June 17, 2018
National Aboriginal Day of Prayer
The Rev. Rod Sprange
Isaiah 40:25-31; Psalm 19; Philippians 4:4-9; John 1:1-18
Today is the National Aboriginal Day of Prayer. The scripture readings were selected by the national church for this special day. As I began the preparation of this sermon I tried to understand why the national church had chosen these particular readings. How do they relate to holding our indigenous brothers and sisters in prayer?
I have to admit, the reasoning wasn’t immediately apparent to me. So I needed to look closely into each reading and look for the truths in there through the lens of the relationship between indigenous and non-indigenous people in Canada. I also wanted to understand what Good News the Gospel reading had for this relationship and the wellbeing of indigenous people.
The first reading was from Isaiah. The book of Isaiah isn’t the work of one prophet. The work covers at least three major time frames. The passage we read today comes from second Isaiah - a prophet thought to have been writing from the exile in Babylon. In today’s passage the prophet is proclaiming monotheism. Previously the people had come to worship the Canaanite gods and lesser gods associated with the stars and planets. In this reading the prophet is passing on the Lord’s declaration that God is the one who created all the heavenly bodies. Therefore they couldn’t be gods because they were of the created order.
The second truth I saw in this passage is that God’s love and God’s will are never ending, they are eternal. God’s love for all God’s creatures and God’s desire for justice is evident in the words “God gives power to the faint and strengthens the powerless”. And “Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”
God is with the powerless, those on the outside, the downtrodden and neglected. Their hope lies in the Lord, it is a call to have trust in God. And a message to the strong, powerful and wealthy that God wants them to use their power and strength to bring justice to all the people.
Let’s turn to the psalm. The first part of the psalm tells us that we can know about God and God’s power by observing creation. How can we not be moved to awe when gazing up at the night sky and the millions of visible stars. The psalmist tells us they cannot speak - yet they send out God’s message to the ends of the earth.
The psalmist then likens the permanence and perfection of the created heavens to the perfection and constancy of the law. When we believe in the law and follow it in our hearts it is the most precious thing known to humankind. Finer than gold and sweeter than honey.
The psalm closes with those lines we often hear before sermons - the psalmist wants God to make all his spoken words and even his deepest thoughts acceptable to God, from whom he gets his strength and who redeems him.
In the excerpt from Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, we hear again encouragement to keep the faith, to rejoice in God’s love and faithfulness and to stop worrying about tomorrow. If we do these things we will know God’s peace - which is beyond being something we can explain. And if we do that God’s peace will keep us true to Christ.
Then Paul exhorts the congregation to walk in God’s ways - basically saying put away destructive thoughts and behaviour, think about all the praiseworthy things like: truth, honour, justice, purity - things that are pleasing to God, and commendable. If they keep following the teaching of Christ, that Paul has shared with them, the God of peace will be with them.
The reading from John has some of the most beautifully poetic words in the New Testament. It’s the opening prelude to John’s version of the Gospel. This is the final reading at the Festival of Lessons and Carols, and is often read on Christmas Eve. These 18 verses tell the whole Gospel story - from creation to the revelation of God in Christ.
In these readings and the psalm there is a lot about the revelation of God in creation. Something the indigenous people knew long before the settlers and missionaries came to impose their version of Christianity.
The sad reality is that rather than offering the Gospel as an invitation and gift, they forced it on the indigenous people. Rather than seeking the good news among these people, and discovering Christ in everyone they met, our forebears tried to destroy what they saw as beliefs that imperilled the souls of the indigenous people. They saw the people, who were already in the land, as primitive and themselves as superior. They even believed that the right to rule over these lesser people, these heathens, was ordained by God. And behind all this was the motivation of European supremacy, power, greed and nationalism. Unfortunately these seem to be popular themes today. Changing the Golden Rule from ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ - to ‘He who has the gold makes the rules’. And the most disturbing thing about all this is it is being promoted by the Christian Far Right. Like Desmond Tutu I wonder - “what Bible are they reading?”
These are ugly truths that most of us don’t want to hear or acknowledge. But we are called to be agents of God’s reconciling love in the world, and if we truly want to be part of the reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous people in Canada, we need first to acknowledge the truth of our shared history; we need to learn more about what happened and the devastating consequences. We need to rebuild our understanding of history, and open out hearts and minds to new ways of relating.
Isaiah reminds us that God supports the powerless and downtrodden. That God is a God of justice. Isaiah reminds us that our creator God is discernible in the beauty and awe of creation; something our indigenous brothers and sisters knew long before we came to the shores of this continent. Together we need to honour and care for God’s creation. Use it yes, exploit it and destroy it no. We need to learn to share God’s bounty. To think in terms of abundance rather than scarcity. But that doesn’t mean plundering or wasting these precious gifts.
The psalm reiterates the wonder of creation, especially the night sky. The psalm tells how God’s message is to be heard in the wonders of creation - that through creation God’s words are heard to the ends of the earth. If we think carefully about this we will understand that God’s message of love had been transmitted to the original people of this land centuries before the Christian Europeans came. We don’t own God! We need to remember that God always acts first.
The Psalm also reminds us that the law, God’s commandments, are perfect and trustworthy. They are as reliable as the sun rising in the East and setting in the west. Jesus taught a new way of understanding the Ten Commandments. The people had come to see them as limiting things like revenge and violence. But Jesus taught that the commandments didn’t limit our responsibility - but were the minimum response - and that we should be striving for much more. For example in answer to a question. About forgiveness he said “you are not ti limit your forgiveness of a brother to 7 tines, but seventy times 7” in other words there is no limit to God’s expectation of our seeking to forgive.
This unlimited response is applicable to the commandment “You shall not bear false witness”. It’s not just a matter of not telling lies about another, or supporting as true, a lie someone else had told. This commandment means standing up for another unjustly accused. We are not to stand silent when someone else is being denigrated. We are to speak up in their defence - to cry out for justice. We need to think about what this means when we hear someone making racist comments about indigenous people or stereotyping them.
We may want to ponder these questions…how are we called to respond? how do we look into our own hearts and discover our own prejudices and preconceptions? Many of these are deeply ingrained. Christ is calling us to do this hard work, to repent, and to stand up for justice.
Jesus also taught that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart with all your soul with all your mind and with all your strength. And the second tells how we do that “By loving your neighbour as yourself”.
Unfortunately we have not loved our indigenous brothers and sisters as ourselves. We continue to benefit from previous wrongs. Loving our neighbours as ourselves is costly. Following Christ is costly. Reconciliation is costly. But failure will cost us everything.
As Paul exhorted the church in Philippi, we must trust God, stop worrying and think about all that is good and praiseworthy. If we do that together, indigenous and non-indigenous, we will find the path to the peace of God.
And so we come to the Gospel of Christ. John wrote of Christ “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of the all people.” As Jesus said “Whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God”. We come to the light when we do the work Jesus commanded us to do - ‘love one another’.
How is it we can afford glorious hockey arenas and football stadiums while dozens of indigenous communities are without access to clean, safe and reliable water. We say in the confession “we haven’t loved our neighbours as ourselves”. So very true, but can we honestly say “we are truly sorry and we humbly repent”? Repenting is not just about words and thoughts, it’s about real change, real action.
Let us pray for our indigenous brothers and sisters and for ourselves, that we may be instruments of God’s love and Christ’s reconciling mission. Amen