The Thorns In Our Side

The Thorns In Our Side

2 Corinthians 12:2-10

We are all thinking of the 100 or more fires throughout our province of BC – experienced as we’ve had this historic heat wave…We are thinking particularly of the blazing hot village of Lytton and the homes and businesses of the people of Lytton First Nation (the Nlaka’pamux), where terrified and displaced people and animals, livestock, pets, have lost so much as they saw their lives destroyed in just 48 hours of burning. Dear God, hear our prayer…

We’ve traditionally taken this week as an opportunity to celebrate Canada as ‘Our Home and Native Land’, But this year, as all the reality of our residential school past/ our intentionally racist legacy continues to be exposed – with an ever-increasing number of unmarked children’s graves – one tragedy after another we no longer have appetite for celebration! Many are using this time instead to stand in sober solidarity with the tragic experience of all indigenous communities at the hands of our colonizing, settler, selves… Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said ‘…the decision to cancel the holiday celebrations is in response to local Indigenous people who while generally participating in Canada Day celebrations are – grief-struck and reeling – truly unable to do so this year’. I’m grateful for her sensitivity & I know how she speaks for so many of us…

We in 2021 now have the perfect 20/20 vision of hindsight clearly to expose our government’s past policy of First Nation ethnocide and residential schools as the heinous construct that it was.

Along with many of our fellow Canadians we take this week as an opportunity to grieve this policy even as we are increasingly convicted of our own complicity in allowing it to happen, and even as we re-commit ourselves to working toward meaningful healing and reconciliation, whatever that may mean…

Yes, our beautiful country does have so much that IS wonderful, but clearly, that’s certainly not all there is! Loyalty to Canada – or to whatever country we may ever be living in – may never depend on whether we feel that that country is entirely good or entirely bad!

Because NO country ever IS ENTIRELY SO, nor has any country ever been! Some even say that the very point when our loyalty to any person, place, religion, nation is moved to above critique, is just about exactly when that that loyalty becomes demonic!!!

Loving Canada may certainly never be about having also to believe that there are not deep brokenness’s that continue to need to be addressed, to be grieved, to be worked through, and by God’s grace, in time, to be healed…Saying that is in no way to be unpatriotic. Instead, just the opposite. …it is to have enough God-given national pride, it’s to care enough about ALL the people of this nation and every nation NEVER to turn a blind eye to the profound brokenness that we are all able so easily to generate, the brokenness that we need to bear…THAT is what Jesus would and still does! And it’s what he would have us be and do as well!

He sees us in all our brokenness – waaaay beyond even what we can see… and, as we make space for him to work his Gospel rhythm in our lives, so we can know him still choosing to draw those brokenness’s out from us and into himself as he dies on the cross for us – that we may have those things die with him – and all the while, still also always holding out the hope of resurrection, that we may also rise in him…whole and healed.

The scriptural Jesus is not so much as the sweetly saccharine character we like to imagine as one who is always prepared always to go there – always prepared to expose and to address what’s wrong in whatever system he may find himself! He was fearless in confronting wherever people were missing the point of God’s reconciling, healing and restorative love. Notice how he remained faithfully part of the very community at which he levelled some of his most severe criticism – especially attacking their self-righteous exclusivity. That’s what he intended for his newly formed church to know and to be and to do as well!

I don’t know where your national loyalties primarily lie… For me: I was born into Apartheid South Africa where I lived for the first 40 years of my life as a privileged and patriotic white SA’n even while remaining openly critical of that government’s evil and de-humanizing segregating policies… Then we came here. And for the past 20 years I am a Canadian in this what I have come whole-heartedly to declare is now ‘My home and CHOSEN land’

But get this: even while committed to being the very best citizen that I can be – diligently paying my taxes, always trying my best to obey all federal, provincial, municipal laws – I believe that it is my and all of our God-given, Christ-revealed duty and responsibility NEVER to allow national loyalty to put our land beyond very clear criticism.

Fr Richard Rohr describes the ways in which we have allowed the focus of Christianity to morph over the last 2000 years: From (1) living lives that bear witness to the radically inclusive, loving, just God-experience he introduced and shared with Israel… To (2) what, in Greece, became essentially a head-thing, some remote philosophy to teach and to argue, something to debate…

Then (3) after its adoption as the official religion of the Roman Empire under Constantine in 313AD, it became organized it into a formal religious system, with strict rules and liturgies, and hierarchies…(4) Europe soon came to associate this Christianity with their national ethnicity & cultures, cultures which they then believed needed to be exported and to be forced onto others with scant disregard of THEIR cultures… Before (5) arriving in North America where in the 20th C, let’s face it, it has become big business – creating institutions that survive by virtue of how much cash they can generate…and now we are where we are- with all of these lumped together to some or other extent…

But surely our faith in Jesus Christ is so much more than simply the sum of abstract ideas, or loyalty to any organization or movement – religious or not. Surely, it’s so much more than whatever national culture we are part of, and certainly waaaay beyond any business model of what we may think makes most sense (cents?)

Our living the truth of Jesus Christ is and must always be about our living the God-experience that Jesus taught – standing up for what HE revealed as God’s intention for all reality, what He named as our living into the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven …and that MUST involve our facing and working through whatever we see is just wrong – our working instead for what is right!

And so, I’m not sure how you intend to celebrate our nation this year, or even whether you intend to do so at all… But whatever you do, may it be – like St Paul – with the certain and sober realization of our thorns – our deeply flawed past and present – and with hope in the realization of something so much better…

Our Moderator, the Rt Rev Dr Richard Bott helpfully distinguishes between celebration and commemoration – these are his words:

When we celebrate something, we tend to look at it high points – the “good stuff” in the story – while not taking notice of other parts. Celebration is a kind of, “RAH! RAH! RAH! WE’RE NUMBER 1.” Commemoration is different. It recognizes the entirety of what is being marked, with all of its good and all of its bad.

Commemoration marks a moment as important. I will be COMMEMORATING Canada Day this year… Instead of fireworks and parades, let’s stand vigil. Instead of speeches and patriotic songs, let’s read the histories in the reports of The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, of the National Inquiry on into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Instead of sitting on the deck, let’s choose one Call to Action or Call to Justice that we can do something about – and take the step that needs to be taken.

How can we take up this call to action: live out our active hope? What one thing can we do/ I do to mark my standing in solidarity with those who have suffered the most? Maybe it’s something small…Maybe others won’t even notice, but I WILL! GOD WILL! What one attitude am I prepared to notice in myself, confess, allow to die, and then to change…? In this time of national COMMEMORATION – even as we denounce the brutality that so many indigenous people endured and endure… what one act of resurrection healing & hope do I long to see, and in Christ dare I anticipate? Dear God, in your mercy, hear this prayer for Canada… And as we do so, may we be seriously mindful of that final verse of our National Anthem, praying:

Ruler Supreme, Who hearest humble prayer,
Our prayer today is that that you, O God would
Hold our dominion within Thy loving care.
Help us to find, O God, in Thee
A lasting, rich reward,
As waiting for the Better Day,
We ever stand on guard.

Dear God keep our land
Strong and True
Because O God we would be whole, we would be better…
In Jesus’ Name

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