Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Season of Creation - Mountain Sunday

Isaiah 65:17-25, Mark 16:14-16

Mount Robson
On this second Sunday in the Season of Creation, we celebrate the beauty and grandeur of the mountains. There are many hills and high places in the world that are referred to as mountains such as Mount Tisdale, the sledding hill in the prairie town my dear spouse grew up in. And I’m told there are mountains under the ocean but since I really do not enjoy being in salt water at all, I’ll just trust that to be true and leave it at that. At the risk of sounding a little snobby here, those of us living in western Canada know what real mountains are. The Rocky Mountains range nearly 5000 kilometers from northern British Columbia south to New Mexico. Mount Robson in BC is nearly 4000 meters at its highest point and Mount Elbert in Colorado reaches just over 4400 meters. However, when compared to the growth chart that God keeps on the doorway to the kitchen in heaven, mountains like Everest and K2 seem to have had growth spurts like no other as they measure over 8000 meters. Nepal, Pakistan, India and China are home to over one hundred mountains that are over 7000 meters. So Robson measures in at 4000 meters and Everest is nearly 9000 meters—to put that into perspective for a minute cause, I know, measuring anything other than distance with metres is still a bit foreign so let me explain that 4000 metres is still very high (13,000 feet)…when I was in Peru a number of years ago, we flew from Lima on the coast to the mountain city of Cusco. In an hour and twenty minutes, we went from being at sea level to being 3400 meters above sea level. One woman in our tour group who was six months pregnant was forbidden to travel to Cusco because that sudden elevation would cause her and her baby distress. Going from 0 to 3400 meters in 80 minutes is no joke. As a very active person, I was sure I would be fine. I. WAS. NOT. FINE. I suffered headaches, lightheadedness and aches and pains. My mind had darkness envelope it if I took stairs of any sort. And I was by far not the worst in my group. It was a bit of a gong show as I would carry another woman’s bag along with mine as she crawled up stairs and I took one. step. at. a. time.
The mountains of God’s Creation are unmatched for strength and their imposing nature. The height and breadth of the mountains demand respect from anyone traveling through their peaks and valleys. As well from those who build and ride the railways, swaying along cliffs and climbing, climbing up and over the passes. And from those whose job it is to clear for roads and bridges. It still boggles my mind when I think of how much dynamite was required to create the break in the peak near Golden, BC. They changed the route of the highway from running along the river to going up and over or rather through the mountaintop. Instead of tunneling, they just blew a whole section of the peak away and then built this MASSIVE bridge that I call the Star Wars bridge because it reminds me of those bridges you see on other worlds in the Star Wars movies. 
Anyway, until humanity gets involved, the mountains are solid, stable and enduring features in our world. The very sight of them calls to mind God’s power and the strength of nature. Because we live right at the foothills of the Rockies, we might be forgiven if we forget once in a while, that not everyone experiences the breath-taking beauty of seeing the mountains on the distant horizon each and every clear sky day. Bella, a member of my youth group at GC in ON in July was a member of the Youth Pilgrimage that was to make its way across Canada through the summer. The journey in Newfoundland, meandered their way to General Council and then continued travelling west, with Victoria being their destination. They were stopping and visiting with United Church folks all along the way. I asked her what she was looking forward to after they left Ontario, which is her home province. She was so excited to see the Rockies. Her face just lit up when she spoke about it.
Mount Nebo
Mount Sinai
Mountains are essential in the telling of the story of God’s People. Moses climbed Mount Sinai more than once so that God could speak directly to him. Moses stood at the top of Mount Nebo overlooking the Promised Land after forty years of wandering in the desert. He saw where the former slaves he led from Egypt would reside, but he would not, himself, descend into the valley and cross the River Jordan. Jesus gave his Beatitudes sermon on the side of a mountain, he miraculously fed four thousand people on the side of a mountain. It is said Jesus was on retreat on a high mountain with James, John and Peter when he was transfigured into shining light. Moses and Elijah appeared there alongside him at that moment. In the Bible, mountains are sacred, they are set apart. The wonder of looking up at a mountain still exists today. Climbing a mountain, being on a mountaintop draws us closer to the Divine. Blessings and God are revealed when one can look down upon all of Creation from the top of a mountain. Those things in our lives that are big and overwhelming in our everyday lives are made small, even insignificant when perspective is gained from the mountaintop.
The prophet Isaiah used the sacredness of the mountain to get the attention of his fellow Jews. Remember last week that I told you that Jeremiah was warning the people that God was not pleased with their selfish behaviour and that there would be consequences? Jeremiah was warning that the Babylonians were on the doorstep to Judah, ready to take them into exile, far away from their homes and the Temple. Today’s scripture is from many years later and the people have been released from captivity. The first of the former exiles are returning to the city of Jerusalem and have found it to be a mess. Everything in the city needs to be rebuilt and Isaiah is saying there is no better time than right then to reimagine a new way of living so as not to get themselves into another situation in which God would allow God’s people to be overtaken by another hostile force. Isaiah uses the image of the mountain to call to mind what is sacred and powerful in the history of God’s people and to encourage the people to work towards a peace that is beyond anything they have ever experienced.  No one will die young, the wolf and lamb will eat alongside one another, the lion will dine on straw, snakes will vanish as they did from Ireland and no one will be hurt and no one will destroy anything again. On the mountain, the former things of violence, death, greed, threat and exile are forgotten, and new possibility thrives. The true expansiveness of God’s vision for our world is known. Upon God’s peaceful mountain, in the words of Julian of Norwich, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”
And then, to fast forward from the time of the ancient Israelites to the time of earliest Christians and Jesus tells his disciples, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.” Jesus has been crucified and raised and yet his disciples do not believe. He arrives into their presence, gives them a lecture on their lack of faith and then sends them out into the world to make a difference. To make the change they know God wants for the world. To walk the talk they have been teaching for the past three years. To go and be the hands and feet of the very Christ who stands before them. Go! Go and proclaim the good news for all of creation. Not just good news for humanity but for ALL OF CREATION. Go, be the love of God for people, for animals, for plants, for the watersheds, for the plains, the mountains, for the grain fields and the forests. Proclaim the good news to everyone and everything within God’s great and awesome Creation.

There are many days that we can look to the west and take joy in witnessing God’s great and awesome Creation in the distant ribbon of mountains that create the very horizon that receives the setting of the sun each and every evening. And we do not worry too much about what Creation needs from us. But then there are days, days and days of such smoke making its way over those very mountains and hanging low over our province that we cannot even see those rock steady, forever standing there mountains, the mountains of which we reside at their very feet. We could not see them this August. Do you remember Bella, the pilgrim who was so excited to finally see the Rocky Mountains? Well, she didn’t have the chance. There was too much smoke. In fact, once the Pilgrims arrived in Calgary, the leaders decided to cancel the final portion of the Pilgrimage due to health concerns. They didn’t make it to BC at all. Our climate is changing. It was forest fires in August and now it’s hurricanes this month. While there are many reasons for more aggressive wild fires and hurricanes in recent years, there is an overwhelming understanding that humanity has not respected the natural world and we are now paying the price. We are living the consequences of paving over the earth that absorbs rainfall, for taking down forest to plant corn, to feed cows, the cows that add crazy amounts of methane into our air, we build expensive places near flood plains and then expect the water to be contained. It’s hard to imagine God’s peaceful mountain when we cannot even see the mountain to begin with. 

The Bible is our foundational text. We read the Bible despite it being an ancient document. We read it and learn from it because it is not a dead set of books. It is a living document. The wisdom given to God’s people over two thousand years ago has truth for us today. There are any number of prophets walking this earth today but the words Isaiah spoke to his fellow citizens ring as true today as they did then. We live with war, with cancer, with ALS and MS, we live with suicide, we live with poverty, hunger, with bigotry and racism, with past hurts that are deep and painful, we live with ancestors whose bad behaviour impacts us yet today, we live with greed that has no regard for other people’s well-being, for the environment, for world peace. Where Jeremiah gave words of dire warning last week, Isaiah reminds us that it is up to us to reimagine, to reorganize ourselves so that violence, hatred, disregard will become former things and God’s vision for reality, for heaven to exist on earth, is a living possibility. Isaiah tells us that in God, there is always hope. There is hope because we are not done living, we are done having faith, we are not done working, done striving for a better world. If not for us but our children.

Martin Luther King Jr. used the image of the mountain as a call for hope. King calls for unity, economic actions, boycotts, and nonviolent protest, while challenging the United States to live up to its ideals. (Memphis TN, April 3, 1968).
Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live - a long life; longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. So I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man.
As Moses and Martin Luther King Jr understood, we may only have the opportunity to look into the Promised Land of a healthy environment and a world without war and hate, we may not make it there ourselves, we know very well it is for our children, our community’s children and grandchildren that we must continue to heed the demand to work towards healing for all of Creation. The United Church of Canada’s A Song of Faith, our most recent statement of faith that was written in 2006, says:
In grateful response to God’s abundant love,
             we bear in mind our integral connection
             to the earth and one another;
we participate in God’s work of healing and mending creation.

Divine creation does not cease
             until all things have found wholeness, union, and integration
             with the common ground of all being.

Upon God’s peaceful mountain, All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well. It can be a hard and arduous journey up to the top of that peaceful mountain but God promises us that the view will be amazing once we get there.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Season of Creation: Sky Sunday

Jeremiah 4.23-28, Mark 15.33-39­­­

In and around the year 2007, the wider ecumenical church agreed to set aside a portion of the church calendar to recognize the amazing gift God has given us in the form of all aspects of the environment—our diverse ecological systems, the waters of the oceans, lakes and rivers and all of God’s flora and fauna—even, I reluctantly add, spiders. This time set aside is named the Season of Creation. The colour for this Season is orange and when the United Church of Canada introduced Creation Time into the liturgical year in 2010, this symbol was designed for the occasion. There is the tree of knowledge, the circle of wholeness, the four colours of the elements of creation: earth-brown, air-white, fire-orange, and water-blue. In this year of the three-year rotation of themes, we are celebrating the beauty and magnificence of the sky, of the mountains and of humanity. And the fourth Sunday of this Season, September 30th, we will be celebrating animals and we invite you to bring in a photo of your pet or pets so that they may be blessed during the service. We will be celebrating all these things but we will also be exploring the many ecological issues and concerns that exist for each of these aspects of God’s great Creation. Knowing that humanity was given dominion over the earth and all of inhabitants, that we are to be stewards for all that God has created, we ask ourselves, how have we been holding up our responsibilities? If God were to speak to us as God spoke to the first male and female, and if God were to ask, so…what have you got to say for yourselves in how you’ve managed this Earth of mine, how is it that we would explain our actions? The actions of our ancestors, the actions of our leaders, the actions of ourselves?

Taj Mahal, 2007
This Sunday is Sky Sunday, which I think is a lovely way to begin Creation Time because, wherever you are in the world, whether you are in Zambia, or Peru, or Palestine, or Ireland or India or in the Northwest Territories of Canada, each and every one of us has the experience of looking up to expansiveness of the sky. Of course if you are in Zambia or Peru, the night stars are different from what is seen from the northern hemisphere. And, depending where you are in India, you may not see the actual sky in very populated places for the abundance of smog and smoke. What Calgary had for smoke blotting out the sun this summer, is how many Indians live, day in and day out. The sky is one of the few aspects of nature that all the earth has in common—we are connected to one another across the world in that each of us experience day and night, the sun always rises in the east and sets in the west. For many Christians, it is to the sky that we glance when we speak of Jesus ascending after his resurrection, and when we wonder about heaven and speculate where God might possibly reside, should God be such that God needs a resting a place.

It is in this connection to one another through our sky that makes our responsibility to care for the sky and the atmosphere all that more great. Albertans well know that what happens to the sky in some other location has the potential to severely impact our living here at home. The smoke from forest fires make it easy for us to see and feel how missteps in care for the environment can reach far and wide around the globe. There was more than once that we woke up in the morning and decided to restrict our outdoor activities last month due to the smoke. In fact, when I stepped outside and smelled the smoke, I was instantly transported back to the UCZ’s Theological University, where we stayed last year on the youth trip. Instantly I could feel the grass beneath my feet and feel the cool morning air on my arms. You see, for lack of centralized garbage removal, the Zambians burn their garbage at night and the smoke lingers until the morning. There are many concerns about wildfires these days that did not seem to exist a few decades ago. Humanity is spreading further and further from town and city centres which restricts allowing natural forest fires to burn. We know that forests need fire now and then for its life cycle but we are disrupting those cycles. As well, there have been an increase in droughts over time which means the forests are drier now and more susceptible when someone throws a cigarette butt out of a car window or when a campfire is not properly extinguished or when an ATV’s hot exhaust ignites dry brush. 

One valuable takeaway from our smoky summer (I understand that the smoke from the wildfires in BC even reached PEI and Ireland) is a physical reminder that what we do to the environment has an impact that is far more reaching than just the immediate area, whether we can see it in the moment or not. I am not sure if the ancient Hebrew people had concerns for their environment, but there are many metaphors used in the Bible that use various aspects of creation to make a point about the behaviour of humanity and the nature of God. The prophet Jeremiah lived in a time that rife with instability and discord. Impending doom and destruction was about to befall Judah—it can be confusing, but after King Solomon’s death, the twelve tribes of Israel divided their lands into two kingdoms, Israel to the north and Judah to the south—which included the city of Jerusalem. As the Bible tells it, people of Israel were not behaving well and God allowed them to be taken into captivity by the Assyrians. Fast forward a hundred and fifty or so years later and Jeremiah is watching the world around him fall apart. Remember, a prophet is someone who can anticipate or predict a certain future outcome based on current and past actions. Prophets anticipate what the future might hold if current attitudes and behaviours are maintained. One simply needs to imagine what the trajectory of such decisions might have beyond their immediate impact and what unintended consequences might rise up as a result of those decisions.

And so, the prophet Jeremiah, living in Judah, is witnessing the society around him crumbling. 2 Kings, chapter 17 tell us, Judah also did not keep the commandments of their God but walked in the customs that Israel had introduced. The people of Judah have forgotten to know and to find ways of living with hearts of justice, community-mindedness and compassion. Jeremiah, knowing full well his history, knew that those very customs of Israel had resulted in Israel’s captivity. It did not require a Magic Eight Ball to understand that the seize of Judah, this time by the Babylonians, was close at hand. In our scripture reading today, Jeremiah is telling these people they have become vulnerable to powers and principles other than the one true God and their actions and behaviour have consequences for all of Creation. Creation suffers and bears witness to the consequences of humankind living only for self and forgetting their hope in God. Jeremiah reminds everyone that God sees what’s happening and God is not pleased. In the verses right before Daniel began reading, God likens humanity to stupid children who have no understanding. Says the people are skilled in doing evil but do not know how to do good. Don’t hear that in the sanctuary every day do you? This is one of those instances that the Lectionary conveniently skips over. Jeremiah goes on, with the piece that Daniel read, and tells the people that God is watching the very Creation that was gifted to humanity, the very Creation that was given to humanity to have dominion over, for them to be stewards of, that Creation is being undone because they have forgotten God and allowed themselves to ruled by self-interest and desire rather than the virtues that arise from relationship with God. Because of their selfishness and greed, fear and cowardice, the earth was waste and void. All the birds of the air had fled. The heavens above grow black. The sky became black just as it did the moment Jesus died upon the cross that was used to torture and execute him hundreds and hundreds of years later. Our behaviour has consequences that reaches far beyond that which a simple apology or monetary fine or bucket of water or a Band-Aid can fix.

Me standing at the top of
Mount Sinai at sunrise
It is often said that even if one experiences the presence of God at church, one can always find God out in nature. The feeling of being in the mountains or surrounded by grain fields, at night, far away from the lights of city so that the magnitude of milky way can be seen, near the ocean, along a stream, with the elegance of a hawk or falcon soaring high overhead, the magnificence of a huge flock of birds flying together across the sky, the sun rising and setting, the moon, full and enormous, right at our doorstep. I love to travel. I love to go see other countries and cultures. But when I am away, I miss being at home. I miss my people. I miss them a lot. And sometimes, when wifi and the phone are not available, I can sometimes feel untethered from the family and friends that I wrap around myself and my life, giving me a sense of comfort and stability. And, in these moments of feeling unmoored from my particular place in the world, no matter where I am, what continent I’m on or what nation I am in, I go outside and I look up. I look for the sun and know that yesterday that very sun rose upon my people at home and I feel their love traveling with it. I look up and see the moon and know that very moon will soon be making its way through the sky to put those I love to bed and I send my love with it. The sky is important. The sky protects us from cold of space. The sky holds for us the very oxygen we need for life. And it is up to us to keep that source of oxygen healthy. Because, believe it or not, on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, air is more fundamental to our well-being than free wi-fi.

I was fretting about what to say here because it seems so difficult for an individual or those who are not involved at a high level in corporations or government to make a difference over how our air quality is maintained. So much of the damage to our air and sky that has resulted in climate change has been because of industry and manufacturing. It can seem too big of an issue for us to manage as simply being citizens of the world. But then I had this funny experience this week. I am invited, now and then, to be filmed preaching sermons from the recent past so that those congregations without a minister can put together a worship service and have a preacher give a message. On Thursday, I pulled out and adapted a sermon for this coming Advent—from the Book of Luke, where John the Baptist is saying we need to make the roads straight, bring the mountains low and raise up the valleys in preparation for the Messiah’s arrival. It was weird to be preaching Advent in September but the long and the short of it was, I was hearing myself say that this specific piece of scripture tells us that we are to be co-creators with God for the coming of peace in this world. Only by our participation and involvement in the bettering of our world, can true peace be known. And, as it turns out, I was preaching to myself because in that moment, I remembered that we cannot abdicate our responsibility for a healthy sky and for clean air, we cannot abdicate our stewardship of the very sky that God breathed into the world at its beginning. We cannot. So, even though we may not be decision makers in industry or with the government, we must still do our best to affect change.

And. So. God gave us to the responsibility to be stewards for the Creation given to all of us. God can see, just as clearly as Jeremiah could, just as clearly scientists across the world, just as clearly—or not so clearly—as those who live in cities besieged by smog, just as clearly as us living under a haze of smoke from wildfires hundreds and hundreds kilometers away, we are not fulfilling our responsibilities to our very best ability. We cannot leave the impetus to be better, to steward better, to care better for our environment just up to the powerful and those with authority. We can affect change as individuals and as members of a wider community and as citizens united together. On a large, global level there the United Nations. Goal 13 of the Sustainable Development Goals concerns the climate. The Canadian government approach is listed on the website for Canada’s Action on Climate. Locally there's the City of Calgary initiatives. What can we do - individually and together as citizens of this city, of this country and of this world?

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Biblical House of Cards

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19

 This summer Stephen and I decided that we would use the Lectionary to guide the themes and topics of our summer services. Throughout most of the year, we work with the Worship Ministry to choose themes that are meaningful and relevant to the congregation and I then find scripture readings that are most appropriate for the themes. Sometimes, though, it’s nice to just pick up a predetermined schedule and choose from one of the four readings on any given Sunday to use for the basis of our sermons. The Lectionary was designed so that dedicated followers would make their way through the Bible every three years. One of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke is the focus for one of the three years with the Gospel of John sprinkled throughout the more high holy times. This year, Year B, we are making our way through Mark. Two weeks ago we looked at the end of chapter five and, last week, we read the beginning of chapter six. Obviously, this week I chose not to stick with the Gospel reading but, rather, I went with the Old Testament, the Hebrew Scripture reading instead. The order of the readings is so that from Advent to Pentecost—December until about June—is arranged as Narrative Time which tell of how God has dealt, is dealing, and will deal with God’s people, with us. Ordinary Time, the time after Pentecost and back to Advent—so, June to November—tells us, then, how we should respond.
If you pay attention each week during the periods that we use the Lectionary, you will notice that, frequently, the readings do not follow directly from one to the other. From week to week, even within the reading itself as happens today, there are breaks in the verses read. Some portions of scripture are consistently skipped year after year. We highlighted this last fall when we used a reading or two from the Song of Songs—a rather detailed love poem that is supposedly an allegory describing God’s love for Israel. Stephen and I led a short bible study on a number of rather serious stories that are ignored altogether by the Lectionary designers and would never be read out loud in any sanctuary if a preacher only ever followed the Lectionary.
Today you can see that the reading is from chapter six of 2 Samuel. And for some reason some verses early it the chapter are left out as is the final bit of the chapter. Some might say that these verses were left out to make the reading a reasonable length. But let me tell you what’s missing and you might have a better sense of why the powers that be decided to set them aside. So, to give you the setting for the story, you need to know that just in chapter five David was anointed as king over all of Israel and had recently conquered Jerusalem, calling it the City of David. Remember King David was completely human and, as such, possessed an ego and desire for power. His ego and his want for power drove him to decide that God needed to reside within the gates of his city. Chapter six begins with David gathering his men—thirty thousand altogether. This vast number of people sets the tone of what’s about to happen—this shows how powerful David was to have had thirty thousand men at his beck and call. So, he gathers the thirty thousand men and he arranges for the ark of the covenant, the ark of God to be settled in Jerusalem. For those of you who will remember your Sunday School lessons, you will remember that the Ark is not filled with sand and angels of death as it was in the Indiana Jones movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark but rather, the Ark of God was a small box which contained the stone tablets that had the Ten Commandments inscribed upon them. It had rings at each corner and four men carried it by placing two poles through the rings on either side. This was the proper way of carrying the Ark—these were the instructions from God to Moses—no human was to touch the Ark itself.  The Ark was carried by the Israelites as they wandered through the desert for the forty years. Wherever they set up camp, it was put in a special tent called the Tabernacle. When the Israelites crossed over to the Promised Land and they were trying to conquer Jericho, they carried the Ark around the city once each day for seven days until the walls of the city came tumbling down. The Ark of God was central to the faith of the Israelites. Wherever the Ark was, so was God.
And so, fast forward hundreds of years…David has been anointed king and now wants it to be clear that he is God’s chosen leader so he declares that the Ark will be moved to Jerusalem. As it begins it move, David and the whole house of Israel celebrate by singing and dancing before the Ark along its route. And then there is a break the reading. What happens between verse six and the beginning of verse twelve is astonishing. Amongst this celebration, something devasting occurs. One of men in charge of moving the Ark dies a terrible death. You see, David did not follow the proper protocol of transporting the Ark. He had it placed on a cart pulled by oxen. It was carried by poles through the rings at each of the four corners. But the ox stumbled at one point and it looked like the Ark was going to fall off the cart. A guy named Uzzah placed his hand on the Ark to prevent it falling and he was immediately struck dead by God. Shocking! Just shocking. So, now, at this point, David and God have a falling out and, David is suddenly afraid of doing anything more to annoy God so he parks the Ark in a house nearby.
For three months the household finds itself suddenly blessed in all manners of being. This is where our reading picks up. David noticed the blessings bestowed upon the house and decided to give God another try. This time, as the Ark is being carried to Jerusalem, there is no mention of oxen or carts so its likely being carried in the proper fashion. But, David really upped his game. He sacrificed a bull and a fatted calf—something that normally only the priests would do. And he does so while wearing a priestly garment—an ephod. Which is kinda like an apron that you might see an employee wearing at Lowes Home Depot. Its significant here that he is wearing the vestments and performing the rites that are normally for priests only. But I’ll get to that in a moment. It seems that he was wearing the ephod and nothing else. We don’t realize just how indiscreet David was in his choice of garment when the Lectionary is read as is but for now we will carry on,  I’ll tell you more in moment. So, we have David wearing a priestly aprong and he dances with great enthusiasm as the Ark enters Jerusalem. The Ark is settled and there is a feast. The preaching for this scripture reading, without mention of Uzzah’s death of course, usually involves exhortations to celebrate God’s presence, that dancing is okay—a serious concern for some Christians—so dancing is alright and, just as importantly, we must remember to be joyful before God.
So, that’s the end of the reading but not the end of the chapter. It is in the last four verses is when we find out not only about David’s lack of underwear and we find out how David is working on his own House of Cards. We learn how his political machinations are as well considered as those of Francis Underwood. You see, in the last four verses, David returns home and gets bawled out by his wife. Do you remember that a woman named Michal was observing David’s entrance into Jerusalem and she despised him in heart? Well, not only was Michal the daughter of Saul, the first King of Israel, who by the way had put out a hit on David but, in a crazy turn of events, was himself killed and David was lifted up to take the throne. Michal as David’s wife helped him evade being found and killed. But, that love aside, she is very, very annoyed with David. She lays right into when he gets home. HOW DARE YOU embarrass me!! How poorly the King of Israel distinguished himself, disrobing himself as any vulgar fellow would. That’s actually what she says. So, here we know that’s David’s altogether was on display as he danced his way through town. But then the significance of all that’s happened is revealed. We find out the motivation behind David’s actions. He tells Michal, it is before God, who chose ME not your father, that I dance. And it is before the commoner that I reveal myself. THEY will hold me in honour. And, just before we leave Michal, I’ll let you know the chapter ends with these words: Michal, the daughter of Saul had no children to the day of her deat. In other words, lived her life without worth. Either she was barren, or David set her aside, it makes no matter, her criticism mattered not.
David’s words to Michal towards the end of the chapter puts a different spin on the story than just one of celebration and joy. David is telling Michal of how important it is that his ascension to the throne needs to be recognized, accepted and celebrated not only by the powerful of the country—both the political leaders but also the religious leaders. And so we know why he insisted on behaving as a priest would—sacrificing animals and wearing vestments—or rather, one vestment. His bawdy nature appealed to those who lined the roadways as the Ark the Covenant, as God’s very self, made its way to take up residence in Jerusalem, the City of David. Make no mistake, this is a story of politics, of power, of ego, of dominance. Even poor Uzzah’s death cannot be overlooked. David’s arrogance allowed him to think he could set God aside when God’s wrath came down upon his plans. I don’t know why Uzzah was killed—maybe there was an accident and the poor man died along the way. Perhaps in an effort to explain why, it was realized that the Ark was not being respected and so its mistreatment was attributed to God. But’s placement in this story is necessary because it reminds of us David’s humanity—he is scared of God. He had been behaving as if it was all him that made his successful possible, as if God wasn’t involved at all. His feeling chastised doesn’t last long but he’s brought down a notch amongst his self-celebratory travels to Jerusalem.
I don’t know really how I feel about this story about King David. On one hand, the full story, the whole of chapter six, shows how deft David was in the political arena and gives us a rare glimpse of what little humility David possessed. On the other hand, unless we read the whole chapter together, we are left with an impression of David only as a man of faith. The edited scripture reading doesn’t show us David’s political manipulations and hidden agenda. The loss of Uzzah is forgotten, the fate of Michal is ignored. I find it frustrating when we don’t acknowledge the whole of the Bible. Its stories tells us so much about the early days of God’s people. I think that it would be easy for us to ignore the pieces of scripture that make us squirm. I understand sometimes storytellers want to leave out certain details because the wholeness of the story might make some uncomfortable. Picking and choosing only those pieces of scripture and those pieces of narrative in our lives that make us comfortable, acknowledging only the ‘good’ pieces of the story allow for us to overlook those who are hurting or those who are suffering or those whose humanity is being denied, overlooking the uncomfortable so that we may remain blissfully in our own comfort is not how our world will be healed. And remember, Jesus did not worry for a minute about the comfort of those who followed him or those who challenged him. Our scriptures call us to remember and know the uncomfortable so that we can learn and grow. And maybe use them to help figure out how to deal with what makes us uncomfortable in our world today. Thanks be to God.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

You Don't Know Everything I Know

Mark 6:1-13

A couple of years ago, when I was on sabbatical, I went to Amsterdam with my spouse and my Dad. We had a few days there before we started a river cruise through Germany. We took a bike tour through the city and one of the stopping points was in a rather large courtyard that had small little fenced in yards in front of doorways in the surrounding buildings. In some yards there were woman sitting reading or working in small flower beds. There was a small chapel in the middle of it all. The guide was telling us about the place—he was speaking German, French and English. He saved the English for last because the three of us were the only English speakers on the tour. I had heard him say the word Beguine when he was speaking to the others. When he came to the English, he described how this courtyard was for a group of women doing God’s work, the group of them were called, and he interrupted himself here, I don’t know the English for Beguine. And I suddenly realized where we were. We were amongst a cloister of faithful women who devote themselves to service in God’s name by doing the work of Christ for the surrounding community. I spoke up and said—there is no translation—they are the Beguine in English too. My spouse and Dad looked at me, confused. Why would I know that? I then explained to them who the Beguine were and what they did. Why do you know this they asked? Because these are my people I replied. The Order of the Beguine was one of the precursors to diakonia re-emerging in Europe.

When we were on another bike tour, this time in Germany, we found ourselves looking up in the hills to the Abbey of St. Hildegard. The tour guide was uncertain what the Abbey was about and I told him that I knew. Again, I caught my spouse and my dad off-guard as I gave a history of Hildegard von Bingen and the significant role she had in religion and in science in the 12th century. They didn’t know that I knew all that information. I remembered these two funny moments when I read this week’s scripture about a prophet not being respected in their own hometown. It’s not that my dear spouse and dad do not respect me here at home in Calgary, but I think, as with is often the case with people that we’ve known for a long time, they thought they knew everything I knew. They have debated and discussed with me over the years about all manner of things, but I had never really talked to them about these bits of historical knowledge that I’ve gained over the years since being called in diaconal ministry with the church.

I think this is what happened to Jesus when he returned to Nazareth. ‘What are you talking about?’ the neighbours and childhood acquaintances would have said. This IS Jesus, son of Mary, we’re talking about, right? The carpenter? Brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? What do you mean he can heal people? WHAT DO YOU MEAN he knows something new about God that hasn’t been said a thousand times already in the synagogue? WHEN did that all happen? You see, all those who knew Jesus when he was growing up and working in Nazareth before he went to be baptized by his cousin John and headed out to the desert, all those who knew him since he was a young, wee thing, thought they knew all what he knew. And, why wouldn’t they? They grew up side-by-side, with the same people around them as they went about learning a trade and going to synagogue each day. They figured they knew everything he knew. Also, social status was a fixed thing in those days. You couldn’t or even dare to try rise above your station. Before Jesus left town to find John the Baptist, he wasn’t a rabbi, a teacher, a learned leader of any sort. He was simply a carpenter. The son of Mary. Notice his earthly father Joseph is not even mentioned although Joseph is named in similar stories in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. The biblical scholars take this omission of Joseph as further proof that the people of Nazareth would have had little consideration of Jesus as someone significant—he was fatherless—without lineage or ancestry.

We have, with today’s scripture, the realization of Jesus and his disciples, that they had to leave, had to go beyond their family and friends to create a wider community of faithful people who could work towards the kingdom of God. Jesus was able to heal just a few people in Nazareth. Last week we read from the chapter just before this one and explored how the healing amongst people requires not only the desire of the one who has caused the damage or hurt amongst but also requires the willingness of those who have been damaged or hurt toparticipate in the healing process. The example I used last week was that just because I, as a descendent from folks who immigrated to Canada years and years ago, just because I want reconciliation and healing to happen with the indigenous people who are living with the impact and consequences of signing the treaties and the creation of residential schools across Canada, just because I want healing to occur, it can’t happen until those who have been hurt are, themselves, ready to enter into the healing process. Such as it was in Nazareth so long ago. Jesus healed those people who were willing and able to participate in the healing. The bleeding woman told him the whole truth. The little girl got up and walked after he raised her back to life. They were not passive receptacles of Jesus’ healing touch. Nazareth, the hometown of Jesus, was not open to healing of Jesus, whether it was by touch or by teaching. And so, he and his disciples left, going from village to village, offering the love of God’s word.

Jesus sends the Twelve disciples out in pairs. They are to take nothing but a staff and the clothes they are wearing. They take no other burden as they travel, sharing what they have heard and witnessed and experienced along the way as they followed their leader and teacher. Jesus tells them that if those they visit do not welcome them, they are to shake the dust off their sandals and carry on. If they are unwilling to hear the loving words of God, they are not prepared for the healing that comes with the message. It takes full participation in the healing of ourselves and in the healing of that which is needed by others so that the kingdom of God can break through into our world in the here and the now. People of southern Africa have given us a phrase for this healing—unbuntu. It means—I am not whole until the world is whole, the world is not whoel until I am whole. The world is not healed until I am healed, I am not healed untilt the world is healed. Full participation for God’s kingdom is required. But our time is limited and so Jesus says, don’t waste your time. If a household is resistant to hearing the Word of God, then move on. Move on and don’t fret and linger over what you cannot change. The Serenity Prayer by Rheinhold Niebuhr comes to mind in this dusting off one’s sandals. This is how he wrote the first stanza—it’s been altered slightly over the years, but here’s how he wrote it:

God, give us grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.

What happens though when we discover that it is, us, ourselves, who are resistant? It’s all well and good to lay the refusal to heal, to change, to improve, to work towards God’s kingdom, at the feet of the other. Using their unwillingness to participate in the healing of God’s world as reason to not, yourself, participate in living out the teaching of Jesus? What happens when there is some area, some regret we can’t get over, some grudge we can’t let go of, some hurt that has come to define us, some addiction that imprisons us, some anger that has taken ahold of us that we are we are having difficulty entrusting to God? What happens we are the people of Nazareth, refusing to see Jesus for who he was, for who he is—the one who offers the love of God to all, to each and every person, regardless of their status, their occupation, regardless of who they love or who loves them, regardless of how they look, how much they weigh, how tall they are or how able they are. Some might call that salvation. I call that healed. In the knowing that all are worthy of the love of God, and in the knowing that we are to love one another as we would love ourselves, what is holding us back from making that real for each and every one we meet? Healing is not a passive event. Healing does not happen simply because you will it into being nor does it happen in isolation. Healing happens because you work to make it happen. Healing happens in community, in loving one another and allowing yourself to be loved in return. Healing happens when you are willing to hear the other and to allow that they might know and understand something that you didn’t know they knew. Healing happens when we don’t restrict the other to who they were years, months, days ago. Healing happens when we acknowledge that others could have grown and learned and had their eyes opened just we, ourselves, are attempting to do. Healing happens when we recognize the work that is being done by others as they participate in the coming of God’s kingdom. Healing happens when we know we are not alone working towards making heaven happen right here on earth. We live in God’s world. We are not alone. Thanks be to God.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Celebrating Canada's 150th & Healing Ourselves

Mark 5:21-43

Last year I spent Canada Day in Chicago, Illinois. It was an odd thing, being out of the country for Canada’s birthday. Particularly since my family wasn’t with me on a day that we usually spend together and because it was a special year. It was Canada’s 150th. I was in Chicago, and I say that like I was touring Chicago, which I wasn’t as I barely left the university for the entire ten days I was there but I was there because I was attending a world gathering of the diaconate from the many different denominations of Jesus’ church. It was an incredible feeling being in the States because as a Canadian I had freedom of movement—I had crossed the border with no issues and did not worry about needing to carry my travel documents with me, because, back then the United States still considered Canada its friendly neighbour to the north, not some milk-subsidizing national security threat with a highly offensive and duplicitous prime minister. I had no problems traveling to Chicago unlike serval others of the conference who were not permitted to enter the country because of their nationality—people from Asia and Africa. We left their name tags on empty seats throughout the conference to remind us of who was missing that week.

Anyway, the Diakonia World Federation had gathered in Chicago. Diakonia is a greek word that means ‘service among others’. The diaconate was created in the very early days of the emerging church when it was realized there was a need to share what was happening at the gatherings of God’s people that were taking place in each other’s homes. After Jesus was resurrected and then ascended to the heavens, the followers of Jesus began meeting together. They realized, due to illness or other serious matters, there were others who could not make it to the gatherings and it was decided that a certain style of people would take food and the good news from the meetings out into the community as well as stand at the door to the homes where the gatherings took place and welcomed everyone into the meeting. They welcomed people in and they took that welcome out to those in need.

With certain culture influences on the church, the role of the diaconate fell by the wayside until the 1800s when a desperate need emerged for care and attention to given to those who could not manage for themselves—particularly for prisoners who were not fed or given basic necessities unless the church or families provided for them, those folks who were too sick to work or to care for their families—remember, in the 1800s people were imprisoned not necessarily because they did something heinous but because they were too poor to pay their debts or they had committed some small infraction. There was no social safety net back then in any form. If you were destitute, you had no assistance outside what the church and your family could provide. And so, the diaconate was revived to help serve those who were oppressed, poor, ill or widowed. You might be familiar with the more modern terms of deacon or deaconess. Depending on the denomination, the diaconate’s responsibilities range from reading the gospel during the worship service, taking consecrated elements from communion out to the sick following worship, offering pastoral care, leading children and youth programs, working as parish nurses, as teachers at community schools of all sorts, as organizers of food banks and shelters for women and children, as allies for the LGTBQ community and for those working towards reconciliation with indigenous communities.

The diaconate is by and far made up of lay professionals. People who have been trained in specific professions and then use their gifts and skills to serve the church. The United Church of Canada is the only denomination that recognizes the diaconate as paid accountable clergy and as such, the diaconate also serve and lead congregations in the same capacity as ordained ministers. In the United Church, as a diaconal minister, I am called to social justice, Christian education and pastoral care. Stephen, as an ordained minister, is called to the word, sacrament and pastoral care. When I became a minister I was gifted with a bowl and towel to represent that it is service that I am called and Stephen was gifted with a chalice and plate, representing his call to sacraments. We are both trained in all aspects of ministry but the focus of our education has been slightly different.

So, now knowing all this about the diaconate, you can appreciate when I say that our Canada Day celebrations last year in Chicago were, at times, somewhat uncomfortable because of our calling to social justice—we could not ignore the growing awareness that was sweeping across Canada last spring of the juxtaposition that the nation of Canada was created at the expense of the First Nations of people who were living on this land before the settlers arrived. We were celebrating our nation being 150 years old but the indigenous people had been on the land for much longer than the settlers. Many Canadians were feeling uncomfortable with celebrations that were predicated on the attempted destruction of culture and way of living. In discussions that were taking place at the time at home and in Chicago, I heard it said and I likely said it myself, why can’t it just be done? Why can’t the damage and hurt that was done just be fixed and we move forward? Why can’t the healing be as simple and quick as it was for both the woman and the girl in today’s scripture? Jesus made it look so easy. 

The healings that take place in today’s scripture reading are twofold. The first, the woman, an individual, who in her own personal suffering reaches out and, without seeking permission, is healed. Can you imagine how terrible it would be to menstruate for twelve years—cause make no mistake, this is what’s happening in this story. As a man you may not fully appreciate what that might mean. You may have to reach a bit to find yourself somewhere in this story but in the famous words of Matthew Taylor-Kerr, suck it up princess because women, for years, have had to find themselves in the stories of men. So, men, today I invite you to find yourself in the story of this individual woman. Can you imagine her discomfort and pain and the inconvenience she might have been experiencing, and it lasting weeks, and months and years? It would have been a horrible thing. And to top it off, not only would she have been feeling miserable all the time, she would not have been permitted to do most normal daily activities because she would have been in a constant state of uncleanliness. So, this woman risks everything to venture out to see the famed healer Jesus. Not considering herself worthy, she just touches the hem of his robe, hoping his power is strong enough to work through the slightest of contact. And it does. And from there Jesus goes to raise a recently deceased young girl—did you notice that she was twelve years old, the same length of time the woman had been bleeding? The storyteller wants there to be no mistake that the stories of these two are connected. Anyway, the family of the girl seek Jesus out to make their daughter well again. She dies but then is resurrected by Jesus, which he seems to do with very little effort, with very little cost to himself. Of course, it is the girl herself who is healed, however it is the gathered family who is amazed. The girl rises, the family rejoices.

Certain Christians tell anyone who would listen that, if only they knew Jesus, healing and blessings would be heaped upon their heads. Like it is a simple thing. Like it is an easy as a thing as the healing of this woman and this girl. But we know this is misleading. We know that just because we wish for something to happen, life doesn’t work that way. Jesus does not work that way. God does not work that way. The work of Jesus was not one-directional. While it may seem that it was easy for Jesus to heal or perform miracles but we must remember that Jesus very often required something from those he healed. He demanded they walk to him, to have faith, to explain themselves, to get up, to tell him the whole truth. The little girl was not brought back to life and had no expectation put upon her but she was to immediately get up. She was to walk despite just having been bedridden. The bleeding woman came forward to confess it was her who touched the hem of Jesus’ robe and, did you notice this, she then told him the whole truth. Jesus offered healing but the healing needed to be received. This demonstrates that healing the hurt, the pain, fixing the broken and damaged requires not only the desire to be healed but also requires an ability to offer a healing path forward. And both of those things together require a lot of work. Because humanity is perfectly imperfect, it is not easy to be completely open ourselves to healing in any given moment or to assist another down a path—whether through apology or reparations or offering another form of justice—and having that path that is free and clear of any other personal agenda.

In Chicago last year, there were a plethora of discussions about what justice might look like for many different groups of people. Those denied the fullness of humanity because they are black or brown or because they find themselves with the LGTBQ spectrum, or because they are differently abled or because cultures and ways of living have been denigrated or because they live with any sort of mental illness. And God knows, we wish that justice for everyone was as simple as Jesus telling the young girl to get up. That we could reconcile with the people who make up the First Nations of this country for all the pain and damage created in the systemic racist policies of our various incarnations of government and for the ongoing missteps we collectively take in trying to sort out the many different layers of discrimination and bias that affect relationship between all citizens of this peace-loving and polite nation of ours. However, we know that healing does not happen with the touch of hem. It happens when the whole truth of a matter is revealed. And, at any time relationships are broken, the whole truth can be hard to find. Hard to acknowledge. Hard to admit. And it is not just our desire to fix what’s broken, those who have been hurt need, themselves, to be in a place that will allow for healing to happen. And some hurt runs so deep and ragged, it’s difficult to get to a place that one can hear the other telling their truth. It can be overwhelming to know where even to start in the fixing that the relationships and situations that are hurting or broken is some significant way. Maybe the place to start is simply with leaving the chair empty when someone does not show up because they are not permitted, or welcomed, or physically able, or were not invited or forgotten, or ignored, or not even considered. Healing involves being made welcomed AND being welcoming. And healing involves being prepared to be open to hearing the truth and telling the truth. The whole truth. May it be so.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Scripture Shall No Longer Be Used As a Weapon of Mass Destruction

Matthew 25:31-45

 Today, in the United Church of Canada, is Aboriginal Sunday, the Sunday closest to June 21st, the summer solstice, which is the day that was declared by the Governor General of Canada in 1996 as National Aboriginal Day. Last year the day was renamed as National Indigenous Peoples Day. This is a day for all Canadians to recognize and celebrate the unique heritage, diverse cultures and outstanding contributions of First Nations, Inuit and M├ętis peoples. The lives of all Canadians, those who have relatives that immigrated here years and years ago and those, like my friend Louise, who will become a Canadian in early August, the lives of all of us are bound up with the lives of the first peoples of this land we now call Canada. Depending on when and where you grew up, your connection with the Indigenous people of Canada may be extensive or it may have been limited or even non-existent. However, whether you realize it or not, your life is connected to the lives of the indigenous people of Canada. For no other reason your life is bound up with their lives, is because of you sitting here, right here in this space, on this holy ground, your life is bound up with the lives of indigenous people because of scripture. Because you have decided to be Christian. Because you have decided to be counted amongst those of us who follow the prophet Jesus who upon his resurrection and ascension, became our Christ. Because you woke up this morning and came here to worship instead of sleeping in or going for an early brunch. Your life is wrapped up in the life of Canada’s indigenous people because you are here today.

Throughout the history of time, humanity has used its imagination to create weapons of mass destruction so that one group of peoples could gain dominance over another. The desire for power seems to be a universal characteristic for us humans. It might, in fact, be our fatal flaw, a piece of our DNA that prevents what would actually ensure our own happiness and peace. Peace for ourselves and the peace we want for others, if for no other reason, so that their problems would no longer infringe on our lives. Or, it could be that this want and need for power is a learned behaviour so embedded in our different cultures that it’s hard to distinguish between what is nature or nurture. Humanity has a remarkable array of weapons at its disposal for use when leadership and power is threatened. Guns. Gas chambers. Nuclear bombs. Torture. Incarceration. Separation of families. Financial sanctions. These are weapons of mass destruction. But the weapon that has been used to hurt, by and far, the most number of people in the history of humanity is scripture. The word of God, the word of Allah, the Mormon word of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, the Scientologist word of Ron Hubbard, the word of Saint Paul have all been used to hurt, to condemn, to ridicule, to dehumanize, to disempower, to disenfranchise, to belittle, to hate. The Pharisees used scripture to crucify Jesus and leaders today have used scripture to damage and to inflict pain upon the least amongst us. It’s being used TODAY. In our western, so-called civilized place in the world. 

The Gospel, the four books of our Bible, tells of a person of God who was so filled with the light and love of God’s peace, that people from far and wide were drawn to him to learn how they too, could be the hands and feet of God in a world that was fraught with fear and uncertainty. A world filled with people whose greed had them working diligently to oppress and repress others. Jesus showed up in a world of laws, of restrictions, of government, of empire. Jesus showed up and said to the world, the laws do not matter, the rules do not matter, sabbath does not matter, prayers do not matter, if first and foremost we do not love God and secondly if we do not love one another. Nothing else matters. He then spent the rest of his ministry trying to show the people what loving God and loving one another would look like. Like when he spoke the words we heard today. The righteous are worried, it’s not overly clear to them how they will know whether they will be the sheep or the goats when the Son of God returns. Whether they will be entering into the kingdom of heaven. Jesus says, oh, that’s easy. Whatever you have done to the least of these, you have done to me. When you have loved the other as you would have loved yourself. Jesus not only told stories but acted so that others could see how one might behave if love above all else was the driving force in life. He ate with the tax collector, with the prostitute. He visited the poor and destitute. He healed the sick on the sabbath, he offered a hand to the downtrodden, to the mentally ill, to the widowed, to non-Jews, to the uneducated, to the weak. 

Since his execution, the followers of Christ have interpreted his words and actions. Some of those interpretations made it into the Bible. Letters were written. Prophecy and revelations were shared. But, if you’re Christian, you understand that no further divine laws were created after Jesus. However, this has not stopped humanity from searching through the words written and bound up in the Bible to find ways to gain or maintain authority and power in their lives. Scripture from Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians was quoted to keep slaves in their place in the United States – servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart. The Bible was used to tell black people that they needed to submit to white people and then used to help the white people whose riches were built literally on the backs of the black people, to develop a gospel of prosperity, declaring their success was a sign that God’s favour was upon them. The Presbyterian and Methodist churches took a line from Matthew 28, the one where Jesus says, go and make disciples of all nations, they took that as direct instruction to go and compel those unfamiliar with Jesus to declare Jesus as their personal lord and saviour. Because of this mission, along with their strong commitment to universal public education, it was a natural fit for the Presbyterians and the Methodists to assist in running Residential Schools for the Canadian Government. 
Unfortunately, their mission goal of providing education and proclaiming the gospel was not tempered by respect for the existing culture, values and spirituality of First Nations. In another letter from Paul, written to followers of Jesus who were living under a dictator and whose lives were under constant threat, Paul commends the fledging church to keep its head down, to submit quietly to the prevailing political winds so that they might evade persecution. He wrote them, ‘everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities.’ These words from Romans 13 were used by Adolf Hitler to legitimize the Nazi authoritarian rule in 1930s Germany. I’m sure these words were used by the fictional leaders of Gilead to subdue the handmaids. And they were used this very week by a nation’s administration that seeks to repel, not welcome the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

The problem with picking and choosing pieces of scripture to back our leadership, to justify of our actions and our beliefs, the problem is that we forget something crucial, we deny something essential. And that is underlying everything that has been written and said about Jesus since the time of his ascension, needs to be laid upon the foundation of love. Which, according to the story today, is understood through action, through the treating of each and every person as if it were Jesus himself standing before you. Or at the receiving end of your email. Or is the one impacted by the law or bill just passed in Parliament. Or the one waiting line in front of you at the drive through at Tim Hortons. Sometimes it’s hard to remember you’re honking at a real person rather than just a vehicle when you’re waiting in line at Tims, isn’t it? Or is that just me? I can understand that the Presbyterians and the Methodists viewed the native people of Canada as the least of these that Jesus spoke of in story of the sheep and the goats. The establishment of the treaties and the resulting system of Reserves set in motion a series of circumstances in which the cultures and languages of the native people were not valued. As such, people new to the land that became known as Canada did not gain awareness or learn about the fullness and richness of the lives of indigenous people that existed when the Europeans began showing up on their shores. 

When the Methodists and 70% of the Presbyterians voted to create together the United Church of Canada, they brought with them, responsibility to oversee twelve Residential Schools across Canada – from Norway House in northern Manitoba, where my family lived when I was a small child, to Alberni in British Columbia to Mount Elgin in Ontario. The church leaders and volunteers who ran these schools understood one of their mandates to be was to form the Indian child so that they could grow up to interact and be productive in the western European culture that the new country of Canada was being built upon. We hear today the phrase used behind closed doors in certain government meetings was, ‘beat the Indian out of the child’. The Indians were annoying. They were barriers to complete control and ownership of the vast lands of Canada. Mixing this belief with the religious seeking to convert the so-called savage allowed for the devastation of the Residential Schools to develop.

Can you imagine, just for a moment, what might have happened if those religious leaders, those faithful at the table planning with the government, if they remembered for just a moment Jesus’ story of the sheep and the goats? That Jesus said, whatsoever you did not do the least of these, you did not do to me. And whatever you did do to the least, you did it also to me? If the faithful imagined for a moment that Jesus, as young child, would no want to be separated from his family or, possibly as a parent, would not want to have his children taken from him. Or from their mother. I can’t help but think that if some Christian, early on in the process of creating Residential Schools, if that Christian stopped to think, hmmm…what a minute, Jesus never said anything about destroying cultures when bringing the Word of God to all people. Jesus did not tell us to conquer and divide. Jesus taught us and showed us how to build up one another with love.

This is why the lives of each one of us here are bound up in the lives of all indigenous people today. Because scripture calls us, Jesus tells us, that for the kingdom of heaven to be possible on this earth, we must first treat the least of those amongst us as if we were treating Jesus himself. And we now know better than we did before. We are aware of the necessity and value of a diversity of cultures and people living together in the same land, in the same nation. We know that we have much to learn from one another. That one way of being does not supersede another. We have admitted wrongdoing. We have apologized. We have participated in a Commission to find out what truth and reconciliation might look like. And, we’ve been told, it looks like what is contained in the 94 Calls to Action listed by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a series of actions which are intended to redress the legacy of residential schools and advance the process of Canadian reconciliation. We are bound up in the lives of others because our scriptures tell us that peace on earth is not possible without caring for and creating justice for the least amongst us. The least like Jordan River Anderson from Manitoba.

**At this point I shared with the congregation that I had just recently realized how close Jordan's story is to my family situation. I had a sister who was born in 1961 while my family was living in Norway House, MB - the same community as Jordan. She was also born with a very disease and was flown to Winnipeg. The health care system permitted my sister to live at home for periods of time between hospital visits until she died in Norway House at the age of two.**

Jordan’s Principle, as it’s called, is the basis for the third call to action listed by the TRC and it states: We call upon all levels of government to fully implement Jordan’s Principle. Jordan was from Norway House Cree Nation. He was born in 2000 with a very rare disease that required hospitalization. As people from northern Manitoba do when they need acute medical care, Jordan was moved to Winnipeg where he lived the rest of his life. He lived in the hospital for two years until it was determined that he could move out to a family home as long as it was near the hospital. However, the different levels of government could not decide who would pay for what. The result of which meant that Jordan lived the rest of his days in hospital. He died at five years old having been prevented from living in a family home due to financial disputes. Eleven years later—eleven years!! the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal determined that approaches to services for First Nations children was discriminatory and Jordan's Principle was created. It says: all First Nations children can access the products, services and supports they need, when they need them. This means giving extra help with a wide range of health, social and educational needs when needed so First Nations children have an equal chance to thrive. Which, in a nutshell means, the government of first contact pays for the service and resolves jurisdictional/payment disputes later.

There is nothing easy about the 94 Calls to Action and nor should there be. Travesties were done in no small part as a result of taking scripture and using it to deny the spirituality that was in this land long before any European arrived. But surely to God, we can manage number three which more or less says that we will treat children, who are vulnerable, who need love and care, who enter the world at no fault of their own, who live in remote areas, we will treat these least amongst us just as we would treat my sister and any other child in our  country regardless of ethnicity, language used, family of origin, where they call home or who their parents are. We could use scripture for the good news it was supposed to be. We could stand up and demand that we treat the least of us as would treat Jesus. We can stand up and declare that our children will not be left hungry, not be left naked, not denied the access to return home just as we would never deny those things to Jesus. It is time to take back our scriptures and no longer allow them to be used for weapons of mass destruction. It is time to take back our scripture and use them as Good and Holy News for our world, for our communities, for our friends, for our family, for ourselves and always, always, for the least that live amongst us. May it be so.