Sermon – June 13, 2021
Based on 1 Samuel
Typically, on the anniversary of our denomination it is a chance to celebrate to look at the all things that we are grateful for in the United Church of Canada.
This year feels different. Certainly the last few weeks, if not the past year has forced us into a time of reflection.
I think it is safe to say we are living in uncertain times. We are living with a lot of questions about the future.
For almost a year and a half now we have been living through a pandemic which has disrupted just about everything we have taken for granted. It has led to heartbreak, pain, and fear. We have been physically separated from a great many people we know and love. We certainly desire a return to something familiar.
I do not want to say normal. I am not sure anymore what normal is, and I am not sure if that is what I want to go back to. As I have said in the past, I think this past year has shown us there are some things that should be left I the past. If we take a close look at some of the things we as a society have done or valued, we should see some things we want to change.
We should look closely at the things we consider essential and ask ourselves how we treat the people who offer those services. We should look at how we care for our most vulnerable; as truly something we can be proud of.
I bring this all up because I think we sometimes wait for someone to come along and take care of these things for us. We need to start seeing ourselves as empowered for these tasks and capable of being part of creating these changes.
There are things detailed in the story of Samuel anointing David that I find difficult. We don’t read all of it in today’s scripture reading but the event that precipitates Saul losing favour with God is difficult shall we say. In any case, Saul, who was anointed and had God’s favour no longer has it. It is time for a new leader; although it will take some time for that to come about.
That said, the qualities people around Samuel assume is needed in a king are not what God is looking for.
That is the message that is typically found in this story. It is the one I certainly see. Where the people see weakness, God finds strength. Where the people find ineffectiveness, God sees courage and care.
God sees who we are and what we will be.
Beyond the anxiety and the loneliness and the fear that are associated with the pandemic, we have also encountered remarkable social disruption in the past year. Increasingly there is anger at our institutions and a demand for greater accountability. We have seen this in the United States with the Black Lives Matter movement and other calls for social change. That is typically accompanied by a parallel movement resisting those calls.
People who have been marginalized or oppressed by society, along with their allies, are demanding a change. They are observing history and the current culture through a different lens, and insist that governments and institutions be accountable for the violence and dehumanization that have been all too prominent.
Now we are seeing a similar dynamic in Canada, tied to the Residential Schools system. There is clearly a sense of anger towards the churches who participated in that system. Much of what is being revealed right now is not truly new. The Truth and Reconciliation commission that finished its report almost 10 years ago, reports on much of this; including a call to further investigate unaccounted and missing children.
But right now, this horrible news is resonating. We as a church must be prepared to respond. We must be ready to answer difficult questions and live out our faith in a way that tells people we are sincere in our desire to live out God’s call to love one another; to be peace makers and hunger for a just world.
We can try to deny what is right before our eyes. We can insist that it is part of the past. Not who we are now. As I said a few weeks ago, I am proud to represent and serve this church.
On this day when we remember official union of the denominations that became the United Church of Canada, we cannot help but reflect on the choices and actions of the churches that came before and what we as a denomination did in the subsequent decades that were so wrong. We can use words like misguided and attempt to justify the abuse and neglect by saying it was a different time.
We were wrong. Our church and pretty much all Canadian society participated in an attempt to wipe out many indigenous cultures. Those policies and actions were rooted in a culture of white supremacy that saw anything else as inferior and needing to be replaced.
We are facing challenging times. A little over a year ago I said I do not see this as God testing us. But as I also said, we would be scrutinized. The larger community is watching us now. They want to see how we respond.
Something else I have said in the past applies here, I believe. That is, sometimes we need to just shut up and listen. We need to take time to hear of other experiences, not just our own. We need to listen for wisdom from those who normally don’t have our ear. But we also need to make space for those voices and actively seek out people to share. We need to make space in which people can talk and we can actively listen to what they have to say. And I believe we can trust God to walk with us in this journey and to strengthen us and to help us in the healing that is so necessary.
We need to listen instead of assuming we know how to heal.
God knows us and knows what we can and will be. May we have the courage and strength to accept God’s call in this time of disruption. Where others may see weakness may we display strength. May we show that we are prepared for what comes next and be leaders in our community when they are needed the most.
Rev. Warner Bloomfield
Music provided with permission through licensing with CCLI License number
2701258 and One License # A-731789