Our readings for today are: Isaiah 58:1-12, Psalm 112, 1 Corinthians 2:1– 3:9.
Jeremy adored his grandfather and always looked for ways to please his grandfather. One day, he overheard his mother mentioning to his father that his grandfather was disappointed in Jeremy. This really bothered Jeremy. He thought and he thought, Well maybe Poppa noticed that I haven’t been keeping the garden as well as I used to. He immediately went to work in the garden, and for the next 4 days, he did a super job. Then he heard his mother mention his grandfather was still disappointed in him. He couldn’t think of any other reason, so he sucked up his courage and went to see his grandfather. When he asked his grandfather why he was disappointed in him, his grandfather replied that he had hoped Jeremy would spend more time with his friends exploring the abandoned farm by the gravel pit. He had learned so much in his youth by that kind of thing, and was sad that Jeremy seemed to be missing the opportunity to have fun learning experiences. Jeremy laughed, gave Poppa a hug, and went to see his friends about going to the farm on Saturday.
Religious people for thousands of years have tried to please God with fancy temples, sacrifices, and obeying all kinds of rules about morality and religious practice: women wearing head coverings in church, fasting on Fridays, giving stuff up for Lent, shunning unclean people, and so on. According to Isaiah, this is what God wants:
-break the chains of injustice
-get rid of exploitation in the workplace
-free the oppressed
-share your food with the hungry
-invite the homeless into your homes
-clothe the naked
-be available to your families
Jesus said that what we do for the least among us, we do for him.
In the letter to the Corinthians, Paul lamented the failure of the Corinthians to get the point: belonging to the faith community was not to be about who is better or more superior or more important. It was, and is, in how we treat another that we reveal the quality of our relationship with Christ or with God. No one needs a PhD to be an expert about Jesus or being right with God. All we need is to remember the commandment to love one another as Jesus loved those around him.
To take another approach, imagine you have a beautiful yard inhabited by a variety of birds and other animals that give you joy, and you have several children. Would a neighbour who abused your children, urinated on the fence around your yard, dumped garbage in your garden, or randomly killed animals in your yard be in a good relationship with you? What would you want of your neighbour to be right with that neighbour?
Whose world is this? How many believe the world is God’s, and we are merely stewards of the earth? Whose children are all the people in the world? How many of the people in the world are our brothers and sisters as children of God? If this is God’s world, and all the people in it are God’s children, our brothers and sisters, then it is easy to accept that how we live in the world and how we treat other people would be important to God.
People have many reasons to come to church. For many of them, an important reason is to be right with God. To be right with God, we need to first be right with ourselves as God’s children, or at least working at being right with ourselves. To be right with God, we need to show respect and appreciation for the rest of creation.
To be right with God, we need to be right with our brothers and sisters. Isaiah gave us 8 things to do, none of them easy. No one of us can fix the world by ourselves, but we can parts of it better, either by direct action or by pressuring the people with power to change.
Who needs us to advocate or act with love?
I am reading a book by Dr. Peter Breggin titled Reclaiming Our Children, and he details many ways in which our society shows harmful prejudices against children, prejudices he calls pedism. In many ways we do not treat them as real human beings, equal in value to the rest of us. We are less likely to listen to them, let them say what they need or want to say, believe them, or treat them with respect. We have an educational system that treats them like resources to be processed to produce workers for businesses and governments. Like seniors in long term care, we often drug them to make them compliant rather than change how we are treating them to keep them happy, and many private schools are worse than public schools in these two efforts. While most teachers are there because they care about children, not all are. We have systems where governments bully school systems, some administrators in those systems bully principals, and some principals bully teachers who then bully or allow bullying of students. The Indian Residential Schools were not the only places where children were abused. They were almost the only places where children were forcibly removed from their parents and effectively isolated from their communities.
There are many other target groups for abuse where we can make a difference. The media are loaded with material about laws directed at the LGBT community, and wide spread support for the sub-communities within that community.
While this is an important issue, the reality is that the members of the LGBT community tend to have greater average access to wealth and power than several racial groups, women, and poor people in general. I am clearly aware of their various situations, and care about them. However, we are about 6 weeks away from the final Truth and Reconciliation Commission meeting in St. Albert by Edmonton.
As we consider how to be right with God, here is one of 5 minutes for Mission prepared for the TRC meeting, an invitation to look for ways to work for healing of a fundamentally important set of relationships for Canada, for all of us.
Minute for Reconciliation
All children have heroes. As a child growing up in a minister’s home long before television my heroes were – would you believe it? – missionaries! We read their stories in our Sunday school papers and sometimes they came to our church to talk to us. Many of them worked in northern Canada. Their job was to tell Indian people about Jesus and build schools where they taught little children reading and arithmetic. We collected our pennies and we dreamed that someday we would go to those far-off places, places with evocative names like Bella Coola or – my favorite – God’s Lake Narrows. Who knows? Maybe a few of us would become missionaries too.
Some of those missionaries are still my heroes. Since then though we’ve learned that those missions in which the churches eagerly participated were part of a centuries-long exercise in social engineering based on the assumption that indigenous peoples were inferior and therefore, that it was appropriate to take away their control of land and resources. The role of the residential schools would be – in the words of the head of the Department of Indian Affairs – “to take the Indian out of the child”. The result has been catastrophic. Today the evocative place names are Pikangikum and Attawapiskat.
A Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established as part of the Settlement Agreement of a very large class action law suit brought by thousands of former students of Indian residential schools. Its task is to learn the truth of what happened in the schools and to work toward healing and reconciliation. Since 2009, three commissioners have travelled the country meeting with and listening to survivors and their families, as with many tears, they bravely tell their stories of abuse and discrimination, and are encouraged as they seek healing. Always, Canadians have been there to witness, to learn, and to commit themselves to work for reconciliation.
Now it is Edmonton’s turn to host a national event of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, focused on Alberta which had the largest number of residential schools of any province or territory. It will be held from March 27 -30, 2014 at the Shaw Conference Centre. Hundreds of survivors and family members will be coming from every part of the province to meet with the commissioners.
Church members and members of the public are asked to be there to support those who make their statements, and those who share their culture and stories through the arts. We think you’ll want to be there for some or all of the sessions. After all, they’re telling us the truth, truth that we need to hear in order that we and our nation may live abundantly. Maybe we should think of them as missionaries!
The Very Reverend Robert Smith, Past Moderator (1984-1986), Halfmoon Bay, British Columbia
If we succeed at working for being right with God, Isaiah promises great rewards:
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.
We cannot fix everything, but doing what we can to meet God’s purposes opens a door to a better life, one with surprising rewards. As we work to be right with God by being right with others, we become right with ourselves. Being right with ourselves is needed for genuine joy. May the Spirit help each of find a way to serve well, live well. Amen.