Sunday, June 6, 2021


Welcome and Announcements

Thank you for your presence in this worship. As we continue to give God thanks, we pray that God’s blessing will keep you and God’s love will enwrap you in ways that you are made new each day.

As we have been mentioning, it is our goal to try and open our worship services starting July. These Summer Worship Services will take place at 10 am every Sunday either in our church yard or in our hall. This is to keep safe by following all the rules of COVID restrictions.

We will also be having gatherings for Wednesday evenings at 6:30 pm to praise, rejoice, and be in communion with Christ and each other.

We ask you to make special efforts to keep our ministry continuing. Our offerings have been a bit low. We have attached our income and expense figures here. Please, prayerfully support the ministry.

Our Saturday Lunch Takeouts is continuing. As the summer weather approaches we have reduced a number of lunches we are delivering to around 10. We have asked all those who are able to come to church on Saturdays to come and pick up lunches. For the last two weeks we have given out between 50 and 60 lunches. We are also helping those who are in need in different ways.

Please keep praying for each other and especially those who are in long term care homes. They need your prayers more than ever. The names to lift up in your prayers are: Doris, Hugh and Judy, Robert and Virginia, along with many others.

This week, The Presbyterian Church in Canada is gathering at its Annual General Assembly. There are two major reports that the Church will be discussing. The first is the Rainbow Communion Report. This report was our church’s effort in hearing and gathering stories of harm that have been caused to LGBTQI+ members and adherents of our denomination in the past and present. This report summarizes the hearings that were held to allow LGBTQI members and adherents to tell us the consequences and harms done by our church policies. The other is the remits: one of the remits adds that our understanding of marriage as a covenant relationship between man and a woman or as a covenant between two adults; the other remit is that congregations and presbyteries may call and ordain as ministers and elect and ordain as ruling elders LGBTQI persons (married or single) with the provision that liberty of conscience and action regarding participation in ordinations, inductions and installations be granted to ministers and ruling elders.

Today’s worship service is formed as our confession. In this confession, we will confess who we are, what we have done, how Christ opened our eyes to the truth, how we witness and proclaim the truth as sinful yet forgiven people and come to live the life of reconciliation.

Confession/Witnessing: 1. Listening; 2. Accepting; 3. Sharing

Listening

The news of unmarked 215 children's graves at the Residential School near Kamloops sent a shock wave through Canada. The grief from the Indigenous Canadians was deep, sorrow filled and deafening. The anger from ordinary Canadians led to calls for accountability and pledges to respond to the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report. Everyone was saddened by the news.

Yet, Where were the voices of Canadians speaking on behalf of the dead?

When the voices of the dead children, youth and adults were raised in the past, just a few responded. When the indigenous brothers and sisters blockaded bridges, railroads, and highways as their voices against us in their sufferings in the 1990s and the early 2000s, we complained to politicians who sent in the police and army to clear blockades to lessen the inconveniences we experienced. Instead of listening, we raised our voices and drowned out the voices of our indigenous brothers and sisters.

We said we were listening when the report and findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and later the report of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women were published. Soon these reports sat on shelves or were caught in processes to develop reasonable and doable programs. A few of us paid attention. Many of us went on with our own lives ignoring the voices in those reports.

Those of us who willingly listened knew all along that a more tragic past would be unearthed, countless stories of atrocities would be unveiled, and unimaginable sufferings of our indigenous brothers and sisters would confront us without end.

Now we listen. We listen once again to all those voices that spoke of their pains and sufferings in the past through the news of these remains of unknown 215 children. We listen as we ready ourselves to listen more. Through the silence of these 215 nameless children come the voices of all who lost humanity at the hands of those who came after. We knew all along the evil that was unleashed on our behalf away from our sights and ears so that we could be shielded from violence, harm, and pain our indigenous brothers and sisters suffered.

Do we have courage to listen to the suffering so deep and painful of our ancestors who called this land, Turtle Island? Do we have love enough to see the suffering so horrible and violent of our indigenous siblings who still carry unhealed scars? Do we have hope enough to feel the suffering so intense and dark of our indigenous neighbours who wrestle the demons of our own making?

Prayer

O God,
Do we have ears
    To hear the cries,
    To listen to the stories of pain, sorrow, and anger,
    To be given the testimony of our role in unleashing violence through our governments and institutions
      on our indigenous siblings?

When the voices are raised to reveal our wrongs,
Our minds respond to the tears of deep sorrow with reasons justifying our actions,
Our voices silence the cries of despair with our good intentions,
Our cries cover up the true anguish and pain of having lost life.

O God, by the Holy Spirit, open our ears to hear the cries, stories, wounded hearts of our indigenous brothers and sisters. Temper us in love so that we may come to receive the truth of our sins.

All these we pray in the name of Jesus your Son our Lord. Amen.

Accepting

Can we accept

The pain of separation from moms and dads, brothers, sisters, grandparents, uncles and aunts, cousins, and friends of all those young children to young to know why and for what;

The fear of children and parents, family and friends, alone and isolated, torn apart by the powers beyond their powers;

The wounds and harms of all who were brutally broken apart;

The death of so many dying so alone, severed and sheared from the very source of life?

All in the name of assimilation, to destroy the Indians out of them, to kill once and for all any Indian that might remain in them.

Can we accept

We who have hidden ourselves behind politicians who made these mad policies,

We who have stood behind bureaucrats who stole the very beings, spirits and possessions of our indigenous siblings,

We who have covered our eyes and ears as the police arrested, beat, and torn apart our indigenous neighbours,

We who have sheltered our disdain behind gentle speeches admonishing our indigenous friends for addictions caused by the violence that was unleashed on our behalf,

And we who have buried our sins against our indigenous neighbours with words of apology for all the evil that was endured in all that we have done in the Residential Schools we ran as an upstanding religious institutions?

Prayer: O Lord hear my prayer



Sharing

Can we share the sadness, sorrow, grief, and anger of our indigenous siblings
    Without listening to all the hurt?
    Without being justly accused for perpetrating evil through our silence?
Without accepting the horrific violence, unleashed on our behalf in our names?
Without being convicted by the deep wounds of children and parents torn from each other?
Without being judged by the truthful anger?
Do we have
    Courage to hear about the harm we caused?
    Strength to be confronted with the evil done in our name?
    Humility to face the open wounds of those who survived our violence?
    Humbleness to admit our wrongs?

As our indigenous siblings share their agony, despair, grief and anger with us,
Is it not time already for us to share our guilt, sin, and sorrow?
Is it not time already for us to stop our actions, policies and thoughts that continue to harm?
Is it not time already for us to ask forgiveness in words and deeds humbly to all those whom we have hurt?

What is sharing if we are unwilling to share the truth through the stories of suffering and terror of our indigenous siblings? Through the confession of what we have done to hurt our indigenous brothers and sisters?

Hymn: There is a redeemer



Prayer

O Lord,

You suffered at the hands of Pharisees, priests, scribes, Roman soldiers and Roman governor. As a Jew under Roman colony, you died of humiliating death, falsely accused and deprived of justice.

Open our eyes to the truth of life under oppression. Make us see the consequences of our ignorance and fill us with understanding.

Open our ears to the truth about us and our ways of thinking. Awaken our minds through your Word so that we may come to share in your good news by loving our neighbours and seeing all those who do your will as our siblings. All these we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Scripture: Mark 3:31-35

Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, ‘Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.’ And he replied, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’

Repentance

In 1994, The Presbyterian Church in Canada issued the following apology to the indigenous peoples of Canada..

We, the 120th General Assembly of The Presbyterian Church in Canada, seeking the guidance of the Spirit of God, and aware of our own sin and shortcomings, are called to speak to the Church we love. We do this, out of new understandings of our past, not out of any sense of being superior to those who have gone before us, nor out of any sense that we would have done things differently in the same context. It is with humility and in great sorrow that we come before God and our Aboriginal brothers and sisters with our confession.

We acknowledge that the stated policy of the Government of Canada was to assimilate Aboriginal peoples to the dominant culture, and that The Presbyterian Church in Canada cooperated in this policy. We acknowledge that the roots of the harm we have done are found in the attitudes and values of western European colonialism, and the assumption that what was not yet moulded in our image was to be discovered and exploited. As part of that policy we, with other churches, encouraged the government to ban some important spiritual practices through which Aboriginal peoples experienced the presence of the creator God. For the Church’s complicity in this policy we ask forgiveness.

We recognize that there were many members of The Presbyterian Church in Canada who, in good faith, gave unstintingly of themselves in love and compassion for their Aboriginal brothers and sisters. We acknowledge their devotion and commend them for their work. We recognize that there were some who, with prophetic insight, were aware of the damage that was being done and protested, but their efforts were thwarted. We acknowledge their insight. For the times we did not support them adequately nor hear their cries for justice, we ask forgiveness.

We confess that The Presbyterian Church in Canada presumed to know better than Aboriginal peoples what was needed for life. The Church said of our Aboriginal brothers and sisters, “If they could be like us, if they could think like us, talk like us, worship like us, sing like us, and work like us, they would know God and therefore would have life abundant.” In our cultural arrogance we have been blind to the ways in which our own understanding of the Gospel has been culturally conditioned, and because of our insensitivity to Aboriginal cultures, we have demanded more of the Aboriginal people than the Gospel requires, and have thus misrepresented Jesus Christ who loves all peoples with compassionate, suffering love that all may come to God through him. For the Church's presumption we ask forgiveness.

We confess that with the encouragement and assistance of the Government of Canada, The Presbyterian Church in Canada agreed to take the children of Aboriginal peoples from their own homes and place them in residential schools. In these schools, children were deprived of their traditional ways, which were replaced with Euro-Canadian customs that were helpful in the process of assimilation. To carry out this process, The Presbyteian Church in Canada used disciplinary practices which were foreign to Aboriginal peoples, and open to exploitation in physical and psychological punishment beyond any Christian maxim of care and discipline. In a setting of obedience and acquiescence there was opportunity for sexual abuse, and some were so abused. The effect of all this, for Aboriginal peoples, was the loss of cultural identity and the loss of a secure sense of self. For the Church’s insensitivity we ask forgiveness.

We regret that there are those whose lives have been deeply scarred by the effects of the mission and ministry of The Presbyterian Church in Canada. For our Church we ask forgiveness of God. It is our prayer that God, who is merciful, will guide us in compassionate ways towards helping them to heal.

We ask, also, for forgiveness from Aboriginal peoples. What we have heard we acknowledge. It is our hope that those whom we have wronged with a hurt too deep for telling will accept what we have to say. With God’s guidance our Church will seek opportunities to walk with Aboriginal peoples to find healing and wholeness together as God’s people.

Silence

Could there have been a better way than how we have behaved as Christians? Today, we are seeing how Christian churches are seen as a place of violence and harm to most people as another news of Residential School tragedy surfaces. Also many Chritians find it easier to keep their Christian identity anonymous in their social, cultural and job situations. In many ways, it is not popular to be Christians. Being Christians is a big liability for many people. This week, once again, we are facing the sins of the past in a powerful way reminding us why Christians are seen with disdain by the world. The deaths of so many young children at the hands of schools run by Christians are at the forefront in Canadian minds. To some of us who have been working on the past sins of our churches and country, the news is not surprising at all. We knew this day of reckoning would come. There have been so many wrongs done against the ones who are thought of as less than us. Many politicians and public figures along with regular people are demanding accountability. They say that the least the church like Roman Catholics do is to apologize. They want to know if the pope will give an apology and who in the church will be held responsible.

As a minister of the church that has been apologizing for our roles of harming the indigenous brothers and sisters in Residential Schools I do understand why people want to hold the leaders of churches accountable. I read the 1994 confession publicly to indigenous brothers and sisters in the Niagara region multiple times and presented the copies of this confession to many indigenous people. The sad fact is that Canada has been hearing the horrifying acts committed against our indigenous siblings in dribs and drabs as if to minimize the evilness of what was done in the past. Many of us who have been involved in justice work have heard over and over from our indigenous partners about residential schools and other genocidal policies and their effects. As I have done my part in bringing about reconciliation, I do have large concerns about many non-indigenous Canadians’ call for accountability, however. I know that their call for justice comes from the right place in their hearts. The trouble is, their call for culpability often ends with finger pointing to those bad apples, rather than coming out of genuine desire to see a change in Canada’s willingness to do the hard work of reconciliation. I also know how easy it is to blame some in order to absolve ourselves for having been complicit in the perpetuation of the evil that is now shocking us and stirring us to call for justice. Let me explain.

Should we hold some Canadians, who did the biddings of our governments, society, and churches, more culpable than the rest of us? Somehow as Canadians demand justice to be done, only the Federal Government and mainline denominations are fingered as the perpetrators. Yes, it is indeed easy for us to point at those teachers, staff, and frontline workers who interacted with our indigenous children. In reality, making the pope apologize and establishing a pathway to reconciliation mean nothing if we keep our indigenous brothers and sisters as “others” in our midst and continue to treat “them” as different. In Canada, Just two years ago we were confronted with Joyce Echaquan’s death in a hospital as she recorded on her phone the mistreatments and mocking she received from the hospital staff. This seemingly isolated act of discrimination came as many indigenous brothers and sisters were facing one sided justice concerning Colten Boushie’s murder in Saskatchewan. In the meantime, we as a nation could not fully appreciate what it meant to hear so many of indigenous sisters missing and murdered on our highways and in our cities. Last year and early part of this year were filled with news of conflict between Nova Scotia’s indigenous lobster fisher people and the rest of lobster fisher people. When the tension rose to a dangerously high level, members of the RCMP did nothing to protect properties of Indigenous fisher people. On and on we go on as a nation still living with these very one sided dealings in this uneasy relationship between the people who were here first and those who came to settle later. This is what is continually happening around us as we speak.

Nothing will change if all Canadians do not come to own up to the fact that we have built up this society where our indigenous brothers and sisters are mistreated and seen as less than us. We, all Canadians, need to see our roles in maintaining our social, cultural, and political structures by which we benefit while our indigenous brothers and sisters suffer. It is fine and dandy to blame some who were interacting with “those” indigenous children. Unless we see that they did so on our behalf so that ultimately we could benefit, nothing will change.

Hymn: Unto the hills



Nothing will change if all of us as Christians and Presbyterians in Canada do not come to realize we have lost and gone far away from the way Jesus called us to be his family in this world. Today’s passage is crucial in understanding how Jesus opened the eyes of those who were following him on the issue of family. When he was in danger of being seen as a threat, his family came to take him back. Instead of going with them to safety, Jesus told the crowd that anyone doing God’s will was part of his family. It was a pledge not to abandon these followers in favour of his safety among his own biological family. This does not mean that he rejected his own family. We know he did not discard, denounce, or disown his family because later we would see that his mother Mary was present with him to the last in Gospel John. We find that his brother James was part of his followers (Paul mentioned him in Galatians). It would be wrong to assume that Jesus left his family to form his new family redefined by the ones who followed him only. It would probably be more correct to say that Jesus was widening the circle in terms of who would be considered part of the family. In this, his way of redefining family would be similar to how he told the Jews that he came to fulfill the law, not to abolish it. In this spirit, Jesus was revealing the makeup of the true family that included all those who were doing God’s will in addition to his biological family. This is why we find no denunciation or rejection of his own mother, brothers, and sisters who came to take him away to safety.

As we have mentioned in the past few Sundays, Jesus expanded the circle of those who could receive the good news that God’s kingdom is at hand to a Syrophoenician woman and her daughter and many other foreigners. In this very early stage of his ministry, he redefined family so that all who love God and doing God’s will would belong together in his family. This is significant. If we fully appreciated this new definition of family Jesus instituted, then, our approach to those who were already here long before we as Europeans and others came to this land would have been able to see, witness, know, and realize how these indigenous peoples were our brothers and sisters in Christ’s family. If we saw that they were our own siblings in Christ, we would not have mistreated and unleashed such violence against them. Indeed, as siblings, we would not have treated them as others who needed to be pushed out, dominated, ostracized, and forced into reserves so that we could do as we pleased. If only we remembered that they were our brothers and sisters, together with them, we would have formed one family. There would not have been we-they/us-them forcing the system of genocidal policies including residential schools on them.

Yet, like the Jews in this passage, we could not comprehend what belonging to Jesus’ family was all about. One of the most striking things to hear from our indigenous neighbours is how Christians and Christian institutions are the very symbol of power that destroyed them, rather than being the source of life and love. The Christ we presented to them through our actions was hardly the Christ who told the crowd that anyone who did God’s will was part of his family. The Christ that we preached to them was the Christ who punished them and deprived them of life for simply being who they were. We “othered” them.

Yet, even in anger, many indigenous brothers and sisters are still with us. In my work through Justice Ministries, I have come across so many wonderful indigenous brothers and sisters who continue to consider me and you as part of their family. These loving brothers and sisters have received our apology graciously and have been continually reminding us to work so that our eyes may be opened to our sins of mistreating our own siblings based on origin, skin colours, and cultures. Unlike us who continually find ways to divide us from them, these family members continually find ways to be present as part of us at the General Assemblies, in our national agencies and committees guiding and caring for us year after year. It is through the love and kindness of these members of Jesus’ family we are learning to be part of Jesus’ family and find out who else is in this family, bound by doing God’s will.

Jesus turned to the crowd and declared, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” It is about time, we, too, put aside our own biological definition, open our eyes, and see those who are my brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers. We, Presbyterians in Canada, have been living in hope, not because our faith made it possible for us to be hopeful, but because our indigenous siblings, whom we have hurt terribly, are still embracing us as their brothers and sisters.

Prayer

O God who suffered, know the hearts of suffering people. With heart breaking news of people suffering all over the world, especially in Canada where the discovery of the burial sight of 215 unknown indigenous children, we do our best to care for one another here in this small patch of your garden. Fill us with a sense of purpose and meaning. May we share your love freely. Continue to empower us to listen, to receive stories of suffering in ways to have our eyes opened to our roles in harming others.

In sharing your love, we bring before you Betty Jolley, Genevieve King, Hugh and Judy McKeown, Kathleen Mason, Elizabeth Milne, Donna Murray, Andy Paterson, Doris Race Wayne and , Eva Tannahill, Bob and Virginia Ward. We also pray for every member of this congregation. Be with each one. Give everyone your presence as they keep safe.

We pray for the General Assembly of our Church. May your grace be with each commissioner in ways that everyone will participate with compassion and generosity of heart to discern together your will.

Continue to entrust us with your ministry here in Niagara Falls. Give us strength of faith and your wisdom to share your love with all whom you send to us.

Be with all those who are tired and exhausted from their work in this time of trial as all are still doing their best to get through the pandemic.

Give us your sight to see and care for all your people around the world.

We pray in your Son’s name. Amen.

Offering (Bind us together)



Offering Prayer

O gracious God, receive these symbols of our love. These are expressions of our love for you and our desire to share your love with our neighbours. By your mercy and grace, make us your servants in this world so that all may come to know your love for them in their lives. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

A number of years ago, I was asked by the Justice Ministries of our Church if I could present the apology that was issued in 1994 at the event called “Opening the Doors to Dialogue” being held at Niagara Regional Native Centre in Niagara on the Lake. An indigenous artist Sam Thomas was doing this project of using classroom doors of residential schools and doing bead art on each door as a symbol of transforming something horrible into something beautiful. He invited many residential school survivors, their children and anyone else interested in doing something transformative in relationships between the indigenous peoples and settlers.

After formalities, each church representative was introduced and was asked to deliver an apology of the respective church. The Anglican priest went first, followed by the United Church minister. Then my turn came. Standing in front of all those survivors and their children, I found that I could not face them eye to eye as I began reading the apology. Words on the paper sounded hollow and without meaning. Reading the very same apology I shared here earlier to you after the Scripture reading became the most difficult five minutes of my life in front of those survivors and families of survivors of the residential schools. Can a person truly express one’s remorse to the victims of one’s actions? Can a minister apologize sufficiently for the terrible acts in residential schools knowing that children died without their parents knowing, that children were beaten mercilessly for the smallest of infractions, that some children were sexually abused? When I stood up to deliver the well crafted apology, I already knew the terrible things that took place in the residential schools Presbyterians ran.

Many in the room spoke after the churches’ apologies. Some said that they never knew that the churches apologized to the victims of the residential school system. Some spoke of how difficult it was for them even to think about attending this event because all the horrors came back. Some refused to speak because the pain was still too deep after many decades. Some said that they tried to be present at all these events so that they could heal by listening to survivors sharing their stories. Some spoke of their struggles in attempting to commit suicide over and over again because they saw no reason to live. In fact, many came with experiences of suicides of their family members. Some came to hear the apology. It was important for them to hear those who once ran these schools saying sorry for what they did. Later I overheard someone saying how glad that she was there, if not for anything else, for hearing for the first time the churches saying that they were sorry.

Since the news of the burial ground at the residential school near Kamloops broke, my mind was hearing all those stories told to us after we delivered our apologies. Still today I ask on our church’s behalf forgiveness from God and from our indigenous brothers and sisters. I share these along with our 1994 Confession as our hopeful response as more Canadians demand accountability and to let everyone know what we as one of the churches involved in Residential Schools have done and will be doing.

Hymn: Morning has broken



Benediction