Sunday, July 1, 2012

Guest Moodler: Sermon for Canada Day

July 1st is Dominion Day, also known as Canada Day. It's a wonderful day to celebrate a wonderful country of beauty, diversity, and freedom... and a day to reflect on our sense of identity...

Once again, my best friend is giving the reflection at her church this morning, and a good one it is! It flows from today's gospel reading, which is Mark 5.21-43. Happy reading, and Happy Canada Day!

Reflection on “Who(se) am I?”
Cathy Coulter
July 1, 2012

          Several years ago there was a TV beer commercial where a man comes out on a stage in a plaid shirt and does a rant about being Canadian. He gets really excited and louder and louder. “A toque is a hat, a chesterfield is a couch and it’s pronounced zed not zee. … My name is Joe and I am Canadian.”  The ad became very popular, I think because it feels good to shout out our pride.
          Well, my name is Cathy and I am Canadian, and I’m proud of it too. Canada is a wonderful place to live. We are so blessed. So lucky. A great way to find this out is to travel and I did that, living in England for two years when I was in my twenties. It’s startling for a young person to realize we’re not the centre of the universe after all but at the same time learn we have so much to be grateful for. Canada is a good place to come home to.
          One thing that makes us Canadian is sharing our stories. Some of the Canadian stories I love include Terry Fox, Tommy Douglas, Banting and Best, Anne of Green Gables, the Last Spike. One of the best parts of my work is hearing the stories of people in this church. They are great Canadian stories, too. The vision and creation of a railroad that ran from sea to sea is brought to life for me when I remember Reg’s story of going to war as a young man and taking the train for five days to Halifax where he caught a ship for England. When he got there, he stayed with some relatives who didn’t believe that there was a railroad on this earth long enough to travel on for five days. They thought Reg was telling a tall tale and he couldn’t convince them otherwise. I’ve read about D-Day and seen the movie “Saving Private Ryan”, barely able to watch the opening scene of the Normandy beach landing, it’s so intense. Then I met Bill S. and heard his story about being there, working as a communications officer on one of the landing craft. He lived that intensity and it’s an incredible story to hear. In another story, a 13 year old Gloria travelled with her family by car across the country, moving from Quebec to Vancouver Island in 1951. On the way, they had some adventures including the three kids coming down with chicken pox. Some years later, Gloria met a Lake Cowichan boy, named Ron who was a boom man on the log booms before they used boats, nimbly walking along the logs with his cork boots and pipe pole. When I heard that I thought about the Kate and Anna McGarrigle song that I love, “The Log Driver’s Waltz”, in which a log driver learns to step lightly making him the favourite of the girls at dances.
          So it’s a good day to celebrate our stories and celebrate our wonderful country. Like that commercial we can be proud to say “I am Canadian.”
          Being Canadian is part of our identity. I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately about identity in the context of our spiritual life. In the first half of life we need to establish our identity, a healthy self-image. When I graduated from nursing, I got a job at a summer camp. When people called me “nurse”, I looked behind me to see who they were talking to. My mother, who was also a nurse, worked on a maternity ward for a couple of years before she got married. And yet when she brought her first born home from the hospital, she cried all the way home because while she may have cared for babies, she’d never been a mother. Eight years later she had four kids calling her Mom and a good one she was.
          We consolidate our personalities along the way too. I’m Type A or Type B. I’m introverted or extroverted. We tell ourselves, I’m good at this, not good at that.  I’m successful. I’m a failure. Churches have an identity too. We’re progressive, we’re Bible based, we’re righteous, we’re sinners, and so on.
          So we develop our identities and that’s good and necessary but then in the second half of life, we are called to go deeper.  Going deeper means to look beneath our self-image and personality to who we truly are. I can ask, “Who am I?”  but I need to ask, “Whose am I?” And the answer is I am a child of God. I have come from God and belong to God.  By the time we reach middle age, our identities are so entrenched that we think that’s what our life is all about. We forget that we are more than Canadian, a nurse, a woman, a member of the United Church… That deeper part of ourselves is our true self, that which is one with God and all creation – that self that is beneath that shell we call our identity.
          If we think our identity is all we are, we tend to take that pretty seriously.  It tends to make us think we are separate. We are this and not that. And human nature doesn’t trust what we are not, nor do we understand it.  We are so invested in our identities that we are easily upset and offended and self-righteous. While on vacation this winter, Jim and I were at a busy tourist site and there were a lot of people moving both directions down the paved path. There was barely enough room to walk three across but group after group came towards us walking two or three abreast so I was constantly stepping out of the way. Because I am a person that follows the rules, I think everyone should follow the rules which were clear to me: everyone should walk single file when passing. I got more and more offended and upset and I stopped stepping aside, squeezing past people which really didn’t make me feel any better.  I could hardly notice my surroundings I was so annoyed. Afterwards, I thought about how silly I was. Everyone was just having a good time (except me). If I’d let go of keeping my identity as the behaviour police, I might have had a better chance at being open to God’s spirit in the beautiful surroundings and in the people surrounding me.
          This is certainly where road rage comes from, and probably most conflicts. Our identity is offended.
          Another problem with taking our identity too seriously is that we think we’re in control. This can also prevent us from being open to God’s spirit to work through us. As a helper, I’m quite familiar with this. I have an idea that it’s up to me to fix everything, help everyone. A situation arises in which there is a need and I put up my hand and call out, “It’s okay, God. I’ve got this one.” I usually end up trying to control others (in their own best interests of course) and it usually doesn’t work too well. Those times I am, by the grace of God, open to the moment are usually amazing moments, and healing moments.
          Our identities keep us bound up. We can’t think outside the box. We’re too busy performing our roles and controlling our environment. We can’t be as open as we might be. Jesus did not live this way. He knew whose he was.  He said, “I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (John 14:11) and “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). Jesus knew that God not only creates life but lives through us. Jesus knew it so well that that core of light spread to the very edges of his clothes so that when the woman with the hemorrhage touched the hem of his garment she was healed.
I’ve always loved this story. I always thought it was about the power of the woman’s faith, but I’m realizing it’s also about how open Jesus was, right to the edges of himself and beyond. Jesus did not have borders. That didn’t make him a pushover. To the contrary. Jesus was connected to his true identity in God and didn’t spend all his energy making sure his worldly identity was looking good.
That’s likely what all the people jostling around Jesus were doing. I can imagine their thoughts… “Woowee, here I am with the celebrity Jesus. If everyone back home could see me now.” Or “I wish that disciple would quit hogging Jesus. It’s my turn.” Only one person was as open as Jesus and that was the woman with the hemorrhage. All the people milling around were in contact with Jesus but only the woman who reached out in faith received his healing power.
          Her self-image was probably at rock bottom. You could say she had nothing to lose or you could say she had nothing in the way. Propping up our ego and clinging to control can get in the way of God’s healing power.  Suffering can open us up. It shows us that our identities are fragile things, that we’re not in control. 
Jairus, also in the reading this morning had that lesson thrust upon him. We know he was a leader, I imagine of fairly high status, but his status could not keep his daughter from getting seriously ill. In the reading we see a man humbling himself, throwing himself at Jesus feet and on his mercy, utterly dependent. And then, to add insult to injury, when time is critical and every second counts, Jesus is interrupted by the woman touching his garment and he takes time out to attend to her. If I were Jairus, I would have been wild with frustration. I would think I could control the situation by getting Jesus to move faster.  Jairus learned that he was utterly dependent on Jesus, on God.
This utter dependence on God is not bad news.  It’s good news. It’s The Good News. We are God’s. God is at the centre of our universe. We can relax. No more keeping up appearances, only gratitude. When we think our external image is all there is, there is a lot of pressure to measure up and keep up the status quo.  This is not to say that having an identity is a bad thing. It’s human and necessary. But keeping a humble and open heart will lead us down the paths of grace.
          Today is a day to celebrate… celebrate this wonderful country we are so blessed to live in, celebrate the stories of this country and our own stories, too. And celebrate, knowing that while we are Canadian, even more than that, we are God’s and created, loved and able to love. Thanks be to God.

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