Saturday, July 1, 2017

True Patriot Love: Reflections on Christian Citizenship (Canada Day, 2 July 2017)

True Patriot Love
Reflections on Christian Citizenship

Canada Day Propers
2 July 2017

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church

John 15.12-17

[Jesus said to his disciples,] “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.  You are my friends if you do what I command you.  I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.  You did not choose me but I chose you.  And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name.  I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

            When Paula, David and I crossed the border into Canada thirty years ago, we did not expect to stay longer than three years.  I had taken the position at Vancouver School of Theology as the first step towards an academic career in one of the seminaries of The Episcopal Church.  But three years became six, two more children were born and Paula began her own studies towards ordination.  Nine years after arriving in Canada we found ourselves at the Italian Cultural Centre becoming Canadian citizens.

            But I have learned that emigrating from one country to another does not mean that one is always considered ‘home’.  No matter how long one lives in another country, no matter how strongly one attaches oneself to that country, no matter how hard one tries to fit in, the immigrant is reminded that he or she was not born here.  Just this past week as I was returning to Vancouver after attending a meeting with the Bishop, the Regional Archdeacons and the Regional Deans in Sechelt, one of my colleagues asked a question that reminded me of my ‘other-ness’.  He asked whether I was planning a summer visit to ‘my own country’.  ‘I am already in “my own country”’, I answered, ‘and I plan no visits to the United States in the near future.’

            No matter how long we have lived in Canada, no matter how strongly we attach ourselves to this beautiful and complex country, no matter how hard we try to fit in with the culture of North American society, all Christians, regardless of the theological ‘tribe’ or ‘family’ with which they identify, are ‘resident aliens’, ‘landed immigrants’ in a world which is and is not our ‘home and native land’.  You may have once read a bumper sticker that proclaims, ‘Think globally.  Act locally.’  To my mind this describes the attitude that Christians bring to the task of living as people who have ‘a different world in view’, a world that has not yet been realized.

Think globally.
            To be a Christian is to belong to a movement that spans twenty centuries of human history, that includes people of every ethnicity and culture and that gathers, transforms and sends disciples on every continent.  It is a community that shares a common belief that God is the creator of all that is, seen and unseen, that in Jesus of Nazareth God acts to redeem and reconcile the world to God’s very self and that in the Spirit of wisdom and truth God continues to act in us, through us and, sometimes, despite us.  As Paul writes, ‘. . . for in Christ Jesus [we] are all children of God through faith . . . . There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of [us] one in Christ Jesus.’ (Galatians 3.26, 28)  It is this shared identity which commits us to look beyond national boundaries and tribal identities to seek the common good for all God’s creatures.
            To be a Christian is to belong to a movement that is not afraid to look beyond the boundaries of one’s own culture to discover how to become more fully human, to live more fully in the likeness of God.  When we gather for worship, Sunday after Sunday, we listen to Scriptures originally written in languages other than our own and intended to be read by people other than ourselves.  Yet we find in them wisdom for the present and guidance for the future.  We bring to our own communities experiences and insights from other contexts and discover how they might enrich our own discipleship.  Rarely does a year go by when one of you does not bring something to me, perhaps a resource for worship or stewardship, which finds itself becoming part of the mosaic of our life as a Christian community.

Act locally.
            At the same time Christians are not detached from the communities and cultures in which we live.  We bring our global perspective into the choices we make and the priorities we set as we go about our ministries.  This mean we are always engaging in what I might call ‘translation’.  We are also interpreting to our friends, families and neighbours what the good news of God in Christ looks like in Metro Vancouver 2017.  For us at Saint Faith’s it means that we made a choice more than forty years ago to welcome the full and equal participation of women in the leadership of our congregation, whether lay or ordained.  We chose to participate in the liturgical renewal of the Anglican Church of Canada from the very beginning and we continue to do so in how we worship today.  No doubt we have much translation still to do so that we reach out to those who have no faith and to those whose faith has cooled.

            The hardest part of being a Christian in the world, no matter where or when, is our vocation to challenge our own culture when we fail to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with God.  As we celebrate the sesquicentennial of confederation, we are compelled by our faith to acknowledge that we have yet to become ‘the just society’ that Pierre Elliot Trudeau spoke of more than thirty years ago.  We know all too well our failures to honour and respect the indigenous peoples who have dwelt in this land for millennia.  Although decades ago our federal parliament committed to eliminating child poverty, British Columbians still live in a province with one of the highest rates of child poverty in Canada.  These realities and others are only counsels of despair if we do not remember to give thanks to God ‘whose power working in us can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine’.

True Patriot Love
            It is right and a good and joyful thing that we celebrate one hundred and fifty years of confederation this weekend.  I give thanks almost daily that Paula, David and I crossed the border and that we made the choice in 1996 to become Canadian citizens.  Despite the occasional comments that remind me that I am an immigrant, this is my home and I choose to identify myself as a Canadian over all the other ‘identities’ I possess.  Perhaps some of you have similar stories to tell.

            But the one thing that none of us dare forget is that our primary identity is as members of Christ’s body, disciples who follow the way of Jesus.  This identity leads us to look beyond the boundaries that seem to be popping up all over the world today.  Christians do not build walls; we take them down.  Christians pray for our political authorities; we do not pray to them.  Christians know that true patriot love means working to keep our countries faithful to the vision of God’s peaceable kingdom even if that means challenging the status quo.

            We do this because we are friends, friends of each other, friends of every human being.  So, as God’s friends, let us clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience.  Let us bear with one another and forgive others as we ourselves have been forgiven.  May we clothe ourselves with love, so that our ‘fragile earth, our island home’ may be bind together in perfect harmony.  For we do not stand guard only for Canada, we stand on guard for the world God has created, the world that God is redeeming, the world that God is bringing into being.

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