Based on Isaiah 40: 31 and Matthew 5: 4
Opening Prayer: Gracious and amazing God, may the words on my lips and the thoughts and feelings in our hearts and minds and bodies, may all of it be acceptable in your sight, this day. Amen.
Our readings today seem particularly apt as we celebrate First Nations Sunday together. Not only do they give us permission to take comfort in the hope that God is with us in even the most discouraging of circumstances, they also give us permission to mourn-to lament all that has been lost and all that will never be and, to be comforted in the doing of that healing work. Even in the midst of our attempts as a nation and as denomination to celebrate the spirituality and cultural practices of our indigenous peoples, we know full well that things are not easy between us and our aboriginal brothers and sisters. To paraphrase, we know in our hearts that right relationship born out of reconciliation is a ways off yet for all of us.
According to Chief Justice Murray Sinclair, what has taken seven generations to date, will probably take three or four more generations for change to actually happen-for our folks representing our two cultures to begin to trust and understand one another and to be able to interact in consistently respectful and life-giving ways. This is not to say that progress has not been made! We give thanks for church leaders who have tirelessly made genuine and sincere efforts to bridge the gaps between our two cultures in formal and informal ways over the last 30 years. Some here might remember back in 1986, when the Right Reverend Bob Smith, then Moderator, took that first leap of faith by apologizing on behalf of the United Church to our First Nations’ brothers and sisters. Accepting and naming the audacity of our European forebears, traders, and settlers over the 500 years preceding our time who operated on the assumption that the land was empty and free for the taking and that our ways, the White Man’s ways were the only ways. Here is what I understand the gist of the apology says: “We are sorry. We did not hear you. We imposed our civilization upon you. We tried to make you like us. In so doing, we helped to destroy your identity.”
Any of us here know that a sincere apology is only a first step in opening up the dialogue on healing. As the movement towards right relationship with our aboriginal brothers and sisters unfolded, another more specific apology was needed. In 1998, Bill Phipps, on behalf of the executive of the General Council of the UCC, apologized to our aboriginal brothers and sisters for our specific role as a church in the betrayal and abuse and in some cases, loss of life, for thousands of children housed and educated in 13 residential schools in different parts of our great country between the turn of the century and 1969. In the decades since then, many more efforts have been made by churches, by our Canadian government and our other educational institutions to make amends for the many deeply hurtful aspects of our relationship with First Nations people in Canada. And what have we learned? We have learned that actions speak louder than words! Some of those actions resulted in Chief Justice Murray Sinclair’s 94 recommendations found in the final Truth and Reconciliation report made to our Canadian Government in Ottawa recently, some of which our own Judith Langdon has offered to share further with you in a few minutes.
For those of us here who wonder about this lengthy process or how we, as Christians, are implicated, it is good to remember
· There is no straight line between the giving of an apology and reconciliation
· Reconciliation can be an exceedingly lengthy process
· Healing is proportionate only in measure to the degree of hurt experienced
· Healing happens not in our time, but in God’s.
This brings me back to our readings from this morning as we remember, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and his specific blessing for those in deep distress when he said: ‘Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted’
I remember, too, the poetry of the prophet, Isaiah as he speaks to an exiled people’s deep sense of fatigue and discouragement and how God, indeed, is there. For those here who long for resolution and reconciliation with our First Nations’ brothers and sisters; for those here who wish for this era of our history would draw to a close, and for those who have worked tirelessly on reconciliation as process, may these words of comfort help us to know that we are not alone and that all things come in God’s time, not ours: “(But) those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles”
Thanks be to God and may it be so. Amen.