This Week's Sermon
June 18, 2017 Aboriginal Sunday Genesis 32: 22-32 Rev. Micol Cottrell
I want to tell you the story of this feather. If you can`t see it, it is a medium sized feather, with leather around the end, and beads hanging from it in the colour of the four directions of the indigenous culture. This is a friendship feather and the write up that came with it read ``In native culture a feather is given to someone who has shown kindness to another person.”
This feather was my gift to Barb, a woman who lived at the hospital in New Liskeard who I would visit every month as I took my turn as a duty chaplain. I always enjoyed my visits with Barb, she was a kind, thoughtful, and gentle woman. In her late 30s Barb decided she wanted to know more about who she was as an Anishnabe woman. This lead her on a path of self discovery as she enrolled in a Native studies program at the college in North Bay, learned the Ojibwa language, and found an elder to guide her in learning the spiritual practices and teachings of her people. When I met her she was in her late sixties and she was still learning. She would tell me about the new things she was learning in the books she read about indigenous cultures from around the world, about the beautiful responsibility she had in leading sweat lodges and ceremonies, and the honour she had to give her grandchildren their spiritual names. Whenever our visits ended I always made sure to say “miigwetch” which is Ojibwa means thank you.
The feather is given to someone who has shown kindness to another person. Regretfully I forgot to give this feather to Barb the last time I saw her. It now sits in a drawer in my home and every time I see it I think of Barb and how blessed I am to have known her.
Today our scripture tells the story of a transformation. We have heard just a small part of a story of Jacob. Throughout his early days Jacob works at manipulating and cheating his way to receiving his brother Esau’s birthright and then their dying father’s blessing. This results in Esau’s anger and Jacob fleeing for his life. In a land far from home Jacob has a family and grows wealthy while always living with a great fear hanging over him - What if Esau finds him? One day Jacob sends his brother a message asking for forgiveness but when he hears that his brother is coming towards him he panics – ever the manipulator he comes up with a plan to send wave after wave of livestock and servants towards Esau as a gift. That night Jacob sends his family ahead of him.
That’s when, in the wild, lonely place, Jacob wrestles – he wrestles with a stranger, with an angel, with God, but most of all he is wrestling himself. He wrestles as Jacob, a name that means “the heel” the one who manipulates others to gain control and while he is not overcome he cannot win this wrestling match. He tries to get control – “tell me your name,” he demands, knowing someone’s name was a way of having power over them. “Give me a blessing” he demands. Then He feels the pop as his hip goes out of joint, but still he wrestles – there is a deep soul searching to this act. He hears the words “No, you are no longer the heel, you are the one who wrestles with God and with humans, your name is no longer Jacob it is now Israel.” And in the morning Jacob decides to limp to Esau. When he sees him he bows to the ground over and over again waiting to see what Esau will do. Esau runs towards Jacob and embraces him. After the wrestling, with a wounded hip reminding him of the life he has led, Jacob walks into relationship, healing, and reconciliation, Jacob walks alongside his brother.
Today we mark Aboriginal Sunday, a day to honour the contributions of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people of Canada to our country, to our communities, and to our church. It is also a day we remember the pain and brokenness in our relationship brought about by years of ignorance, discrimination, injustice, attempted assimilation and abusive practices such as the taking of children out of their homes, communities, and culture for residential schools and adoptions, the restriction of trade and movement, the years of broken treaties and promises. With the completion of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Report and with the beginning of the inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women we are coming face to face with how broken a relationship we have in Canada and the legacy of suffering, and the injustice that still exist. As we celebrate Canada’s 150 there is a stark reminder that our history is one of blessing and of brokenness, of joy and pain. We are a people with a wounded hip.
One of the tales that the story of Jacob tells is the story of rebuilding relationship. Jacob wrestles with himself, with the world, with God, in order to be able to take the vulnerable and daring steps into restoring a relationship with his brother. We are called to step towards relationship. We are called to do the holy, blessed, difficult, and much need work of reconciliation and healing.
Theologian Matthew Fox for a long time ran a post secondary institution in the United States where people came to study their faith in a way that saw the world as a blessing, creativity as a gift from God, and solidarity with others as a central part of discipleship. He shares that the people who came to teach first nations spirituality taught him an important lesson: healing comes with listening to the wisdom, stories, and gifts, of those who have for so long been told they have nothing of importance to share.
How do we begin the work of reconciliation? We begin by walking towards relationship. The opportunities for relationship are abundant. We live a short distance from Saugeen First Nations and not far from Neyaashinigmiing (Nay-a-shi-nig-ming) formerly called Cape Croker. It is easy to live so close yet be disconnected – I know as someone who grew up not far from Ontario largest First Nations community: Six Nations. Both communities have powwows which are great opportunities to experience the richness of the Ojibwa culture, teachings, and arts, and to be together. Each fall Saugeen First Nations has a walk and service to honour missing and murdered aboriginal women and to stand in solidarity for peace and justice – it is an event open to all people. There are opportunities in our area to learn about Indigenous history and culture through events that have been sponsored by KAIROS in and around our community each year. There are copies of this month’s mandate magazine on the table near the entryway, this month’s theme is reconciliation, and it is filled with heartbreaking, heart warming, challenging, and inspiring stories. Reconciliation begins when we take the bold, beautiful, and difficult steps towards one another.
Jacob wrestled and becomes Israel, he wrestled and became the one who walks towards relationship and healing. As a people called to walk the path of reconciliation we are invited to wrestle with the brokenness in our lives and in our country and to step towards each other.
This feather is a reminder to me of how much richer we are when we walk towards each other and walk alongside one another. My life is richer because of Barb and the times we sat together. This feather is a reminder to me that on the other side of the wrestling, of the pain of broken relationships and the difficult work of healing, there is a deep and holy blessing. The blessing comes when we can walk alongside each other celebrating and honouring one another as we walk towards justice and the fullness of life for all.
Like Jacob, may we feel God leading us as we step towards relationship and walk alongside one another. May we celebrate Aboriginal Sunday committing ourselves to lives of healing and reconciliation, honouring one another, growing in relationship, and working towards justice. For this is not just good work, this is holy work and we are part of a sacred story. Amen. Let it be so.