In the Anglican Church of Canada, we mark this day as the National Indigenous Day of Prayer. This observance has come out of an ongoing recognition that the church has much to repent of when it comes to dealing with our Indigenous brothers and sisters. A long history of colonization and exploitation continues into our current time with innumerable examples of racism, human rights abuses, and structural barriers to equal citizenship both socially and within the church.
Today, churches across the country seek to acknowledge this, and to commit and recommit to finding a new way forward. As Bishop Donald Phillips writes, the goal is to “find intentional ways to bring forward, in repentance, our participation in the sins of colonization both historically and presently, asking for God’s mercy, forgiveness and transformative power to act in all our lives as we seek to be reconciled to one another and to participate in the redemption of the world.”
Which is to say that, no matter who we are or what our heritage may be, this conversation involves us. Because we believe in the God who made all things, blessed them, and called them good. And who invites us all to live in loving, self-giving relationship with one another, that we might work together with God to build up the kind of world that God has always intended.
This is the nothing less than the mission of the church.
And it has always been so. We’ve just had trouble recognizing it.
Years ago, when I began my studies at Wycliffe College, I took a course called Gospel, Church and Culture. It was, essentially, about the ways in which the story of salvation that we have inherited is affected by the structures we’ve built, and the society we live in. And about the ways in which our faith can become distorted, and made to serve the demands of our culture or our country.
We read a book called Christianity Rediscovered, written by a Roman Catholic priest named Vincent Donovan in the late 1970s, after being sent to work among the Maasai people in northern Tanzania. One of the central points of the book is that Donovan learns that his job is not to ‘bring’ Christian faith to the Maasai people, but to recognize the ways in which God is already at work in their midst.
Which is a stunning thing to realize. It’s important to see that this is only a revelation because the church had somehow gotten the notion that we have some kind of monopoly on truth. The realization that God is already at work in the world, outside of the apparent boundaries of the established church and, frankly, outside of white Euro-centric culture, was only arrived at because of how dangerously narrow-minded our collective thinking was. And, if we’re honest, still is.
Over the years, I’ve read countless theological and missional books that all arrive at the same conclusion, just in different contexts and through different means – that God is at work in the world. And it isn’t up to us to try to control God, limit God, or try to bind God to our particular cultural preferences. But we still manage to do it, over and over again.
St. John begins his account of the Gospel of Jesus Christ by reminding us all that God has been at work in every area of the world from the beginning. For in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And not one thing came into being but by the Word.
God speaks us all, everything that is, into being as an act of Divine love and joy and creativity. And that same God dwells among us in our humanity and shows us what is to love and serve one another and live in right relationship with God. The hallmarks of his way of life are humility, self-giving love, and a willingness to see that we most truly find ourselves as we encounter those around us. Which might even sound a bit like the idea of the Trinity.
On this day, especially, we would do well to meditate on the words of St. John. Because the introductory words to his Gospel make clear that wherever we find beauty, joy, truth, or goodness – we find God at work.
Racism, colonial expansion and conquest, the work of building up empire and exploiting other people, the ongoing systematic degradation of indigenous ways of life, the continued support of a system that magnifies the gap between rich and poor – these are things that are incompatible with the mission of God in our world. God is not white. Or English. Or Canadian. Or Anglican. And the kingdom we are called to build is God’s, for the benefit of all God’s creation.
Today we pray a litany for the healing and restoration of our church. Together, we pray:
Touch our eyes, that we may see the sacredness of all creation.
Touch our ears, that we may hear from every mouth of every peoples the hunger for hope and stories of refreshment.
Touch our lips, that we may speak the beauty of every tongue and dialect proclaiming the wonderful works of God.
Touch our hearts, that we may discern your mission in which you call us to be immersed, particularly in partnership with the First Peoples of this land.
Touch our minds that we may witness to your good news in our neighbourhoods, communities, and all parts of the world.
Touch our hands, that we may forever shun violence and embrace the work that you give us to do.