Our National Inheritance: a mess.

May the words of my lips and the meditations of our hearts be now and always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

On this Sunday closest to Canada Day, we’re right to notice the difference in tone as our nation begins to recognize the human cost of securing worldly power.  As Christians, we’re to acknowledge the authority of government,[1] and should rightly be thankful for the widespread peace, freedom, and prosperity that we enjoy as Canadians – things that so many of our brothers and sisters around the world can only dream of. 

Yet, our Christian duty requires us to flee from any blind patriotism.  As St. Paul instructs the Church, we’re to see ourselves as dual-citizens or even ‘resident aliens’; we proclaim in the Creed that even our own country of Canada won’t last forever, but like everything else will come under the judgement of Christ, where the question isn’t whether or not we stood proudly and waved this or that flag, but whether we understood ourselves as needing the mercy that only God can give, whether we sought to be faithful with what we’ve been given, and when we fell short, whether we admitted it, stood back and looked at the situation from God’s perspective, and did our part to change course. 

Our National Inheritance.

Chief Cadmus Delorme of the Cowessess First Nation had this to say when the bodies of 781 children were found on their territory.

“You know, in 2021, we all inherited this.  Nobody today created residential schools. Nobody today created the Indian Act.  Nobody today created the Sixties Scoop.[2] But we all inherited this.  And if we want to say we’re proud Canadians, then we will accept the beautiful country we have today, and we will accept what we all inherited…”

Chief Cadmus Delorme, Cowessess First Nation

While the truth is very uncomfortable, as Christians, we should be familiar with the idea that yes, the effects of sin can be inherited – as pain, suffering, disadvantage, worldly wealth and power are passed from generation to generation.  We believe that even the most beautiful, innocent-looking baby isn’t born neutral, with a blank slate to choose their future; but we’re all bent inward and – left to our own devices – will seek our own glory and our own good at the expense of others.

No, we don’t bear the guilt for the sins of those who have gone before; but we do inherit the mess.  And if one thing should be absolutely clear from scripture, it’s that if we try to cling to things of the past in order to change them, we’ll lose sight of the present and future; we can’t undo the past.  No, rather, our task is to be faithful to the Lord’s calling to imitate Him as His disciples – to be faithful with the mess we’ve inherited.

An Inherited Mess.

On first glance, if you flip back to your lesson from 2 Samuel 5,[3] it might look as though this lesson displays a day of national pride.  It’s the coronation of a new king, a king beloved by the people and confirmed by the word of the Lord.  A wonderful record of the triumphant history of a king who restored and rebuilt the capital at Jerusalem, rebuilding its walls and restoring its glory.

But this is where knowledge of the whole story of scripture is important.  David, my friends, inherited a mess.

When God led his people out of Egypt and into the promised land, He never intended for them to have a king like other nations.  Kings make laws; kings decide a nation’s destiny.  No, the Lord would be Israel’s king, and instead, they would be led by judges, those men and women who had the task of reading God’s Word and interpreting it faithfully to the situation the people found themselves in.  Whether it was a war, a property dispute, a case of divorce, or the building of a new city, the judges’ role was to decide whether the actions of those involved showed love for God and love for each neighbour as yourself, as illustrated by all of God’s instructions.

But the people grew tired of that pretty quickly.  You see, it’s hard to become powerful in the sight of your enemies when you’re loving God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.  It’s hard to amass a goodly inheritance for your children when you’re also concerned with loving your neighbour’s children and seeking their best interests too.  By the time Moses’ grandson was judge over Israel, the people north of Jerusalem had realized they could do better with trade if they worshipped the idols of the Canaanites instead.  From there, the people spiraled away from seeking the Lord’s will, until finally, with the people divided, worshipping whatever they wanted, and forgetting the calling to love God and neighbour, they find themselves facing a hostile enemy.

They remember the old stories about God strengthening their great-great-grandfathers in their time of need, so they go to the house of the Lord and take the ark of the covenant – the ark containing the Law of God which they’ve neglected to read, and containing the bread of the Lord’s provision, which they’ve long since given up for favour of trusting in their own strength.  And, without seeking the Lord’s will or help, they take that central symbol of God’s love, mercy, care, and provision and march it out as a triumphant sign on the field of battle, as they conveniently claimed to be acting in the name of the Lord.  And then, much to their surprise, the Lord doesn’t come to their aid, but allows them to experience the consequences of their faithlessness.  The ark – the very symbol of the people of Israel and God’s leading them out of Egypt and into the promised land – is captured by their enemies, and they return home broken and bruised.

So, having forgotten the law and lost what they thought was a symbol of power, they chose a king – Saul, a man known for his impatience, his bravery, and his jealous – even murderous – protection of what is his.  They seek out a prophet to anoint him as king over the people of God; they don’t want someone to interpret God’s law, they want a strong man who can make new laws as he wants.  The Lord is furious, and yet, he bears patiently with those faithful few who call upon him and seek his will.  Ultimately, Saul disobeys the word of God given through the prophets, loses his faith, becomes unable to trust anyone around him, falls into despair, and takes his own life without an heir to take the throne.

David, the young shepherd that God called and equipped to serve him, inherited a real mess.  God never intended that Israel would have a human king in the first place, and yet, because of the effects of the sins of those who went before, here we are.  God never abandons us even in the worst mess that human sin can create, but rather reaches out his hand, calls us to cling to him not to whisp us away, but to give us the strength to be faithful in and through the mess, knowing that faithfulness is not just personal, but is intended to bring the good news of hope and restoration and mercy and healing and peace to our neighbours or even those who would be our enemies. 

Reconciliation: A task best done in weakness.

Being faithful in the mess is a tall order, not least because each of us are the product of part of that mess, and carry the baggage.  Though it’s not what God intended, your skin, your language, and your last name bear the weight of one side or the other of a long and complex history, a tangled web of injustice and oppression.  We bear that as our inheritance, even as we seek to be faithful.  But, you know, it’s not unlike our Lord, or any faithful prophet, who is looked at suspiciously in their hometown.  We bear the weight of that family history – they look at Jesus, the one who had healed thousands and preached at every village around, but all they wanted to see was the carpenter’s son.  Even the Lord won’t open the eyes of those who don’t want to see – but that doesn’t change the call to be faithful and do what God requires.

Rather, when it comes to reconciliation, when it comes to both the mess and the freedom, peace, and prosperity that we have inherited as Canadians, like Paul, we can say that weakness is a gift.

When we’re strong, when we’re in the spotlight, when we’re on top of the world, we could boast – no let’s be honest, we would boast in ourselves.  But, it’s in the mess; it’s in opening our eyes to the pain and disadvantage inherited by our neighbours and fellow-Canadians; it’s in experiencing not the guilt, but the weight that comes with being those who inherited one side or the other of this mess of injustice; it’s there that we learn to depend not on strength, but on grace.

“’My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me”

No, not just weaknesses, but “I am content with insults, hardships, persecutions,” and, as we look at the violence that pain and anger bring on, even “calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”

My fellow Canadians; my brothers and sisters in Christ; let us not look to worldly power, or prestige, or ways to quiet and bottle up pain by easy words and federal dollar signs.  We have inherited a mess; God reaches out to us – He calls out to us – where we are; and our task as dual-citizens of the Kingdom of God is to be faithful, accepting weakness as the pathway to healing and peace, as worldly power is replaced by the power of Christ, to heal and to save, as God seeks to draw all people to himself.

Love God.  Love your neighbour.  Act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.  Amen.

[1] Romans 13

[2] Sixties Scoop | The Canadian Encyclopedia

[3] As it happens, a typo on a chart two months ago led to this lesson being read instead of the one actually appointed for this morning.  Never dismiss a coincidence that may be God’s providence!

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