This Week's Sermon
June 17, 2018 “We Are Called Into Right Relationship”
Luke 10:25-37 Rev. Micol Cottrell
We give gifts for many reasons. There are the gifts we give to recognize an accomplishment: graduation gifts, retirement gifts, years of service gifts. There are gifts we give to celebrate love and friendship: birthday gifts, anniversary gifts, gifts to say I love you or value you as a friend. We give gifts to celebrate relationship.
I want to tell you the story of a gift that sits in my office. It wasn’t a gift for me but a gift from me. This friendship feather was a gift that never was given.
Barb was an Ojibwa woman living in the long term care section of the hospital in New Liskeard. For almost two years I would visit with Barb while doing chaplaincy visits at the hospital. Barb was a gentle, kind woman and was easy to talk with. During our time together I learned a lot about Barb. She would tell me about her home with her husband an hour away plus a twenty minute boat ride and how her children and grandchildren were living next door. She shared with me about her life growing up and the summers she spent with her grandparents n Bear Island, an Ojibwa community in Lake Temagami. In her thirties Barb decided to explore who she was and ended up studying Indigenous Studies at a local college and finding an elder to help her explore her people’s traditions. She told me about the honour of being an elder for the people in her area and the work she would do to help with the spring and winter solstice ceremonies. She told me about the joy of giving her grandchildren their Ojibwa names and how they would come to her in her prayers. We spent a lot of time sitting and talking and whenever I left I felt honoured to have shared in this time with her.
This feather was going to be my gift to Barb, or White Dragonfly as she was also named. It is a friendship feather and it is given to someone who has shown great kindness to you. In the rush of moving I forgot to give it to her. Now it sits in my office, a gift to myself, and a reminder of my time shared with Barb.
Our gospel reading with its story of the Good Samaritan, should really be titled “The Parable of the Unlikely Hero” because it is more than just a story about going out of our way to help others. As Jesus, a Jewish preacher, tells his Jewish audience the parable he sets a Samaritan as the hero. The relationships between these two neighbours, the Jews and the Samaritans, was one filled with longstanding discrimination, mistrust, insult, prejudice, and violence. When Jesus tells this story in response to the question “who is my neighbour that I am called to love?” and sets the hero as a Samaritan he is inviting the crowd to allow God’s love to flow through them and work within them to tear down walls of division and build new relationships.
Theologian Matthew Fox shares this piece of wisdom that he learned from a First Nation’s elder at a theological school he ran. She taught him that healing starts by honouring and celebrating the wisdom and gifts of Indigenous people which for too long have been silenced, stripped away, and degraded. We empower one another when we honour each other’s wisdom and gifts. Our lives are also enriched when we choose to be in deep relationship with another.
The movement of God’s Spirit is a movement of healing and justice, Jesus shares in today’s Parable. We are led by God to build relationships by tearing down walls, letting go of the things inside us that divide, and by embracing others. What does this look like? It looks like relationship. We build relationships when we dare to join with another, to listen and share, to hear stories of strength and pain, anger and hurt, to heal, and to grow together.
Today we are marking Indigenous Day of Prayer, an annual opportunity to celebrate First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people’s values, customs, language, and culture. It is a time to honour Indigenous people’s place in our church, our country, and our community.
We are invited to work at overcoming divisions and building deep relationships. We live in a place where there are great opportunities to journey together with our neighbours. This summer there will be Pow Wows and cultural events on Saugeen First Nations or in Nayaashiinigmiing (Nay-A-Shi-nig-ming), formerly known as Cape Croker. Each fall the people of Saugeen First Nations invite neighbours to join them for the Take Back the Night and Sister in the Spirit Walk and vigil as people stand up against violence against women and hold a vigil for missing and murdered Indigenous women. We can celebrate and honour Indigenous culture by listening to music, watching films, reading books and poetry, going to art galleries. We can learn our country and our church’s history and not be afraid of the pain or shame that might meet us trusting that God does bring healing even in the most broken of places. Every couple of years a learning event is put on in Hanover in partnership with the faith based justice group KAIROS that shares Indigenous history and culture. The parable of the good Samaritan is really a call to relationship. We are invited by God to build and live in good and right relationship with our neighbours. This begins when we can honour, listen, and share.
I’ve shared over the last couple of weeks that this summer I will be attending the General Council Meeting as a commissioner. I’ve been doing a lot of reading of reports and proposals and one of the report that stands out is from the Caretakers Of Our Indigenous Circle, a United Church group made up of various Indigenous conferences, and ministry units. The document is entitled ”Calls to the Church.”
The message the Caretakers of our Indigenous Circle share is a very clear call that our Indigenous communities of faith in the United Church want to be part of the United Church even with the history of pain and abuse however this relationship needs to be done differently than it has in the past. The Caretakers call for a new way of being in relationship based in autonomy, respect, and the sharing of wisdom. They call for Indigenous communities to be given more say in how they identify themselves and the relationship they hold with the wider church. There is a call for new training of ministry personnel serving Indigenous communities that pays greater respect to Indigenous spirituality, identity, and which is trauma informed. There is a desire to have more space for Indigenous Christian theology to be developed and shared in the church. There is a longing to share and teach and work towards healing with those in leadership in the wider church.
We are at a point in the United Church where the work of healing becomes the action of building new relationships and moving forward together. God is at work in all of our lives calling us to build relationship, find healing, and walk into the future with hope together. In reading the reports I have to agree with what our Moderator, the Right Reverend Jordan Cantwell said at the recent meeting of Hamilton Conference – this work coming from the Caretakers of Our Indigenous Circle is one of the most significant pieces of work happening this summer. I’ll be thinking of Barb this summer and the gift of relationship she shared with me as I join with others in discerning the path forward as our denomination continues to work towards living in right relationship.
So friends, let us hear the wisdom of Christ, let us feel the Spirit’s movement drawing us into relationship, opening us, and connecting us. Let us celebrate and honour the lives, faith, wisdom, and stories of our Indigenous kindred not just this Sunday but always. Let us feel God leading us to love our neighbour as our self for we are all part of God’s story being written right here and right now. Amen. Thanks be to God.