A Celebration of Diversity

Diversity

Sermon – May 25th 2014

 

6th of Easter (Year A)

 

Celebration of Diversity

 

By Roland Legge

 

Isaiah 11:1-9

 

 

 

I love the imagery in Isaiah 11:1-9 of lion and lamb co-habiting together.  For me this image is important for us today because it reminds me how God has desired diversity from the beginning of time.  In Genesis we are reminded that all of God’s creations was GOOD!  If God had not desired diversity, our world would not be so complex, fascinating, awe inspiring and incredible.

 

 

 

The Spirit yearns for each of us to bring forth all of whom God desires us to be. In order to do this faithfully we need to know our own identity and name the lenses of interpretation through which we experience the world.  Each of us views the world through many lenses.  What are they for you?

 

 

 

Eric Law, one of the speakers at Behold helped each of us at the event to begin to name the lenses through which we experience the world and how others might see us.  Here are some of the lenses:

 

vage

 

vgender

 

vphysical ability

 

vskin color

 

vracial   background

 

vsexual orientation

 

vmarried

 

vsingle

 

vdivorced

 

vwidowed

 

vgeographic location

 

vmigration history

 

veducation and where

 

vreligion

 

vprofession

 

veconomic status

 

vlanguage

 

vbirth order

 

vand much more……

 

 

 

Each of us is made up of many cultural components. Which lenses do you see the world through?  How do you think others view you?

 

 

 

When we meet another person we all have our first impressions based on some of the lenses I mentioned.  The trouble is that many of our first impressions are incorrect.  We all have our stereo-types:

 

vaboriginal people are lazy

 

vteenagers cannot be trusted

 

vblond women are dumb

 

vAsians are good at math

 

vGay men are sissies

 

If we really get to know others we know these stereo-types are not true. How have you been hurt by stereo-types?

 

 

 

Jesus showed us how to break through our stereo-types to see each person as an awesome creation of God.  Jesus was not afraid to relate to all sorts of people; Pharisees, Samaritans, women, children, tax collectors, prostitutes, the very poor, and the sick.  There was no one that Jesus wasn’t willing to connect with.

 

 

 

I believe that Jesus would encourage and challenge us to have congregations that reflected the diversity of our communities.  Then why is this so difficult?

 

 

 

It is difficult because it requires a change in our hearts.  It is hard because it calls upon us to be open to the Spirit. An openness that will likely call upon us to change the ways we be church.  Here is what Eric Law suggests are the leadership skills, whether lay or clergy, that is needs to be lived out in order to diversify our congregations. They are:

 

 

 

vSelf-awareness of cultural values, privilege and power.

 

vTo see differences as an opportunity for learning

 

vTo have a commitment to Pluralism, that calls upon us to be open to seeing truths in other religions and cultures.

 

vTo be intentional about diversifying our faith communities.

 

 

 

As your spiritual I invite you to join me in this time of

 

transformation, but I cannot do this alone.  Each of us needs to take ownership of becoming an inter-cultural church if it is going to happen.

 

 

 

I have been so enriched by inter-cultural experiences.  They have not always been easy.  I remember attending a Baptist church in Brooklyn New York.  I and three others were the only white people in the whole church.  We were probably most under-dressed folks in the congregation.  While we stuck out like a sore thumb, we were so welcomed.  At the end of the service it didn’t seem to matter that were a minority in a large congregation.  I can’t remember the details of the service, but I can still feel the welcome and hospitality of the folks at Concord Baptist Church.  I think knowing who they are as an African American Baptist congregation, helped them to be open and welcoming to others.

 

 

 

In 1980 I attended the Canadian Yearly Meeting of Canadian Quakers in Nelson B.C.  I found myself in a workshop on Gay and Lesbian issues.  To my surprise I was the only “straight” person in the whole room.  Again I felt welcomed.  They could welcome me because they knew who they were.

 

 

 

In a previous community I was blessed to get to know an aboriginal family through a Christian Mission that arranges for parents in prison to be able to give Christmas presents to their children. I was welcomed into a very different world from mine, hearing stories of how our criminal justice system unfairly treats many aboriginal people.  I heard a powerful story of how this mother overcame addictions and violence to now work in healing lodge near Prince Albert Saskatchewan.   This family could speak to me because they felt proud of being Cree.

 

 

 

All of these experiences changed the way I saw the world.  They were uncomfortable at times.  But even more so they were liberating in widening my understanding and respect for those people and communities I was not familiar with.  These experiences and others often helped me to name my prejudices and see even more the wonder of the Creators handy work.  All of these experiences have helped me to feel good about whom I am as a white Canadian of English, Scottish and Irish ancestry.

 

 

 

Our higher power sees us at Foam Lake United Church as wonderfully diverse.  We may be mainly Western and Eastern European but if we go far back our ancestors came from many places and now from the Philippines.   How much do we know about our own ancestry?  How much do others know about us?

 

 

 

People are hungry for faith communities that seek to embrace diversity.  Places where each of us are encouraged and challenged to live as followers of Jesus.  May we at Foam Lake United continue to live into this vision so that we may find the abundant life that Jesus promised us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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We Can Make a Difference

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Sermon – May 18th 2014

By Roland Legge

Easter Five (Year A)

Psalm 31

John 14:1-14

 

Jesus sure has high expectations of us!  What would you have said to Jesus when he told his disciples that God was going to do even greater things through them than what he had done?  If I had been there I would have said to Jesus he doesn’t know what he is talking about.  How could he expect us to outdo him?  But Jesus won’t hear of our excuses.  He won’t hear of our excuses because it is God who is going to work through us. This endeavour does not rely on our imperfect humanness but on our willingness to allow God to work through us. 

 

A few years ago I attended the United Church’s national inter-cultural ministry conference in Vancouver.   Inter-cultural ministry is all about allowing God to work through us in helping to build loving, just, and respectful relationships between the great diversity of cultures in our world.  In our own context the majority of people fit into four main cultures.  They are Anglophone (Anglo-Saxon), Ukrainian, Icelandic, Aboriginal and Metis.  How can we be a blessing to each other?

 

How do we learn to get along better with each other?  This is one of the great tasks that God has given us.  We must each struggle to know how God desires for us to live with justice and harmony with all people in our communities.  Our congregation must discern how we can welcome all people in our community, no matter who they are and where they came from.  This call to mutuality in community is what John, the author of this Gospel, was reminding his followers that it was Jesus who called us all to this ministry in the first place.

 

Today I am going to share some of my experiences from a workshop called “Building Bridges – Understanding the Village”, that I took at the gathering.   The workshop helped me to better understand how my aboriginal brothers and sisters have been affected by the European settlement of North America.  It also helped me to know how I can best be part of healing the divisions not only between aboriginal and white people, but between all people in the world.

 

Our facilitators Cathy and Alberta led us through a process of education through storytelling and role playing.  First they emphasized this is not about shaming white people.  But it is about learning to “row” together as aboriginal and white people.  In order for this to happen we must first get to know each other through hearing our stories.

 

Cathy and Alberta shared some of the story of their own people.  They were representing the many nations of aboriginal people on the coast of British Columbia.  They reminded us they have been in relationship with the land for a long time.  Archaeologists believe that there have been settlements of people around Burrard inlet for 10,000 years. 

 

They talked of the importance of knowing who you are.  Before European contact, each people knew who they were through the food they ate, their homes, and their clothes, system of governance and language and dialect.  Each of these different aspects of their culture helped each tribe to know who they were in relation to the many other nations on the west coast of B.C.  They were proud peoples who were not ashamed of being who they were. 

 

We were reminded that we all have come from our own indigenous lands.  For me that is Scotland and Ireland.  My heart lights up whenever I hear Celtic music.  If we go back far back each of us comes from rural communities that had many of the same attributes a first nation’s village had before the Europeans came.  Where is your indigenous land?

 

Cathy and Alberta invited us to role play living in a west coast first nation’s village pre European colonization.  I invite you to join me in this role play in which each of us were invited to take on the roles of people who made their community function including children, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, elders and hunter protectors.

 

I volunteered to be one of the children.  I felt secure in the circle with all my community keeping me safe so I could explore and play as much as I wanted.    I felt the warmth of my parents, grandparents, elders, aunts, uncles and the hunter protectors.  I felt like I was living in a womb of love.  I was so happy because I had everything I needed.  But then the Europeans came and forcefully removed me with my brothers, sisters, cousins and friends out of the community.  I was forcefully led from the circle outside the room to attend a residential school far from where I had grown up.  I felt sad, frightened, and angry.   I missed my family and all that I was used to in my community.  It seemed like I could no longer do anything that was right because I was told that I was a heathen.  I wasn’t allowed to speak my own language.  I wasn’t allowed to play the games I had grown up with.  I was forced to eat strange food. I became very depressed because I felt like a stranger in a foreign land where I was not welcome.  I no longer had the comfort of the familiar sights and smells of my own community.  It sometimes felt that life was no longer worth living.

 

Then my people began the long healing process.  It wasn’t easy.  One day, members of my tribe tried to bring me back to the community.  I was hesitant about returning because I was unsure of what would happen when I returned.  But with perseverance my people brought me back into the circle.  It felt good in the end, but the journey toward healing is going to take a long time because of how we had been treated as less than human.  For the first time I felt some hope.  The role play came to an end and all shared how it felt to be in our different roles.

 

Why do we need to hear the story?  We need to hear the story so we can better understand our aboriginal brothers and sisters.  We need to do this so we can work hand in hand with our aboriginal brothers and sisters to heal the world.  I believe this is the only way to begin to break down the walls between us.

 

Instead of getting stuck in shame we need to move ahead to heal the world with all people no matter how different they may seem to us.   Cathy and Alberta said if we all can abide by these four laws found in many aboriginal cultures there is a way out of our mess.  The four laws are these:

  1. LOVE
  2. RESPECT
  3. KINDNESS
  4. GENEROSITY

 

Imagine if we all keep these laws as the lenses we view the world, our world will become a more a gentle, loving and just place to be.

 

Each of us will continue to make a difference. We will do this by finding belonging in our different communities.  We will find this by being our own persons.  We will do this by mastering our gifts which we can share with the world.  Lastly, but not least, we can make a difference in generously sharing all of who we are with all the people of the world.

 

We not only must do this individually but as a faith community.  Hence, I hope we at Foam Lake United Church will continue to create opportunities for each of us to get to know each other through hearing each of our ordinary amazing stories.  I hope we will continue to do this through generously sharing our gifts with our family, church, community and world.  I hope we will do this by us seeking out the stories of folks from different cultures such as our Ukrainian, Icelandic, Aboriginal and Metis brother and sisters.

 

I came back from Behold full of new energy, joy and hope. I pray that you too can experience the joy that comes from breaking down the walls of racism and prejudice; the walls that hold us back from bringing forth the New Jerusalem that Christ promised is both here and yet to come.