Yr B ~ Pentecost 4 (Indigenous Sunday) ~ 2 Corinthians 8:7-15 (MSG)
It’s good for us to remember that these letters from Paul that we have in the bible were written because something had gone amiss and Paul needed to send a word of correction to a community of faith. That’s why his letters so often have an edge to them. He tends to come down pretty hard on the people, and you don’t have to read too deeply between the lines to sense his exasperation. And then we get passages like the one we’re looking at today, where Paul is gushing with praise, and gently urging the church to keep on doing the great stuff they’re doing.
Faith United is a very vibrant and healthy church. If Paul were around today, he wouldn’t need to be sending very many letters scolding us. But he might very well send the words we’ve heard today.
2 Corinthians 8:7 – You do so well in so many things—you trust [love] God, you’re articulate, you’re insightful, you’re passionate, you love us—now, do your best in this, too.
I think that sounds exactly like us! We really do so well in so many things – in so many ministries. We love God, we’re articulate, and insightful, and passionate. We’re caring, and compassionate, and generous. Last week was Celebration Sunday and we rightfully shone a light on some of the wonderful, faithful things we do and the wonderful, faithful people who do them.
But nobody’s perfect, and no church is either. After lauding them with praise Paul says, “Now do your best in this, too.” What is the “this” that he’s talking about? Well, in that specific case he’s talking about money. He’s talking about getting these wealthy Corinthian Christians to continue to support another of Paul’s churches that is financially poor. That would not be his message to us. So what would?
What ministry or issue might we collectively need to do better at? Remember, he’s not scolding the Corinthians here – he’s just nudging them to remember their professed values and put their money where their mouths are. And neither am I trying to scold you or point out some fault. But I will lift up an issue that I think we can collectively do better at. Today that issue is Indigenous justice. Let’s use that lens to look at Paul’s message.
2 Corinthians 8:10-12 – So here’s what I think: The best thing you can do right now is to finish what you started (previously) and not let those good intentions grow stale. Your heart’s been in the right place all along. You’ve got what it takes to finish it up, so go to it. Once the commitment is clear, you do what you can, not what you can’t. The heart regulates the hands.
It’s easy to be thinking about Indigenous issues these days. Sadly, that’s because the news has been full of terrible injustices inflicted upon Indigenous persons, especially children. We are understandably horrified by the finding of the mass grave of 215 Indigenous children who were forced to attend the Kamloops Residential School. More such graves are being found at other schools. The news will not be getting any better any time soon. Knowing that our denomination, our church, had a direct hand in running some of those schools makes our stomachs churn. Yes, such things were the way of the world in former times, and yes we’ve grown and learned and would not do those things today – but the legacy remains and the damage is still felt acutely in Indigenous people and communities.
I know with every fibre of my being that we want to do something to make this better. But we can’t ‘fix’ it. Paul says, “The best thing you can do right now is to (continue) what you started (previously) and not let those good intentions grow stale. Your heart’s been in the right place all along.”
What can we do? To begin, we can face the realities instead of turning away. And we can continue to learn, to listen, and to commit to doing better. As a denomination we are already walking that path. Our Church has acknowledged the hurt, offered a sincere apology, and is striving to walk a new path – a path of healing. I once heard an Indigenous elder speaking about how the hurt and the injustices built up over time. They said that it took a long time to walk into the forest and it would take a long time to walk back out, but that it was good that we are walking together.
I want to talk about language for a few minutes. Usually this work of Indigenous justice is called reconciliation. Lately I’ve been hearing some discomfort with this language from some Indigenous folk.
The word ‘reconciliation’ literally means ‘to bring together again’ – to re-establish a close relationship. Did we ever have one? Can we bring together ‘again’ something that was never equal or even positive before? Another expression often used is ‘right relations’. It’s ok, but it can be heard to be suggesting that there was perhaps a shared wrong. The language that is emerging refers to ‘respectful relationships’. Respectful relationships. This is much better because it approaches the situation with a sense of mutuality, equality, and honouring the other. Language matters!
2 Corinthians 8 – Your heart’s been in the right place all along. You’ve got what it takes to finish it up, so go to it. Once the commitment is clear, you do what you can, not what you can’t. The heart regulates the hands.
You do what you can, not what you can’t. We need to find ways to get beyond the hand-wringing and the tut-tutting – to do more than just shake our heads and fists at injustice. We need to figure out how to make a difference when it seems like the thing you’re up against is so big that nothing you could ever do could matter.
What can you do? You can build respectful relationships. That may seem a bit harder if you aren’t acquainted with any Indigenous persons. Truth is you probably are; you just may not realize it. It wasn’t until I started doing national church work that I really had the opportunity to personally build respectful relationships with Indigenous folks – and learn.
But respectful relationships aren’t just about person to person – they’re also about people to people. We can work on respecting First Nations, Metis, and Inuit peoples by attentively listening to their experiences and learning from them;
by advocating for justice, and clean water, and health care;
by supporting ministries like the Healing Fund which offers support to residential school survivors;
by standing up to opinions and actions that disrespect Indigenous people;
and by being informed about things like the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP),
and in our denomination the ‘Calls to the Church’ and the National Indigenous Council.
Together, we here at Faith United are doing our part for building respectful relationships by doing an acknowledgement of traditional lands at the beginning of worship each week and the start of our Council meetings. And we do simple but important things like recognizing the 4 colours of an Indigenous medicine wheel that are on our United Church crest, and learning how to pronounce the Mohawk words on it. The phrase is: Akwe Nia’Tetewa:neren [aw gway – nyah day day waw – nay renh] – which means ‘all my relations’.
2 Corinthians 8:10 The best thing you can do right now is to (continue) what you started…and not let those good intentions grow stale.
Good intentions. Apparently, the road to hell is paved with them. Good intentions get a bad reputation because people tend not to follow through on them. That’s too bad because ‘intention’ is a fantastic spiritual word. Intentionality in prayer means to commit to doing it. To be intentional is to act with purpose and planning. I like to talk about the key to spirituality being all about intention and attention.
Or how about this? The etymology of the word intention means ‘to stretch toward’. I love that imagery. Stretching us out of our comfort zone – to stretch toward – to reach out – trying to grasp something worth striving for. As Paul says, the heart regulates the hands. We are indeed filled with good intentions. As people of faith we strive to stretch toward love and respect for all – for the ‘other’.
And it’s more than just good intentions because, like we talked about last week, we hold one another accountable to our intentions – and we are held accountable in our relationship with God. In my pre-sermon prayer every week I use the phrase “may we be challenged and convicted.” I don’t necessarily mean to be convicted by what I might say – I mean to be convicted by the Holy Spirit that fires our passions and moves us into loving action, and into respectful relationships.
And Paul’s stirring words echo through the centuries and challenge and convict us today:
You do so well in so many things—you trust God, you’re articulate, you’re insightful, you’re passionate, you love, love, love—now, do your best in this, too.
I’m not trying to order you around against your will…I am hoping to bring the best out of you.
So here’s what I think: The best thing you can do right now is to continue what you started and not let those good intentions grow stale. Your heart’s been in the right place all along. You’ve got what it takes to keep it up, so go to it. Once the commitment is clear, you do what you can, not what you can’t. The heart regulates the hands.
Friends, let’s make sure we go beyond our good intentions, and walk the path of respectful relationship with our Indigenous kindred in Christ.
Akwe Nia’Tetewa:neren [aw gway – nyah day day waw – nay renh].
All my relations.