Sermon: A Lament for Canada Day (from Ps 69)

June 30, 2019

Help us, God!

We’re walking through a wilderness of trouble right now

And could find ourselves in a deadly trap!

All around us are people who claim to have the truth;

All around us are people ready to blame and shame and

Call us and others guilty.

People are getting hurt, God.

Human souls are dying the death of a thousand cuts;

Children’s bodies are being neglected and defiled;

Women are dead and missing and what do our leaders do?

Throw a little money at it for show,

Then file it with all the other reports we have no intention of acting on.

The climate change reports;

The Truth and Reconciliations Reports,

The MMIWG report,

The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People,

The reports about homelessness and poverty and polluted water and disease

Not right around the world – that would be bad enough! –

But right here, in our own neighbourhoods, provinces, nation!

O God, the trap isn’t entirely of our own making.

No, we’ve made our mistakes, and we keep making them, and you know what they are.

We ask that you wipe us clean of all those habits of thoughts and practices and emotions that make us sitting-ducks for those who spread the lies.

We’re trapped, God –  by systems and policies and powers that are bigger than us

– that will keep feeding us lies and half-truths

until the Canada we love and honour and envision is not even a memory –

because honestly, it was great, but only for some of us –

until it is a dream that has no substance when we are shaken awake.

What use is a reputation for good in the world when we allow ourselves

To be co-opted by evil?

When Yellow Vests and the alt-right and the anarchists and the violent

get all mixed up in our politics and our communities

and our action groups and our good intentions.

God, don’t let our nation be lost as others have been;

Don’t let us be another place of hopes and dreams that

Disappoints and breaks our hearts.

We pray to you, YHWH, for the time of your favour,

For the renewal of your people and of our home and native land.

Don’t let the slippery slopes slide us into a mudpit:

Give us solid ground to stand on, for our hope is in you.

Until recently Canadians had a pretty good reputation around the world; for the most part, I think it still holds.  We Canadians certainly like to think of ourselves as “the good guys”, “the friendly nation”, the “peace-broker and peace-keeper”, the “welcoming nation”, the “caring nation”, and more.  In some places and in some ways, those things are true of Canada and Canadians – and those are the things we often celebrate around Canada Day.  I’ve been reading back issues of The United Church Observer, and there are some wonderful stories in there of new Canadians finding safety and a welcome in this country for the first time in years – sometimes for the first time in their lives!  Just this week Ash was able to get his meeting with our local MP and given a path to address the issues with his family’s refugee application.  It’s not a promise, but it’s a hope.  I wonder how many places there are in the world where a man and his father-in-law can sit down with the person who represents him, face to face, and find a warm and sympathetic response?

Unfortunately, there are also many moments when our proud “Oh, Canadas” turn into “Ohhhh, Canada!. “ This past week or two has held some of those moments for me – the death of legislation affirming the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as the governing policy for Canada; the end of a bill that would have required all federal judges to get training on how to handle sexual assault cases; the push-through of pipeline expansion without regard to the wishes for First Nations and much of BC, the refusal of provincial governments to allow First Nations access to roads and clean water they need to survive, and more.  On the basis of what Canada claims to be about and the reputation it wants to uphold, “Ohhh, Canada!” seems an appropriate response.

The Psalm today is the lament of someone who feels like they’re drowning in trouble through no fault of their own. They acknowledge their mistakes, but don’t think anything they have done justifies their present experience. They feel alienated from their community, their God, even themselves.  And yet despite that they call out to God for help, confident that God will be there for them.

My lament on this Canada Day weekend is not because Canada’s reputation has been unjustly sullied, but that our nation does not always live up to the good reputation it has in the world.  To be fair, there are many people waiting months and years to come to Canada because it is so much better than where they are now – but that doesn’t mean we should rest on our laurels.  Regardless of the party, governments govern for short-term thinking – doing whatever they think might get them re-elected in the next round – and too often use tactics that can be dangerous for individuals and for the nation as a whole.  Building alliances with racists and pandering to the alt-right – we’re seeing this in Canada these days.  A failure to really grasp and deal with the fall-out of human-caused climate change – we see governments fail in this repeatedly – probably because they know we Canadians talk a good talk on the environment but when surveyed say we wouldn’t even want to pay an extra $100 in taxes per year for climate change adaptation. (Kairos, June 2019) .  Lip service to ending colonialism and injustice against indigenous people’ while letting legislation designed to do just that die on the order paper – that’s this week too.  And the secularism law in Quebec, which will force people to choose between their jobs in the public service and the dictates of their religion and their conscience.  A kind of narrow-minded populism is sweeping Ontario, Quebec and Alberta and I expect it will be here in BC soon too, if it isn’t already.  “Oooh, Canada!” If only you were what we envision you to be!

But I don’t lose hope.  I don’t lose hope, because I know that God is working in the world, through you, and people like you, who genuinely want to see Canada become a more compassionate, just and peaceful nation.  We have much to love about our beautiful country, from sea to sea to sea.  Like the First Nations who came before us, many of us have been shaped and touched and changed by the landscape in which we find ourselves.  We have been formed by  our own particular mythology: a mythology informed by the richness of the land, a “pulling together” ethic that I believe comes from the harshness of the elements in most of Canada much of the year, and a JudeaoChristian ethic that confirms that caring for neighbours and mending the world are at the heart of what God wants for God’s people. That ethic has since been enriched by similar teaching at the heart of many faiths brought to this country by our immigrant population, and deepened by our growing awareness that all of creation are “our relations”, as the Mohawk words on our United Church crest spell out.  We know what it is God would have us be, as people and as a nation.

When we despair of our beautiful dream, when the dream starts to fragment around us, we turn to God, and we place our hopes, our sorrows, our anxieties, our visions for the future in those powerful hands.  Today we pray that God will bless our nation, so that we might indeed by a pleasant land, a compassionate land, a land where God’s people dwell together in peace –a land that is a blessing and an example to the world.  May this be so, and may we our actions, too, be our prayer.  Amen.

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