A couple of weeks ago, Peggy and I were up at Whistler for the annual clergy conference. We had a lovely time. It was the first year I’d managed to score a room at the conference hotel; normally, I’m just a smidge late to register. But, this year, I made it, which meant that in addition to being close to the conference hall, I also had access to the hotel amenities. We’re talking three hot tubs, an outdoor pool, and a sauna!
One evening, I went hot tub hopping (this one was a little too hot, this one too cold, but this one was just right). Then, I decided I’d finish the evening in the sauna. I opened the door and went inside. I’m sitting there breathing in the aroma of the cedar, feeling pretty lucky for the time away, the chance to share all of the good things happening at St Clement’s, and, I’m thinking, isn’t it nice that I have this whole place to myself?
The next day at dinner, I’m chatting with some colleagues, bragging a little about the amenities, and, one of my colleagues says to me, “I was in the sauna right around the same time as you; I’m surprised I didn’t see you?”
I thought, yeah, that is kind of strange. So, I said to her, “Did you have trouble getting in? The lock on the door was a little tricky.”
And, she says, “Lock on the door? Helen, I think you were in the toolshed.”
Sure enough, the actual sauna was inside the hotel. I had found my way into the janitor’s hut on the pool deck. There were a couple of rakes and, like, a garden hoe inside; but your brain has a way of ignoring these things when you’re just so desperate to enjoy the amenities!
When Jesus says to his disciples, “In my father’s house there are many rooms,” I feel like he is trying to reassure the ones who haven’t quite gotten it yet, that there is a place even for them in God’s kingdom.
In my father’s house, there are many rooms, many dwelling-places. This morning, I want to talk about how in God’s house, everybody has a room, but sometimes we think that because we have a room we own the whole house, and maybe that isn’t entirely the case.
Melanie Delva—former reconciliation animator for the Anglican Church of Canada—she tells a beautiful story about the first time her adoptive father, Coyote Terry Alex, took her to a sweat lodge. Reflecting on this very reading from John’s gospel that we heard today, she talks about learning from her father that “the lodge is the womb of the Creator.”
“What would take place over the next four or so hours” she writes,
was beautiful, vulnerable, sacred and at times physically excruciating. . . . There were moments when [the] stones [in the lodge] felt like my enemy – the heat from them making me feel like I was being punished, like I could take no more. But when the “medicine” was sprinkled on the stones and the burning smoke rose and enveloped my senses, those stones caressed me and made me feel comforted – their glow the only thing visible in the complete darkness of the lodge. Each time I emerged from the lodge emotionally spent and physically pushed to my limit, I felt ALIVE.
There was another ceremony that took place in God’s house, just this weekend, in a very impressive and historical place of worship. I’m speaking of the Coronation of King Charles III at Westminster Abbey. Canada is one of fifteen remaining countries in the Commonwealth and so we were represented at the ceremony. The Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, was there, together with his wife, Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau, astronauts Jeremy Hansen and Jennifer Sidey-Gibbons, several youth delegates including Maryam Tsegaye, winner of the global science competition Breakthrough Junior Challenge, and Assembly of First Nations National Chief RoseAnne Archibald, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami President Natan Obed, and Cassidy Caron, the president of the Métis National Council.
The delegation that was chosen, in my view, tells a story of Canada’s relationship to the Crown—the good and the bad. And, when I say "the good," I know we here at St Clement’s might have differing opinions about what that means. What I’m thinking of are examples like Whitecap Dakota Nation in Saskatchewan, who this past Tuesday formally signed a treaty, which “acknowledges and describes the First Nation’s inherent right to self governance . . . [and] recognizes the community as Indigenous people of Canada under the constitution.”
Many “Dakota communities fought for the British stationed in what is now Canada during the War of 1812 against the United States, but still weren’t recognized as Indigenous people of this country. . . . When treaties were signed in the 1800s in Saskatchewan, Whitecap’s chief was there, but wasn’t invited to sign.”
“It’s just a step at a time,” Chief Darcy Bear said in an interview this week, “but this is a very positive day for our ancestors, our people and our future generations.” I join in celebrating this “good” with the Whitecap Dakota Nation.
At the same time, in the light of positive first steps, it can be tempting, perhaps especially for those of us who still have strong ties or affection for England, to assume that the bad in Canada is entirely in the past. My hope is that we would have a more realistic and maybe a more honest take, both within Canada as a nation and the Anglican Church as a place of worship. Britain, the Church of England, the Anglican Church of Canada, and those who have acted unjustly in its name, they, we, have a history of thinking that because we have a room in God’s house, and some very impressive rooms at that, that we own the whole house. And, what that means, is that we get to decide what everyone else’s room looks like, who gets to stay where, and maybe if there’s a room with a less desirable view, or a bathroom with shoddy plumbing, that we’ll make sure none of “us” has to stay there.
It’s this kind of thinking that made policies in Canada such as the 1876 Indian Act possible, policies that were developed in the name of the Crown and with the thinking that the Crown owned the whole house. Early drafters of the Indian Act described its purpose as, “to administer Indian affairs in such a way that Indian people would feel compelled to renounce their Indian status and join Canadian civilization as full members: a process called enfranchisement.” The result was and continues to be widespread discrimination and disenfranchisement of First Nations people across Canada, including an over-representation of Indigenous people in prisons and Indigenous children in foster care, and federal government statistics which reveal that “Indigenous women and girls accounted for almost a quarter of female homicide victims between 2001 and 2015, though they represent only 5 per cent of women in Canada.”
Why is this so? How can this possibly be in a place as beautiful as Canada? Well, if we look at the Coronation, the splendour of the music, the cultural dress and artefacts, the many languages represented, the spirituality and tradition on display, and if we think of the thousands upon thousands of people in attendance and the countless around the world who watched online, perhaps we can imagine what it would be like if all of a sudden we were required by government and church policy to give all of that up for the sake of having access to things like safe drinking water, or the ability to keep our children with trusted family members when we were going through a tough time.
“Your Majesty, as children of the kingdom of God we welcome you in the name of the King of kings.” This little child’s greeting in yesterday’s Coronation service, the very first line in the whole liturgy, this was a reminder to me of just whose house this is that we Christians, perhaps, we Canadians, too, profess to live in. All of us have a room in God’s house prepared, formed in the womb of the Creator, but our faith tells us that the house belongs to God.
This is what Jesus was getting at when Thomas says to him, “Show us how we get to own this place”, and Jesus says, “Make no mistake; you all have a room, and what a beautiful room it is, but those who stay in this house do so by following my way, my truth, my life.”
And, what, we might ask ourselves, is the way, the truth, and the life of Jesus? Well, it’s sacrificial; it’s inclusive and expansive; it’s: “the last shall be first and the first shall be last”; it’s: “I came not to be served, but to serve.”
Long live the King of kings; long may his realm of justice reign. Amen.
Melanie Delva and Coyote Terry Alex, “Wild Lectionary: And then the stones cried out” in Radical Discipleship, accessed online on 06 May 2023 at https://radicaldiscipleship.net/2017/05/11/wild-lectionary-and-then-the-stones-cried-out/?fbclid=IwAR1DzWqmT6ZCCjKzhO14Bb5oWZLmAVv1jzc9y5HABeriXL-lJ3ps-KHtCsc
Robin George, “What is Red Dress Day? How missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit people are honoured on May 5” in The Globe and Mail accessed online on 06 May 2023 at https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-red-dress-day-2023-mmiwg2s/
Sam Samson, “Whitecap Dakota First Nation signs historic treaty with Canada” in CBC Saskatchewan accessed online on 06 May 2023 at https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/whitecap-dakota-first-nation-self-governing-saskatchewan-1.6829736
University of British Columbia, “The Indian Act” in Indigenous Foundations accessed online on 06 May 2023 at https://indigenousfoundations.arts.ubc.ca/the_indian_act/