You can join this week’s worship service by clicking here.
Thank you to Terri Croft for sharing the gift of music with us. Below, you’ll find Steve’s reflection and Andy’s prayers for this week. In these exceptional times, please do stay in touch, with us and with each other. The peace of Christ be with you all.
Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost
Scripture: Matthew 21: 23-32
Music: Like a Healing Stream, We Shall Go Out with Hope of Resurrection
I use to travel a lot when I was in the private sector. When I got together with some of my colleagues who spent more time in the air than I did we talked about flying and how to deal with delays, missed flights and the really important stuff like horrible seat mates.
My favourite story was about an obnoxious guy checking in at an airline counter. I don’t know what triggered it but he was going up one side of the attendant and then down the other. He did everything he could to belittle the poor person. He finally walked away looking smug and self important.
The next traveler looked at the attendant and apologized for the previous passenger’s behavior. The attendant looked up, smiled and said, “Mr. Anderson is going to New York. His bags are going to L.A.” The moral of this story is you need to know who actually has power and authority in the relationship. The other important lesson for me was, don’t check your bag.
The Gospel today talks a lot about authority. The religious leaders in Jerusalem were confronting Jesus and trying to trap him by asking who has given him authority to do and say the things that he does. But Jesus flips the table on them by asking them kind of a gotcha question about John the Baptist. No matter how they answered him, they would end up in trouble with one group or another.
Initially, as I read this story, I thought to myself, “Good for you Jesus. The religious authorities are always trying to trip you up, so good for you; using their own game against them.” But when I reread the passage, I realized I hadn’t fully considered the context. Earlier in the week, Jesus came into Jerusalem. He confronted the money changers in the Temple and flipped their tables over. Tensions were rising, the religious leaders were trying to figure out how to get rid of this trouble maker. The stakes were literally life and death.
Sometimes, I forget how powerful words can be. They can lift you up or tear you down. They can mark you forever. They can scar you for life. So can things that seem minor at the time but when they come from someone in authority they can have lasting consequences.
You may have noticed I am wearing an orange shirt today. Orange isn’t exactly my colour. But later this week, Sept. 30 is Orange Shirt Day. If you have kids in school or grandkids you may know about Orange Shirt Day and Phyllis Webstad’s story. When Phyllis was six in 1973 she lived with her grandmother on the Dog Creek Reserve in central British Columbia.
She writes, “We never had very much money, but somehow my granny managed to buy me a new outfit to go to the St. Joseph’s Mission Residential school. I remember going to Robinson’s store and picking out a shiny orange shirt. It had string laced up in front, and was so bright and exciting – just like I felt to be going to school!”
“When I got to the Mission, they stripped me, and took away my clothes, including the orange shirt! I never wore it again. I didn’t understand why they wouldn’t give it back to me, it was mine! The color orange has always reminded me of that and how my feelings didn’t matter, how no one cared and how I felt like I was worth nothing. All of us little children were crying and no one cared.” No one cared, especially those in authority.
Phyllis cried herself to sleep each of the 300 nights she survived at the Mission school.
When children first arrived at residential school their hair was cut and they were stripped of their clothes. They were bathed in harsh chemicals. In some cases, children were given a number and referred to by that number instead of their name some others were given a new name entirely. Those in authority treated them harshly if they spoke their language or did anything that related to their culture.
Phyllis continues, “I went to a treatment centre for healing when I was 27 and have been on this healing journey since then. I finally get it, that the feeling of worthlessness and insignificance, ingrained in me from my first day at the mission, affected the way I lived my life for many years. Even now, when I know nothing could be further than the truth, I still sometimes feel that I don’t matter. Even with all the work I’ve done!”
Phyllis was one of the 150,000 Indigenous children taken from their families, away from their homes and brought to church run, residential schools. At least 6,000 of those children died due to a variety of reasons including abuse, overcrowding, malnourishment and neglect and trying to run away. It is an awful part of our history as a church and as a nation.
Almost 3,000 years ago the Bible talks about intergenerational trauma, problems running across generations. Using the traditional male language from the book of Numbers, “The sins of the fathers shall be visited unto the sons even onto the third and fourth generation.”
When I think of what we, members of the dominant or as some call us the settler culture, have done to our First Nations brothers and sisters should we wonder why it isn’t just those who attended Residential School whose lives have been so harmed, so damaged? Those in positions of power from our culture and our church abused and misused their authority.
So, I am wearing an Orange Shirt today and I will again on Sept 30 as a sign that I remember. I will also try to understand a little more of the trauma facing our First Nations brothers and sisters. In all of the work I have devoted to peace over the years, I have come to realize one truth that is not very often spoken, there can be no true peace without justice. The other reality I think of in these days as I look at Palestine, at race relations in the US and in Canada with First Nations and other minorities is that just delayed is justice denied.
As I watch what is happening in the lobster industry in Nova Scotia I am reminded of what happened in 1999 and 2000 in our province. It was just after the Marshall decision and the people of Eskinuopitik decided to exercise their right to earn a modest living from the lobster fishery. The situation blew up with non natives backed up by the authority of the RCMP basically attacking the First Nations.
I accompanied former United Church Moderator, Stan MacKay, a member of the Cree nation in northern Manitoba, to see what was happening. That night we ate with some of the members of settler community of Burnt Church. The hostility and racism that was directed toward him was shocking. Twenty years later, It seems there are still many who want to thwart the aspirations for providing even a modest living for First Nations people.
Jesus based his authority not in the traditional hallmarks of power but in his relationships. Jesus welcomed all; saints and sinners, men and women, rich and poor, little children and lepers. He made a place for all and he served the least, the last and the lost. In caring for all of God’s people, in listening to their stories and in proclaiming God’s love for them, that is where his authority was rooted.
Friends, in these days, we need to seek reconciliation and peace. We need as St. Francis urges us, to seek to understand more than to be understood. May God be with us and guide us on a good path.
Holy One, Source of Life and Love, we give you thanks: for this day, and the possibility of transformation within, mirrored in the change of seasons outside; for the gift of friends, family and this community of faith; for leaders and volunteers; for work and homes; and for the health and safety we know in this region; we give you thanks.
We ask that you draw near, now, Living God, to hear the prayers we offer, aloud and in silence, for the renewal of life.
God of Mercy, for all your people who suffer from injustice and the absence of peace; for your people in places broken by violence and the threat of violence; for people who have been made the object of suspicion and blame, especially by hurtful and inflammatory rhetoric; and especially this week for indigenous fishers who are being targeted for attack by settler fishers. And we pray: that you would soften your peoples’ hearts and reveal your way of love; that you would remind us that every person is made in your image of love; and that you would guide us in the work of anti-racism and reconciliation, of commitment to your promised realm of peace through justice.
God of Joy, we pray today for those who feed us and care for us. For farmers and grocery clerks, for nurses and doctors; for the health care we enjoy and the prosperity we know; we give you thanks. And we pray: that you would hold before us your vision of equity and enough for all; that you would give us strength and purpose in seeking not only to help those in need, but to grow into relationships of cooperation and respect.
We pray for the people of this community, especially those who are ill in body and in spirit. We pray for their strength and patience, their courage and their wholeness. God of Love, we pray for those who grieve. Bless your people with the comforting presence of your Spirit.
Living God, hear us, hold us, and help us to remember that we are all your children. Strengthen us for the days ahead, we pray in the name of Jesus Christ, who taught us when we pray to say, Our Father…