June 21, 2020 – National Indigenous Day of Prayer (3rd Sunday after Pentecost) – Sermon by The Rt. Rev. Donald Phillips

   by Yanna Courtney

Day 103

Let us pray.  Creator, we give you thanks for all you are and all you bring to us for our visit within your creation.  In Jesus, you place the Gospel in the centre of this sacred circle through which all creation is related.  You show us the way to live a generous and compassionate life.  Give us your strength to live together with respect and commitment as we grow in your spirit, for you are God, now and forever.  Amen.

The prayer that I just used is the Gathering Prayer from a publication entitled “A Disciple’s Prayer Book.”  It was developed in the closing decades of the 20th century from several indigenous communities in Turtle Island – or otherwise known as North America – but particularly by Mark MacDonald – then the Bishop of Alaska and now the Anglican Indigenous Archbishop for the Canadian Church.

Using this prayer, it helps us to see some truths about God, ourselves, and the Gospel, through a different lens.  In our dominant western culture, Christians acknowledge God as the Creator, but then it seems as if creation is left in human hands to either care for, or to destroy.  But this prayer asserts that creation, and everything in it – cities, industries, communication grids – is still very much God’s possession.  In our earthy life, as this prayer shows us, we visit God’s creation.  Think about what that means for a moment.  Think about, perhaps, an experience you’ve had of living in someone else’s place – maybe you’ve been house-sitting for a few months – as opposed to living in your own place.  You view it differently.  

A second picture, from a different lens, is in today’s Collect Prayer.  We prayed these words, “Creator God, from you every family in heaven and earth takes its name.” – every skin colour, every race, every ethnic group.  So the indigenous peoples of this land didn’t get adopted into God’s family via the Euro-peoples; they already were named by Creator God.  Now we might think, “But ah – what about the Gospel of Jesus Christ brought by the European missionaries?”  Well, the Gospel had to begin somewhere.  It couldn’t just be spread over the whole earth like a giant shower.  And where did the Euro-peoples get the Gospel?  I believe it was from a little collection of Palestinian Jewish nobodies.

And then, let’s look at a third picture from a different lens.  The 1st reading for today is from Isaiah 40, and the original context for this is as a passage of hope that God would restore the Jewish captives from their exile in Babylon and bring them back – back to their own land, their own culture and customs – to be the people God made them to be.   Now it’s not unusual for groups of people to identity with stories in the Bible that resonate with their story in their present-day life – both its challenges and its hopes.  We even see it in the New Testament when the Roman authorities massacred the infant boys around the time of Jesus’ birth in an attempt to rid themselves of Jesus, the Gospel writers lift passages from the Prophets at that time of the fall of Jerusalem some 600 years earlier when the invaders killed their children, to help the hearers in the present day relate their experience.  So in this passage from Isaiah 40, God is reassuring the Exiles that God has the ability to deliver them.  God will give them strength to return home – freed from the Exile.  Today’s indigenous peoples in Canada might find hope in this passage. After suffering over a century in residential schools, poverty, oppression, persecution, that God is now freeing them, bringing them back to their own land, their own culture and language, to be the people that God made them to be.  It is a faithful interpretation and application of God’s redeeming work today.

Then, finally, what about the Gospel reading – the Prologue from the Gospel of John?  It is a little more challenging because it clearly is coming from an ancient Greek philosophical reference frame.  So the concept of the Word doesn’t resonate easily in indigenous thinking – not even in our contemporary, 21st century non-Indigenous thinking.  But the notion of ‘Word’ as the source of all life does fit.  And Jesus coming as God visiting God’s creation works well too. What about this Word giving power to all persons who believe in who he is to become children of God?  That works – God placing them where they belong in the Sacred Circle of life.  So instead of Paul’s ‘Body’ image, we have a Sacred Circle image – both establishing right relationship between us and the Creator, and between each other. 

So I believe the challenge for we members of the dominant Euro-culture is to make ‘space’ – make ‘place’ for God’s truth expressed through indigenous ‘eyes.’  That doesn’t diminish us – it enriches us!  And, as the Collect Prayer said, “Mercifully grant that your people, journeying together in partnership, may be strengthened and guided to help one another to grow into the full stature of Christ, who is our light and our life.  Amen.