June 25, 2017

Preached by Rev. James McKay on June 25, 2017.

Isaiah 58
Psalm 33
Romans 13:  1-10
Matthew 5:  1-16

Listen to this Sermon

Blessed is the Nation Whose God is the Lord

In just a few days, the people of Canada will celebrate the 150th anniversary of Confederation that took place in 1867.  We are poised for a celebration.  Excitement is building.  Nearly everyone is wearing the T-shirt!  It is going to be a great occasion across this nation – from sea to sea to sea!

Chatting with some people from Ottawa we met recently, a woman remarked, with typically Canadian understatement, “I really hope the fireworks, WORK this time”!

My take on our reputation is that Canadians, in spite of considerable achievements and our diversity still do not take ourselves too seriously – eh?

Former CBC broadcaster Peter Gzowski, whose career began in Moose Jaw, kept a sign in his studio that read, “As Canadian as possible under the circumstances!”

Remarkably, Canada is a nation which in its constitution and Charter of Rights and Freedoms opens with the statement “WHEREAS CANADA IS FOUNDED UPON PRINCIPLES THAT RECOGNIZE THE SUPREMACY OF GOD AND THE RULE OF LAW:  the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out (as follows)…”

Our national motto, “ A mari usque ad mare” is drawn from the phrase in Psalm 72: 8 in which the enthronements of the King of Israel is accompanied by the assurance that he “shall have dominion from sea to sea and from the river to the ends of the earth.”

Until the 1980’s we were known as the Dominion of Canada and July 1st was called “Dominion Day”.  Now simply we say Canada and Canada Day.

Our National anthem, of course, includes the sung petition, “God keep our land glorious and free”  a further acknowledgement of the Divine in national life.

This God, whose supremacy we recognize formally in the Charter is the God of the Scriptures which we share not only among all our Christian sisters and brothers globally but also those Scriptures of the O. T. Which we share with our Jewish neighbours and those early O.T. stories of Abram’s son Ishmael with whom our Muslim neighbours connect.

Surely it’s appropriate then the ponder what it means for us in Canada-especially for people of faith in Canada to acknowledge this relationship with God as revealed in these Scriptures and as worshipped and grounded in our national covenants.

This morning we have read and heard the O.T. prophetic voices of Micah and Isaiah, lest anyone in any nation say they’re unsure of what God expects of faithful people.  The teaching of St. Paul in the N.T. acknowledges that we live within a human structure of governance and that while the Christian has no right to punish anyone, the state does, and must be respected.  This was a common Jewish view of the state even though at the time of writing Nero was emperor in Rome!

The Gospel lesson today sets out the Beatitudes Jesus taught as foundational to the growth and spiritual maturity of all who would be disciples.  Again, this teaching is specific to the attainment of life that is truly happy and fully blessed.  Blessed means literally “the happinesses”.

It is Psalm 33 though, I believe, which provides a clear and inviting window of clarity for us to consider our relationship with the God we name in Constitution, Charter, Anthem, and Scripture.

“Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord”.  V. 12

Psalm 33 is a hymn of praise celebrating and proclaiming God as creator and lord of history.  God is known for God’s providential care, protection and foresight in both creation and history.

What’s more is that Psalm 33 is the worshippers’ own witness and testimony of the truth of the providence of God.

Called to worship this God, the people of faith rejoice with praise that is accompanied by loud shouts and stirring string section-like orchestral music.  They are responding to the experience of God’s presence there and then, probably in a Covenant renewal ceremony and affirming what they know of God’s supremacy, faithfulness and steadfast love.  We are blessed to be chosen of God!

and so…the Psalm continues…what evocative images are these.

“By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,

And all their host by the breath of his mouth.”  V. 6

“…let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of [God]

For God spoke, and it came to be.

[God] commanded and it stood firm.”  V. 8-9

Not science as today but wonderfully poetic and majestic!

…and then on to the world of politics.  This is interesting.

“Let no nation or assembly of nations ever think they own the place or run the place!  The Lord brings the counsel of nations to nothing.  The Lord rules over the destinies of nations.”  V.10-11

Next – all of us are scrutinized.  You’re being watched by God, very closely!

“Truly the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him on those who hope in his steadfast love.” V. 18

Where is all of this going, we may ask?  It’s going to the very sure and solid foundation of personal and community – wide TRUST in this God.  Whatever may come in life, we may place our wholehearted trust in our providential God, trust that we do not live our lives in vain!

Our well being, our security in life and beyond death, our destiny, depend not upon weapon, armaments, alliances, treaties, not upon wealth, health or power but our well being depends upon the faithfulness of God’s steadfast love toward us and our abiding trust and hope in that love.

We belong to God and nothing will ever take us away from that belonging!

Here and now we may experience the abiding presence of God, especially in worship.  We have the opportunity to recognize the providential care of God in creation and history.  We are invited to establish our trust in God’s proven faithfulness.

In these remarkable ways we are blessed – blissfully happy to be a people, a community of those upon whom the divine favour rests.

Artur Weiser, commenting these verses in Psalms 33, notes as follows:

‘the people of Israel, whose own destiny was so tragically bound up with the policy of the great empires in antiquity, has experienced in their own history the coming and going of these kingdoms and had learned from their own fate…this one lesson; there is only one plan that endures forever, and that is God’s plan.  From this nation emerged that great vision of history which for the first time in the history of the world grasped and expressed the fact that the divine purpose inherent in everything which happens in the world is the meaning of history as a whole.”  (Weiser, p. 292 re: vs. 10-12)

This being so implies the Psalm writer, “Stay rooted in the Blessedness of God.  Stand firmly in the happinesses of God’s steadfast love.

What o people of faith in Canada think as we move towards the 150th anniversary?

How shall we speak and live the truth of God’s providential favour upon us and indeed upon the whole inhabited earth?

Recently, a few Presbyterians were asked to comment on our National Truth and Reconciliation endeavour with our First Nations and Indigenous peoples.

Specifically, they were asked, “Why does Truth and Reconciliation matter to Presbyterians”?

One reply that stood out for me was this.  “Canada is not healed until indigenous peoples are healed.  Building up our nation must recognize that the rest of us need to be healed too.  We’re taking down a wall between us and the Indigenous peoples.  In justice there is hope.”

Global watchers are pointing out to us that:

  1. The CONSENSUS that trade and openness with all nations makes the world richer.
  2. The TOLERANCE that lets millions move in search of opportunities
  3. The IDEAL that people of different hues and faiths CAN get along

…are all under threat these days.  Earlier this week, the UNHCR reported that there are 65 million refugees in our global village, over half of whom are children.

The continuing chaos and crisis in the Middle East especially in the Persian Gulf states has been described by a professor at Qatar University as a situation in which, “there is confusion everywhere now-in Russia, and Europe, in Syria and in the U.S..  We are living in a very interesting moment in the history of the world.  (G&M  June 10/17 p. A-15)

As people of faith in Canada we are not blessed because we are privileged, or special, or better than any others on the planet, we are blessed in order to be a blessing to the many nations including our own.  We have known this from the time of Abraham.

How to deliver that blessing – the truth of God’s word, the faithfulness of God’s actions and the assurance that what God promises, God will surely keep, is or mission – going forward, as we’re fond of saying these days, – our mission of connecting the bigger picture of God’s eternal plan to the daily hopes and dreams, trials and challenges that this and every succeeding generations confronts.

May God sustain us and surprise us in spite of ourselves!