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!

Present in the Moment; Waiting on the Lord.

Even youths will faint and be weary… but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength… they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint! 
Isaiah 40:31

Those words from Isaiah 40 are meant to be for us a source of comfort, an encouragement to trust in the Lord as the source of our strength.  At a time when many, if not most of us are not just “weary” but exhausted, longing to see family down South, waiting in hope to get back to the things we enjoy, and, to be honest, longing to see temperatures in the thirties, not the negative thirties, we might easily miss the great honesty in these words spoken by the prophet Isaiah.

As catchy as that last phrase of this morning’s lesson is – “they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint” – it could easily sound like wishful thinking, or a call to try a little harder to keep running the race.

But the great hope that I see in that passage is this: it calls us to acknowledge, straight-up, that we will get weary; we absolutely will fall exhausted; no matter what, we are powerless. 

Now, I know that might not sound like a great message of hope, but stick with me! 

When the world tells us to be a little stronger, to hold on a little longer, to try a little harder, and to stay positive, at the end of the day, the message is to look inside yourself for the strength you need.  Maybe that’s a positive message for some, but my experience pastoring people through this pandemic is that we’re all learning that we don’t have the power within ourselves to help or heal ourselves. 

If you’re at a point where you’re realizing, maybe in a bigger way than ever before, that you don’t have the strength to stay positive, look on the bright side, and pull yourself through the weariness and exhaustion, you’re certainly not alone… and the good news is that this shouldn’t be news to anyone – and certainly isn’t news to God. 

This passage this morning proclaims the deep, inescapable truth that we all will grow weary, that we all will fall exhausted, even the strongest.  Even rulers: “scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely have they taken root, when God blows upon them and they wither”, only to be carried off like dust in the wind. 

In a world that tells us to be strong and stay positive, the good news of God is the opposite: acknowledge your weakness.  Don’t rely on your strength, because it won’t last.  Don’t rely on your plans for tomorrow, your big plans to invest all your energy in the next promotion or the next job, or the new house, or the big plans for retirement.  Don’t live for the future; be present in the moment, and wait for the Lord and his strength.

Strengthened for Service

In this morning’s Gospel we heard of Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, sick in bed with a fever.  Hardly a position of power or strength, and as we all have to learn when our bodies get sick, the more we try to power through an illness, the less likely we are to heal – physical illness just proves the point that we need to rest, and wait on the Lord to renew our strength.

So Peter’s mother-in-law is there in bed, and what do we see happen?  Well, right off the bat, they bring it to Jesus.  It’s a small detail, but one worth noticing.  A few verses earlier, Jesus starts teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum, and he’s attracting quite a crowd.  It says his fame is growing throughout the region, and people are attracted to the way he teaches with authority.  People are being healed; there’s real momentum building, to the point that the entire city wants to see Jesus for themselves.  So what should happen next?  There should be a big rally, or maybe a big debate for Jesus to deliver some smack-down arguments against the oppressors, right?  There should be some opportunity for this growing body of supporters to be mobilized, right?  Isn’t this the time to ride the wave to spread the message, right?

Nope. 

A fisherman’s mother-in-law has a fever.  That’s what matters.

It’s remarkable; here, the first time we hear of a growing following in the Lord’s ministry, as the entire city wants to hear him, as we hear of great healings of major illnesses, of evil spirits cast out, Jesus not only takes an interest in one older lady who is sick in bed, that becomes the next focal point in the Gospel, handed down through the ages.  We don’t know squat about the numerous healings of various diseases: but what matters as part of the good news to pass on to each generation is that Jesus takes notice of a poor senior laying on her bed, feeling under the weather.

And, notice too, that Peter doesn’t dip out for a minute to mix her a hot toddy or pick up a bottle of whatever fever elixir was sold in the market.  She’s not feeling well, so they bring it to Jesus “at once”; not as a last resort, not once the other remedies have failed.

How often do we try to fix something ourselves, with our own strength, before we wait on the Lord’s strength?  Now, of course we should use the gifts of medicine and science that God has provided, but how much time and energy to we waste trying to fix things, trying harder and harder as the situation gets worse and worse, rather than simply acknowledging that we’re powerless, that we need to trust in God?

So Jesus turns aside from the crowd, from any sensible human vision for how he should build on this momentum he’s gained, and goes to see this woman, sick in bed.  He raises her up, and what does she find?  This little old lady has her strength renewed!  She can run and not be weary, she can walk and not faint, she can put on the kettle and pull out a few biscuits, and all of a sudden she’s the one serving Jesus!  Is she doing that in her own strength?  No!  In the strength he provided.  She’s be strengthened for service, and all to the glory of God!

And while she’s tidying up the tea and biscuits, the can of kippers, whatever it was she served, now it’s her house that plays host to the healing of the entire neighbourhood!  It’s not her strength, it’s not even her action – all she did was serve dinner.  But once she has learned to rely on the Lord’s strength, once she’s been strengthened for service, we become the host for God to spread that healing and strength to others.  It’s absolutely amazing.

Now What?

So imagine the situation – there’s this growing following from the synagogue, they took this detour to see a sick lady lying on her couch, and now the entire city is outside the door, with miraculous healings coming left and right.  What’s the plan?  What should we do next?  How do we keep this momentum going?  How should the disciples push this movement forward to bring a revolution across Israel?

I imagine the disciples are up talking, maybe even debating and arguing well into the night, debating the next steps that they should suggest to Jesus.

…but what does Jesus do? 

He slips out quietly, in the middle of the night, gets away from the clammer of the city, and finds a quiet place to pray.

So often we spend our time and energy predicting the future, whether it’s a growing problem that we’re trying to solve, or it’s a victory or success that we’re hoping will bring us in the direction we want to go.  But we can’t predict the future.  We can’t rely on our strength or health or job or relationships or the economy or our peace, security, and prosperity from one moment to the next.  And that’s the good news: we’re to acknowledge our powerlessness, and live in the moment, relying on God, who will renew our strength here and now, not to face tomorrow’s problems, but to redeem today.

…And then morning comes, I imagine Peter’s mother-in-law is up making coffee and pancakes for the guys, who are all excitedly discussing how they should manage the crowds at today’s repeat performance… and then they look around.  Where’s Jesus?  Where’d he go?  Mark says they hunted for him, running around town, until they find him out in a deserted place, away from the crowds.

‘My Lord, my Lord, come on, everyone is looking for you!  It’s going to be a great day!  Look how the momentum is building, they’re coming from all over! Today’s going to be awesome!  And next week, we’ll fill the arena!’

But Jesus, the Son of God, knows full well that we need to live and love in the moment; the Almighty Lord who knew our sins before we were even born, chooses, wills, to love us and reach out to us in each moment, in spite of that.  The Lord Himself knows, and wants us to know the blessedness of waiting on the Lord, relying on God’s strength and provision in the moment, trusting God to provide enough for today, and to provide for tomorrow when tomorrow comes.

…and Jesus turns to Simon Peter and says, ‘Thanks Peter, I know they’re searching for me.  But we need to keep the main thing the main thing.  We have a message to proclaim.  Yes, that was a big crowd last night, but don’t get distracted; it’s time for us to move on.’

Living in the moment

We’re exhausted, we feel faint, we’re realizing just how futile it is to plan for tomorrow.  The good news is that God knows.  The good news is that our strength does fail.  The solution isn’t to work a little harder or ‘hang in there’, it’s to acknowledge our weariness, even if it’s something small like a fever, and bring it to God at once.

And, when we can offer our weakness, our failings, our concerns to God in the moment, as we learn to wait on the Lord, He will carry us through!

…but, sometimes, before we can hand things over to God, we too need to retreat to a deserted place.  Sometimes we need to escape the noise of the moment, and find a space to name those struggles and concerns. 

The truth is that we’re all exhausted, our whole society is exhausted by this pandemic.  That’s something we can and should admit.  The other side of that, is that weariness, exhaustion, even pain and loss look different for each of us, so that retreat to a deserted place needs to allow us the opportunity to discover exactly what it is that needs to be handed over to God – you can’t hand it over to God if you can’t grasp what “it” is!

And so, as we learn to live in the moment, as we learn to wait for the Lord, I’m suggesting that we, as a church, take some time to imitate Jesus, to retreat to a deserted place and offer our present struggles to God. 

I’m providing each of you with a little guide, based on an ancient practice called the Examen.  It’s an old Christian practice that invites us to be mindful of our challenges, our joys, and our hopes.  [DOWNLOAD GUIDE HERE]

We need to be present in the moment, and this moment is certainly one that’s teaching us to rely on God and his strength.  God knows you’re weary, God knows you’re exhausted, God knows you’re unsettled and maybe a bit anxious, and frustrated with not knowing what tomorrow or next week or next month will bring.  God knows, and He’s inviting you to trust in him, not tomorrow, but today, to rely on His strength in this moment.

Those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength. 

To God be the glory, now and forevermore.  Amen.

Thanks to my friends at Resurrection Anglican Church (Austin, TX) for giving permission to share the Examen exercise!