Sermon preached on National Indigenous Sunday of Prayer
June 21, 2020
Parishes of New Carlisle and Chaleur Bay
the Rev. Joshua Paetkau
My Way is Hidden from the Lord:
Renewing the Spirit of Grace among the Nations.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be
acceptable in your sight, O LORD, our rock and our redeemer.
~ Psalm 19.14
It is Father’s day, and, in the Anglican Church of Canada, it is National Indigenous Day of Prayer. It is also, in Canada, National Indigenous People’s Day. The convergence of these events grants the opportunity, for indigenous and non-indigenous Canadians, indigenous and non-indigenous Anglicans, indigenous and non-indigenous Christians to reflect on the traditions of our fathers, our elders, and to pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit as we seek to undo the harm of colonial and imperial violence and to live honourably with one another. It is, as Bishop Bruce mentioned this morning, a day which calls for deep repentance. Colonization brought often incredible violence and misunderstanding to this land, which we may call Turtle Island or North America, and the violence and disparity continues to be felt within our country and in our churches to this very day.
What we are seeking, in a National Indigenous Day of Prayer, is a stronger relationship with God. A stronger relationship with God, a deeper contemplation of God, and therefore deeper intimacy and fellowship between the peoples that make up our country and our faith community. God created this land, and did not wait for settlers to arrive from Europe in order to be present here. God, as the Holy Scriptures constantly remind us, is the Creator of all things, and is always and everywhere present. Perhaps nowhere in Scripture are we reminded of this more powerfully than in the Prologue to the Gospel of John. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Through him all things were made and without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all.”
Archbishop Mark MacDonald reflected, in his message this morning, that this Gospel passage shows pathways of hope through history and creation. At this moment in history, and at this moment within the ecological crisis, a pathway of hope is something to which we must all attend. The first chapter of John’s Gospel is a good place to begin, because it shows us that we begin from a place of created goodness. All people’s exist with the space created by God’s infinite wisdom, and all languages echo with the resonance of the divine Word in which each of them originates. The potential for true, honourable, just, pleasing, and commendable relationships is thus written into the very fabric of creation. Every person whom we encounter holds within them something within their being that is lovely, pure, and excellent.
It may be that that loveliness has been marred by decades, centuries, or millenia of harm. It may be that dull joylessness and brutal conduct has clouded the face of love. Nevertheless, we know from John’s gospel that the divine Word rests so close to the heart of God that the two are one in the unity of the Spirit and in the spiritual substance of love. The darkness of hurt and harm did not and cannot overcome the unquenchable light of life which flows, as grace and truth, from the very heart of God.
John is not unaware that his listeners may find the claim of the absolute beauty and goodness of God and of the created world difficult to believe. If this is so, then how is it that we do not innately and instinctively recognize God? The world, though made through him did not recognize him. Barriers to the light, barriers to peace often seem overwhelming, strong, and they exhaust us. The prophet Isaiah confronts much the same theme, speaking to the assembly of Israel. Having proclaimed the greatness of the Holy One, as the creator of all, the assembly of Israel rejoins with the cry, “My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God.’
This lamentation is made by the people of Israel who, when the prophet Isaiah writes, have had the Assyrian Empire ride roughshod over them. They have experienced the denial of their peoplehood, they have been denied dignity, honour, and respect. This is something that, I believe, many of us can relate to in different ways. The experience of feeling lost, the experience of our culture, traditions, understandings, or values being mocked, taken lightly, or denied validity. My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God!
We may, too, have experience of being on the other side of that equation. Sitting in the seat of mockers, treating someone else with disrespect. Being contemptuous of someone who seems powerless.
The prophet Isaiah reminds his listeners that the truth of their existence is rooted in the Creator and, their way is not forgotten by God. Though they may seem weary and faint, those who trust in the Lord will renew their strength. Those who seek answers in prayer will find that God is waiting, that God is present. God approaches us. The Lord is near.
St. Paul, in his letter to the Philippians connects the nearness of the Lord with a spirit of gentleness. Knowing that the Creator of all things is near to us should motivate us to act with gentleness and humility, not with arrogance and disrespect. Arrogance, disrespect and cruelty enter in when we consider God in a narrow way, when we confine God to our needs and interests and fail to realize that God is truly expansive, vast, beyond our wildest imaginations.
The understanding of God is, as Isaiah says, unsearchable. Unsearchable, but not impersonal. The Wisdom of God, the Word of God, is clothed in flesh and makes his dwelling among human creatures. In the Christian faith God is revealed to us as a human person – Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus is not a European colonizer, nor is he an indigenous person from Turtle Island. He is a Jewish man from Bethlehem and, later, from Nazareth. He is a person with roots in a particular place and faith tradition, and we cannot deny those specific things about Jesus. We cannot make him conform to an identity that we would find easier to understand, or that would look more like us.
We can only meet Jesus, and accept him, and in turn be accepted by him, and allow him to transform us. We can receive him, in our hearts and in our lives, and we know from other places in Scripture that the way to receive Christ is to receive him in the persons of the people we encounter. Receiving others in the name of Christ, we are filled with grace upon grace. The act of receiving implies an act of giving, and what we see in the Gospel of John is that God gives himself to the world, he gives himself up to anyone who will receive him.
This reception does not mean that we forsake the traditions that have formed and shaped us, at least, not insofar as they conform with the Spirit of Grace. “The law indeed was given through Moses,” says the author of John’s gospel and this allows us to see that Law is not to be rejected or scorned. The treaties of the past are not simply to be put aside. The old covenant is not abandoned. Rather, there is a sense of going deeper into the spirit of grace at work in all times and all places.
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