THE ANNIVERSARY OF THE UCC
I want to focus this morning on two events. One of this is coming up in just a few days. It’s actually the anniversary of the formation of the United Church of Canada of which we are a part. On June 10, 1925, ninety-six years ago, the United Church of Canada came into being at a celebration in the Mutual Street Arena in Toronto, Ontario. It was the coming together of the Methodist, Presbyterian and Congregational Churches in Canada as well as hundreds of Local Union Churches that began to amalgamate years before national church was finally inaugurated. It was the first such church union in the world but it was not the last. The same thing happened in many countries after the United Church of Canada started the ball rolling. What our ancestors did became a model for many churches.
The United Church is an interesting denomination. It has done some groundbreaking work in various areas but it has fallen behind in others. At times, I am so honoured to be part of the United Church of Canada and at other times I shake my head wondering what the powers that be must be thinking – or not thinking at all as the case might be. The United Church continues to be a very broad tent in terms of both beliefs and faith practices. While the United Church is known for its work with social justice – and it has done some great there – it would be wrong to say that the United Church has a particular theology. What it has is a vast array of congregations each with its own unique and diverse theology. There are ultra-liberal congregations that hardly seem to be Christian at all, where the name of Jesus is seldom if ever spoken. Then there are churches like ours with tends to be much more conservative and evangelical, where Jesus is proclaimed as Lord and the Bible is held in high esteem. But the interesting thing is that somehow or other we manage to hold this denomination together despite our differences. And maybe that’s a good model for what the rest of the Christian Church should be like.
A bunch of ministers in the area cooperated this week on a project. One of our minister, George Bozanich of Emmanuel United Church, came up with a great idea to help celebrate the anniversary. His idea was to take one of the prayers that was used at the inaugural meeting on June 10, 1925 and create a video with different ministers saying different parts of the prayer. George update some of the language and did all of the editing so thank you George. So he is the prayer:
O GOD, who has exalted our Lord Jesus Christ to be Head over all things to the Church that all may be one in Him, and who has put gladness into our hearts that we should see this day of the Son of Man: send peace and prosperity to all Christian people who are striving to draw nearer to you and to one another in the unity of the Spirit.
Rejoicing in the gracious Providence that has led us here to a wider fellowship of faith and service, we ask you to lead us onward, from this time forth, to fulfil the sacred mission unto which you are calling us and the hopes of those departed from here who by faith foresaw this day. Confirm our solemn purposes; make us equal to our high trust; and govern our counsels and endeavours in all labours of love.
Bless, we ask you, O Lord, ministers of the Word and Sacraments, and all such as serve your Church in any charge or office, with the manifold gifts of Thy Spirit. Graciously raise up and prepare younger generations to carry forward the work of the Lord and to sustain the Church in days to come. Increase the liberality and holy living of Thy people.
As we join hearts and hands in loyalty to our Divine Lord, we ask you to seal our union with your glorious and gladdening presence, so that, being rooted and grounded in love, we may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth and length and depth and height, and to know the love of Christ, which passes knowledge, that we may be filled with all the fullness of God.
O GOD, the Hope of the ends of the earth, the Light and Desire of all nations, strengthen and preserve all missionaries of the Gospel, and so replenish them daily with your presence that they may, with joy and great power, set forth by word and life the grace of the Lord Jesus, and persuade many to turn to you.
Prosper all ministries of medical help and healing, all agencies of education and social improvement. Scatter the forces of superstition, error and Oppression.
UPHOLD, we ask you, and nourish every little flock and every pastor on the frontiers of your kingdom. Send forth, we ask you, more labourers into the harvest of the world.
Quicken your Church and people with a due sense of stewardship as trustees of the Gospel for all mankind. Cast out enmity and strife between the peoples of the earth; and draw all of us into obedience to your will: for the love of Christ.
ALMIGHTY GOD, Make into one godly people the multitude of us brought here today out of many families and languages. Save us from lawlessness, arrogance and greed of gain. Give to all the spirit of service, love and mutual forbearance.
In prosperity make us thankful; and in the day of trouble suffer not our trust in you to fail. So that, loving you above all things and our neighbours as ourselves, we may fulfil your gracious purpose in this land: through Jesus Christ our Lord.
It’s a long prayer but it’s also a prayer that was trying to express the hope that was there in the early days of the United Church about what kind of church we would be and what kind of witness for Jesus that we would share. It asks God to guide us and strengthen us. It asks God to help us to be agents so positive social change, to scatter the forces of superstition, error and oppression, and to enable us to good stewards of creation. These were high hopes for a people who believed that they could, by their witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ, make the world a better place to be.
KAMLOOPS RESIDENTIAL SCHOOL
That’s the first event. I also want to focus on another event that happened this past week. I think we were all shocked this week to learn that 215 gravesites of children were discovered near the Kamloops residential school in British Columbia. This adds yet another chapter to the sad tale of the residential school system that existed in Canada from the mid-1800’s until 1996 when the last residential school was closed. Our nation has been in mourning and, I hope, is taking time to reflect on what this all means.
To be honest, I’m not one to judge events before I have all of the facts and it is clear that we don’t currently have all of the facts when it comes to this story. As of the writing of this message, none of the gravesites have been opened. The ground penetrating radar (GPR) that was used to find these graves can only tell that the ground has been disturbed. It cannot tell what is under the ground. But what the survey discovered was what looks like 215 individual graves that would be about the right size for children. While we don’t know what is below the surface, I strongly suspect that these are children’s graves. But we don’t know why they are there. We don’t know the causes of death or how long they have been there. And since the graves are on first nations territory, we can’t even be sure if they are from the residential school or the nearby indigenous community. There are so many unanswered questions. In time, I hope we will get the answers to those questions.
Nonetheless, two things are abundantly clear. First, the death of 215 children in unmarked graves is always a tragedy. Second, once again, we are come face to face with a past of which we are not very proud. Ruth and I were talking about this the other day during breakfast and Ruth said, “Can you imagine what it would be like to have your five or six year old child taken away from you? Our grandson Jasper is now five. I can’t imagine that a government official would come to the house and take him away.” She was right. It must have been a horrible experience.
And the other important thing to remember today – on the anniversary of the formation of the United Church of Canada – is that we and our founding denominations operated fifteen residential schools across Canada from 1849 to 1969. So the residential school issue is part of our history as the people of God. And while the particular school in Kamloops was not one of ours, we as the people of God were part of that whole process. It seems that in this area we strayed from the hopes of that great prayer that was said 96 years ago. And so we see that these two events – the discovery of 215 graves and the anniversary of the founding of the United Church come together in an interesting way this week.
How do we come to grips with that? How do we not lose heart in the face of all of this? It will take time and reflection and some repentance and some pain. But it must start somewhere and today, as always, it starts with scripture. Today’s reading is from 2 Corinthians 4:13-18 (NIV) which says this:
13 It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak, 14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself. 15 All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.
16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
The first part of this passage from verses 13 to 15 speak of God’s ability to transforms events and turn things around. It speaks of how God took the horrible event of the crucifiction and transformed it into something positive by raising Jesus from the dead. In that resurrection, God gives us a promise of eternal life starting now through faith in Jesus. So God took that which was seemed fatal and turned it into a reason for hope. Keep that thought in mind.
Verse 16 in the second paragraph says this: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” What that means is that because God raised Jesus from the dead we know that God can turn the worst situations into reasons for hope. We are called to not lose heart, to remain hopeful even when we blow it. Although the world outside may seem to be sullen and unjust, inwardly God is working in us to do something positive, to give us a reason for hope.
But what does that look like? How do we not lose heart in the aftermath of 215 potential graves? Where do we find hope in this situation? Maybe it begins with repentance. I don’t believe that the people who organized the residential school system were evil. I just think they were wrong. But even that is hard to judge 150 years after the fact. What we can say, however, with certainty is that, by today’s standards, residential schools should never have happened. We, as the United Church of Canada, need to understand how our denomination was complicit in that whole system.
Repentance is key to the process of moving forward. It can’t change the past. It can’t cover over what was done. But I can acknowledge an injustice from the past, that we as a church participated in something that we now see as wrong.
Repentance is a very beneficial process because it begins the process of healing. It says that we are sorry for a past injustice. But it also says more than that. It says that not only are we sorry, we also want to do something to restore justice. Sometimes that simply means acknowledging that a wrong has been done and sometimes that is all that can be done. Other times it means making restitutions. But the importance of repentance is that it is not just saying, “I’m sorry.” It also carries with it the implication that we are going to do something to make this right. We can’t change the past but perhaps we can learn from it and move into the future with hope. Because of that we do not have to lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.
THE BRAIDING PRAYER
I am glad that the United Church of Canada was one of the first organizations to recognize and repent of its role in the Residential School system. In fact, it was back in 1998, we offered our official apology for our complicity in residential schools. The Anglican and Presbyterian Churches have done the same.
I am glad to say, however, that the United Church has gone past the mere words of the apology because words are cheap and easy to say. It is the actions of the church that has led it past an apology and into the realm of true repentance. Since 2008 we have been actively engaged in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC), which was created to address the history and legacy of Indian Residential Schools. That is part of what we are doing as a church to restore justice. As individual sisters and brothers in Christ, we also need to seek ways in which we can make a difference. The work progresses but there is much work yet to be done.
As I started this message with a prayer, I would like to end it with a prayer. In 2018, an indigenous woman by the name of Sara Stratton composed a prayer to mark the 20th anniversary of the United Church’s apology for residential schools. Like the prayer from the inaugural service of the United Church in 1925 this prayer is filled with hope for a better day and better, stronger witness for Christ in the world. I’d like now to share with you this second prayer. It is called the Braiding Prayer:
God of struggle, and of reconciliation,
Be with us as we remember what we have been a part of:
Cruel and unjust systems
Efforts to say “sorry” … and to mean it
Remind us that our history as people is like a braid
We are wrapped together
And there is tension in that, and pain
But there is also strength
Remind us of the beauty and sacredness of braids
The beauty and sacredness of relationships
Remind us to never again sever these braids
But to honour them in everything we do
God of struggle, and of reconciliation,
Be with us as we recognize what we must be a part of:
Loving and just relationships
Saying “sorry” … and actively meaning it. Amen.
This prayer though very different in words from the 1925 one is not so different in essence. It too is filled with hope for a better tomorrow. So let us not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
God of All Creation, your Spirit flows around us reminding us of your love and care for even the least of your creatures. We give thanks that you are as close as a prayer. When life seems to be too much to bear, your hand reaches out to us offering hope and help and healing. We give thanks for all of your precious gifts. We are grateful for cool swims after hot days, trails and roads upon which to ride our bikes, early morning fishing trips and refreshing evenings spent on the front porch. We also thank you for the crops that are growing in the field and even now working their way to the harvest.
Thank you for the hope that you give to us in the difficult times of life. Regardless of how hopeless or unsolvable our circumstances may appear, you can enter in and change things for the better. Strengthen our faith and help us to believe every hope, every possibility, and every promise that you have made.
Be with us Jesus as, once again, we face our past. We pray for the survivors of residential schools and we pray for healing. We also pray for brighter future, the one that only you can create but one in which we have a part to play.
We thank you for summer visitors and yard sales. We think about how motorist, cyclists and pedestrians must sometimes share the same space. Help us, O God, especially with the end of school approaching, to be careful and watchful for one another. Speaking of school, we offer our prayers and support for all of the students, teachers and staff who will be entering exam time this week. May that go well and as smoothly as possible.
Be with the people of this province this week as we vote for a new government. We ask for good voter turnout and fair elections. We also pray for good government that is responsive to the needs of all people.
We lift up in prayer those of our community and congregation who are sick this week at home or in hospital. We remember especially Richard, Angela, Gary and Rachael. We ask for your Healing Spirit to be upon them.
Holy God, we know that all life is valuable in your sight. We are grateful that your love and compassion are limitless and unconditional. When we are faced with difficult decisions or situations, help us to remember that you are always ready to help offering guidance, strength, patience and wisdom. You provide the example of how we should treat others. Keep us faithful as you are faithful. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
June 6, 2021 / Pentecost 2 / Proper 5
1 Samuel 3:1-10, (11-20); Deuteronomy 5:12-15; Psalm 81:1-10; Mark 2:23-3:6; 2 Corinthians 4:5-12
CALL TO WORSHIP
Let us praise the one who lifts us up;
who carries us above our worries
and takes our burdens from our shoulders.
The glory of God is shining around us. Alleluia!
Come, let us worship.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
We come, God of Life, seeking the hope that you make possible this day. Your love surrounds us in ways too numerous to count and too strong for us to comprehend. In that love there is also your challenge to us to daily walk closer to your way. In our worship, we ask for a fresh breath of your Spirit that our lives may be renewed with dreams and visions of a brighter tomorrow. Your Word is life and we call upon that Word to fulfill our deepest yearning. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
Blessed Jesus, we thank you for your sacrifice that made it possible for all people to be renewed in their relationship with you. You abolished the barriers that once separated us from your Holy Presence. Forgive us when we, your people, erect walls of conflict that divide ourselves from one another. In the midst of separation, help us to be ministers of your love and healing to all people. Enable our lives to reflect the same forgiving and reconciling Spirit that you have shown towards us. Amen.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
In a world of strife and anger, there is a calming Spirit that hovers over the face of the earth. The Spirit of Christ reminds us of the power of God’s amazing forgiveness which is able to overcome the deepest and darkest sins of our lives. When we confess our sins, we are redeemed and made new in the cleansing blood of Jesus.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
What could we give that would adequately convey our need of you? What could we provide that is not already from you? Your generousity is beyond our need. May all of our lives and resources be set aside for the sharing of your Good News. Amen.
Jesus died as he lived – with great passion. Go now, and live with that passion. May our lives and our actions proclaim the Gospel which is for all Creation.