Saturday, October 8, 2016

Wandering Britons Were My Ancestors: Reflections on Deuteronomy 26.1-11 (RCL Thanksgiving C, 9 October 2016)

Wandering Britons Were My Ancestors
Reflections on Deuteronomy 26.1-11

RCL Thanksgiving C
9 October 2016

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC
                  26.1 When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, 2 you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name.  3 You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, “Today I declare to the Lord your God that I have come into the land that the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.”  4 When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the Lord your God, 5 you shall make this response before the Lord your God:  “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous.  6 When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labour on us, 7 we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression.  8 The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; 9 and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.  10 So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.”  You shall set it down before the Lord your God and bow down before the Lord your God.  11 Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house.”

            I cannot remember how one of the more important conversations in my life started, but I can remember what I learned.  I was talking with Fr Joseph Hunt, may he rest in peace and rise in glory, who was my professor of Hebrew Bible at Nashotah House.  Fr Hunt had been a Benedictine monk before alcoholism and restrictions on his freedom to teach led him out of the monastery and on the road to recovery and ministry within the Episcopal Church in the United States.
            I think we were talking about the reciprocal relationship between host and guest.  It is, of course, the host’s responsibility to make her or his guest as comfortable as possible.  But Fr Hunt reminded me that it is a guest’s responsibility to accept the hospitality that is offered as genuine and to avoid making any value judgements on the quality of hospitality offered.  ‘If you want salt and there is no salt on the table,’ Fr Hunt said, ‘you do not ask.  It is possible that one’s host has no salt.  Even if you are asked whether something is lacking, you should offer thanks for what has been offered and ask for nothing more.  Everything is gift, whether great or small, and gratitude is the only proper response.’
            Over the years I have tried to follow in the path of Fr Hunt’s wisdom, but I admit to repeated failures to do so.  One of the sins that constantly affects me is the sin of envy.  When I hear of the fabulous trips that friends have recently enjoyed or I ponder why I do not have everything I want, I am often deaf to Fr Hunt’s words.  I do not give thanks for the stories my friends share with me about their adventures nor do I thank God, my parents and my friends for all the many gifts and experiences I have enjoyed over the years.
            When we are not able to see what we have and who we are as a gift, we may find ourselves plagued with a pernicious spiritual disease, a virus called ‘entitlement’.  Our employers, our friends, our families, our world ‘owe’ us certain things and we are wronged when we do not receive them.  But the darker side of entitlement is the temptation to deny others the dignity, the compassion, the justice which God intends for all of us.  My needs, whether material, emotional or spiritual, begin to define the boundaries of the world in which I live.  Other people are competitors for the ‘goods’ of life or become means to my ends.  We begin to live in a world of scarcity rather than abundance.
            One of the symptoms of entitlement is amnesia.  We forget any stories that contradict our perception of the world.  We get angry when someone or some community dares to suggest that there are other dimensions to the story.
            For example, today’s reading from Deuteronomy tells the story of the migration of the people of Israel into the land of Canaan from the perspective of a community of nomads who fled slavery in Egypt and believed that God had a place for them.  And so God did indeed have a place for them, a land flowing with milk and honey.  There they settled down, raised crops and families and gave rise to the religious tradition from which our own is descended.
            But what story would the Canaanites tell?  Their story is not part of the historical record you and I read as part of our Scriptures.  The silence of the Canaanites is a silence which continues to haunt us to this day.  While the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians has many causes and there are wrongs perpetrated by both sides, Israelis cannot forget the Canaanites nor can Palestinians forget the Holocaust.  It is this amnesia that provides some fuel for the fires that consume the region.
            This weekend our country celebrates Harvest Thanksgiving and, in a month’s time, our neighbours to the south will celebrate their Thanksgiving.  It is right and proper to give thanks for the abundance our two countries share.  But if our thanksgiving is not tempered by remembering that our abundance is gift not entitlement and by forgetting how our abundance has come at the cost of others, then our abundance will only feed entitlement.
            For Anglican Christians every Sunday is Thanksgiving.  In the eucharist we begin by remembering our past by listening to the words of the sages, the prophets, the evangelists and the apostolic writers.  But even as we hear these words, we are called to ask whose words and whose stories we do not hear.  And so we offer our intercessions, our thanksgivings and our petitions, words which remind us of the untold stories, the forgotten needs, the past acts of generosity.  And then we offer thanks by taking bread and wine and asking God to use them to empower us to become generous agents of the One who brings us out of darkness into light, out of forgetfulness into mindfulness.  Then we go forth
  • to continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers
  • to persevere in resisting evil and, whenever we fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord
  • to proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ
  • to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbour as ourself
  • to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being
  • to strive to safeguard the integrity of God’s creation, and respect, sustain and renew the life of the Earth.

            My friends, wandering Britons were my ancestors.  They came to the shores of this continent and found it a safe harbour from the pursuit of political enemies.  Here they started families and worked the land.  They prospered.  But they forget why they came here and they enslaved and exploited other peoples, both those were indigenous and those who were transported from other places to be sold.  But by God’s grace my ancestors’ descendants began to remember and we will not forget the whole story.  And together with those whose stories we forgot, we give thanks that a new future is possible and we offer ourselves, our souls and bodies, our hearts and our hands, to bring that future into being.  Glory to God whose power working in us can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.            

1 comment:

Chris Thacker said...

Brilliant. Thank you Richard.