“Reconciliation & Relationship: Real Life Faith”
Psalm 32 & 2 Corinthians 5:14-20 ~ September 26, 2021 ~ Northwood United ~ Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook
Over the last few weeks, we have been working with a challenging parable, an imaginary story designed to help our faith grow in the way of God’s Kingdom. This morning, however, we shift our focus from dealing with the theoretical to the sobering and the painful. We deal with ‘real life faith’…how we live after wrongs have been made…how relationships are restored…and how we live in the Way of Christ.
The section of the letter from Paul was describing to anyone with ears to hear, how we can be instruments of God’s reconciliation in the world. And this morning, as we consider the ongoing work of truth and reconciliation following the legacy of Residential Schools in Canada, we will be applying Paul’s teaching.
At the outset, it is helpful to note how people who seek justice in this area comment how reconciliation may not be the first step for many of us as reconciliation is about the restoration of an established relationship that has become fractured. For many of us, we have not had the honour of an ongoing relationship with our Indigenous brothers and sisters. Yet, we also live in the legacy of what has occurred in the past. So, this morning, we are also thinking about the term of conciliation as we engage in the creation of a new relationship. Reconciliation: restoring the brokenness of the past; conciliation: building new relationships into the future…this is the stuff of real-life faith. And it is the call for us as we move towards the inaugural Federal observance of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation this coming September 30th.
Now, if we are following the instruction of Paul, the first step he has for us in being instruments of reconciliation is to be reconciled to God. Everything flows from that relationship you have with God. If your relationship is broken with God, you will act as such. If, however, our relationship with God is something we actively work at, we will act in this way too. To be clear, a quick survey of Paul’s writings note that this is not denoted by things we proclaim or display. Reconciliation with God will not be found in the cross that adorns your body as a tattoo or the necklace around your neck; reconciliation will not be found in the correct doctrine that we can spout out. Reconciliation with God is something that cries out in our hearts and spills out into the world in the active ways that we love one another; in the active ways we live our faith; in the active ways that we are the church!
One of my study weeks this past summer was spent with Dr. Miroslav Volff, a scholar from Yale Divinity School. Dr. Volff grew up in war-inflicted Croatia. He observes in one of his recent books that “ethnic cleansing arises from a false sense of our own purity.” What he means by this is that we can do wicked acts against others only when we think we are better than them. The European Colonists, who took their first voyages to Canada had this superior belief over the Indigenous people when they arrived. They believed they were superior to the first people of the land. To read the history of their arrival is to uncover this European ethos of superiority. One term they used for the Indigenous people was “savages”. And, with this mindset, they proceeded to steal their land, and in some cases, enslave, rape and murder them. Many of these explorers claimed that they were Christian. Yet, one wonders how such evils could be perpetrated by those who follow Christ? And this is what Dr. Volff was getting at in his observation. When people believe themselves superior, they will find ways to justify such actions. And sadly, some of us are aware of these dynamics of racism and other “isms” still alive today. My sister is married to a Caribbean man and she reports their continued experience of racism as a bi-racial couple. My daughter’s boyfriend is of Asian heritage and he reports similar experiences of racism and acts of hatred.
Paul’s first area of instruction in reconciliation is to be reconciled with God. When we actively work on our inward relationship with God, that will spill into the way we love neighbour, the way we live our faith, and be the church. When Jesus began his ministry, he remade things…he renamed things. Those that were unclean, Jesus lovingly restored and made clean. Those who were excluded, Jesus actively worked to love and include. Reconciliation with God allows us to see people less through a lens of racism, and begin to see them as a child of God. Paul would later proclaim that “if anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation”. His teaching shifts our world view so that we no longer see one another from a worldly perspective, but rather from a Godly perspective. Paul calls us to be reconciled with God.
One might ask how we know if we are moving in this direction with our faith? How do we know we are seeing others as a new creation versus seeing them from a worldly point of view? I wonder if part of that distinction comes in a growing ability to see THEM. Not to see their colour, or gender, or sexuality, or economic status, or any other worldly marking. To see others as a new creation is to see them as a child of God, to see them as beloved gifts that God has placed upon this world, to see them as rich extensions of the Body of Christ. To see beyond the worldly and see the ‘New Creation’ is a sign of reconciliation with God.
The history that we recall today is a difficult one. We seek reconciliation and conciliation from a horrible history that stems back to 1876 with the passing of the Indian Act. The horrible legacy that ensued over the following century and one-half is know all too well: land was stolen, families were separated, Residential Schools were created, cultural genocide was attempted, murder, rape and the pains of many generations. As we know, our United Church along with other Protestant denominations and the Catholic Church operated many of these schools and are complicit in this terrible history. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established in Canada in 2008 with the purpose of documenting the history and lasting impacts of the Residential Schools on Indigenous students and their families. The TRC concluded its work in 2015 with 94 “Calls to Action” regarding reconciliation between Canadians and Indigenous people. 5 of those Calls to Action were directed at the church, with one specifically directed at the Pope of the Catholic Church, so our church was given a mandate of 4. And the importance of living out this call to reconciliation has continued.
One area pertains to acknowledgement of the past. To the indigenous friends of mine, they tell me that this means more than we can ever know….to acknowledge the past. History records the first explorers to arrive in Canada and jubilantly report back to Britain and France that “there are no people here!” They saw the Indigenous people as “savages”, not people, and did not acknowledge that it was their land. They were not the first to discover it; it was already inhabited! They arrogantly saw this land as theirs for the taking. The irony of our own government finally giving Indigenous people the ‘right’ to vote in 1960 is a horrible irony indeed. Author William Faulkner wrote: “the past is never dead…it is not even past. It continues to impact us in the present”. The importance of us in learning from the past, being educated, and educating our children and grandchildren is a key call to action for the church.
This, of course, is the reason that Orange Shirt Day on Thursday is so important. It is important to lift up the past, be educated, in order to ensure that we move towards acting in ways of justice and love in the future. Some might have the opinion ‘why rehash the past? Can’t we let what is over, be over?’ The TRC reminds us of what we already know: that we cannot move forward as a people until wounds are mended, and we are all able to ‘walk’ into the future that God promises. We might think that we did not grow up in privileged homes ourselves; we might think we had a difficult past, that nothing was handed to us. However, very few of us had the experiences of being forcibly ejected from our homes at a young age of 5 or 6. Very few of us were forced to attend inferior schools. Schools that had the high probability that we would experience physical, emotional and sexual abuse. Very few of us were denied the opportunity to receive a loan and start our own business or enterprise. And very few of us, if we were wronged, were denied the opportunity to seek legal counsel ~ which was the case for Indigenous People until 1952. Learning and acknowledging the past are critical actions leading towards reconciliation.
The importance of this acknowledgement and awareness of the horrible sins of the past is critical. Many of you will recall the controversial decision to apologize for these past sins. A number of church bodies, including that of our own denomination, participated in the government-run Residential School program. Do you remember the challenges being bandied about in the later part of the last century? What might the legal implications be for taking responsibility we wondered? Could we be sued? Lose our church properties? What was the ‘right’ thing to do? In 1986, the first apology was issued by our denomination. As the United Church formally took responsibility and our Moderator, the Rt. Rev. Stan McKay publicly apologized on behalf of our denomination. Other Protestant denominations and our Government later followed. And, we wait, and we pray for the Roman Catholic Church to offer their apology.
Along with acknowledging the past, listening to the stories, seeking forgiveness as we offer humble apology, there is also a call towards embracing the beauty of the Indigenous Culture. Scripture teaches us that we are all created in the image of God. And, there is a resemblance of God’s beautiful image in ALL cultures! It becomes unfortunate when we are only comfortable singing the songs of the European church and we neglect the music and traditions of many other cultures. Who among us doesn’t love to sing a grand Wesley hymn? What would Easter be without singing “Jesus Christ is Risen Today”? Yet, we forget, that much of Wesley’s music originated from Pagan English tunes. And we forget that God is deeply present through the music and traditions of African, Asian, and First Nations. Indigenous traditions teach us the wisdom of caring for creation, of honouring our elders, of living our faith!
Learning from the past, growing in awareness, educating our future generations, seeking forgiveness, and celebrating the rich beauty that the Indigenous Culture invites us to share. These are all parts of the real life faith of relationship and reconciliation. It think this is what Paul is teaching when he talks about “no longer living for ourselves”. Paul writes: “and he died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.” This is the stuff of a real-life faith, faith lived out after wrongs have been made, faith lived out through reconciliation and relationship building.
May our faith guide us into the future!