Homily: Canada Day
St. John’s Convent, July 1, 2016
Sr. Constance Joanna, SSJD
Isaiah 32:1-5, 16-18Psalm 85:7-13
Colossians 3:12-17John 15:12-17
Canada Day is a special time for celebrating the goodness of our country – its values of openness and inclusivity, its commitment to human rights and dignity, its courage in coming to grips with the dark side of its past (as with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission), it’s leadership on the world stage in economic and social progress.
But it’s impossible to maintain that spirit of gratitude, or to celebrate this wonderful country, without an awareness of the unprecedented suffering of people in so many parts of the world, the increase in protectionism and nationalism in so many places including directly south of our border, and the violence that reigns in so many countries in place of democratic freedoms.
It makes me a little nostalgic for better times – or at least what seemed better at the time. When I ived in Detroit back in the 1970s, one of the most popular things to do at the beginning of July was to go down to the International Freedom Festival on the Detroit River. It took place on the weekend closest to July 1 and July 4 and celebrated both Canada Day and U.S. Independence Day. It was fun to see people celebrating on both sides of the river, in Detroit and Windsor. There would be a carnival atmosphere in both cities – both countries – with thousands of people celebrating the great value of freedom that we all felt was shared by Canada and the US. Barges in the middle of the river were the site of fabulous firework displays, and if you got tired of what was going on in one city you could get in your car and drive across the the bridge or the tunnel to the city on the other side. No one had to have a passport in those days to cross between the U.S. and Canada.
The International Freedom Festival no longer exists – beginning in 2007 it was split into two different events, one in Windsor and one in Detroit. To me that’s a sad commentary on what we understand as shared values of freedom and democracy, and it reminds me of the discouraging way in which not only the U.S. but so-called free countries around the world are reacting to migration and the refugee crisis by putting up walls of regulations that we believe will protect us from each other.
I am so grateful to live in Canada, where we have enough walls of regulations ourselves but at least where many people – I would hope most – are still open to welcoming the strangers, refugees, people who know longer have a country of their own.And yet we too are in danger of being sucked into the radical protectionism and nationalism that we are seeing in so many places around the world.
The readings today call us to something different. The passage from Isaiah presents a vision of rulers who will reign with righteousness, with justice. The imagery in the passage is all life-giving: they will be “like a hiding-place from the wind . . . like streams of water in a dry place . . . like the shade of a great rock in a weary land.” And the rulers will no longer be fools or villains; they will exercise good judgement. They will speak “readily and distinctly” – we might say truthfully and transparently. What an amazing vision.
Sometimes I think we have caught it here in Canada, but sometimes I worry that we could so easily lose that vision which is so beautifully and seductively described in the psalm: “my people will abide in a peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places.” God will “give what is good, and our land will yield its increase.”
This does not happen magically or without struggle and courage. Paul speaks, in his letter to the Colossians, of our responsibility to help bring about this vision of peaceful government and wise and generous leadership. ”As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another . . . forgive one another . . let the peace of Christ rule in your hearst . . . and be thankful . . . teach and admonish one another . . .” And above all, Paul says, be grateful: “with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.”
In other words, a peaceful and just country comes from peaceful and just citizens – and grateful ones. We bear a responsibility in our own small spheres to treat one another the way we wish world leaders and countries would treat each other, not closing down our personal borders, not being isolationist, not being fearful of other people, not looking out just for ourselves.
Jesus knew about the fear of those who are different. He knew about the fear that rises in our hearts when we are asked to welcome others into our midst. He knew about the courage needed to stay open to those who hate and fear you. And in the last days of his life, as he was walking with the disciples in the vineyard, he told them, “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.” That is the ultimate sacrifice demanded by the kind of leadership that Isaiah described. We lay down our lives – perhaps not physically (at least not often here in Canada) but spiritually and emotionally – to welcome the stranger.
The events of these past 10 days have left me (and I’m sure many of you) feeling overwhelmed by evil in our world, and as we anticipate the events that will unfold this summer in the U.S., our courage can be shaken. Archbishop Fred Hiltz, writing about the attacks on the airport in Istanbul, called our church to prayer:
Join me in praying for all who travel and for all whose work is ensuring their security and safety.
Let us remember before God all the victims of the bombings in Istanbul and their loved ones who grieve.
Let us pray all those seriously injured and traumatized and those who tend them in hospitals.
Let us pray too for all who are perpetrators of religiously-based violence and the chaos it brings.
Pray for conversion of hearts.
Pray that the world be free of such crimes against humanity.
Pray that we all live by the counsel given by God through his servant Micah: “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with God.”
I would add to this our prayer for the people of the United States as they move into the Republican National Convention in Cleveland which opens July 18 and the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia the following week, that somehow the people of the United States may have generous and wise hearts in the decisions they make.
I would add also prayer for the discussion and vote on changes to the marriage canon that will come to our own General Synod next week, that our church may show itself to be generous andopen and inclusive.
I would add prayer for Great Britain and the EU as they struggle with the outcome of the Brexit vote, that they may resist the xenophobic extremist groups and continue to maintain a stance of openness to refugees, immigrants, and the dispossesed of their own country.
And for the hundreds of thousands of refugees desperate to get into Europe, thousands of whom have died in the Mediterranean.
And finally, thinking of that freedom festival in Detroit/Windsor,I leave you with the words inscribed on the Statute of Liberty in New York Harbour, because I think they express the very bestvision of what both our countries can be.The words come from a poem written by Emma Lazarus in 1883, and they were paraphrased in the litany we used this morning.
"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
“Wretched refuse” – hard words, describing the way many people still treat refugees. “Desperate migrants” might better describe it today. May the USA and Canada and all countries be inspired to lift their lamps beside the golden door of safety, generosity, and welcome.