June 21, 2020 – Third Sunday after Pentecost
A message from the Rev. Helen Smith
Today is National Indigenous Peoples Day. More and more these days by various events in the US and in Canada involving violent racism against Black, Indigenous and People of Colour, I am compelled to check my white privilege, which is often so ingrained I do not recognize it. I am drawn to the Norman Rockwell painting [Ed.: mosaic] at the United Nations, entitled The Golden Rule. God be with us as we journey together, as we follow the One who gave us this rule, a Middle Eastern Rabbi from Palestine. It is not always easy, but we journey together.
Rev. Helen Smith
- Read the UN News article from which the above photo is taken.
- Read the blog post by the Norman Rockwell Museum that discusses Rockwell’s 1950s incomplete work “United Nations”; and his 1961 painting “Golden Rule”, used as the cover illustration for the April 1, 1961 edition of The Saturday Evening Post, upon which the mosaic at the UN is based.
- View the video showing the unveiling in 1985 of the “Golden Rule” mosaic at UN Headquarters by First Lady Nancy Reagan and UN Secretary-General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar; the mosaic was a gift from the United States on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the UN.
Book of Praise – 301 “Many and great, O God, are your works”
- video with on-screen lyrics; minor differences to the words in the hymnbook.
- Words from Psalm 104:24–30 and Jeremiah 10:12, 13; paraphrased by French-Canadian/American Joseph R. Renville (1779–1846); English translation by Native American minister Philip Frazier (1892–1964).
Music (Tune: Lacquiparle, or Dakota Melody) by Joseph R. Renville.
- recorded on March 3, 2019 at First-Plymouth Congregational Church;
Prayers of Approach and Confession, Lord’s Prayer
To you be all honour and praise.
For life given, life made abundant, life healed and whole.
These days there is fear all around and deep within us
rage and outrage all around and deep within us
helplessness and despair all around and deep within us.
There is so much fear and uncertainty we hide in our little pockets, safe and secluded from the chaos and unrest around us. Defensively we respond with apathy and indifference. We say “It is not my business”, or “It doesn’t relate to me in any immediate way”, or “I’m fine and those I care about are fine, so I’m not going to worry about it.” We confess that we aim for less and settle for less than that to which You call us. We are made for better than that. We are made to live together, to work together, to love our neighbour. We are all interconnected. If one suffers, we all suffer. Help us to be committed to change for the sake of black siblings and indigenous siblings and people of colour siblings, for the sake of the marginalized and all those oppressed by the dominant culture. We pray in the name of Jesus, and continue to pray as he taught,
Our Father, in heaven, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come, your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins as we forgive those
who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours
now and forever. Amen.
Assurance of Pardon
Anyone who is in Christ is a new creation. The old life has gone; a new life has begun. Know that you are forgiven and be at peace. Amen.
The Peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
1 Kings 21: 1–21a <– this links to on-line text of the NRSV bible
This week, Christian Education Coordinator Laura Alary has made two videos. She writes:
“The first, in honour of the National Day of Indigenous People, is excerpts from a book called Seven Sacred Teachings by David Bouchard and Dr. Joseph Martin with paintings by Kristy Cameron. These teachings are a message of hope and wisdom for Native, Inuit, and Métis communities, but also for all readers open to hearing and receiving them.”
“Second, for Father’s Day—and just for fun—I chose Gus & Me, a story by [Rolling Stones guitarist] Keith Richards in which he reminisces about his grandfather, Gus, who gave him his first guitar, and the incentive to learn to play it. This is a story in honour of fathers, grandfathers, uncles, older brothers—and all the men who care for, guide, inspire, and teach.”
There was an incident involving Naboth the Jezreelite.
He owned a vineyard next to King Ahab’s palace —
wasn’t even the real palace —
that was in Samaria —
this was like the King’s summer palace.
Nonetheless the king wanted Naboth’s vineyard.
Offered to buy it —
or provide something else in exchange for it — maybe some beads.
Wanted it so much he became ill with his covetousness — refusing to eat.
Because Naboth said no —
Naboth said “The Lord forbid that I should give you
my ancestral inheritance.”
And Ahab sulks.
His wife, conniving Jezebel mocks him —
“aren’t you the king?” —
She cooks up a scheme that will get Ahab the vineyard —
Pretending to be Ahab
she writes to the elders and nobles of Naboth’s city —
“Have a day of fasting
and seat Naboth in a prominent place
among the people —
then get two scoundrels to testify falsely
that Naboth is evil —
has cursed both God and the King —
and then take him out and stone him to death.”
And that is what happens.
Presto — Ahab has his vineyard.
But then enter God’s prophet Elijah —
and because of Ahab’s evil ways —
there will be no peace for Ahab.
He has caused Israel to sin.
There will be disaster in the days of his sons,
because he took from Naboth his ancestral inheritance.
For the last three weeks, countries around the world
have been protesting against systemic racism in our countries.
Here in Canada
we have protested against racism
racism against black people, people of colour and indigenous people.
Today is National Indigenous Peoples Day.
Naboth’s vineyard is the story of the Indigenous people of Turtle Island,
(what I, as a settler, call North America).
What do I see when I see an Indigenous person —
What do you see?
If we are not Indigenous ourselves, we are often fearful —
they might be drunk, or high on glue,
they are going to sit beside me on the subway
and they may have slept rough for a few days.
Indigenous people have a disproportionate representation in our homeless shelters
and in our prisons and in our foster care system.
We might not know any Indigenous people but we may think of them as lazy,
we buy into society’s stereotypes —
maybe they are going to ask us for money
and then what will we do?
We wish they would just go away.
We are afraid.
When I worked with people who were homeless on the streets of Toronto
our younger son, then 9 years old, said that they were scary —
I said that they were just people and not scary —
with wisdom beyond his years he said, “that’s because you know them.”
Paul calls the church in Corinth to a ministry of reconciliation —
getting to know one another —
through Christ we have been reconciled to God.
The gospel is about overcoming alienation and estrangement
between God and ourselves,
between us and others,
between all of us and creation.
And another point Paul tells the church in Corinth —
if one is honoured, we all are honoured,
if one suffers, we all suffer.
For hundreds of years, Indigenous people lived in North America,
fished, hunted, farmed, thrived.
The land provided life.
They took care of the land.
All creation had purpose — there was no word for garbage.
All creation was for sharing with one another.
They lived and taught that Life is thanksgiving
for all the Creator has given us.
Then the Europeans arrived and depended on the Indigenous people for survival.
The First Nations people showed the European settlers how to survive.
As the fur trade dried up,
the European settlers were looking for more land for farming.
Treaties were a way of sharing the land (to Indigenous people)
or a way of getting Indigenous people to surrender their land (to Settlers).
As well the Settlers introduced diseases — small pox, measles, TB —
The Indigenous people had no immunity — many died.
On the Prairies, blankets infested with small pox
were given or traded to Indigenous people.
With the BNA act — Constitution 1867 —
Sir John A Macdonald announced that Canada’s goal was
“to do away with the tribal system
and assimilate the Indian people in all respects
with the inhabitants of the Dominion”
The Indian Act, 1876, turned strong, independent nations
into isolated and poor “bands”
that depended on the government for almost everything.
Over the years more than 70% of the land
set aside for Indigenous peoples in the treaties
has been lost or taken — the ancestral inheritance.
During the early 1900s —
the government thought the “Indian problem”
would solve itself as more and more died from diseases
and others were absorbed into the larger society.
Indian affairs deputy superintendent Duncan Campbell Scott,
said the government’s goal was
“to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada
that has not been absorbed into Canadian society.”
And then there were the residential schools.
From 1820 until the 1990s the federal government took Indigenous children
from their homes and communities and put them in boarding schools,
often run by the churches.
The Presbyterian church ran 11 schools.
Children as young as 4 years old were taken.
Duncan Campbell Scott’s goal —
“Kill the Indian in the child.”
The children had to go.
Parents were jailed if they didn’t send them.
Whole villages were left with no children.
A few years ago, at a church sponsored workshop, Wisdom on the Journey,
we heard the stories.
Stories of villages with no children —
Imagine a government agent coming up to our homes
and taking all our children — or we go to jail —
From one participant:
“My grandmother told me the saddest day in her life
was the day she went outside
and there was no longer the sound of children
playing in our community.
There was silence
because all of the children had been taken away
to residential school.”
Some say they had positive experiences at the schools,
many more say they suffered from the very bad conditions
and from different kinds of abuse.
Children lost family connections,
were taught to be ashamed of their parents,
of their ancestors,
taught that God wouldn’t hear them if they prayed in their language.
Echoes of Naboth — loss of ancestral heritage.
Some died at the schools and lie in unmarked graves.
Children did not learn how to parent,
a downward spiral continued
as they gave birth to children they did not know how to parent.
Results of this loss of ancestral inheritance — of systemic imperialism —
high unemployment, alcoholism, family breakdown,
domestic violence, spiraling suicide rates,
lack of healthy self-esteem,
disproportionate representation in our prisons,
on our streets, in the foster care system.
These are God’s children too.
Twenty seven years ago the Presbyterian Church in Canada issued a confession.
It concludes: “We regret that there are those
whose lives have been deeply scarred
by the effect of the mission and ministry
of the Presbyterian Church in Canada.
For our Church we ask forgiveness of God.
It is our prayer that God who is merciful,
will guide us in compassionate ways
towards helping Aboriginal peoples heal.”
Twelve years ago this past week,
the Federal Government issued an apology
to the approximately 80,000 living formers students,
and all family members and communities.
“The Government of Canada now recognizes
that it was wrong to forcibly remove children from their homes
and we apologize for having done this.”
This apology led to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Martin Luther King said that
loving implies creative, redemptive acts of good will towards another
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls us
to listen as our indigenous brothers and sisters tell their stories,
to support them.
Michael Hardy is the Executive Director of the Anishnawbe Mushkiki —
Aboriginal Health Access Centre in Thunder Bay
“To speak the truth, Mr. Hardy says, “is not easy.
Nor is it easy to listen to the truth.”
He likens the legacy of the Indian Residential Schools
to a huge pit of suffering and despair.
To listen to the truth is to hear the voices coming out of that pit —
to stand at the edge and not run away.
To do so is virtually impossible —
not possible for humans alone,
possible only with God’s help —
A few weeks ago, Pentecost Sunday, we celebrated the gift of the Spirit—
In John 16: 13, Jesus is recorded as saying to his disciples:
“When the Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide you in all truth.”
To stand at the edge and to stay there is possible
only if we are with God and in God and God is in us.
To listen to the truth is God work.
It is to hear the cries of the people,
God’s own people who have suffered unbearably.
The problems are immense and extremely difficult to sort out.
Those who have begun to try to stand at the edge
in the power of God’s love and God’s truth
and to listen are learning a few things.
The Spirit of Truth is speaking in the voices:
“We don’t want or need you to solve our problems,” they are saying.
“Indigenous problems need Indigenous solutions.
But we need you to care.
We invite you to be in relationship with us.
We need you to tell all Canadians
about the realities we face.
When we know that there are non-Indigenous people in Canada
who are willing to listen, willing to stand at the edge,
willing to be in relationship with us,
it gives us hope.
To know that you care gives us strength.”
This is God language: the language of love and relationship,
solidarity and mutuality.
It is the Spirit of Truth, come to guide us in all truth.
Towards the end of the Wisdom on the Journey event,
Residential School Survivors were invited
to come into the middle of the circle.
One of the survivors at my table was hesitant at first —
but when the balloons came out she thought it might be fun,
so she joined the others.
We sang Happy Birthday to them.
We sang it in Cree and in Blackfoot,
we sang it in Spanish and in French,
and we sang it in English.
And as we sang I started to cry.
We sang it because all those years in Residential School
nobody sang it to the children.
There were no birthday parties.
I thought of the hours I had laboured in love over Big Bird
and Cookie Monster and Toronto Maple Leafs birthday cakes
for my children,
of the gifts we so carefully picked out for them,
of Grandma and Grandpa joining us for dinner.
And these little ones had had nothing.
There was no peace for King Ahab.
There will be no peace for us or for those we have wronged,
These are wounds God is working to heal —
God works through us all,
conduits for his love,
as we take steps toward listening to our neighbour
as we take steps toward loving our neighbour.
- “Sophisticate”, composed by GCPC Music Director Rachelle Risling, from the 2012 album “Water Tower Live”. Piano – Rachelle Risling; violin — Vanessa Mio; cello – Claire Burrows.
- Music: © copyright 2012 Rachelle Risling, used by permission.
We remind everyone that we must continue to pay our bills; in the absence of Sunday worship, you may sign up for pre-authorized remittance (PAR), donate online via our CanadaHelps page, or drop off your offering envelope in the mailbox at the church. Do not leave a cash donation unattended in the mailbox; instead, please call the office (416.261.4037) to ensure someone will be there to receive it. The building will be checked daily for mail and phone messages. If you are not comfortable leaving an envelope, you are welcome to contact the office (once again, 416.261.4037) and someone will pick up your offering.
Prayers of Thanksgiving and Hope
Portions of this prayer have been adapted from one by the Rev. Stewart Folster, an Indigenous Canadian born on the Brokenhead Ojibway Nation’s reserve in Manitoba, recently retired from the Saskatoon Native Circle Ministry.
Grandfather, Great Spirit, we give you thanks for this day you have given us, and for the gift of life. We thank you for the four directions and for the gifts of life that each of them brings to us. We thank you for the birds and for all the creatures that fly, for the wind and for the air we breathe. We thank you for the four-legged creatures, for the animals that are willing to give up their lives for us so that we might have food and clothing and blankets and shelter. We thank you for the mountains and the rivers and lakes and oceans, for everything that swims and for the clean water we have to use and to keep things growing and alive. And we thank you for your Son Jesus who taught us how to share and how to love, how to put others before ourselves.
Lord we pray for this world, and especially for all the Indigenous people in every part of it. They are often victims of racism, marginalized and discriminated against by people in power whose actions or inaction perpetuate their suffering. Lord, we pray for all victims of racism and we ask for your support, guidance and healing presence to be in their midst. Lord, lift them up and help them to find justice and equality and healing and peace. And we pray for those of us who are blinded by our white privilege. Help us to take the blinders off, to unclog our ears, to treat all as sisters and brothers. Help our church to be reconciled with Indigenous people of Canada and help us to find healing and wholeness. Help us to forgive one another for past hurts we have inflicted upon each other. Help us to acknowledge the good and the bad and the sadness of the era of residential schools. Lord we pray for those who taught in these schools who did much good work and who loved their students in a genuine way. And we pray for the students and generations of families who suffered because of the effect of the harms they endured and for the loss of their culture and language and identity. Help us to walk this healing journey together and show us that even in our suffering your presence is revealed.
O God we pray for your church in every place and in all its branches, and for our own denomination and for our congregation, that you would keep it faithful and committed to the minister of reconciliation in the world which you have given us. We pray for those in our midst who are dealing with illness or loss, difficult decisions and disappointment in their lives. We pray for their healing and wholeness. We pray for those working in essential services, for their safety and health. On this day when we honour fathers, we give thanks and pray for the father figures in our lives.
Great Spirit, inspire us with your ministry of reconciliation, and continue to lift us up so that we can show the world that the love of Christ is still alive. Help us to continue to be disciples of Jesus, joined to all peoples of this world as our brothers and sisters in Christ. Surround us with your loving arms so that we can be one people, and so that we can support each other as we journey in your name, through Christ our Lord. AMEN
Book of Praise – 717 “We cannot own the sunlit sky”
- video with on-screen words; words are identical to those in the hymnbook.
- Words by American pastor, theologian and hymn-writer Ruth Duck (1947–). Music (Tune: Endless Song) attributed to American hymn-writer Robert Lowry (1826–1899).
- Video recorded at Redeemer United Church Of Christ (Sussex, WI) on May 16, 2020.
May the God of hope fill you will all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. AMEN (Romans 15:13)
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