Scripture: Isaiah 55:6-13, Mark 12:28-31
“The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:31
The myth of ‘good people’ can be a damaging one that allows for terrible things to happen. Most of us probably would consider ourselves good people, we care for others, we aren’t entirely selfish, we attend worship, pray, confess our sins and all in all we would probably be deemed ‘good’ people, well-meaning and well-intentioned people. And for the most part, we are, I would hazard to guess that most of us aren’t actively seeking to harm others or society, but that is where things get tricky. You see throughout history ‘good people’ have participated in or watched terrible things happen.
The first European colonists that came to North America, would probably have been considered good people – some were fleeing persecution, others were merely seeking to begin life afresh with new opportunities in a new place. But their ‘goodness’ didn’t stop them from participating in systemic oppression and attempted eradication of the first peoples of this land. In fact, good motives were often used to justify these actions – whether it was bringing civilization or Christian faith (though the two were often thought of as synonymous) the first European colonists and churchmen sought to eradicate the culture and way of life of the first people of Turtle Island.
And unfortunately, our society still feels the effects of these actions over 400 years later, due to the way these actions became codified in law and engrained within the cultural fabric of Canadian society. This is why it is easy for good people, even today, to hold racist and outdated views on indigenous people, or for people to dismiss or even become angered over the conversations around reconciliation and the need for churches and society to reckon with the past.
No matter how “good” we are, we are shaped by a culture of white supremacy (and I mean we all are, no matter what race we might be identified – some of us benefit, some of us don’t) and a history of racism and colonialism in this country that has moulded and corrupted our modern society. The Anglican Church for example not only ran residential schools which we should all be well aware of but more subtly yet substantially benefited at the expense of the first nations people from the large gifts of land from the Crown, land that was stolen or coerced away from the first nations people. Our church buildings, rectories, trust funds and much more are monuments to this reality that stand to this day.
Into our midst God’s word to Isaiah is both a breath of fresh air and a stern warning – “Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”
These words were originally spoken to a people who had wandered away from their covenant with God, whose society was dominated by the rich and powerful at the expense of the poor and the least of society – and they had suffered for it, their decadence had brought the attention of foreign empires with eyes for their wealth to the point where Israel was taken into Babylon, decades of exile be their wickedness and unrighteousness.
But the beauty of the Gospel is that God does not leave God’s people in this place for long, God is always ready to welcome his children home; God is always prepared to offer his grace and mercy to those who repent, those who turn from the path of sin which leads to death and destruction and turn towards the path of reconciliation, the path which leads to life, abundantly here on this earth and eternally in the world to come.
Isaiah called the people to return to God’s ways, to return to the covenant. A covenant which in our reading from Mark, Jesus summarized in the words of the Shema “‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
God’s people are not called to be ‘good’ or ‘nice’ they are called to love – something that is far costlier, and requires far more effort than merely being good. Paul speaks eloquently above this kind of love in his famous passage from 1 Corinthians 13 – love is patient, kind, enduring all things, bearing all things and the like – it is a tall task for us to live up to as individuals and as the community of the church – but it is nonetheless our calling.
To be blunt the actions of the church towards our Indigenous brothers and sisters have more often than not, been unloving – from suspect evangelization practices to the residential schools, to our desire to sweep our sordid history under the rug and ‘just move on’ we have not exemplified what it means to love our neighbour as ourselves. We must acknowledge this, we must accept our role in it (even if it is in the past) and from there we can move towards true reconciliation and restoration of the right relationship with our ‘neighbours’.
As part of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a number of calls to action have come out for churches to work towards the necessary reconciliation with the First Nations people. These calls to action address everything from ensuring the apologies by our Primate our understood, to ongoing education and the support of Indigenous programming that builds up their communities and strengthens their cultural and linguistic identity. While we as a congregation have scratched the surface of this work in years past, there is so much work we need to do, so that our relationship with our Indigenous brothers and sisters is shaped by God’s love rather than a colonial history of oppression.
Some of this work is individual and internal. We must each prayerfully examine our own attitudes and prejudices when it comes to Reconciliation with our Indigenous sisters and brothers. Where there is disdain, intolerance and prejudice we must repent and invite the Holy Spirit to change our hearts and minds. Additionally, we can all learn more of our history both of the church and Canadian society at large and the calls to action that will help us as a church and a nation move towards a restored relationship. As a start, we have printed off copies of the TRC Calls to Action for you to take home and read. I strongly encourage you to do so, this is one of the ways we can turn our hearts towards the love of our neighbour.
The remainder of the work needs to be done as a congregation and as a Canadian society. We need to continue to spend time learning about our history, we need to continue to understand the need for apology and reconciliation so that nothing like this can ever happen again and so that we can support and come alongside our Indigenous brothers and sisters in their journey towards self-determination and flourishing. And we need to find ways to support and build up the community of Indigenous people here in our community.
You may not know this, but the neighbourhoods of Scarborough have some of the largest proportions of Indigenous people in Toronto and yet Indigenous organizations struggle to meet the needs of their communities due to fear and ignorance and lack of support.
One such organization, the Thunder Women Healing Lodge, has faced intense opposition to their working here in Scarborough, just south of our church on Kingston Road. Thunder Women Healing Lodge is an organization that works with women before the justice system or after their incarceration to offer counselling and temporary accommodation so they can heal and re-integrate into society and begin to flourish and grow. Despite numerous studies that show the societal and individual benefits of these programs, including reduced recidivism, many people in the local community have opposed the building of their healing lodge out of fear and ignorance.
What would it look like if churches, ours included, came alongside an organization such as this to support them and offer them our voices of solidarity as they strive to bring healing into their community? Considering that much of what plagues the Indigenous community is directly related to the generational trauma caused over the last 500 years of colonialism the way that we can begin our walk of reconciliation is by loving them and supporting them in any way we can. This is one way that we can truly live into Jesus’ call on our lives to ‘love our neighbour as ourselves’ with no conditions, by making ourselves vulnerable and giving up the myth of comfort and security so that our Indigenous sisters and brothers might begin to heal in ways that are culturally relevant to them.
The work of reconciliation is hard work, it is work that demands sacrifice and a willingness to be vulnerable, but it is work that we as a church must do. God’s word has come into our midst, we have been called away from the wickedness of our colonial and oppressive past into the way of life, into the way of restoration and abundant and eternal life for all, especially our Indigenous brothers and sisters. The very life of God is here, available to us all, we need only take the first step on the path.
Let us pray,