their community. It is God who calls them. It is God who gives them their unique gifts. Their relationship needs to be with God and it needs to be a strong one that moves them past the quarrels and divisions so that they are able to be the people of God and bring transformation to their community.

And God calls each one of us as individuals. Matthew recounts the story of Jesus calling the disciples. What has gone on before is of real significance. John baptized Jesus in the river Jordan. Jesus went into the desert by himself for forty days. He was tempted by the devil in the wilderness. He refused to use his divine powers for his own ends. Now he is ready to begin his ministry in earnest. He settles in Capernaum, rather a strange choice of place. It is a harbour town, home to cutthroats and pagans, not the easiest setting in which to begin his ministry. The words of Isaiah about bringing light into darkness flood into his consciousness. Empowered by those words, he realizes that God is with him illuminating the path. He sets out to find disciples to assist with the work.

The story of the call of the disciples is really pretty simple. Jesus sees Peter and Andrew casting their nets into the sea. He must have seen them on many occasions. He invites them to follow him. "I will make you fish for people," he says. They respond immediately. James and John are also fishermen. They are helping their father mend the nets. He calls them. They leave their father and the boat and follow Jesus.

Being a disciple involves making decisions. If they were to do God's will they first had to respond to Jesus' invitation! As Christians, we too need to respond to the invitation. We need to make a conscious decision about what we will and will not do. Only then can God reach out to a society in need of transformation. So what is our response to the invitation? What will we do to bring light and healing into the lives of others?

God calls us at this time and in this place. God calls us where we are. Where is God calling this community of faith? Are we being faithful to our call? I believe with my whole heart that God is calling us at this time and in this place to a ministry of Truth and Reconciliation. First Nations People need to experience first hand what Isaiah is speaking about. They have experienced, indeed, they continue to experience, pain and suffering because of Canada’s colonial attitudes and our continuing racism and apathy to their situation. The dream that one day our nation will live up to its promises remains largely unfulfilled. Darkness continues to cover the land. They need that sense that God is with them to bring light, to increase joy, and to break the rod of the oppressor. They need to experience joy in the midst of darkness. It is in this moment that we hold out hope that light will shine in the darkness.

The mood of the passage is one of celebration and trust that God will shine into the darkness. It is one of trust in God even if events seem to be anything but joyous. Let us continue to bring light to bear on the oppression under which they have lived. Let us find ways of turning that oppression into hope and freedom. Then we will have achieved reconciliation.

But what is reconciliation anyway? How will we know when we have achieved it? It starts with doing what we are doing right now, educating ourselves about our complicity in their plight, acknowledging that we are the problem and that we need their forgiveness. When Michael Peers issued an apology on behalf of the Anglican Church of Canada in 1993, it began the process of reconciliation that continues to this day. He told the people of the shame and humiliation he felt in listening to their stories of abuse and thinking of the part that the Church played in that suffering. He confessed his failure. He did it on behalf of all of us; even those of us who did not at that time know the story. He did it knowing that it could result, as it did, in costly suits against the Church. He did it because he knew that the Church needed healing every bit as much as First Nations People. We are sorely in need of reconciliation.

In 2008 then Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued an apology. “The government recognizes that the absence of an apology has been an impediment to healing and reconciliation. Therefore, on behalf of the Government of Canada and all Canadians, I stand before you, in this Chamber so central to our life as a country, to apologize to Aboriginal peoples for Canada's role in the Indian Residential Schools system.”

And here we are almost ten years later still pondering what Truth and Reconciliation means. What more do we need to do?

The first step to reconciliation is an apology. The second step is forgiveness. That is certainly never a given. People can be so hurt by what has happened that forgiveness is the last thing on their mind. When we have hurt someone we think that forgiveness should somehow be automatic. “Of course,” we think, “if we apologize then we should be forgiven. Whatever happened to forgive and forget?” Much work needs to be done to regain trust, to assure First Nations People that the apology stands, that we are doing everything in our power to make amends. And so I believe that the ball remains in our court.

There is a story about reconciliation that I want to share with you. I am not certain where it comes from. There was a woman, a weaver, who was renowned for her beautiful tapestries and carpets. People came long distances to buy them from her. They knew that there was something unique about every piece that she did. One of her customers spoke to her about it. “It must be painstaking work,” he said. “No two carpets are alike. How do you do it? What happens when you make a mistake? You must take hours going back and fixing your mistakes?”

“No!” replied the woman. “You see! My mistakes are the reason that each piece is unique. When I make a mistake I weave it into the pattern.”

We cannot undo the mistakes of the past. We cannot forget. In fact it is important that we not forget. Reconciliation calls us is re-member the past, to weave it into the tapestry of our lives.

How do we re-member First Nations People? How do we honour them and ensure that the darkness in which they are living does not continue? It begins with our own acknowledgement of our complicity in their circumstances. It continues with our making certain that it is not forgotten, that we know our history, that our children are taught the real history of Canada and the contribution of our First Nations People. As Christians that is our call.

As our Primate, Archbishop Fred Hiltz writes in the response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, “We will continue to share in the work of healing and reconciliation, respectfully following the leadership of Indigenous communities and leaders, and to offer leadership among non-Indigenous Canadians where that is appropriate.”

“May the Creator guide us as we continue in the work of healing, justice, and right relations for the generations it will take to address that harm “and guide this country on a new and different path”. (Remembering the Children prayer, 2008)”

And to that I say, Amen!

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Second Sunday after Epiphany Year A

Sermon Series Part 2
My Truth

Readings: Isaiah 49:1-7; Psalm 40:1-11; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-42

I begin this sermon by acknowledging the First Nations in whose territory we live and express my thanks for this opportunity to meet here today. And I put before you two questions. How will you in this parish share in the ministry of truth and reconciliation? And more importantly what does it even mean?

As the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission proceeded, we have heard the stories of abuse and hardship that our First Nations people have endured. I hope that you have followed those stories as they have unfolded. That is the ‘truth’ part of the equation. As I speak about Truth and Reconciliation I still hear stereotypical responses from people. You know what I mean. Lazy! Welfare bums! Drunks! Dirty! What I hear most of all is that it was a long time ago. “It has nothing to do with me!” people will tell me. “Besides, the Church has already paid out compensation. That should be the end of it.” But here is the difficulty for me. It took generations to make the mess; it will take generations of truly listening to the stories and making amends to undo the problems that were created by our racist attitudes.

Having chosen to preach a series of sermons on the Truth and Reconciliation process, and more importantly having decided that this week I would focus on the truth part of the equation, I found very little in the readings that opened up the story for me. They are for the most part a wonderful list of ‘how to’s’. How to get along as a community! How to reach out to others! How to respond to God’s call! All wonderful topics, of course, but not helpful to me in focusing on my chosen topic. And so I turn to the psalm for today. It too gives us a ‘how to’. It is a psalm of Thanksgiving, but also a lament. It suggests how to find inner strength, how to tap into our hidden gifts and resources. And so I find myself pondering whether it might echo the lament of our First Nations People. Can we see this as a lament turned to praise that First Nations People might use? They have waited patiently for their condition to change. They wait for that sense of deliverance that is God’s promise to God’s people.

The Psalmist, presumably David as this is considered one of his psalms, gives a picture of his life before and after God responds to his plea for help. David was in a miry pit. It was muddy, sticky and difficult to maneuver in. He needed help to free himself from the difficult circumstances in which he found himself. He was ready to give up. “Before,” David says, “my life was terrible. But I waited patiently and God came to my help.”
You can hear the fatigue in his lament.

As I have listened to the stories of truth from First Nations People, I hear that same fatigue. They are tired. They are tired of yearning for what was. They are tired of feeling inadequate. They are above all tired of feeling powerless to bring about change. How do we turn their lament into a song of praise?

I want to share a little of my story, my truth, and of some of the steps that I have taken to reconciliation. My first year of teaching was at St. Philip’s Residential School in Fort George, Quebec, on the Quebec coast of James Bay about two hundred air miles north of Moosonee. It is now called Chisassibi; it is where the James Bay Power Project went in. It was, when I taught there, a rather isolated village. Except for the six weeks or so of freeze up and whatever time it took for the break up, there were three planes a week if the weather cooperated. The moment I stepped off the plane, a “veteran” teacher asked me if I was a “reject” or a “misfit”. “That is all we get here!” he went on to say. Although I do not believe either of those words describes my reason for going north, after all, I was a mere seventeen, I certainly had an idealized view of what it meant to be an “Indian”. My concept of First Nations People came from the pictures of cute little pig-tailed Aboriginal children on the mission boxes that we got at church. I decided it was my mission to go north to teach.

There were seven classes in our school. Not all of the children lived in the residence. Perhaps a third of them lived in the village. It was made clear to all of us that we were there to teach the children English, in fact to turn them into white children. They were not to speak their language. If we heard them speak we were to correct them. I had one little girl, Dora Ekumiak, an Inuit, who, while she did her work just fine, would not say a word. She finally spoke to me out in the schoolyard towards the end of the year. After that she never stopped. I suspect she was simply waiting until she got it right. The children were quiet and very respectful. There was never any need for discipline.

There was not enough room for all of the teachers to have their own apartment in the Teacherage, so two of us, the youngest, had rooms in the residence. We were directly under the primary girls’ dorm. It is heart breaking to me to remember the sobs that I often heard at night as the children settled down to sleep. I know that I felt lonely and isolated away from family for the first time. And I had chosen to be there. How much more those little ones must have felt in that strange environment without the comfort of parents and siblings! I have learned that brothers and sisters were often split up and sent to different schools. Many would not see another family member for years.

What I remember most about teaching the children was their creative ability. They were wonderful artists. Supplies were often unavailable, and so I would beg my family to send me paper. They sent rolls of wallpaper, which became wonderful murals on the classroom walls. I also got them to send me bars of ivory soap so that the children could carve them like soapstone. The results were amazing.

I had to laugh hearing one man’s story about how much time was spent in prayer. The children in the residence went to chapel every morning before going to school. I put together a little choir that sang on Sundays and sometimes in the chapel in the morning. I never could get them to sing up to speed, but they enjoyed it, especially if I accompanied them on the wheezy old pump organ.

Although it was discouraged, I did get to know a family from the village and spent a week during our Easter break on their trap line. It was a life-changing experience, one that I cherish. But on our return, the Principal called me into his office, and threatened me with being fired if I ever did anything like that again.

That is the ‘truth’ part of the story. I would not trade that teaching experience for anything. Yet I lost it! When information began to emerge about abuse in the schools I was horrified, especially when teachers were blamed for the children’s loss of language and culture. I avoided telling anyone about my experience. Then I went to a conference. I found myself signing up for a workshop on the Healing Circle. It was led by an elder, and was attended by about a dozen or so First Nations women and me. We sat in a circle. The elder explained the process. She would pass a feather around the circle. When it came to us we could hold it as long as we wished. We could speak whatever we wished to say. When we were finished we could pass it on to the next person. As it was passed around the circle, most of the women told stories about the residential schools, and about the abuse they had endured. I planned to just sit there without speaking, but when the feather got to me, I heard myself telling them my story. I told them about the children in my class and how much I had cared for them. I told them how ashamed I felt now, but also how I had lost that precious time that was so pivotal in my teaching career. I expressed my sadness at their pain. I passed the feather on to the next woman. Suddenly there was a loud ‘Whoop!’ They all joined in. The elder thanked me and said that I was their sister. That is reconciliation.

The First Nations People have a great capacity for praising God. God continues to speak to them through all of creation. The rocks are grandfathers, rock solid, dependable, ancient. The moon is the grandmother, source of life, controlling the waters of the earth, bringing about life. The feather speaks of gentleness, of the ability to go with the flow. It symbolizes reverence for the Creator and all of life.

It is time for us to start listening to First Nations People. It is time to walk with them. It is time to allow their stories to turn form lament to praise. It is time to hear their stories and learn from them who God is and how to worship.

My hope is that we will listen to the truth, hear with our hearts, and stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters. Let us put our minds together in Thanksgiving. In Ojibway, “Chi-miigwech”! “Thank you very much!”

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Baptism of the Lord, Year A

Treaty as Covenant

Readings: Isaiah 42:1-9; Psalm 29; Acts 10:34-43; Matthew 3:13-17

You in Orono live, as many Canadians do, on Treaty land. In fact, you live under the same treaty as I do in Port Hope. This community is part of Treaty 20 known as Surrender M. It consists of almost two million acres of land for which the British paid $10 in goods to each person. And so I begin this sermon by acknowledging the First Nations in whose territory we live and express my thanks for this opportunity to meet here today.

This series of sermons is intended to help educate this congregation about the process of truth and reconciliation. How will we share in the ministry? How will we honour the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission? My intention in this sermon is to focus on our Baptismal Covenant and how it calls us to that ministry. It is no accident that I focus today on our Baptismal Covenant. This Sunday celebrates the Baptism of the Lord. Baptism for Jesus was an encounter with the Holy Spirit that led him into a life of ministry. We like Jesus encounter the Spirit in our baptism. How do we live out that encounter? We do it by affirming the promises of our baptism. We revitalize our sense of mission, our sense of what we are called to through baptism. We live in an age of fulfillment. Jesus came; he was baptised by John. He was filled with the Spirit. He entered into mission with us. We are redeemed and reconciled. We are charged with the task of being "a light to the nations…." And whatever our avocation – that which we do to feed and clothe our bodies – our vocation is to serve God, to emulate Christ, to witness through word and deed and to communicate God's love and grace. That is our baptismal call. That is the promise that we made, or that was promised on our behalf in our baptism.

Following this sermon, we will renew our Baptismal Covenant. One of the questions that I will ask is, “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” It is an important question as we focus on this issue. One of the vocations of contemporary Christian life and witness is to shed light in human society on issues to which many are blind. We Anglicans have a history with our First Nations people of being, not only blind to, but also complicit in the abuse that has taken place. It is important for us to know and understand the history, but even more important to find ways to bring God’s justice to our First Nations brothers and sisters who have been so hurt.

Today as we renew the promises of our baptism, let us consider what our mission is. What is God calling us to do? How can we respond to that call? How can we learn and grow and be transformed by God's love? The heart of the Christian faith is that by baptism each of us is brought into intimate relationship with a loving God. The simple fact is that you are God's beloved son or daughter. It is for each of us to claim that and to live in the joy and confidence of it. Then we will follow Christ with the conviction that we are following God's design and destiny for our lives.

I see a deep correlation between Covenant and Treaty. When our First Nations people were “discovered” by European explorers some five hundred years ago, their communities were based on values of freedom, equality and the worth and dignity of the individual human being. If that sounds rather like our baptismal covenant, consider these facts. Our First Nations people helped the early explorers survive the hardships of our northern climate. They cured the settlers of scurvy. They treated the newcomers with respect. That is the foundation for the peace and friendship treaties negotiated and finalized with the Europeans. The treaties recognized the sovereignty and nationhood of Aboriginal peoples. Both sides agreed to respect each other’s territories, cultures and political systems. They agreed to share the land and its resources.

Unfortunately that is a far cry from what occurred. We have not honoured the treaties. We have not respected the territories. Rather we have taken the best for ourselves and relegated the First Nations people to the leftovers. Rather than experience the peace and friendship between nations that the original treaties envisaged, First Nations people have experienced violence and dislocation. Their nationhood has not been recognized. We have not respected their culture. In fact, our policies have been designed to deprive them of their land and assimilate them into our culture. Generations of systematic racism and government policies stripping them of their rights have left them amongst the most vulnerable and marginalized members of society.

So how must we as Christians understand treaty? It has similarities to Covenant, and we believe ourselves to be people of the Covenant. In an article by Stan McKay, a “Treaty Indian” from Saskatchewan, he speaks about it as a covenantal relationship.

“When the treaty party arrived in the Qu’Appelle Valley,” he says, “they were met by First Nations leaders who then left after initial conversations. They went away for ceremonies and prayer. The government officials grew impatient, but the First Peoples returned to complete the process. The elders had guided the leaders to understand that the agreement through treaty was a tripartite project. It involved the Creator, the Queen’s representatives and First Peoples. We have spoken often about the spirit of the treaties and have maintained that it is much more than a legal document. We are bound by a covenant.”

He goes on to explain that if you look at covenant in the Old Testament it follows the same pattern. The covenant in with Noah in the Book of Genesis is between “all living beings, and all birds and all animals”. God makes an everlasting covenant with creation, a binding promise between God, creation and Noah.

He also notes that the Queen’s representatives did not hold the treaties as sacred documents, but as a means to gain access to the land.

The Old Testament reading from Isaiah speaks about God’s servant, God’s chosen. The intention is to introduce Israel as God’s servant. For Christians the portrait drawn is of Christ. He has the task of being a light to the nations, of opening blind eyes, of bringing prisoners out of bondage, and feeding and clothing the poor and hungry. It points out our need for justice that goes far beyond our human understanding of justice.

That is what the story of Jesus’ baptism is all about. Jesus, the righteous one insists on being baptised by John. God’s covenant, God’s promise to humankind, God’s promise to all of creation, is captured in that moment. The covenant is renewed. And Jesus begins his earthly ministry of healing and reconciliation.

And is that not the purpose of the Church? We are called to be a servant community. We are to pursue justice until it is brought to the ends of the earth. So let us hear ourselves as the servant, the chosen of God. Let us know that God’s Spirit is in us. We are redeemed and reconciled by the Spirit. We are called to follow Jesus who is sent by God. We have the task of being light to the nations, of opening blind eyes, of bringing prisoners our of bondage, and feeding and clothing the poor and hungry. Our baptismal ministry is to serve God by emulating Christ through witness in word and deed. That is how we communicate the love of God to all. Especially let us be agents of healing and justice for the First Nations people of our land. Amen

The Second Sunday after Epiphany, Year A

Come and See Readings: Isaiah 49:1-7; Psalm 40:1-11; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-42 Invitations come in many shapes and sizes. They ...