I’d like to speak today about the words that come at the start of each service: a land acknowledgment, specific affirmations and welcome, prefaced by words from our baptism service. Here it is:
In our baptismal covenant we affirm that we will strive for justice and peace among all people, respect the dignity of every human being, and respect, sustain and renew the life of the earth. Therefore: -
We give thanks to our Creator for the earth we share with all creatures, and we acknowledge that here we are on the traditional lands of the Mississaugas of the Anishinaabe, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and the Wendat.
- We also recognize the enduring presence of all First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples, and we seek to live respectfully with them and with the earth.
- We believe that Black lives matter, we know that love is love, and we welcome everybody who desires to join us in worship. You are a beloved creation of God, and you are most welcome here.
Why do we do this? What are these words actually signifying?
These could certainly be empty words – they could be just a token gesture, perceived to be correct but not really connected to anything real in our individual lives or in our life as a faith community. But the fact is, they’ve taken on deeper and deeper meaning – at least for me – over the past year, and I see them as an important expression of what matters to us, what we’re working on, what we need to raise up.
At every baptism the person to be baptized, and/or the parents and godparents, make these commitments that we repeat here to strive for justice and peace, respect the dignity of every human being, and respect, sustain and renew the life of the earth. These are huge commitments. And they speak to vital issues in our world today, from the climate crisis to the scourge of racism to the horrors of poverty and injustice. The pandemic has laid them bare even more starkly this past year.
So right at the start of our worship time we state that our faith calls us to action: it calls us to strive for a world where all humans are treated with respect, with dignity, with justice, with peace. That means no one is expendable, no one is less human, no one deserves a life of poverty or discrimination or violence. And we seek to extend that same healing respect to the earth that we’ve violated so badly, treating it as merely an inanimate resource to be used and then trashed.
Justice, peace, dignity, life – for all of us, for the earth and all its creatures. That’s how we begin as we echo our baptismal covenant. That’s our goal and our work. That’s our calling as we put into action the gospel, the good news, which we’ve received.
Then come some specifics, articulating issues that are relevant to this time and this place. The land acknowledgment first: here we are on the traditional lands of the Mississaugas of the Anishinaabe, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and the Wendat. Why is that relevant? Precisely because it has been ignored and forgotten for so long. Colonization was a steady process of erasing the peoples whose homes had been here from time immemorial. Treaties were made and broken. Land was taken and spoiled. Cultures were destroyed and peoples traumatized.
But their presence endures, and we must recognize the ancient peoples of this land, name them, know them, see them, and seek a new relationship based on truth, reconciliation and real justice. Again, our baptism calls us to do this work – that’s what it looks like to be Christians at this time in this place. So we name it and raise it up in each other’s presence week by week. It could be empty words, but we’re choosing to put the words into action, piece by piece, step by step. Here at St Aidan’s a group of about 20 of us has been meeting this spring to learn more about how we can be allies with indigenous peoples, how we can change our attitudes and behavours, and do our part to heal what has been a toxic relationship all too often.
One of the very real ways we can do this nationally is by pushing the government of Canada at last to implement in a meaningful way the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Implementing it was one of the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which the Anglican Church of Canada has committed itself to following. This UN Declaration is the most comprehensive international human rights instrument to address Indigenous Peoples' economic, social, cultural, political, civil, spiritual and environmental rights. It sets out minimum standards necessary for the “dignity, survival and well-being” of Indigenous Peoples.
The UN General Assembly overwhelmingly adopted the Declaration on 13 September 2007. In Canada many words have been spoken and promises made, but we need action, we need commitment, and we settlers need to stand up and make sure it finally happens. Again, words need to become incarnated in action.
After the land acknowledgment we make two statements that are of particular relevance here and now in the face of racism and homophobia: we say that Black lives matter, and that love is love. Having stated that we seek dignity and justice for all, we are here specifically affirming Black lives and saying they matter. Why? Because they have been treated for so long as though they don’t matter, and subjected to violence of all kinds. And by saying love is love we are affirming different ways of loving because LGBTQ2S folks have also been condemned and discriminated against.
We are a very largely white community, so it’s important that we affirm Black lives – again, not just with words but with deeds, examining our own biases, making our church a safe and inclusive space. That’s why we voted unanimously in our Annual Vestry Meeting in February to critically assess ourselves as a church, deepen our learning about racism, and support anti-racism advocacy and action. A few years ago we also became an affirming congregation: a church where same-sex couples are welcome to be married. Small steps towards greater justice and dignity for all.
In today’s gospel reading Jesus repeatedly calls his disciples to abide in his love, and to bear fruit. Christ is the vine and we are the branches – and the purpose of a branch is to bear fruit, otherwise it’s pruned away and used for firewood. We’re supposed to enact our faith and join with God in the great sacred project of creating the realm of heaven right here on earth. That means using our power and privilege in good ways, educating ourselves, speaking out, doing the hard work of justice-making when it would be easier to do nothing and carry on as before because that suits us.
In the epistle we’re reminded that to be born of God is to obey God’s commandments. And Jesus summed those all up as love of God and love of neighbour. Or, as the prophet Micah put it, what God requires of us is that we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly. It’s as simple and demanding as that.
I don’t remember a time when St Aidan’s has been more active in engaging with this high calling and commandment. We’re working on our responsibilities in the journey towards reconciliation with indigenous peoples; we’re working on anti-racism and inclusion; we’re working on eco-justice, food security, the housing crisis… The list goes on.
I believe that the Spirit of God is here among us in a fresh and powerful way. We’re stuck under stay-at-home orders, but paradoxically we’ve never been more active as a faith community in this work of justice. We won’t always get it right. We won’t always be in perfect agreement with each other about what to do or how to do it. We certainly won’t see all these efforts brought to completion. But we’re on a good path together, learning, partnering with other groups, expanding our thinking, stretching what we’re capable of.
So let’s keep on holding up this vision to one another by hearing these opening words Sunday by Sunday. Let’s be encouraging and kind and patient with one another. Let’s stay humble and be rooted in prayer. And let’s keep going. Amen.