Rev. Dr. Martha ter Kuile
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
July 4, 2021
O come, let us sing to the Lord;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
For the Lord is a great God,
and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.
The sea is his, for he made it,
and the dry land, which his hands have formed.
O come, let us worship and bow down,
let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand.
O that today you would listen to his voice!
He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, ‘Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?’ And they took offence at him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Prophets are not without honour, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.’ And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.
Then he went about among the villages teaching.
May God bless to our understanding these words from Holy Scripture.
Amazed at their unbelief. Or perhaps disappointed, a bit betrayed. Jesus tries to brush it off. Well, he says, a prophet is without honour among his own people. These are the people who remember Jesus as a little boy, perhaps with skinned knees and late for school, who know his brothers and sisters, his parents, with all their faults. So, they just can’t hear him. We can hear them muttering, who does he think he is?
But we can also hear Jesus muttering, I thought they’d be better than this. Why are they so dense, so slow to understand? Perhaps he had thought that Nazareth was special – a town that reared him and taught him, formed his outlook. No doubt he had a feeling of pride in being a Nazarene and felt a sense of loyalty to the place. He had probably excelled in the synagogue school and learned much from the elders in the community. But on that day in the synagogue, the community certainly didn’t live up to his expectations. They weren’t who he thought they were. Perhaps for the first time, Jesus saw his own home in a new, unflattering light.
Recognizing that your own home isn’t all it’s cracked up to be is a sobering experience and can feel like a betrayal. Many Canadians have had that experience in the past few weeks, with the news reports confirming the numbers of unmarked graves at residential schools. If you paid attention to the reports of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Girls and Women, you won’t have been exactly surprised. Certainly, both our congregations have been active in self-education efforts through the years, and just recently wrote letters urging government leaders to respond to the TRC Calls to Action. TSP has its Paying Rent services, and Bloor Street its Gibimishkaadimin project. There is the Heart Garden.
But somehow the penny keeps on dropping. It seems that people have to hear this more than once, and perhaps with something concrete like small bodies in actual graves, to be able to take it in. The celebration of Canada Day was muted this year for many Canadians, and a decision made to wear orange rather than red and white, a small gesture of solidarity and remorse. Whether you are from a settler or a migrant background, you may be feeling that the story we tell ourselves about Canada needs to be rewritten.
And that includes the story of our church. We too have been so dense, so slow to understand.
Historically, following in the footsteps of its founding denominations, the United Church of Canada has understood itself to be at the centre of a narrative in which the good news of the gospel spurs actions toward justice. In response to the Biblical injunction to proclaim good news to the poor, the church has been a confident proponent of social change which would favour the marginalised. It has placed itself in solidarity with those who suffer. It has taken on the task of ‘Mending the World’ as its mandate.
[But.] This basic orientation has yielded a mixed harvest. We see now that the same impulse that drove the development of public education and universal healthcare expressed itself in cultural genocide and social destruction through the Indian Act and the residential school system, and in an approach to missionary activity abroad which we would now repudiate. Our inheritance as menders of the world is suspect. We begin to recognize many of the church’s activities, indeed even its identity, as the product of a colonial and colonizing culture.
The question now is how to begin to decolonize the church itself.
Decolonizing is very different from mending the world. Before jumping in to be part of a solution, we have to understand the many ways we remain part of the problem. Decolonization involves decentering – moving out of the centre. Listening, waiting for others to act, questioning our own perceptions, even when we think we are insightful. Resisting the urge to lead. It is time for us to be quiet, as those whose loss this is lament their loss. We are invited to adopt a posture of uncertainty, respect, and learning.
As a child in the synagogue, Jesus will have learned the Psalm that Ruth read to us. Will have memorized its reminder that God is greater than all our human structures, our nations and our churches and our homes. That as the indigenous communities would have told us, the Creator’s love lives in the wind and the sea and the mountain tops. And that that love encompasses all our relations. May we hear the invitation of Jesus to learn that love anew, and may we give God thanks. Amen.
Photo by Teresa Burnett-Cole
Glebe-St. James United Church, Ottawa