Canada Day, July 1, 2008
Isa 32:1-5, 16-18
Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Ecumenical Canada Day Celebration Service
Kin Coulee Park, Medicine Hat
Today we celebrate the 141 birthday of our nation, Canada. Happy birthday Canada! And many more! May God continue to bless and keep this land glorious and free. As we celebrate Canada Day, we Canadians are often prone to wax eloquently about our nation and, in particular our national identity—or shall I say lack thereof? Like, for example, the following famous anonymous quote filled with humour and an irony that may make us laugh or cry: “What is a Canadian? A Canadian is someone wearing English tweeds, a Hong Kong shirt and Spanish shoes, who sips Brazilian coffee sweetened with Philippine sugar from a Bavarian cup while nibbling Swiss cheese, sitting at a Danish desk over a Persian rug, after coming home in a German car from an Italian movie…and then writes their Member of Parliament with a Japanese ballpoint pen on French paper, demanding that he or she do something about foreigners taking away our Canadian jobs.”
In a more sober and perhaps sceptical vein, writing back in 1990, University of Lethbridge sociologist, Reginald Bibby, in his Mosaic Madness: The Poverty and Potential of Life in Canada, begged the following question: “In Canada, the time has come to address a centrally important question. If what we have in common is our diversity, do we really have anything in common at all?” I’m certain that each of us here today likely has a different answer to Bibby’s question—those differences both define us as well as paradoxically unite us. We are a nation, actually modelled after, either by accident or God’s providence, the earliest Christian Church wherein the most profound theologian, the apostle Paul, describes the Church as the Body of Christ and points to the Church’s identity as unity in diversity and diversity in unity. Yet, as a nation, and as Christians living in this nation Canada, that does not mean we do not struggle with this model of identity. I think this is a never ending struggle, because we all as limited, finite, sinful human beings build walls, and limits to narrowly define ourselves with and live under that which nurtures our comfort zones. In short, we all struggle with such questions as: Ought there be limits to our pluralism? If so, what ought those limits be and how shall we live within them? How can limits within as diverse a nation as ours serve us while, at the same time, respecting and protecting a just and peaceful nation for all of our citizens? Such questions we and future generations shall continue to face.
Yet, on this Canada Day, there is much to be celebrated as a nation. It was Sir Winston Churchill who once said: “There are no limits to the majestic future which lies before the mighty expanse of Canada with its verile, aspiring, cultured, and generous-hearted people.” And recently, former U.S. President Bill Clinton stated: “In a world darkened by ethnic conflicts that tear nations apart, Canada stands as a model of how people of different cultures can live and work together in peace, prosperity, and mutual respect.” Then there was former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, who observed that: “We peer so suspiciously at each other that we cannot see that we Canadians are standing on the mountaintop of human wealth, freedom and privilege.” Yet, as Marshall McLuhan I believe correctly observed: “Canada is the only country in the world that knows how to live without an identity.” Most likely that is our weakness and, paradoxically, our strength.
In today’s first reading from Isaiah 32, we are given a wonderful vision of an ideal king, who, assisted by other wise leaders, rule with a divine vision of righteousness, which in the Bible means: right relationships between God and people, people with each other, and people with God’s creation and living in a state of trust, relying on God’s life-giving promises. This righteousness is also closely connected with justice and peace. I love the Book of Isaiah; it is so prolific in its beatific vision of righteousness, justice and peace. In this particular passage, the prophet speaks of righteousness, justice and peace by comparing them with the natural world. Here we have pictures of righteousness, justice and peace as: a shelter from high winds; providing safe cover in stormy weather; like streams of water in a dry place; as the shade of a great rock in a weary land—which, you may recall, we sing in the old familiar hymn, “Beneath the Cross of Jesus.” A blessing of righteousness, justice and peace opens eyes to see and ears to hear, which is the reversal of people who rebel against God and have blind eyes and deaf ears. Then too, says the prophet, there will be another kind of reversal: the impulsive will be able to make sound decisions, and the tongue-tied will speak with eloquence. God’s blessing upon his people with righteousness, justice and peace shall enable them to be very wise and discerning—seeing and understanding things for what they really are. Thus fools shall not be popular nor crooks be rewarded with fame. According to the prophet, true, God-given righteousness, justice and peace are most productive, they shall be present in the wilderness as well as in the fertile field; and true peace, God’s shalom, shall be more than the absence of war; people shall live quietly, safely, and in endless trust. Such is the vision of the ideal government and the perfect, peaceful, just and righteous nation.
In comparison, our nation, its leaders and people haven’t done too badly, although there is still a long way to go to reach this biblical vision—as the weakest and poorest Canadians are still too often neglected and forgotten. As finite creatures, we are not perfect, therefore we shall always continue to strive for such an ideal society and leaders. As theologian Reinhold Niebuhr once said: “Humanity’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible; but humanity’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.” If we become too indifferent and apathetic towards our democratic nation; we are in danger of losing it.
As people of faith, I encourage you to remember that you are created in the image of God and therefore you can and do make a difference in this wonderful nation of ours and in the wider world. I would like to leave you with a quote from Holocaust survivor and author, Elie Wiesel, from his book, From The Kingdom Of Memory: Reminiscences: “There is so much to be done, there is so much that can be done. One person—a Raoul Wallenberg, an Albert Schweitzer, a Martin Luther King, Jr.—one person of integrity can make a difference, a difference of life and death.” May God grant us grace to live with this kind of integrity. Amen.