I find it somewhat interesting the choices made by those who put together the Lectionary for use on Canada Day. The Old Testament reading from Isaiah features themes of love, peace and justice, while the Gospel passage begins with the familiar words of Jesus as quoted in John – “a new commandment I give you – love one another.” The Epistle from chapter three of the Letter to the Colossians begins “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience. Bear with each other . . .” Now those are all things that Canada is known for in the world and they are characteristics we might like to place on ourselves.
But is this too nice a picture? Are we creating a false sense of who we are? Are we perhaps beating our own drums of popularity or maybe holding ourselves in comparison to other countries and concluding they we are much better than they?
Paul’s letter to Colisse, comes during the infancy of that church, in fact the infancy of the Christian church. Many scholars would suggest that Paul is speaking in very frank language to ensure that this community does not get caught up in Gnosticism, which was well known in the first century. Gnosticism was more a philosophy that a theology and it came in many forms. At the centre of Gnosticism was the need for a secret spiritual knowledge. It was not revealed to just anyone and if you didn’t get it, well you weren’t important. For Gnostics, the spirit was everything and the flesh or material nothing. Two streams came from this; those who lived ultra ascetic lives, punishing the flesh into submission and those who felt they could do whatever they wanted with the body and material, because in the end only the spirit was of eternal importance. There is much more I could say, but this suffices for the direction I wish to go. Paul was clear to the Colossians that love, forgiveness, harmony and peace were to rule one’s heart. While the gnostics would exclude, Christians must include. Much of what Gnosticism portrayed would sway people from the Christian life of self giving. Gnostics could seek power and control, could be self centred and exclusionary. They had the secret knowledge, the power and so they could do what they wanted on the material plane. Many were tempted and it took more than two centuries to push Gnosticism from the Christian sphere.
I’m not trying to rain on our Canada Day parade, but I think the lectionary, perhaps by accident, is putting before us some choices that we need to make.
It has been a position of mine for quite some time that Gnosticism is alive and well in our world. Scientology is a perfect example. A religion that comes from the mind of an average science fiction author who created something called an “e-meter” and a way of spiritual life that has come to prominence in the world. Holywood is rife with Scientology because at it’s centre is an understanding that in the end you, with your strength and with the secret knowledge provided, are what is important and you should seek control and power and influence; which morphs quite nicely with the Hollywood agenda and ego.
So what I am asking us to do on this Canada Day is to celebrate our past, to point to our successes, to be proud of who we are on the world stage. We should speak highly of our politeness, our care for those in trouble both here and at home, our willingness to help. But we must also hear Paul’s words to us. Watch out for that which lurks and would destroy what has been built. There is a dark underside to Canada’s history which we should acknowledge. We need also to recognize there are those who would make this country exclusive, rather than inclusive. Those who would try to trick us into believing that our multi cultural efforts are misguided, that our care for refugees and those in need is coming at too great a cost.
We see here in Canada the same spirit of entitlement and protectionism that is evident elsewhere in the world. There are calls to close our borders, to stop our aid. There are those who would put personal power and control above the need to be inclusive of all.
This is still a wonderful country. This is still a place that envisions and promotes those things that Paul urges the Colossians to value. We should party today, we should dance with love and joy at the tremendous variety this country has to offer. We should thank God who created this land, who has allowed us the privilege to live here. But we need also remember this is God’s country. The Creator is still the Master in this realm and that means this country is not just ours. This country belongs to every people, every generation that has lived here, every culture that God’s hand placed on this earth must be welcomed here. Every person, regardless of race, religion, creed, sexuality or any other descriptor you can think of is part of God’s version and vision of Canada. We have done and continue to do great things. But as Paul warned the people of Colisse; let’s be careful of what creeps in around the edges.
Rev. Keith Nethery