Painting by P.J. Lynch from Grandad’s Prayers for the Earth
Pentecost 3, June 21, 2020
St. Martin, North Vancouver
“Like a Father”
Creator God, we acknowledge and give thanks that in Jesus we know we belong to a Sacred Circle with the Gospel and Baptismal Covenant in the centre. In this Sacred Circle: we are all related; we live a compassionate and generous life; we respect all life, traditions, and resources: and we commit ourselves to spiritual growth, discipleship, and consensus. Amen.
- ACC resources for National Indigenous Persons’ Day
“To whom then, will you compare me, or who is my equal? says the Holy One. Lift us your eyes on high and see: Who created these?” The Creator asks this question in the sacred scriptures of the Jewish and Christian faiths. God is not just speaking to the prophet Isaiah, or to the people exiled in Babylon. It is for all of all. To whom will we compare the Holy One? What words can we use to describe the one who made all humanity?
This Sunday marks both Aboriginal Persons’ Day and Fathers’ Day. And the word that we turn to describe our Creator is ‘Father’. Jesus calls God ‘Abba’- literally ‘Daddy’- an intimate form of address that conveys his understanding of heavenly love. Then Jesus teaches his followers a prayer that we still use today. The Lord’s Prayer is central to every Christian’s devotions. It begins by invoking “Our Father”. Through our creation as human beings in God’s image and our shared humanity with Jesus we are all related. And all of us look to God as a good father who loves us and brings us up to embrace fullness of life.
In the first reading today from Isaiah chapter 40, the prophet describes how God acts as a father to his people. Firstly, it is a relationship of care and provision. “He who brings out their host and numbers them, calling them all by name; because he is great in strength, mighty in power, not one is missing” (vs. 26). Like a shepherd tending the sheep or a father watching his little ones at play in the park, God knows every one of us and doesn’t forget or lose interest. He does not faint or grow weary in his care. Secondly, God is to be respected and trusted. “Why do you say my way is hidden from the Lord and my right is disregarded by my God? Have you not known? Have you not heard?” (vs. 27-28). The Creator, in the very act of making heaven and earth and all peoples, has shared responsibility for the stewardship of creation. As a father gives tasks to his children to contribute to the wellbeing of the whole household, God expects our participation in His plan of reconciliation. Thirdly, God teaches and our place is to listen and learn. Even when we cannot discern His purpose (and sometimes “his understanding is unsearchable” vs. 28) we believe that there is a hand that guides us. Lastly, God is the giver of ability and encouragement. “Those that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength” (vs. 31). God is like a good Father and we offer our thanks to those earthly dads who reflect these qualities.
Where we have gotten into trouble as humankind is when individuals or systems have assumed a fatherly role in place of God. A certainty about what is right can raise up systems of institutional paternalism or patriarchy or colonialism. One group treats another with a “father knows best” attitude, with punishments and restrictions. There may be good intentions of raising up children to take proper and appropriate places in the dominant society. But we are doomed to fail when we lose sight of God as Father of us all. Care and provision may be inappropriate or inadequate. Respect and trust get demanded rather than mutually shared. Teaching only happens one-way, without openness to new learnings. Encouragement becomes restricted to what the dominant group feels is allowable.
When God’s fatherly love is only reflected by the understanding of one segment of society, we lose the full aspect of the Creator. There is a legal term called ‘in loco parentis’- in the place of the parent. Tragically, this is assumed spiritually when the Church thinks it knows best what God wants without listening to the experiences and wisdom of all of the children of the Creator. We don’t know what we don’t know, but we do need to suspect that we each have prejudices, privilege, and ignorance in some areas.
I was called to a hospital once to speak with an aboriginal woman who had tried to commit suicide. I sat by her bed in the emergency department and tried to minister to her deep depression and conviction that she was worthless. I told her that she had value, that she was loved by God and by me. We prayed. She thanked me. I went away feeling that at least I had helped be a reminder of the light in that room. I felt like a parent tending to a lost and found child. And in that, I played a role which the Church has often assumed with First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples. A fatherly or motherly role that treats the other as a child to be guided. What would have been more pastorally helpful to recognize is that which I have realized since, and which this morning’s reading emphasizes. It is God who is the Creator, and we are both his children. In my own encounters, I am learning that humility and listening to what God is saying through the other is sometimes more important than what I have to say.
One of the opportunities that we have in the Church is to be more aware of the places that we hold power and privilege. It may be less in terms of social or political clout than fifty years ago, when Christianity was the accepted religion of the majority. But we still have moral persuasion and many resources to bring to the problems of the world. We can leverage who we are and what we have been given by God to help open up the conversation for others.
Systemic racism is an issue that has reared up again into the public discourse. We are all enmeshed in institutions and webs that have benefited by the preference of some over others. We can start by checking our expectations about why we want to get involved in this work.
The Montreal Urban Aboriginal Network brochure: “Indigenous Ally Toolkit” asks some searching questions.
Does my interest derive from the fact that the issue is currently “buzzing”?
Does my interest stem from the fact that the issue will meet quotas, [attract attendance], or increase chances of any funding?
Does my involvement hijack the message and insert my own opinions or values instead of respecting those of the Indigenous communities?
Am I doing this to feed my ego?
There are traces of these, if we are honest in prodding our consciences. However, our faith gives us a much more solid reason: we are to proclaim that God is like a father to us all, and therefore we should treat each other as equal brothers and sisters. We are all related to the Creator of us all.
This Indigenous Day of Prayer and Fathers’ Day, we can commit to keep learning about other peoples’ experiences, establish direct communications with people in our community, and recognize the ownership of art, stories, and information as we try to share what we are doing. As disciples called to witness and testify to the light, let’s have our eyes and ears open to perceive it around us. Amen.