Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Canada Day, July 1, 2014 preached by the Reverend Sister Constance Joanna Gefvert

Isaiah 32:1-5, 16-18 Psalm 85.7-13
Colossians 3:12-17 John 15.12-17

In the 1860s, just about the time when Hannah Grier Coome and her new husband Horace were married and living in England, the winds of political change were blowing back in Canada. At that time there were three colonies in British North America – Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Canada (which in turn was made up of an eastern division – what is now Ontario – and a western division – what is now Quebec). They were feeling vulnerable, as the British government seemed less than enthusiastic about defending its three north American colonies, and the U.S. was becoming more agressive. There was fear of annexation, and when the U.S. purchased Alaska that fear seemed justified.

There had been talks for years about joining the North American British colonies into one, and through a patient and peaceful process of political negotiation the three colonies were able to agree on a new structure. On July 1, 1867 confederation was declared through the British North America Act, and the three colonies became four provinces of the Dominion of Canada (the Province of Canada having been divided into Ontario and Quebec).

The British North American Act of 1867 was a masterpiece of diplomacy, but it was just one landmark in a longer process – it would be some years before Newfoundland and PEI, as well as the western provinces and the territories would join. It was not perfect by any means. The ongoing issues about a separate Quebec and the botch job that we made of relations with the aboriginal peoples of Canada and native land claims are evidence of this. But it meant that everyone north of the U.S. border except those in Alaska would eventually be joined under one federal government, with certain powers allocated to the provinces.

It was a peaceful process. Unlike the birth of many countries of the world it did not take place in the cauldron of war. And I think that is partly what has helped make Canada a model of ethnic and cultural cooperation. The advances that we have made in new relationships with the aboriginal peoples of our country, and which we celebrated a week or so, is a sign that we can recognize our imperfections and try to keep birthing this land of hope.

Today we celebrate the 147th anniversary of confederation, and the federal government is already making plans for the 150th anniversary in 2017. Having grown up in the U.S. I find myself becoming emotional at the thought of being accepted as a Canadian. I love this country. I love the way we came to independence from Britain, through peaceful civil conversation. I deeply respect our political processes and our human rights record even with all their imperfections because Canadians are humble enough to realize we really don’t have it altogether. And that means there is room for growth.

And that room for growth is what we are offered in the scripture readings today. They remind me of Advent, of our sense of longing for the coming Messiah and the promised reign of peace. The images in the reading from Isaiah tug at my heart strings. When the promised ruler comes, it will be like finding a shelter from the storm, like streams of water in the desert, like a great rock that provides shade. When God’s reign comes, “then justice will dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness abide in the fruitful field. . . . God’s people will abide in a peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places.”

We continue to long for that reign of peace, and the psalm today expresses our prayer and our hope: “You speak, O God and I will listen, for your words are peace to your faithful people and to those who turn their hearts to you. Truly, your salvation is very near to those who fear you, that your glory may dwell in our land.”

But as Christians our land is bigger than Canada. We are citizens of the world. And if we put the birth of our nation into context, we see that many other countries around the world are in such dire birth pains that they sound more like the rattle of death. We cannot just rest in the self-satisfaction of being Canadian, of living among a mostly peaceful people. Our role as disciples of the Messiah of Peace is to share the peace of Christ in whatever way we can. And the other two readings today show us how to do that.

In Paul’s letter to the Colossians he brings it right home: “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves wtih love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body.”

That is what we are called here for, this Sisterhood, or any other body of Christians. Not for ourselves, but for others. We are called know Christ’s peace – and then to share it.

And in John’s gospel, Jesus’ words are even stronger. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. I do not call you servants any longer . . . but I have called you friends. . . . You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.”

Whew – that is pretty clear, isn’t it? We have been chosen. We have been appointed. And what have we been chosen and appointed for? To bear fruit that will last, so that what we ask of God we may receive, so that we may love one another, so that we may share the fruit of that love.

So on this Canada Day, as we rejoice in our freedoms, let us remember that we have been chosen and appointed to bear the fruit of peace for others. It begins at home for everyone. But it doesn’t end there. If the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in Toronto can change the weather on the other side of the world, then our practice of peace with each other, and our prayer for peace, may just create a tiny breeze that will change something in someone’s heart over in Russia or Ukraine or Iraq or Egypt or Nigeria – some heart change that will affect someone else’s heart that will affect someone else’s heart. And just as surely as the Serbian bullet that killed the Archduke of Austria 100 years ago was the catalyst for the first world war, so our prayer, our practice of peace with each other, may be the catalyst that will give people in other parts of the world an opportunity to live with the degree of peace that we do in Canada.
Sister Constance Joanna

Thank God for our country, and thank God that we are chosen to go and bear fruit that will last. Amen.

Some Dates to Note:

July 1, 1867: The British North America Act (today known as the Constitution Act, 1867) is proclaimed and creates Canada.

June 20, 1868: The Governor General, Lord Monck, signs a proclamation that requests all Her Majesty’s subjects across Canada to celebrate July 1.

1879: A federal law makes July 1 a statutory holiday as the “anniversary of Confederation,” which is later called “Dominion Day.”

October 27, 1982: July 1, “Dominion Day” officially becomes Canada Day.

2014: Canadian Heritage organizes the 147th Canada Day celebrations. As we approach Canada’s 150th anniversary in 2017, the government has given the Department the mandate to organize Canada Day festivities in the capital.