Yesterday, before I headed out to Langley, to celebrate Casper and Katie’s wedding, I did something decidedly less fun. I realized that I had left my stole at the church, so I headed downtown to pick it up, but before I got back into my car, I walked up to the art gallery.
I walked around the building to the side where the plaza has recently been restored.
I wanted to see the shoes.
When the news broke about the children’s bodies found buried at the location of the Kamloops residential school, artist Tamara Bell, whose mother is a residential school survivor, put together this important installation.
On the steps are 215 pairs of shoes with candles beside each one. 215. Different shapes and sizes it takes up most of the space on the stairs. There were a number of us who chose to walk up and see – to take in the number, maybe to pay homage of some sort. It was devastating to see them.
This is devastating news. And this is the reality of the legacy that colonialism has left. We can’t shut our eyes or close our ears. It isn’t possible for us to ignore this, if we as people of faith are to take our faith seriously.
We have to pay attention and lean in, even though it is deeply painful. Because this is exactly the kind of terrible thing that we are capable of when we don’t take grace seriously: when we insist that our way is the only way or the right way, When we insist on the conversion of someone else rather than our own transformation – which comes as a result of allowing ourselves to be open to what is in front of us.
We can do terrible things when we insist on taking our way with us no matter who we meet or what we might learn along the way. It can actually be dangerous – as we are learning.
I needed to go and see. I needed to take the number in.
And then I made my way back to the car and drove home – wondering what on earth I could say to you today.
Today in the church we are celebrating Trinity Sunday. After celebrating Pentecost last week, this week we make certain that we are clear on the three ‘persons’ of the Trinity. That in fact this God that we follow is complex and interconnected and far more than we have words to describe. And that this God – the one who breathed creation into being, is rooted in relationship. It is found in connectedness. It is in the space between us and what brings us together. It is the breath that breathes in and through each of us and the example for us all to follow and the beauty that is in the birth of each living thing.
God – the Trinity, is complicated and simple all in one.
The Gospel reading that we have before us tonight is this rollercoaster at the beginning of the third chapter of John, that seems to essentially be trying to work out who Jesus us, their relationship to God and how the Spirit factors in. And I’m not convinced that John is particularly clear here, but he does say something very interesting in verse 14 and 15. Here he writes: And just as Moses lifted the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
Why on earth would John reference that weird part in the book of Numbers where the people of Israel are wandering around the desert and they start to complain: they are hungry and thirsty and tired. God gets angry with them and sends snakes to bite them, and some people die. So, the people think this is really bad and they ask Moses to intervene on their behalf, which he does. Moses prays to God and God says ok fine – take one of the snakes I sent and put it up on a pole so that whenever people get bit, they can look at the snake and be healed. So that what Moses does, he makes a snake out of bronze and he puts it on a pole and then whenever someone got bit by the snakes, they look at the bronze snake and live.
This, is what Jesus is like, according to John? A bronze snake that saves us when we get bit? John takes from a part of the Exodus story that doesn’t really show off God’s best self? Really? And also, the people who looked at the bronze snake didn’t live forever, they just lived.
But what we know about the Exodus story is that the people who left Egypt weren’t the ones who entered into the promised land. It was a whole new group of people who had learned a whole new way of being by the time they got to their new home. The story of the snakes in the desert is the beginning of the old generation – the old ways of being, ending. It also sparks a whole conversation about the nature of God and questions about whether there could have been a better way – but let’s put that aside for now – because we want to know what the story of the bronze snake has to do with Jesus.
So, let’s hold that this was the beginning of the end of one particular way of being and a wistfulness for what was – a longing to go back. The safety of what we/ they knew and resistance to change or maybe even transformation. Maybe that resistance breaks God’s heart. Maybe it even pisses God off.
Maybe if the people of Israel had trusted in God, in their relationship to God and in each other – as hard as their journey was, maybe they could have found grace. Or at least not had poisonous snakes sent to terrorize them. And if we put that story and its lesson on to this story in John, what do you wonder about? I wonder if Jesus then represents for us the need to look up at a new way of being that is embedded in trust and transformation.
We can’t take old ways with us – no matter how good we think they were, no matter how cherished our memories. We can take our memories. We can take rituals that connect us to our history or story or ground us and in fact those rituals can be incredibly important to us and for us. And we can take learnings from our experiences or even from those rituals – but even those learnings begin to move us into a new way. Being connected to what was and holding it is actually important for us, it reminds us of our story and of where we have come from.
But it’s not stagnant.
And we can’t deny our own connectedness to each other and to our Creator. And we can’t insist that we will not be changed by each other or that the ideas and the beliefs that we came with are the only way. We must be open to being changed by each other. Because when we insist on a way that is rigid, that attempts to change each other by force – when we bring with us old ways of being and try to force them onto a new land and new relationships real harm is done. And sometimes that harm can last for generations.
We see examples of this over and over again in the story of humanity and we are forced to see it here in the discovery of those 215 children in Kamloops.
As people who follow Jesus, who literally gave his life to show us what is possible, and as people who believe in a God that is infused in our connection to each other – who is literally relationship – we cannot not be affected by stories such as these. And we are once more reminded that if we want to be people who follow Jesus then we have to be ready to live, to be changed, to be transformed by what we learn along the journey of our lives and by our connections to each other – by the lives of the people around us. Life in faith isn’t stagnant, it evolves as our faith deepens and we learn, as we connect to each other and find new ways into very old stories.
I don’t have words for how terrible the discovery in Kamloops is or how terrible the legacy of the Residential schools is or what an abhorrent idea those schools were in the first place or the beliefs and understandings that underscored the inception of them. I do think that we have to be very careful any time encounter an insistence that old ideals, policies and understandings from another place all together, could be brought and forced upon another land. We will continue to learn the hard lessons of colonialism for a long time to come.
So this is a lot for one sermon. And it’s tough enough to preach about the Trinity as it is. But maybe I can say this: as we think about all of these things: about relationships, our connectedness to each other and all of creation, about God about Jesus and the Holy Creative Spirit, as we continue to try to figure out what following Jesus looks like and how to live into our faith – let us look up. Let us look at one another. Let us be reminded of our connection and of the one who connects us and who loves us all.
Let us seek to live into a new way of being that takes the transformative power of relationships seriously so that we can be open to the healing work of God and the care that we are called to offer to one another – particularly in times like these. Let’s look to God and to the teachings of Jesus to help us to find new ways of being in relationship together with each other and with God.
And let us take seriously the Calls to Action that Indigenous peoples have been making these last few days and in fact for the past number of years. Let us find a way to meaningfully participate in advocating for justice for Indigenous peoples so that we can begin to work towards reconcillation.