Can You Be Neighbourly While Celebrating?

What follows is a brief sermon I did on Sunday at theStory after Canada Day.  It was meant to provoke dialogue and ask ourselves how we can be better neighbours to Indigenous neighbours.

For thousands of years, First Nations people have
walked on this land; their relationship with the land is at
the centre of their lives and spirituality. We are gathered
on the traditional territory of the Anishinabek peoples
and acknowledge their stewardship of this
land throughout the ages. May we live with respect on this land,
and live in peace and friendship with its people.

One of our primary callings as Christians is to be a good neighbour. This could be the people that live next to us, our family, or someone across the world. When Jesus was asked the question “who is my neighbour” he responded with the story of the good samaritan.

“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

For Jesus, being a neighbour means not walking by or ignoring needs. We work this into our prayers every Sunday as well. Forgiveness for that which we have left undone. Jesus also in this story highlights two people that do not act like neighbours. There is lots of opinions as to what was the motive behind their non-neighbourliness. Maybe the beat up man was bleeding and that would be impure violating the priests purity laws. Maybe the journey from Jerusalem to Jericho was significant because the Levite was on his way to a festival and didn’t want to get held up. The point is though, that whatever the motive for passing by the needs, it was unneighbourly to do so.

As Christians, we seek to be in constant growth and taking steps towards being better neighbours. This isn’t a task that we check off, but a lifestyle and a progression towards aligning ourselves with the good news of Christ. Our sunday services, our raising of children, our prayers, our building, our reading, our listening – it’s all towards our efforts to living out more full and true lives. So this means, we aren’t just aiming to be the people that help those beaten on the side of the road. But we are actively looking for people beaten on the side of the road, and we are actively resisting the systems that allow for such beatings to occur.

I’ve been thinking a lot about neighbourliness lately and what it means for us as Christians, and for us as a Christian community to be good neighbours. I’ve been thinking about this primarily because we have a lot of neighbours that have been telling us how much pain and suffering they have been caused. In many ways, indigenous communities are the man who was attacked and robbed and left for dead in the parable. Whether it be the diseases, the murders, the residential schools, the stealing of land, the back peddling on treaties, the absence of concern to the environment – the ways that these communities have suffered has been disastrous.

So I am left with the question. What does it mean to be a good neighbour to these communities?

This becomes more complicated with Canada 150. Yesterday was a massive celebration of parades and fireworks and parties. I’ve gone to these parades and fireworks my entire life. And only recently have I been given a different perspective of what these kinds of celebrations mean for our neighbours. Here is some quotes.

“I find it really insulting that there are 10,000 or 20,000 years of history in this continent yet Canadians are going to celebrate their 150 completely erasing and ignoring the thousands of years of Indigenous experience.” – Christi Belcourt

“I see Canada 150 as a cause for our celebration, but we’re not celebrating the same things as Canada. We’re celebrating still being on this land despite attempts to remove us, despite women going missing, we’re still here.” – Erica Violet Lee

“For Canada 150, if you’re celebrating the beginning of this country’s 150 years, if that’s what’s in your heart, if that’s what you understand, you’re celebrating colonization,” – Real Carriere

All this to say. It gives me pause. If my neighbours are saying this about what I’m doing. Should it at least not make me question it? All throughout the scriptures God criticizes his people for not caring about those in their midst. The prophets really make God’s point clear.

“I can’t stand your religious meetings.
I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions.
I want nothing to do with your religion projects,
your pretentious slogans and goals.
I’m sick of your fund-raising schemes,
your public relations and image making.
I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music.
When was the last time you sang to me?
Do you know what I want?
I want justice—oceans of it.
I want fairness—rivers of it.
That’s what I want. That’s all I want.
Amos 5:21-24

I don’t ask these questions in order to bring guilt about the time we spend together with our families and friends and the good times we have. But I do ask them in order that we can be reflective about all we do, and continue to work towards a world where our neighbours are no longer suffering.

Q: Is it being neighbourly to celebrate in the face of what other people mourn? What would be appropriate? Can we celebrate while mourning?

These conversations can be difficult because we aren’t talking about something that we’ve ever intentionally done nor would we intentionally contribute too.  So it really takes being disciplined in a different kind of thinking and reflecting not just on our hearts but also the systems and principalities and powers (that Josh talked about last week) and what they are exactly and the role they have in the world.  Even if you are of the mindset that it’s not your fault, it is still within your calling to work towards healing.  The entire approach of Jesus in the parable is that the neighbour was not even responsible for the suffering, but he took it as his responsibility to tend to him anyway.

This is the work required of us as Christians in order to better understand how we can be neighbours in the world. To enter into the suffering with one another. To bind up wounds, to pay for them to be cared for, to reach out to those who are hurting.

Let’s end with this prayer from St Francis Assisi

Lord, let us be instruments of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let us sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy;

O Divine Master, grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

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