February 11, 2018

Mark 9:2-9

“Spitting Image”

Earlier this week, as I was reading about and reflecting on the Gospel story about Jesus’ transfiguration, I titled my sermon for today, “Spitting Image.” I hadn’t written the sermon yet, but I was thinking about how the transfiguration on the mountaintop served as a revelation for the disciples. It was an apocalyptic event – an experience in which something that was previously hidden was gloriously revealed to them for the first time.

And that new understanding was the reality that Jesus was God’s very own son. Not only did his clothes shine with a heavenly light, and the great prophets Moses and Elijah appeared with him in splendour, but God’s voice clearly declared to the disciples, “This is my Beloved Son. Listen to him!”

They had already witnessed some pretty amazing stuff from Jesus with miracles, and healings, and wise teachings that baffled them. But now, his true identity was being revealed in a way that they could not ignore. Jesus is God’s own Beloved Son. He is the “spitting image” of the Creator, standing right in front of them on the mountain, and walking beside them day by day.

This morning the choir sang, “Soon and very soon, we are going to see the King,” and I thought I would preach about the gift of God’s revealing God-self to us in the human person of Jesus Christ. And I thought I would preach about how each of us also – as God’s beloved children, made in God’s image – are called to reflect God’s likeness as well in the way that we live together, and love one another, and engage in mission to the world.

I think that’s a perfectly good message to preach on Transfiguration Sunday, but last night I changed my mind. Or maybe God changed it… I don’t know.

Perhaps like many of you, I was shocked on Friday night when I heard the news coming out about the Gerald Stanley trial in North Battleford. I hadn’t been following the trial all that closely, but Nick was reading most of the reports from the trial and sharing the details with me all week as it went along. On Friday evening, the all-white jury returned with the verdict that they found Stanley “not guilty” of the 2nd degree murder of Colten Boushie, a young Indigenous man who had trespassed on his property in August of 2016.

I guess that “not guilty” verdict means that the members of the jury had some doubt about whether Stanley was responsible for Boushie’s being shot in the head. Did the gun really just go off on its own? Maybe.

And we are supposed to trust the jury, that they did their due diligence and found Stanley “not guilty” because there was a reasonable doubt. But the rallies across our province and country yesterday, along with comments from the Prime Minister and others point to the fact that many people are questioning the justice of the conclusion.

One criminal lawyer, writing in the Globe & Mail yesterday, said the problem was allowing an all-white jury in an obviously racially charged case. He said “the sad reality here is that the jury’s verdict is palpably unconvincing… because Stanley and the jurors were white, because Boushie was Indigenous, and because the trial was in a community plagued by a well-documented racist/colonialist past, we can all easily doubt the integrity of the verdict.

Many people are wondering if what happened here was that personal property was deemed more valuable than a young man’s life. And many are suggesting that it would not have been the case if that young man had not been an Indigenous person.

Many are calling for justice for Colten Boushie and his family, and many others are calling our society to recognize the widespread (and often systemic) racism that continues to impact Indigenous people throughout Saskatchewan and in other parts of Canada as well.

In the wake of Friday’s court decision, the current Moderator of The Presbyterian Church in Canada, the Rev. Peter Bush, wrote this prayer – a paraphrase of Psalm 13.

How long, O Lord? Will you forget Indigenous people forever?
How long will you hide your face?
How long must the family of Colten Boushie bear pain in their soul,
and sorrow in their heart all day long?
Consider and answer, O Lord.

How long, O Lord? Will you forget your promise of hope and healing forever?
How long will you hide your face?
How long must the Indigenous people bear pain in their soul,
and sorrow in their heart all day long?
Consider and answer, O Lord.

How long, O Lord? Will settlers avoid the hard, heart-breaking,
transforming work of walking together?
How long will we hide from facing you and hearing your vision for a new world?
How long must those who desire peace and justice bear pain in their soul,
and sorrow in their heart all day long?
Consider and answer, O Lord.

God of grace, we turn to you as people who are angry, heart-broken, grieving,
and bearing the scars of living in a violent nation. We do not know how to pray.

In the name of Jesus, your Son, who died a violent death. Amen.

In the midst of the anger, heart-break, and grief, I am encouraged today by the Gospel. And not just because the Gospel reminds me that Jesus is God’s Beloved Son, revealing God’s love and compassion for all God’s beloved children, including you, and me, and Colten Boushie.

But I am encouraged by the Gospel today because Jesus’ first disciples were just as confused, and mistaken, and mixed up as we are today. Jesus had been leading them, and teaching them, and showing them God’s Way of love, but they were not getting it.

In the previous chapter, Jesus asked them “Who do people say that I am?” and they replied that most people thought Jesus was some kind of prophet. And when Jesus asks, “But who do YOU say that I am?” Peter declares his faith, saying, “You are the Messiah.”

It sounds great. Peter seems to get it. Jesus is the Messiah, the Anointed One, the One sent from God into the world. But then, as Jesus talks about what is going to happen next – about his impending betrayal and crucifixion, death and resurrection – Peter rebukes him and tells him that this must not happen!

You see, Peter didn’t yet fully understand that the Way of Jesus (the Way of God) was not powerful, violent triumph over enemies. But God’s Way was non-violent surrender, love, and mercy. God’s Way was love that goes all the way, even if the cost is everything that we have. God’s Way is the way of the cross, and we are called to follow it also.

The Gospel today is encouraging, because in chapter 8, Jesus is rebuking Peter and saying, “Get behind me, Satan!” And in the next chapter, Jesus is taking Peter up a mountain in order to reveal his identity so clearly and powerfully that Peter will finally truly understand.

While Peter and the other disciples cower, Jesus glows with a light so bright that they have to shield their eyes to look at him. The presence of Moses and Elijah show that he is the fulfilment of their historic faith – encompassing both the Law and the Prophets. And then the voice speaks, “This is my Beloved Son. Listen to him!”

Jesus’ identity and his difficult “way of the cross” teaching is affirmed by the very voice of God, and the disciples are on their way towards transformation in their lives as Jesus’ followers. Not that everything will be solved right away, but at least they’ll be back on the right path again.

And that’s why I think it might be possible for us to get back on the right path also. For us as a society, for us as a church, to recognize our sin – the sin of colonization, the sin of racism – and to turn away from it and towards God’s Way of love.

Among all the online reactions to the Stanley trial’s verdict, I read a comment from an Indigenous Presbyterian woman. Vivian Ketchum is a survivor of the Residential School System, a member of the PCC, and has been a teacher and leader in helping us as Presbyterians to learn and respond to our history.

Vivian was devastated this weekend, and her comments indicated that this ruling was shaking her faith in Canada and her faith in the church as well. She said, I don’t want to hear the word “reconciliation” right now, and I don’t know if I can go on with this work in the church.

But what followed Vivian’s comment on the Presbyterian Church’s Facebook page was a beautiful outpouring of love and support. Presbyterians from all cultural backgrounds heard her cry, shared her pain, lamented the ruling with her, and declared themselves allies with her and the whole Indigenous community. And that gave me hope once again.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has helpfully provided us with 94 Calls to Action, several of which apply specifically to the church, and most of which apply to all of us as Canadians. And by taking them seriously, and engaging with them, I think that together we can begin to heal some of our broken relationships and build the kind of society in which Indigenous lives are worth as much as any other lives, and way more than property.

Lent is beginning this week… a time of turning and returning to God, and a time of choosing to take up spiritual disciplines and practices that help us to draw close to God and reflect God’s love in our lives more and more each day.

I’ve set up a display of books in the gymnasium downstairs, and I want to invite you to make this Season of Lent a time for working on healing and reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada. This weekend, I am even more aware of how desperately that healing is needed.

Specifically, I want to invite you to dedicate some of your time and attention during this season to reading for reconciliation. There is a great deal to be done, and it won’t be completed this year or next. It will likely take as many generations to heal our relationships as it did to break them down through colonization, residential schools, and ongoing racism.

But the transfiguration story does give me hope because it reminds me that God loves and forgives even the most confused, mixed up, and off-track disciples.

God reveals God-self to them, and sets them back on the path of discipleship, back on the Jesus Way of the Cross. And I believe that God can and God will do the same for us, for our church, for our society. I cling to that hope.