John 1:1-18
Shalom and the Community of Creation

Let us pray. Between the words that are spoken and the words that are heard, may your name be praised, O God of liberation and light. 

“Long ago, in the time before all days, before the creation of all things, the one who is known as the Word was there face to face with the Great Spirit.” 

This is how the translators of the First Nations Version—an Indigenous Translation of the New Testament—render the opening words of John’s gospel.

“Long ago, in the time before all days, before the creation of all things, the one who is known as the Word was there face to face with the Great Spirit. This Word fully represents Creator and shows us who he is and what he is like. He has always been there from the beginning, for the Word and Creator are one and the same. Through the Word all things came into being, and not one thing exists that he did not create.”

John’s gospel has always been poetic, always been mystical—even in its English translations. The interplay of darkness and light. Day and night. It’s moody, unafraid of dwelling deeply in the dualities of good and evil, with every gradient in between.

But this prologue, these opening verses from John’s gospel, they really lean into the mystery of God. They lean into God’s mystery in ways sometimes evasive, sometimes circuitous. These verses lean into the mystery for long enough to take us to the brink of unknowing, before reorienting us to the God who is deeply and profoundly relational, the one who we are invited to know more deeply, more truly, more intimately—through the Word, in flesh and blood. The one called Jesus, Creator Sets Free. 

Jesus. Creator Sets Free. The one who comes to liberate, to save.

Sometimes we Anglicans get squeamish with the language of salvation. Saved from what? To what end? And yet, I wonder if you’ve noticed this. I wonder if you’ve noticed this perpetual refrain throughout the scriptures, these scriptures that point us towards God’s story of salvation. 

Our scriptures tell the story of our ancestors who journey with the Creator through creation and migration. At times they are a nomadic people. At other times they settle in a land and make home. At times they displace others from their lands, and at other times they are displaced from their lands. 

Always God is with them—if sometimes a little hidden. And oftentimes when God’s people find themselves in peril, God sends someone or some situation to set them free. Freedom from being oppressed—as in Egypt or Babylon—but also Freedom from being the oppressor as when God sends prophets like Elijah or Amos to point the people back towards God’s, towards Creator’s dream of flourishing, not just for some, but for the whole of Creation.

On this Indigenous Day of Prayer, I have found it both important and difficult to be reminded of these pathways to freedom. This is a day on which we, as a church, give thanks for the gifts of Indigenous people—both to the church and to the world in which we live. It is a day we are meant to listen a little more closely to the voices of Indigenous people, to pay closer attention to what Holy Spirit is saying to the church in this moment, recognizing that all too often we have stifled and suppressed that voice.

It is meant to be a day of celebration of the Gifts of the Good Creator, of this Good World. And it is meant to point us in gratitude to God, and to the people who have stewarded these lands and waterways since time immemorial.  

And yet this week, my mind kept straying. I found myself thinking back to a year ago, to the discovery of those graves in Kamloops. I found myself reliving the conflict I was engaged in with my children’s school at the time when they refused to engage with these issues, perhaps assuming if you ignore them, these things go away. 

I was thinking too about our prayers, still tied to the tree in front of the church, prayers for the children who died in residential school, and those whose trauma was being relived in these discoveries. I was thinking back to the way in which Parish Council, a year ago, responded by seeking to find ways to increase our learning, and by committing to give to the Anglican Healing Fund, supporting Indigenous communities in recovering language, and taking on other community-led healing projects.

All of these things, were in the background for me this week, as I was preparing for today. This day, the National Indigenous Day of Prayer—and National Indigenous Peoples’ Day on Tuesday take place in the shadow of colonialism, displacement, and genocide. And perhaps this is why we mark them. 

Ray Aldred, the Director of the Indigenous Studies Program at the Vancouver School of Theology puts it this way. He says:

I think that the creation of National Indigenous Peoples Day was an attempt to try to shift the narrative to help Canadians understand that Canada exists because of the goodwill of Indigenous people, because our ancestors made treaty to try to live together in the land as relatives. Indigenous people have done their part and continue to do their part to call Canada to live in an honorable way in the land, to pursue reconciliation as an attempt to heal and restore the harmony that we see all around us in the good world where we find ourselves.

This day, and every day, is meant to be a turning point in our relationship with Indigenous people. This day, and every day, we are being called to honour the gifts of Indigenous people in our midst, and those. on whose land we live and gather to worship. This day reminds us, or ought to at least, that this isn’t about once-a-year ritual performance, but a new way of life, a renewed discipleship in pursuit of truth, justice, healing and reconciliation with God, our Indigenous neighbours, and the body of Creation. 

God. Neighbours. Creation. Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, this threefold relationship is identified time and again. When the relationships amongst God, God’s People, and Creation are in balance, this is called shalom. It’s not just the absence of conflict or imbalance, but peace. Deep, abiding, holistic peace. 

The ancient teaching about Shalom is echoed in many Indigenous cultures. Dr. Randy Woodley an activist, scholar, author, teacher, wisdom-keeper, Cherokee descendent, and Christian scholar writes this in his book Shalom and the Community of Creation:

“All people must begin to view the earth as our mother, God as our Father, and all the creatures on the earth as our relatives. After all, we have the same Creator. Both shalom and the Native American Harmony Way make room for the kind of living that creates an atmosphere of respect in which these relationships can exist. God, through Christ, created the entire earth and everything in it. Everything in Creation places a part in the others’ existence and well-being.”

Shalom. The Harmony Way. This understanding in Indigenous cultures of “All My Relations,” this call to see all things as integral to the other. To see ourselves woven together in a giant tapestry of Creation. And in that, to live lives in pursuit of justice through lives of mercy, walking humbly with the God we have come to know through Jesus—Creator Sets Free. 

We get squeamish about Salvation sometimes, but as we begin to look around at our world, with its disease and violence, its fear and anger, its hunger and thirst, its distrust and betrayal, its wars and rumours of wars, we start to get a picture of why we are called to watch and to wait, to work and to pray for salvation with and alongside the one who is called Creator Sets Free. Salvation for ourselves and the whole of Creation.

And that’s the struggle sometimes, isn’t it? Sometimes we don’t recognise it when God shows up. Sometimes we are so busy affirming that God is everywhere that we cannot name the places and moments where God shows up concretely in the midst of the muck and filth of everyday life, breaking chains and loosing the bonds of injustice, right here, right now. 

In our own lives, and in the life of the world. Until we pause to reflect. And we can start to name them: in relationships mended, when heartfelt apology is made, when someone reaches out and offers deep care. The scriptures show us that God shows up in the most lonely and desolate places to offer salvation unexpected and free. When we are in despair, God is there too.

And let me just say, my friends, that we are in troubling times in our world. The last two years have been hard, and they keep throwing peril our way. We are watching the decay of our civic institutions, and our religious communities. We are seeing people left behind and rendered homeless. We are watching the degradation of our relationships with one another. This isn’t just about polarization or different views, but a sorting of who is deemed valuable and who is not based on particular sets of values. Whose lives matter, which children matter, and which do not. 

And in the midst of this all, the call to the church is not annxiety but this: 

Wait on the Lord whose day is near. Wait on the Lord, be strong take heart. 

As in Advent, when we are watching and waiting for the birth of the light, so we wait this day. Not passively, but actively. In prayer and petition. In our actions: the ways we care for one another and the world around us. In our pursuit of beauty—in gardens and art and poetry and music. In the ways that we ask the question—what might God be calling us to in this moment? And how might we travel this way of Liberation? How might we speak or embody a word of hope right here, right now? And in this, humility is key. Because our recent ancestors claimed that what they were doing for Indigenous people—in residential schools and so on—would bring salvation.

And what we continue to learn is that one of the things we need saving from is our saviour complex. 

Jesus, Creator Sets Free, steps into this very kind of world. A world that doesn’t recognise him, a world hell bent on destruction, a world in which people and Creation suffer all kinds of abuses under the thumb of the ever-expanding, ever hungry, ever rapacious Roman empire. Which is to say that Jesus stepped into this very kind of world to live amongst us, to die as one of us, and to rise again to new life—a fullness of life into which we are invited through God’s saving grace. 

And, it must be said, our Indigenous siblings, if we pay attention, have much to teach us about what it means to live in this way, in the shadow of the cross, in the shadow of oppression. And it may take some unlearning on our part, it may take our realization that we are not exempt from the pain’s of the world. This teaching of the Harmony Way, for example, is being played out right here in the Kootenays as the Sinixt and many other people of good will stand for Old Growth Forests. As folks stand against the desecration of Creation, in the knowledge that Creator has invited us, the land, and our neighbours into relationships of shalom. 

This is just one way. And yet, I think that these actions led by Marilyn James and the Autonomous Sinixt, along with others ought to be instructive to us. They ought to give us hope. They ought to serve as an invitation into the way of peace.

These past weeks I’ve been re-reading this book by Kaitlin Curtice—entitled Native: Identity, Belonging, and Rediscovering God. Kaitlin is a citizen of the Potatwatomi nation and a Christian. Our second reading came from this book. And maybe, if you’re interested, we could do a book study on it in the days ahead. But as I close, I wanted to read this passage:

What does it look like to return, again and again, to the voice of Mystery in our lives? Perhaps it looks like building relationships with people who are not like us. Perhaps it requires following people on social media who come from different racial or religious backgrounds. Perhaps it means letting the earth speak and taking the time to listen. It always means asking how we can become people who love better…

One of my favourite church seasons is Lent, the forty days before Easter in which we remember that we come from dust, and we will return to it. The Potawatomi word for earth is aki, and it speaks to this same idea—we are made from earth, from dirt. This is a universal belief and does not just belong to the church, and yet, growing up I had never heard of Lent…When you live on the outside, you know the liminal spaces, the in-between spaces, the thin places where you feel the physical and spiritual intertwine. I believe that’s what Jesus’ life was marked by…

It is what Indigenous peoples find when we fast, pray, listen, engage, 

It is what people who long for sacredness find when they take time to listen…

We pray because the creatures of the earth teach us how to pray. 

We lament because creation laments, and we must work to fix what we’ve broken. 

We repair because God is always repairing. 

And we decolonize because it is always a return to the kindness of mystery. 

And so today, as we mark this National Indigenous Day of Prayer, how might we respond to this invitation? What might it look like:

To listen

To pray

To lament

To repair

To decolonize and divest ourselves of power

That we might be saved, that we might return to the kindness of mystery that we have known, that we can know, that we will know again in Jesus, Creator sets free. 

May this be our prayer, our song, and our way of life.