You can join this week’s worship service by visiting here.
Below, you’ll find Andy’s reflection and Steve’s prayers for this week.
You can find this week’s Children’s Time video here.
Second Sunday after Pentecost
Scripture: Mark 3: 20-35
Music: Who Is My Mother; Beyond the Beauty and the Awe
Last week, we heard the news of a horrifying discovery in Kamploops, BC. At the site of a former Residential School, the mass grave of 215 children was discovered. Scientists know they were children by the sizes of the bones. Locals knew that these were the bones of children who had been taken from their families, abused, subjected to cruel punishments, neglected and finally discarded, because our government and churches had sponsored the school which committed these atrocities for almost one hundred years.
Kamloops Residential School finally closed its doors in 1978 but, like many other residential schools, its legacy haunts us still. For generations, those who suffered at the hands of a nation that believed it had to, “kill the Indian to save the child”, have continued to suffer the generational effects of systemic abuse and racism. In 2015, after a lengthy and heart-rending Truth and Reconciliation process, the commission report made 94 recommendations for how we as a nation need to address this legacy and the underlying bigotry and injustices that persist.
As a church that participated in the Residential Schools system, the United church issued an apology in 1986 and has worked ever since to seek reconciliation with Indigenous communities and peoples. A good part of this work has included honouring the Peace and Friendship treaties forged between European settlers and the sovereign Indigenous nations that lived here long before. Education, communication and advocacy are the tools of our genuine and faithful response.
Our scripture lesson for today offers us a perspective on what lies at the heart of our faithful approach to injustice. The author of Mark’s Gospel presents a view of the world, of God’s world, that is common to the ancient world, but that can also help us to understand part of our task in the world today. When Jesus says that those we serve are our brothers and sisters – our family, our relations – we encounter an idea familiar to us: that we should love our neighbour as ourselves.
But before this, in a more complex and somewhat mystifying passage, Jesus talks about Beelzebul and demons and Satan, and about the need to “bind the strong man” before entering his house. In short, he is talking about spiritual warfare, the duty of people of faith to fight the powers of evil.
This is not standard fair in this United Church of ours, at least not literally. Candidates for ministry don’t spend a lot of time at seminary learning how to perform exorcisms or how to cast demons out of a house. (Although, I have been asked, half-seriously, to bless everything from a golf club to a new car.) Seeing the world in terms of spiritual forces of good and evil pitted against each other is more a feature of ancient cultures and religions. Today, we tend to see sin and evil more as the perversion or absence of what is good: like over-indulging food and drink, which are otherwise good for us; focusing too much on money and possessions; or neglecting to care for those in need.
And yet, when we hear news like that out of Kamloops last week, we are reminded that there is still something not right – and, indeed, still very much wrong – at the heart of our life together. It’s not only our past that haunts us; there are still so many who suffer generational effects of that past today. And the reason we need to hear about it, face it, and never to forget is so that we do not repeat it.
I’ve spoken to you before about how advertising shapes our lives by shaping the way we think: what we desire, what we feel we need, what we think is good. We’ve also spent time considering how our blessings, our relative comfort, can insulate us from the harsh realities that so many people face, with lack of education, access to health care, financial stability, opportunity, safety, happiness and fulfilment. As people of faith, we respond by trying to do what we can, with what we have, where we are, to help those in need.
What today’s lesson suggests is that the life of faith is not only about compassion and care, but about advocacy and justice. In Mark, Jesus offers a radical view of discipleship: radical both as a new way of seeing what it is to be faithful to God, and politically radical in its defiance of the powers of empire, both political and religious. To “bind the strong man” is to subvert the powers that hold sway over us, especially when they remain invisible because of the relative comfort they ensure for some.
For example, when Jesus healed people on the Sabbath, the religious leaders did not approve. To them, it was an affront to disobey the commandment to keep the Sabbath holy, but to Jesus it was an affront to God to deny help to someone in need, regardless of the day. In other words, the life of faith is not simply about helping people within the bounds of accepted practices, but about questioning those practices with the goal of helping people as the first priority.
So, what would it mean today for us to “bind the strong man”, especially with respect to our relationship with Indigenous peoples in Canada? First, we can begin with empathy for fellow human beings. It’s hard for us to imagine what it would be like to walk a mile in another person’s shoes. So, perhaps we might begin by imagining what it would be like to hear the news that one of our relatives was among those found in the mass grave in Kamploops.
That school closed in 1978, which I realized was just one year before I would have been of eligible age to attend, had I been Indigenous. What would have been the impact on our family had one of our children been taken from us to suffer and then to die alone? What might have become of my life, and how would that have shaped my family in the generations to come?
Second, we can critically reflect on what assumptions and biases we ourselves carry. When we hear that Indigenous fishermen are being threatened and hurt simply for fishing with licenses to which they’re entitled, do we find ourselves taking their side, or do we find ourselves thinking that they have been given an unfair advantage? Then we can ask: why do I think that? What experiences do I have to inform my opinion? Why do others disagree with me?
And finally, we can expand these two approaches of empathy and critique to include other areas of our lives. In what other ways are we guided toward a perspective, a way of thinking, that shields us from the hurt and harm that others face? We might consider our relationship with material things, how much we think we need and want, what we think will make us happy. Perhaps it will lead us to look more deeply at our attitude towards those who are homeless, those who live with drug or alcohol addiction, or people whose skin colour means their experience of life is markedly different than ours.
And when we do this, we are not beating ourselves up; we are not taking the blame for things we haven’t done. Rather, we are beginning to “bind the strong man”: to put the powers at work in our lives in their place; to confront otherwise hidden forces in our lives; and in so doing, to serve all those whom we would call sister and brother.
We should never forget that God’s world is beautiful. Let us do what we can to make it so for all of God’s people. Amen.
Community at Prayer begins with a Prayer for the Loss in Kamloops, BC. (Italics) by Rev. Murray Pruden, Executive Minister, Indigenous Ministries & Justice, The United Church of Canada and continues with Steve’s prayer.
Creator, We give thanks for this day and each day you grant us life to walk on this great land, our Mother.
Give us the heart and strength to come together in prayer in time of mourning, reflection, and peace.
The news we have heard these last few days of our relations, our families, the children who have been physically taken away from us and who have now been found.
And with this news, we grieve for their memory, for their struggle, for their spirit.
We pray for good understanding, guidance, and love for all our families and communities who will need direction and resolution at this time.
And we come together in prayer and ask for your light to guide us to be a part of that needed peace, support, and resolve for everyone who is reacting to this great tragedy in our Indigenous Nations of this great land.
Creator be with us, allow us to be brave. Allow us to be strong. Allow us to be gentle to one another. Allow us to be humble. But most of all, allow us to be like the Creator’s love.
Peace be with us, we lift up our prayers to you. In love, trust, and truth, peace be with us all.
Creator, we turn to you on this day and recognize that we have much to do to find healing as settlers on indigenous land. Brace us to face truths that may be uncomfortable. Strengthen us to listen with open hearts and to search for unity for we cannot be a house divided against itself and bring about peace with justice, healing through reconciliation and hope for future generations. Grant us the strength, grace and wisdom.
We give thanks for those who have been continuing to support us throughout the pandemic. Bless and keep safe all front line workers. Be especially with those who live in places where the risks are much higher and where the virus continues to rage. Encourage world leaders to provide access to needed vaccines across the globe.
We ask that you help open the eyes of those who deny the reality of science during the pandemic and because of the ecological crisis that faces our world.
We give thanks for the hope we experience when people step forward. On this day, we express our appreciation for those who have been working on the Butterfly Way garden and who are helping to create change in small and great ways.
We give thanks for warmer days and for the possible easing of restrictions so we can once again spend time with family and friends both near and far.
We ask that you be with those who are in need:
We pray for all who are ill in body and spirit. We remember especially those in hospital or care facilities, we think also of those too afraid to receive a diagnosis.
We remember all who are grieving and feeling a sense of loss and separation. On this day we think of all who died in residential schools and their families.
We pray for those who do not really have a place to call home, those who did not have adequate good and nutritious food.
We ask these things in the name of Jesus who teaches us to pray,
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.