Archive for June, 2022

“A God vast and intimate,” (Sermon, Indigenous Day of Prayer/Juneteenth/Corpus Christi 2022)

Today is a fascinating confluence of days in the Church. We’re observing National Indigenous Day of Prayer, when we mark our need for and commitment to reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples in Canada.

South of the border, our friends in the United States observe Juneteenth, which commemorates the emancipation of African-American slaves, finally recognized as a national holiday only last year but celebrated across the US since 1865.

And finally, today many Christians observe Corpus Christi, a feast day in the church founded by Thomas Aquinas and a canoness named Juliana of Liège. This feast day is a celebration of Holy Communion, the sacramental gift of Christ’s enduring presence in bread and wine.

Today, we’re being called to reflect on a magnificent paradox: God’s incomprehensible vastness and utter and complete intimacy with us.

To whom can we compare the Creator, a God with such incredible power that They are capable of not only creating planets and stars, quasars and black holes, galaxies and nebulae…but subatomic particles, single-celled organisms, eyelashes.

If that seems frightening and inaccessible, the chapter from which Isaiah’s passage comes begins with “Comfort, O comfort my people. Speak tenderly.” While the prophet reminds the people that they are tiny in the sight of God, the posture is one of gentleness.

This is the gift of Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ. The One who measured the waters in the hollow of Their hand and marked off the heavens with a span, who enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure, weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance poured themselves out for us, Body and Blood, to feed us – not just with the fruits of creation as in the Garden, but with Their own Body, knitted up from our own flesh. The fruit of disobedience which once turned to ash in our mouths is reconstituted back into stardust.

Balance is restored. All is well.

But how often do we still seek to privilege one over the other – intimacy over vastness, or vastness over intimacy? How often do we still see ourselves as blessed above all others, privileged with this Body and Blood? Do we ever see God as only being present to us in this church, and not in what Augustine called God’s first revelation: creation itself? I feel like folks who are drawn to this part of the world are good at discerning God’s presence in nature, because how could we not? But do we sometimes feel that Holy Communion only comes in bread and wine, and not in the crimson flesh of the salmon that returns year after year in a cycle of death and rebirth; or the pure water of this beautiful coastal rainforest; or the precious air we breathe? Do we perhaps feel that faiths outside of Christianity contain less of God’s essence or wisdom or blessings for humanity or the world?

For many Christians that is a core part of the faith, but there is no denying, on this National Indigenous Day of Prayer, that that belief is what led us to the broken relationship we have now. Our ancestors in Anglicanism sought and continue to seek to remake Indigenous Peoples in our image.

In this part of the country, many Coast Salish peoples had the potlatch, a huge celebration in which new names, rights, and inheritances were bestowed, the dead were remembered, the newly born were celebrated, and wealth was redistributed among all those who attended. This sacred ritual was outlawed in 1885 after many years of lobbying by missionaries and federal officials. Sacred objects were confiscated and brave Indigenous Peoples who ignored the ban were jailed.

The potlatch was not made legal again until 1951 – the year before my mother was born.

Those missionaries believed the ban was God’s will, but how could it be? How could this be the will of the Creator God who bestows new names, who pours out holy inheritance, who remembers the dead, who celebrates the newly born, and who puts down the mighty and lifts up the lowly?

Is God not bigger than one culture, or one religion?

It’s natural for us to want to shrink God. Think of how many thousands of years it took humanity to actually get a look at planet earth from a distance! I don’t imagine we’ll be able to do that with God until Judgement Day. God is so much bigger.

But how often might we go too far in the other direction, and imagine that God, a Being that transcends Being, is far too vast to be concerned with us and our tiny problems? In hard times we even wonder if God exists at all, for surely if They did, They would put a stop to all of the misery and greed and violence that brought us slavery and residential schools and colonialism and ongoing racism and planetary annihilation?

Why do we say our way is hidden from God, and we are disregarded? The light of God’s compassion for this little blue ball shines in the cold darkness of this vast universe, and that darkness does not overcome it. God’s choice was not to use us like chess pieces on a board. Love offers freedom while demanding much.

Though we may faint and grow weary, from our own ongoing failures and from the failures of our ancestors, we will renew our strength if we wait for the Lord.

How do we wait for the Lord? The need is dire. Reconciliation does not come through thoughts and prayers. We all have work to do and the work cannot wait.

As Chapter 41 of Isaiah begins, we hear:

“Listen to me in silence, O coastlands;    

let the peoples renew their strength; let them approach, then let them speak;    

let us together draw near for judgement.”

Let us be complicit in renewing the strength of the people of this land. When they are ready to speak, let them approach.

But dare we draw near for judgement? Comfort, O comfort my people. The judge is Jesus, our carpenter desaparecido, who sought intimacy with the oppressed, who chose death to better know those who do not choose it, who returned breathing not vengeance but peace and power to overturn death forever.

God tells us through the prophet:

“I, the Lord, am first,    

and will be with the last.

You whom I took from the ends of the earth,    

and called from its farthest corners,

saying to you, ‘You are my servant,    

I have chosen you and not cast you off ’;

do not fear, for I am with you,    

do not be afraid, for I am your God.”

The God of this National Indigenous Day of Prayer, the God of Juneteenth, the God of the Sacred Supper, is a vast and intimate God of freedom for all.

What shall we do with our freedom?

Rejoice, I say again rejoice, in the new world made manifest, but that some are too cynical or frightened or weary or invested in the old order to see.

Prophesy, I say again prophesy that it is not only Christians who are one Body, but all humanity, indeed all creation, on this island home.

And now, let’s follow the Spirit. Break down walls. Protest. Call Lazarus, shackled in the tombs of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, and colonialism to come out, and when she does, when he does, when they do, unbind them and let them go.

Don’t do it for glory. Do it because the living should not be kept among the dead. If you are invited to celebrate, be a good guest and bring your first fruits to the banquet.

Be brave, I say again be brave. The new covenant does have enemies, even if it’s not polite for us to say so. Take heart from the prophet,

“[T]hose who war against you    

shall be as nothing at all. For I, the Lord your God,    

hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, ‘Do not fear,    

I will help you.’”

And sing, I say again sing.

“Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us

Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us

Facing the rising sun of our new day begun

Let us march on till victory is won.”   

Sermon begins at 33:26