Online Spoken Word St. Paul’s United Church, Bowmanville Ontario Canada
Becoming the Stories We Tell: A Message of National Identity, Hope and Healing in Honour of Canada Day, 2021.
Scripture Passage: Mark 6: 1 – 13 (TIB)
After leaving there, Jesus came into his own town, followed by the disciples.
When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and the many
listeners were astonished and said, ‘Where did he learn all this? What is this
wisdom that has been granted, and the miracles that are performed by his
hands? Isn’t this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James and Joses,
and Judah and Simon? Are not his sisters here with us?” They found these
things to be stumbling blocks.
Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honour, except in their own
hometowns and among their own relatives and in their own households”.
And he could work no miracles there, apart from laying his hands upon a few
sick people and healing them
Their lack of faith astounded him. He made the rounds of the neighboring
villages instead and spent the time teaching.
Then, Jesus summoned the Twelve, and began to send them out in pairs,
giving them authority over unclean spirits.
He instructed them that they should take nothing for their journey, except a
mere staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts.
They were to wear sandals, but, he added, “do not take a spare tunic.”
And Jesus said to them, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you
Any place that does not receive you or listen to you, as you leave it, shake
off the dust from the soles of your feet as a testimony against them.”
And so they set off, proclaiming repentance as they went.
They cast our many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and
In the passage we just read from Mark’s Gospel, we gain our first glimpse of Jesus fully surrounded by the folks that know him best: his disciples, his neighbours, his friends, and his family.
Jesus is home.
And more so.
Jesus has come home from some significant period of time away from home, so his neighbours, his friends and his family have not seen him for a while. And, like any young man who has left home and returned, Jesus has changed.
He’s different. He speaks differently, he thinks differently,
And apparently, he doesn’t fit in to community the way that he did before. From the text in Mark so far, we know a little about Jesus’ experiences since he was last home for a visit. At some point, he left home to follow John the Baptist who had gathered a group of disciples around himself, and who preached a message about the imminent coming of God, a message that called believers to a renewed faith in the promises of scripture.
Jesus travelled with John,
he studied with John,
he probably ministered along with John,
And Jesus saw John as the prophet foretold in the Book of Isaiah. Perhaps as a kind of ‘graduation’ into his own ministry, Jesus was baptised by John in the Jordan river, and Mark tells us that Jesus experienced a vision as he arose out of the waters of baptism.
Jesus saw the Heavens opened
He heard the voice of God,
And he experienced the Holy Spirit descend and rest on him.
In Mark’s description, it is not clear that anyone else saw, heard, or felt anything unusual. The epiphany was near as we can tell from Mark, was a vision commissioning him into ministry that was experienced by him and him alone. At that moment, Jesus understood that we become the stories we tell.
Back home in Nazareth, though, no one knew anything about this life altering moment in the waters of the Jordan river. But, as a student returning home from his studies and religious training with John, the local religious leaders welcomed the young student into their religious community as every church does in our day, they invited him to preach.
And preach he did.
After travelling with the modern prophet John the Baptist, after learning from the book of Isaiah, and after experiencing a vision of the heavens, Jesus referred to himself as a prophet, and shared his entire vision for ministry, for ethical living, and for the coming Kingdom.
Needless to say, his audience was surprised, insulted, and offended. His first sermon at home was an unmitigated disaster.
“Where did he come up with all this?” his neighbours wondered.
“Who does he think he is?” his old friends responded.
“Isn’t that Mary’s son?” others asked.
The religious elders accused him of being elitist.
The moral leaders accused him of being a ‘radical’.
And, his family thought he was crazy. They tried to hide him away at home, to bury him and his message at home, to put the embarrassment of his claims behind them, and never speak of it again.
Yet, Jesus was undeterred.
He knew who he was.
He knew his calling.
He knew what he had to do: he gave the message to his friends and multiplied the message. His neighbours tried to shame him. His friends tried to silence him. His family tried to hide him. But Jesus gave to others, and the truth could never be silenced again. The truth of his message could never be forgotten. The truth could not be buried.
As Jesus gave the story to the disciples, they became the story. After all, We become the stories we tell.
Each year on this weekend, Americans and Canadians pause to celebrate where they have been, who they are, and where they are going. And you need to know that I am a huge fan of Canada, the Canadian ethos, and the Canadian identity. I studied Canadian history, Canadian literature, and Canadian culture, and I taught Canadian history and Canadian literature for years.
Canada is known internationally as a peaceful nation, as an environmentally rich and clean nation, and as a nation that welcomes others to live peacefully in a diverse and accepting society, and I have travelled the world with my nauseating Canadian Flag T shirt on my chest, and a Canadian flag on my backpack. My family and I moved abroad so that we could work internationally in Canadian schools. And I’m proud of my country, its citizens, and its standing in the world.
Canada is home to a wide diversity of cultures, languages, religions, and traditions, and has accommodated two very different cultures—French Canada and English Canada—with its structures, customs, legal systems, and constitution, and has been a world leader in devising ways for different cultures to live peacefully, avoid conflict, and welcome differences.
In matters of international state, Canada punches above its weight with the leading nations in the world, and Canadian leaders are always ready to call out nations that do not act for good in the world. Sure, we—and leaders around the globe—might roll our eyes at the clumsy attempts that some of our handsome leaders have offered international partners, but even the stern leader Stephen Harper was willing to confront Vladimir Putin for his cruel and illegal incursions into Ukraine. Where international rights are concerned, Canada shows up. Sometimes, in costume. But, there is a new story out there, too, and for Canadians, it’s not a comfortable one.
Recently, Canadians—and the world—have been reminded of a forgotten story, an untold story, a silenced story, resting in the past, resting beneath our feet, literally buried by the Canada that we celebrate every July. And learning about this new story has created more than a measure of cognitive dissonance for those of us who see Canada as a moral, upright, virtuous nation. After all, that’s how we’ve told our story to ourselves, and we’re having a hard time accepting that the heroes of one story can also be the villains of another.
Over the past month, a different story has surfaced that disputes the polite fiction of the stories that Settlers in Canada tell about how this land was settled. The voices of a thousand lost children have been heard, calling out from their graves about the injustice that they have experienced by the wooden application of Settlers who weaponized the Christian faith.
And, I admit, I have benefitted directly and indirectly by the oppression of previous generations. As a Canadian, I know no other home. My ancestors have lived and worked on this land for seven generations. I am proud that my English ancestors fled Boston during the American Revolution to seek a peaceful life in British North America.
But I am not proud to admit this came at an enormous cost to First Nations people and their cultures, and that Loyalists became Settlers on the land taken from Wendake Territory under the Crawford Purchase of 1783. I am proud that my Scottish ancestors who fled the highlands of Scotland when they were forced off the commonly owned pasturelands by gentry that used the Enclosure Acts to appropriate communal property as part of their own private estate.
But I am not proud that those fleeing enclosure in Britain became the enclosures of the common lands of First Nations people here in their new country.
And, I am proud of the tenacity of my Irish ancestors who fought to survive the ravages of starvation, disease, and oppression inflicted by gentry living in England who sought to force the Irish off their homeland by any means necessary.
But I am not proud of the fact that, those beleaguered Irish refugees appropriated the ancestral homelands of the Anishnabe and Petun nations, who were dispossessed of their title to the land under Treaty 18 just as the Irish were forced off their lands a generation before.
In each case, the oppressed of one continent became the oppressors on another by using exactly the same systems of power that elevated England, France, and Spain to the empires that would go on to control the lands, resources and people of all of North and South America.
Friends, these are hard truths. But they are truths just the same. These are the parts of our story as Canadians that we do not want the world to hear, the dark chapters of our story that have been literally buried for generations, never to be spoken of in polite society again. But secret stories resist being buried, and this year, the buried voices have begun to speak their truth, too.
In the last two months, a thousand silenced voices have cried out from beyond the graves of untold numbers of Indigenous children. Nameless, faceless, and forgotten, these voices speak of separation, loss, dispossession, incarceration, re-education, indoctrination, abuse, neglect and murder. The question is, how do we respond to these voices?
Well, for one thing, we need to acknowledge that, here in Canada, these horrific abuses happened, and that they were intentional, organized and structured. Furthermore, we need to accept the truth that the enclosure has not ended. In fact, it’s increasing in scope and disparity.
First nations communities across this country still lack access to clean drinking water. In other news, the Nestle company still bottles natural spring water into unrecyclable disposable plastic bottles and sells free water around the globe for private profit.
First nations communities across this country still lack access to livable housing. Meanwhile, Canada’s hottest real estate boom continues unabated where folks who already own one property can afford to buy others at rock bottom prices in neighbouring provinces, or use the equity in their current home to leverage the purchase of a waterfront cottage.
Furthermore, the appropriation of land and natural resources continues unabated, and quickens its pace under the Covid19 lockdown. It just looks a little different, that’s all. Enclosure has learned to hide in plain sight.
In our day, enclosure has taken the form of real estate acquisitions, the private ownership of natural resource extractions, and the segregation of communities by wealth, by socio-economic status, by ethnic and cultural identity, by age, and by opportunities for education. Particularly, those of us who own property need to consider the disparity that the price of real estate has created a new gentry of perpetual owners and perpetual renters.
If we extrapolate this disparity over time, we can forecast an entire generation of renters who enrich the land holdings of property owners in an ironic replay of the acquisition of gentry estates in Britain two centuries ago.
So, what actions can we take, then?
When the crowds asked Jesus the same question, “what should we do?” Luke the Evangelist records that Jesus responded saying, “whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none, and whoever has food must do likewise”.
In our consumer driven age, the implications are staggering.
Whoever has food for two meals should share with those who have none.
Whoever has two coats should share with those who have none.
Whoever has healthcare should share with those who have none.
Whoever has two houses, or two cottages, or a house and a cottage…
Whoa, wait a minute, maybe that’s going too far.
Maybe that’s not what Jesus was saying at all.
Still, Jesus seems to have a point that speaks directly to our society’s first love: materialism, and the use of nature as a commodity to provide things that we desire.
On this Canada Day, it is our time to choose. We live at a moment of great diversity in the history of our species. Some have too much. Many don’t have enough, but most of the world’s population have none at all. Maybe their voices won’t agree to be silenced forever, either.
Jesus preached the same message to his hometown, and the townsfolk silenced him. Mark tells us that Jesus “could work no miracles there”. Think of that for a moment, and let it rattle your theology. Jesus, the Son of God Almighty, could not work any miracles in his own hometown. The son of God who had seen the heavens open and the Spirit descend like a dove could work no miracles there. But his disciples could.
So, Jesus’ next miracle was to send the disciples out in his name, and he has been sending his disciples out ever since. The Son of God has sent you out. The Son of God has sent me out. Jesus sent out his disciples with the same message that his own home town rejected:
That God loves us so much that God becomes like you and me, to the point
where God’s words are in our mouths, that God’s love is in our hearts, that
the work of our hands becomes the miraculous works of God’s hands,
And, just as God’s mission has become our mission. I wonder: what if, this
Canada Day, we took the message of Jesus at its word. Let’s celebrate the
arrival of the Kingdom on Earth, in hope faith, and love. Then, let’s follow
Jesus’ command to slip on our sandals, take our one coat, and share the
love and joy of the spirit with others who need to hear that God loves them,
just as they are. Because, after all, we become the stories we tell. Amen.