A Sermon for Canada Day
Grace and St. George’s, 1 July, 2007
Some of you may be fans of the TV show "Little Mosque on the Prairie". If you don’t know it, the show is set in a small prairie town where a group of Islamic Canadians start a mosque in the basement of the local Anglican Church. The show is a comedy, but it says some important things about how our country has changed. By showing us how the two the two groups, the Islamic immigrants and the town’s Anglo-Canadian residents, overcome their prejudices to live together, the show challenges our perceptions and stereotypes. The premise of a mosque renting the basement of a church also asks us to think about how different religions relate to one another in our multicultural and multi-faith country.
Today the Lord’s Day and Canada Day coincide, and I hope you’ll find it appropriate, therefore, if I use this homily to offer some reflections on the day. As we rightly take time in our worship today to thank God for this country of Canada, it’s also good for us to ask ourselves some questions. How we might be called to think of ourselves as Canadians AND as Christians? Are the two one and the same, or are there times when our faith, our love of God, might take precedence over our nationality, our love of country? Do we live in a Christian nation, and is it right to want Canada to be a Christian nation?
Whatever we might say in answer to these questions, I think we can start by saying that we are blessed to live here. Yes, the taxes are high, our governments never seem to do enough for us, and not everything works as well as it should. However, when we consider what we do have, our complaints seem to dwindle in size to mere grumbles. We are blessed with a richness of resources. We are blessed to live in peace with our neighbour. Our standard of living is high. We have more schooling, more health care, safer cities, longer life expectancies and more opportunities than billions of people enjoy around the globe.
In my work with the Army Reserve I sometimes talk to soldiers returning from unpleasant places, and they always say how grateful they are to be home. One soldier, newly home from Sierra Leone in Africa, spoke for them all when he said to me, "My tour was a real eye opener for what we take for granted here in Canada". Of course, being Canadian, he didn’t tell me this in a bragging way, but in the quiet, matter of fact way that most Canadians use when we speak about our country. At sporting events we don’t sing the national anthem loudly (sometimes not at all) but I am sure that everyone in a crowd, whether they sing O Canada or not, would agree that Canada as a country is blessed.
Was it just luck that we happened to be born in this place at this time in history or was there some purpose to it? If God has truly blessed us, as I think he has, what does he expect of us in return? How does God want us to use these blessings? Does God want Canada to be a Christian country?
When you got your bulletin this morning, you also got a Canada Day bookmark which is a very kind gift from our Member of Parliament, the Rt. Hon. Bev Shipley. I notice on the bookmark that Mr. Shipley talks about the "Scriptural Foundation on which our country was founded". I’m not sure I understand exactly what he means by "scriptural foundation", but I think he means that Canada was once a Christian country, and our laws were based on Jewish and Christian values, such as the Ten Commandments. Even if we can’t precisely define the scriptural foundations of Canada, people seem to have a sense that our Canada is losing its identity as a Christian country, whether it be the withdrawal of prayer from public schools or recent changes to our marriage laws. The question is, how should Christians react to these changes?
One response is to try and lobby our politicians to stop or reverse these changes. For example, I occasionally get calls from Christian groups that want my help to protect the traditional legal definition of marriage between a man and a woman. As they see it, the government was wrong to allow same-sex marriage and it is the right of churches in a democracy to argue for a return to Christian values.
When I get these calls, however, something holds me back from saying yes, sign me up for your lobby campaign, and my reluctance has nothing to do with my views on marriage. What holds me back is the Moslems in the basement. Let’s pretend that we had a mosque in the basement of our church (and while we’re at it, let’s pretend that we have a basement). If I want laws that are friendly to Christians, don’t the Moslems in the basement have a right to ask for laws that are friendly to their faith? Whose children get to pray in school? What about other religions, or atheists? Where are their rights in all of this?
If we look back in history, we find that in the first three centuries of the church, Christians had no interest in passing laws that were Christian-friendly. For much of its history the official religion of the Roman Empire was not Christian, and often the Empire was hostile to Christians. Instead of lobbying for pro-Christian laws, Christians had the much more difficult job of being faithful to Christ in their families, in their workplaces, and in their churches. They wanted their friends and neighbours to become Christian, but they did it by persuasion and by making their lives wholesome and positive examples of God’s goodness. They lived by Jesus’ command to his disciples to be "salt and light": "In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:13-16).
It’s harder to be good Christians when it’s all up to us, without any help from laws or governments. The same is true of the disciples in today’s gospel. After a village has ignored Jesus, the disciples want Jesus to "command fire to come down from heaven and consume them" (Luke 9:54), but they are disappointed. Luke tersely says that Jesus "rebuked them". We don’t know what exactly Jesus said to them, but my guess is he might have gone like this. "My message is one of love", Jesus might have told them. "If I enforce that message with fire from heaven, how can it still be a message of love?" Instead of enforcing the kingdom of God with force, Jesus trusts in the power or words of love. "Go and proclaim the kingdom of God", Jesus tells the disciples. Jesus asks the same of us.
One of the blessings of Canada is precisely our virtue of tolerance. Tolerance is the glue that holds our country together, that allows us to work and live with Canadians of other faiths, or of no faiths. We can’t call down fire on one another when we disagree – that way led to Rwanda and Bosnia. We always need to work and strive and pray for a country where the immigrants are welcomed and encouraged to bring the best of who they are, understanding that their new identities as Canadians include the responsibility of tolerance. Hatred and prejudice is not welcome in their luggage, and it should be shunned by we who welcome them.
As Christians in Canada, our culture of tolerance to all races and religions poses problems that the first Christian settlers and founders could not have envisioned. It seems clear to me that we can’t call ourselves a Christian country any more. Your grandchildren will go to school and work with the sons and daughters from around the world. Our challenge, in our families, in our churches, and in our Sunday Schools, is to teach our children to be Christians and Canadians. They will need to learn the Bible, learn to pray, and learn to live as Christians so that they in their turn can go and proclaim the kingdom of God with love and gentleness, but with a firm conviction in the faith of their baptism.
By loving God and loving one another, sharing the good things that God has given to our country, we can all live in gratitude for our blessings. We are truly blessed to live in Canada – may we always want to share those blessings, so that our country is salt and light to the world. Amen.
©Michael Peterson+ 2007