- STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH JUNE 6, 2021
Rev. Sabrina Ingram
Call to Worship Isaiah 6: 1 – 5
I saw the Lord sitting on a throne—high, exalted!
—and the train of his robes filled the Temple.
Angel-seraphs hovered above him, each with six wings and they called back and forth one to the other,
Holy, Holy, Holy is God-of-the-Angel-Multitudes.
His bright glory fills the whole earth.
The foundations trembled at the sound of the angel voices,
and then the whole house filled with smoke.
I said, “Woe is me! I am lost,
for I am a man of unclean lips,
and I live among a people of unclean lips;
And I have looked God in the face.
Lighting of the Christ Candle
Hymn: Be Still My Soul
Prayer of Adoration and Confession
Holy Triune God,
We praise you because you are not far off. We do not need to go to heaven to pull you down or into the abyss, to raise you up. In Christ, you came to reveal yourself to us. In Christ, you rose from the dead, opening the way of salvation. You are so close to us that your Word is on our lips and in our hearts.
You love us with an everlasting love.
You are broken-hearted when we hurt.
You are angered when we sin.
You rejoice when we repent.
You smile when we please you.
Lord God, we confess that for all we know of you and for all the mercy you have extended to us, we have not acted as your people. We have brought shame on the name of Jesus. We know right from wrong, yet we deliberately choose the wrong. We justify and deny the things we do to others. Instead of humility and repentance, we act with arrogance and pride. As your Church, some of our actions have been deplorable and indefensible. We make your grace cheap, asking for forgiveness without the fullness of repentance. We deserve your wrath. We do not deserve to stand in your presence. We do not deserve to call ourselves the body of Christ.
We come to worship today with contrite hearts. We are grateful that we are one in a longline of saints. We remember that we are one in a longline of sinners.
In this time of worship, speak your word to us. Remind us of who we should be, so that, going forward, we may bring glory to your holy name. Amen.
Assurance of Pardon Ezekiel 18: 30 & 32
God says, “The upshot is this:
I’ll judge you according to the way you live.
So turn around! Repent!
Turn your backs on your evil ways so that sin won’t be your ruin.
Clean house. Get a new heart! Get a new spirit!
Why would you choose to die?
I take no pleasure in anyone’s death.
“Make a clean break! Live!”
Prayer for Illumination
God, you call us to repent. Let us hear your call again so that we may turn from evil and truly be your light in the world you so love. Amen.
2 Samuel 12: 1 – 15
Mark 10: 17 – 22
Message: Being the Church – Repenting
The story of David and Bathsheba is well known. One day, King David sees the beautiful Bathsheba bathing on her rooftop. Her husband Uriah is a soldier in David’s army, away doing his duty for king and country. David is smitten. He sends for her. He uses his charm and his power to seduce her and sends her home. Bathsheba soon discovers she is pregnant by David. David’s solution is a cover-up. He immediately arranges a furlough for Uriah assuming Uriah will come home and indulge in his conjugal privileges. In eight months, the dupe will be the proud father of a bouncing baby. No harm done. Except Uriah is both pious and dedicated; he can’t go home and enjoy his wife knowing that the Ark of the Covenant is on the battlefield with his brothers in arms. He spends the night at the Palace sleeping in the servant’s quarters. David moves to plan B. He invites Uriah for dinner to ply him with liquor on the assumption that, with his guard down, Uriah will let go of his ideals, and go home to Bathsheba. However, no amount of alcohol can drown Uriah’s values. He spends another night with the servants. Plan C. David has a couple wives already and he enjoyed Bathsheba’s company, so the only thing for it, is for him to marry her. He arranges to have Uriah sent into the front lines of battle, where he will die a “hero’s death” by “friendly fire”. Bathsheba has a good cry after which David marries her. Problem solved. Except God is not fooled and God is not impressed. God sends the prophet Nathan to confront David. Nathan tells him a story about 2 men. The first is well-off and owns a whole flock of sheep. The other is poor. He has one sheep that he likes – a lot. It’s the family pet. The first man has an unexpected guest. Not wanting to deplete his own stock, he takes his neighbour’s lamb and enjoys a feast. Hearing this, David is enraged and demands this man be brought to justice. He’s so offended he wants to kill the guy. His verdict is that the wealthy man needs to restore the sheep 4 times over. At this point Nathan announces, “You are that man” (2 Samuel 12: 7), and proceeds to tell him God’s verdict. With the moral mirror held up to him, David recognizes that he has violated Bathsheba, dishonoured Uriah and murdered him. He has not only sinned against them, he has trivialized and transgressed the very laws of God. Seeing the horror of what he’s done, he confesses, “I have sinned against God” (vs. 13).
Sometimes, we all need to take a good, hard, honest look at ourselves through the eyes of God and repent. This past week the bodies of 215 indigenous children were found in a mass grave on the site of what was a residential school in Kamloops, B.C. Whatever caused their deaths, it is well documented that the death rate in residential schools was disproportionately high compared to those in the rest of the country due to malnutrition and abuse. What adds to the horror and injustice of the loss of these tender lives is that they were addressed with deceit. Like David, the people involved did not come clean and inform the parents of the children or return the bodies of their little ones to their people. We can’t begin to imagine the heart break of parents who first have their children sent away, and then never hear from them again. We can’t imagine the fear of children removed from their families by people who looked, lived, spoke and believed differently than they did. We can’t imagine the shattering, that takes place when a little soul has no safe place, no one to turn to and is abused on every level. We can’t imagine the break in the psyche of a child who is witnessing their friends being thrown in a pit and covered with dirt like they never existed. A break necessary for survival. We sinned against these little ones. We sinned against their families. And we knowingly and deliberately sinned against God. We crowned our legacy of cruelty with lies.
The impact of finding the bodies of these children was different for everyone. From what I’ve read, it seems to have brought some sense of vindication to our indigenous people. They’ve been naming this reality for years without being heeded. Now there’s proof of the barbarity with which their children were treated. There is also profound sorrow. A dam of pent-up grief and repressed righteous anger has broken and it’s flooding our country. Many Canadians have responded with shock, horror, and empathy. We’ve managed to walk in a fog of ignorance and denial when it comes to the history and the present relationship between ourselves and our native peoples. This discovery blows apart our self-image as Canadians – we have lost credibility as nice, polite, live and let live, multi-cultural people. We’re not as noble as we think we are. It’s humbling and humiliating to be unable to deny our deficiencies. From what I’m witnessing within the Church, the vast majority of Christian feels shame, guilt, sadness, and grief. We are sickened to think the Church perpetuated this. We care. Maybe that’s too little, too late. Maybe nothing can ever be enough. How do we begin to heal the wounds when we’ve been a source of the emotional, spiritual, physical and cultural flaying that has been done “in the name of Jesus”?
There is a reason the Gospel writer Mark, records Jesus’ first directive as, “repent” (1: 15). Repenting is the foundational act of our faith. Whether it’s the church’s involvement in the residential schools, or a wound we’ve personally inflicted on another, the starting place for healing is repentance. The need for repentance isn’t restricted to any one group or situation. It is universal. All people mess up. We wound and scar others. We sin against them, and we sin against God. We do it blindly and deliberately. We do it once and repeatedly. Repentance is required again and again.
Repentance begins with exposure. “Nathan’s mirror” needs to be held up; our actions need to be brought into the light so that we can stop our self-deceptions. Repentance means we acknowledge what has happened and our part in it. The PCC was involved in residential schools from the mid 1880’s. in 1925 all but two of these schools were transferred to the United Church. Our involvement ended in 1969 when those two schools were turned into regular public day schools. I’m relieved that our involvement wasn’t as great as some denominations. But that fact can’t allow me to close my eyes or minimize our responsibility. Because we may have inflicted less pain than some, doesn’t make the pain we inflicted any less. We were involved. I was a child in 1969. I knew nothing about residential schools until the early 1990’s when the PCC began to take ownership for our treatment of our First Nations people and their children. It’s easy to become defensive and disassociate with the people who were directly responsible. As an individual, I’m not to blame for this tragic piece of history. But as one person said of our Prime Minister, “He is responsible because he now represents the government of Canada, which initiated and upheld the policies.” It’s systemic. I may not have hurt those children, but I am part of and represent a system that did. Repentance isn’t real if we don’t take responsibility for our sin, whatever it is on whatever level we’re involved.
Repentance requires us to listen with openness to the party we’ve offended without defense. This is difficult. No one likes to hear that they’ve hurt someone. No one likes to hear “You are that man”. It brings on deeply disturbing feelings of disgrace and shame. But we can’t really own our sin, if we are busy protecting ourselves instead of hearing the experience of the people we’ve hurt. As a minister, I’ve listened to the most heart-rending and horrific stories. They are real and they need to be told and honoured. A listener provides a space for that to happen. Twice I’ve had the privilege of hearing a residential school survivor address a large group. Both times, they brought everyone to tears. Listening softens the hardest of hearts. Yet, instead of blaming, both speakers displayed a humble desire to move forward. They offered undeserved forgiveness.
Repentance requires us to distinguish what’s real from what is not. We live in a time when everyone is a “victim” because we’ve learned that, ironically, victimhood can be powerful. It allows us to have our way. The children in the residential schools were victimized. They had no one to protect them. They had no voice. They were not sophisticated enough to manipulate. They couldn’t protest, petition or go on TV. They couldn’t cancel people. They were completely without power. Some people really are victims. They are abused and persecuted by entitled, sadistic people who have no mercy. We owe it to people, like the children in Kamloops, not to trivialize their suffering.
Repentance requires learning. We need to listen not only to their pain but for what the wounded party needs to make healing and a new relationship possible. A friend of mine who is “marginalized” recently used the phrase, “Nothing about us without us”. One of the reasons we ended up with residential schools is that the government and the Church approached our native people from a place of arrogance. We decided what was best for them, without asking what their goals were, how they wanted to achieve them or what, if anything, they wanted from us. Unfortunately and sadly, that was part of the mindset of imperialism and Christendom. But sometimes we can leap in with the best of intentions to “fix” a situation, believing we’re helping a group or a cause, but if we’re acting unilaterally or taking the lead, we’re still operating from a place of arrogance. In Jesus’ encounter with the rich young man, the man approaches Jesus with a question. Jesus doesn’t approach him with answers and solutions he isn’t looking for and doesn’t want. Jesus asks questions. He helps the man discover his own answers. Jesus affirms him. Jesus challenges him but he doesn’t impose his solution on him. In that situation, the young man walks away. He decides he doesn’t want Jesus’ help after all. And Jesus lets him walk away. He doesn’t declare him to be inferior to himself, impose his will upon him or inflict cruelty on him. He doesn’t force him to comply. Whether we’re talking about a nation, an acquaintance or one of our adult children, we need to learn to respect people and that means allowing space for them to choose. We need to trust their choices and to trust that God is at work in all of us, just as Jesus did. That doesn’t mean we give up on them or abandon them. As the Church we are learning from the mistakes of our past. The Church is learning to partner with people around the world, listening to their desires and needs, helping them to build on their gifts and creating sustainable opportunities instead of imposing our solutions on them. While we are guilty of cruelty, the Church has also shown great love by building wells, hospitals, housing and giving aid and relief around the globe. We are learning and hope to do even better.
Repentance requires change. Admitting, even apologizing for what we’ve done becomes meaningless if we don’t make amends. No child should ever be abused. No adult is entitled to use our position for selfish or sadistic purposes. We change our behaviours. We also make restitution. Sometimes that is by listening, sometimes its financial, sometimes its by doing what we are asked to do. The PCC has been part of the “Truth and Reconcilation” process. We have also made financial restitution and set up two foundations to support people in their healing and as they move forward. We recognize that money doesn’t compensate for the wounds we’ve inflicted, and there is more to be done. Real and lasting change is needed to bring healing, and healing rarely happens all at once. We may need to revisit the anguish of people to re-address it, as Canada does now in light of the unmarked graves that were uncovered this week. As new indignities come to light, we may need to own more, listen more, learn more and change again, so we can be different people going forward. That is the meaning of conversion that lies at the heart of our faith and which Christians believe is available, not through us, but in Christ.
I pray that we, as Christians and as Christ’s Church, through repentance will turn from darkness to walk in the Light. May we be the sign of hope and blessing that God intends us to be.
Silent Prayer and Reflection
Lord, we bring you our gifts with heavy hearts. Use them to bring healing to those whom we have injured. Amen.
Hymn: We Lay Our Broken World
Prayer of Thanksgiving and Intercession
God of the cross, we thank you that you are merciful and gracious, patient and kind.
We thank you for the blood of Jesus, poured out to save us.
We thank you for the forgiveness it brings. It is an amazing gift that we don’t deserve.
We thank you for making new life possible and for the chances you give us to be born anew.
May we never take your grace for granted.
May we live reflecting the love and kindness that Jesus taught and lived. Give us hearts to care about all people and to see them as precious in your sight.
We pray for the indigenous people of our country who have suffered at the hands of our government and church and particularly for those who were abused as children. We pray for healing and freedom from the torments of their past. We pray for families who have grieved for decades over children who disappeared without a trace. We pray for families of missing daughters and granddaughters; we pray for those girls who may yet be alive – protect them and bring them home. May the grief they know cleanse their wounds. Bring healing and reconciliation between their people and your church.
We pray for all people who have been wounded by the abuse of others. Lay your hand on them that they may be whole in body, mind and spirit.
We pray for those who are ill or grieving simply because we live in a world that is less than what you had willed. Bring your healing on all in need and on those we love.
We pray for your Church which has done a great deal of harm to others and especially to the “the little ones”, people who are powerless, and marginalized. Keep us from making arrogant choices. Keep us from making good intentioned but misguided choices. Keep us from making evil choices. Open our hearts to those we’ve hurt. Help us to listen. Show us how to make amends.
We pray for the PCC as we gather for another General Assembly. Give people the wisdom to discern your will. Keep us from the assumption that your will is the same as mine. Be with every participant, guarding their spirits from anger and hostility. Help us to treat one another with respect and dignity. Open our hearts to one another and our spirits to your Spirit. We pray as Jesus prayed – that our church will be one, as he and his Father are one and that no one will be lost. We have not yet lost hope that with you all things are possible. Give us your peace.
More than that, make us channels of your peace. We sing the words of St. Francis from time to time, but help us to embody them.
Where there is hatred let us bring your love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, let us inspire faith in You
Let us bring hope in exchange for despair and make us bearers of your light.
May we be a source of Christ’s healing power, so that the sadness and sorrows of our world can give way to joy.
To do this God, we need to be free of hatred, we need to be careful not to injure and quick to forgive. We need to have the faith and hope of Christ.
Help us not to look to our own needs but to the needs of others. Give us the gifts of comfort, understanding and love. Help us to forgive as we have been forgiven and to give generously and freely to others.
Hear us as we slowly and thoughtfully pray with the words Jesus taught us:
The Lord’s prayer…
Hymn: I Repent (new)
Invitation to Mission
We go from here to make amends to those we’ve injured
To spread the light and love of Christ
To live according to God’s will
And to build God’s Realm on Earth.
Benediction: May the Triune God bless you and keep you. Amen.