I start with a poem by e e cummings,
i thank You God for most this amazing day:
for the leaping greenly spirits of trees and a blue true dream of sky;
and for everything which is natural which is infinite which is yes
(i who have died am alive again today, and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth day of life and of love and wings)
how should tasting touching hearing seeing breathing any–lifted from the no of all nothing–human merely being doubt unimaginable You?
(now the ears of my ears awake and now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
Today we are celebrating both International Sunday and Canada Day here at St John’s and I would like to begin with a story. A few years ago I took the new ferry route from the Tsawwassen terminal to the Nanaimo terminal. I took it because I had never been on it before and had never seen the view from the sea from that route’s perspective. It was a clear and brilliantly sunny summer day and I moved to the upper, outer deck to take in the vista. What struck me first as we passed Robert’s Bank was the incredible power of the Fraser River. What I witnessed was the tan coloured silt fresh water that was being pushed out well into the Jaun de Fuca Straight and it was in beautiful contrast to the deep, dark blue of the ocean. The Fraser River water was coming out for kilometers and indeed the ferry past through it’s flow even though by then it was in the middle of the Straight. As we traveled further north you could see the incredible greenery of the Endowment Lands and the UBC campus. I suppose if I had binoculars I could have clearly seen the people on Wreck Beach, but that is another sight and perhaps another story.
Then, for me, the quintessential west coast sight came into view. As we passed the Burrard peninsula, the buildings of Downtown Vancouver and the West End and the trees of Stanley Park presented themselves in picture postcard magnificence. The sun shone on the glassy buildings giving them a vivid and intense presence and Lord Stanley’s Park stood proud as a testament to the national treasure it is. Then of course was the splendour of the blue green North Shore Mountains with their white-capped peaks framing this magnificent picture. In one way or another I though to myself what e. e. cumings said in his poem, i thank You God for most this amazing day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything which is natural which is infinite which is yes…. (now the ears of my ears awake and now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
On that ferry with me that day were many Canadians and travelers from around the world. I looked up to the top of the ship and I could see and hear the Canadian flag flapping fervently in the strong wind, and I thought to myself we are so blessed by God to have this as our country. This spot on the ferry was just a very small part of this vast and beautiful land of ours, and I thought why wouldn’t people from around the world yearn to come here and to live here and to have their own experience of ears awakening and eyes opening.
In so many ways and in so many respects it just makes sense to celebrate International Sunday and Canada Day together. We are very much a nation of immigrants and descendants of those who came here from abroad. I would be very surprised if every nation on earth has not in at least some small way contributed to the national fabric of Canada. We not only celebrate our cultural diversity, including our aboriginal brothers and sisters, it is our diversity that largely defines us, that strengthens us, and that moves us forward. I am sure on the ferry with me that day were people from very continent and symbolically and literally we were in the same boat, taking in the same beauty and traveling to the same destination. I once heard a very wise Rabbi say, “For whatever reason, unity in heaven means diversity down here on earth”. To paraphrase e e. cummings, we all thank God for this most amazing fact, for this most amazing day.
In the epistle - and by the way ‘epistle’ is the Greek word for ‘letter’ – in the letter from St Paul to the Colossians we heard today, Paul says, “Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony”. That is a very powerful sentence and an extremely important component of Christian theology, so it is worth repeating slowly. “Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony”. I believe these are more than just insightful words to live by, although they are most certainly that. To me in these words St Paul captures the essence of the radical message Jesus gives to us all. The spirit of what Paul is saying to us through Christ, is that in all circumstances, in all ways, despite what we are going through, despite what our community and country are going through, and with all the strength of our body, mind and soul we should always, as best we can, look at our present situation through the perspective of love. When we look at any situation through the prism of love we see it with new eyes, we see it with renewed inspiration.
The kind of love Paul is talking about here is not superficial and does not always come easily. The image of clothing yourself with it is very intentional; it takes some effort and may not come naturally in the situation. It is the kind of love that tries its best to overcome prejudice, intolerance and fear. It is the kind of love that wants to break down the stigma and rejection of those with mental illnesses. It is the kind of love that wants to end poverty and homelessness because when some of us suffer we all feel the suffering. It is the kind of love that will sit down at a common table with our enemies and hear their story and hold out the hand of a new beginning. It is the kind of love found in an all Black Church in South Carolina that is forgiving and is living the life of our better angels as they reach out to those who so bitterly hurt their community. This kind of love is not easy, but we are called to try to live it and as we do, to the extent that we can, we are transforming the whole world one person at a time.
St Paul says that when we do this everything will be bound up in perfect harmony. I don’t know that I can go this far as we are human and humans are never perfect – imperfection being a part of our complex richness – but I do think I know what he is trying to say. When we make the effort to live the life of radical, unconditional love we are transforming ourselves and our world from discord into harmony in a very real and meaningful way. The hate, indifference, and the ugly dogmas of the past cannot stand up to the radiance of a smile or a handshake or a hug or a community that says, ‘I love you and together we are one’. Certain forces that were evil thought they could crush a movement of love by nailing Christ to the cross. They were not only wrong in their estimation; they set into motion a much larger movement that today spans the entire world and will in time claim a humble victory over injustice, inequality and violence. When we clothe ourselves in love we are all participating in the journey that will one day see us teaching our children that hate, hurt, violence, inequality and injustice are discarded relics of a distant past.
On this International Sunday we honour the richness of God’s world and the true blessing of many cultures and a diverse humanity. On this Sunday where we recognize Canada Day we remember those who helped build this country and those who sacrificed much to keep us strong and free. Indeed the Coast Salish word ‘Nanaimo’ means, “A big, strong tribe”. Let us all imagine ourselves on that ferry gloriously plowing our way through the waters of Jaun de Fuca to our common destination of one big, strong tribe. As we do let us clothe ourselves in love so that we leave no one behind and that we may retain and build upon the Canadian values of compassion, equality, justice and freedom for all. On this journey may we continue to cherish the diversity of this beautiful planet and welcome those who strongly desire to call Canada home. As we do this, let us also hear and see the flag flapping fervently in the strong wind. Let it be a symbol of something great, something that would make the ears of our ears awake, and the eyes of our eyes open. May God preserve us in love so that we may live in harmony with all others in this sweeping and magnificent land. Amen.
The Rev. Patrick Blaney