Sermon May 6th, 2018 – Russ Wall

One of my favourite ways to spend any available free time I have is to grab the camera and associated gear and head out on the road to do some outdoor or nature photography. As anyone in my family will tell you, if the camera gear is in the vehicle and we happen to come upon an abandoned old farm yard, or some old farm implements or derelict vehicles, invariably I have to stop, grab the camera and get out to explore and do some photographic “shooting”.

Photography is a great way to challenge yourself to see the world around you in an entirely different way than other people  see it. A good point to illustrate this occurred shortly after Christmas, many years ago. Several nights of midwinter fog had coated everything in a thick coat of sparkling white hoar frost, including an old willow tree at the north end of our village. The image of a frost laden, lone willow tree set against a brilliant  blue prairie winter sky was a photographic opportunity just too good to pass up, so there I was, next to the road adjusting camera settings and tripod location in hopes of getting the composition, light and shadows just right. Thats when my neighbour and his family pulled up in their van and stopped on the road. The driver’s side window rolled down, my neighbour stuck his head out of the window and asked, “hey Russ, what ya taking a picture of?” I was practically speechless! Even though we were both looking at the very same scene, what I saw and what my neighbour evidently saw were two entirely different things.

There are other times in my life however, apart from photography,  when I often see situations and events very differently from the way other people see the exact same situation or event. One such moment occurred recently, on a Sunday evening two days after Friday, April 6th, 2018. That date will be instantly recognizable by almost everyone here this morning, for that is the sad and tragic day that the Humboldt Broncos bus accident occurred. The following Sunday evening a community prayer vigil was held at the hockey arena in Humboldt. Clergy, community leaders and members of the Bronco Hockey organization all spoke at the prayer vigil which was broadcast to a local, provincial, national and even a global audience. Of all the people who spoke that evening, there was one guest speaker in particular that left a profound and lasting impression on me. His name is Dr. Lawrence Joseph and I would like to take a few moments and let you experience for yourselves the words Dr. Joseph presented so eloquently to a grieving community on behalf of all indigenous first nations people and the Anglican Church.


Not only did the words that Dr. Joseph shared that evening speak directly to my heart, but it was also in the way he shared them that I found very uplifting and inspiring.  It is often said that pride goes before a fall, but as I listened to Dr.Lawrence Joseph speak, I could not have been more honoured or proud to belong to the same faith community or family we know as Anglicans.

Dr.Joseph spoke with sincerity, humility, grace, compassion, love and respect. That was plain for all to see. But as I listened to Dr. Lawrence Joseph’s words, it became apparent to me that this was one of those moments when I was seeing something entirely different from what everyone else witnessed. As I watched Mr. Joseph speak that evening, I saw a person with unmeasurable forgiveness. Allow me to explain.

While the date of April 6th, 2018 will probably always remain instantly recognizable to most of in the future, there is a date that marks another day of tragedy in our province that may not be as familiar or recognizable to you. That date is August 9th, 2016, and it marks the sad and tragic day that Colton Boushie and some friends drove into Gerald Stanley’s farm yard. While the events of that day were tragic, what I found more disturbing was the hate filled, racially charged slurs that began to appear on social media in the days following August 9th. The racist comments that were said and printed online are not worthy to be repeated here, but their intent was abundantly clear. They were meant to degrade and condemn not only Colton but also the entire indigenous first nation peoples.

Both of these tragic events resulted in the loss of life. Both of these events caused unspeakable sorrow for families and loved ones, and yet how we as a people reacted to these two events couldn’t have been more different.  April 6th 2018 brought  us closer together as a community, a province and a nation. As Dr. Lawrence Joseph so wisely pointed out to us a few moments ago, in our sorrow and grief “We are all Humboldt Broncos”. August 9th, 2016 had the exact opposite effect on our society. It drove the divisive wedge of racism and hatred deeper between the indigenous and non indigenous members of our communities, our province and our nation. The hate filled comments were meant to send a loud and clear racist message: we are better than first nation peoples. None of us is a Colton Boushie!

Nothing could be further from the truth than those words.

Did Colton and his friends make some very bad choices that day? Of course they did. To be brutally blunt, did they make some stupid, and poorly thought out decisions that day? Of course they did.

But let me ask you this: is there anyone here who has never made some bad choices in their life? Is there anyone here who has never made some stupid and poorly thought out decisions in their life? I didn’t think so. The only difference between Colton and each of us is that he paid the ultimate price for his mistakes and we did not. In Jesus’s eyes no one race is better than another. Yes, we are all Humboldt Broncos. But in Jesus’s eyes we are also all Colton Boushies.

As I listened to the words of Dr. Lawrence Joseph on the evening of April 8th, I not only thought of Colton Boushie, but I also began to recall some of the countless injustices and hardships our first nations brothers and sister have had to endure because of us and our nation’s policies. Broken promises. Unfulfilled treaties. Residential schools that not only destroyed the social fabric of families, but that told you that your culture, your beliefs, your traditions and your language were “dirty” and of no value, and were no longer permitted. And if all this wasn’t bad enough, residential schools became a place where sexual and physical abuse took place in dark and hidden away corners.

My thoughts also traveled to more recent times. I thought of young first nation people on reserves today and how they live with limited prospects of meaningful work or opportunities that we take so for granted, and how, when all hope seems to be lost, they resort to alcohol, they resort to drugs, and sadly, they resort to the ultimate act of taking their own lives. As I watched and listened to Dr. Lawrence speak that evening, with tears in my eyes, I was in awe of what I was witnessing. Before me was an indigenous, first nations child of God, whose people have endured and suffered so much over that past several hundred years our hands, and yet here he is, with humility, grace, dignity and honour, bringing us words of compassion, and love and consoling us in our time of sorrow and sadness. That is why I saw what many others may have failed to see in that moment – a child of God with unmeasurable forgiveness in his heart.

As I struggle to be a follower of Jesus in this life, I am thankful for the occasional moments when I see people, places and events very differently from the way other people see them. It is in these moments that I feel I have been given the tiniest glimpse of what it is like to see the world through God’s eyes.This morning I would like to ask each of you “How do you see the world around you?” If we are honest and truthful I suspect our answers I will be much the same. Sadly, all too often we see some of the people were encounter in our lives through the lenses of intolerance, fear, prejudice, suspicion, hatred and racism. Likewise, all too often we see the places of this beautiful earth, our island home, through the lenses of greed, exploitation and neglect. In this mornings Gospel lesson, Jesus calls upon us to see the world and the people in it through a different lens.

Jesus said, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

Jesus’s desire is that we see the world around us through only one lens, and that lens is love. If we choose to follow the commandment that Jesus gives us, “that you love one another as I have loved you.” we will begin to see the world in a whole new way. We will begin to see the world and people around us through the lenses of kindness, respect, tolerance, forgiveness, compassion, and most importantly, love. In short, we will begin to see the world and its people through the eyes of Jesus Himself.

This morning I would like to conclude my sermon in a very different way. The words I have chosen to close with this morning are given as a tribute to Dr. Lawrence Joseph. His humbleness, graciousness, compassion, love and unmeasurable forgiveness are a light in my life. In this mornings Gospel Jesus says “I have called you friends”. It would be my great honour and privilege to be able to call Dr. Lawrence Joseph my friend!

Secondly, my closing words are given in tribute to all our indigenous first nation brothers and sisters, to young people living on first nation reserves, and they are given especially in memory of Colton Boushie. May Colton, his family and loved ones be remembered in our prayers. Rest eternal grant unto him O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon him. May he rest in peace an rise in glory. Finally, and most importantly, my closing words are given in honour of our Creator, the One who is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, our one true, bright, and shinning North Star, the light of whose love guides us through the darkest nights, I pay homage and honour with these words:

In the Name of the Father: Oaktoweemau *

In the Name of the Son: Oakasisemau *

and in the Name of the Holy Spirit: Taganatseditsa *



* – Incorrect spelling. A poor attempt at being written phonetically.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Thank you for your registration!

We’re very much looking forward to CrossTalk, and to spending this week with your child!

Click here to register another child.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

On making sense of tragedy

Sermon preached by The Rev. Chris Dowdeswell at St Stephens Anglican, April 8 2018

It is with hearts full of grief that we come together in prayer today after the horrific crash Friday afternoon involving the Humboldt Broncos bus, where fifteen people died and many others were seriously injured.

Words cannot express what many of us are feeling today. It is devastating to think of the 15 lives lost in the accident, the many others who were seriously injured, and all those connected to them.

It’s hard to make sense of such tragedy, and pain, and death.

We all want to make sense of these things. It’s just human nature.

There’s a long history, going back to the book of Job, of responding to peoples’ tragedy by interpreting it as God’s judgement against some sin they had committed. Job’s friends interpret his misfortune as punishment from God, and counsel him to confess his sins and turn from his wicked ways so that he would be healed.

Once they can attribute Job’s misfortune to an unconfessed sin, his friends can make sense of the way forward. Job must, of course, confess the sin, and repent of it. Once the friends can make sense of this way forward, they can stop thinking about it.

But Job responds, and he doesn’t let them off so easy. He maintains that his misfortune was not caused by sinning, so there is no quick fix. No easy way of understanding what is going on. The concluding message of the book of Job is that the reasons for misfortune will remain a mystery. God does what God does.

Just like the misfortune of Job, there is no way of making sense of the tragedy, and the pain, and the death that came upon the 30 people involved in Friday’s crash, and all those connected to them. There is no sin to confess and repent from that will make things better. No quick way to understand and move forward from what happened that day.

No way to put it out of our minds.

Two thousand years ago, Jesus’ disciples were in a similar state. They had lost someone they cared about deeply. Someone who they had followed around, and sat at the feet of, for three years. Jesus was their friend, their mentor, and their Lord.

Then, one day, He was taken away from them.

Just like us, here today, the disciples had no way to make sense of their tragedy. They had no way to make sense of Jesus’ pain, and suffering, and death.

Perhaps if Jesus would have told them a reason for his suffering and death in advance, they would have been able to make sense of it and stop thinking about it.

But he didn’t. Jesus didn’t give us a theology of the cross, or a theology of the resurrection. He didn’t leave us with his preferred theory of the atonement.

The only thing he said, is that he would die, and then on the third day he would be raised from the dead. He said that these things must happen. But he didn’t tell us why they must happen.

Today we read a story about the disciple named Thomas.

After the resurrected Christ appears to the others, Thomas famously proclaims that he will not believe unless Jesus appears to him, as well, so that he can see the marks of crucifixion and put his own finger in the wounds. Jesus, of course, does later appear to him, and upon seeing the risen Lord, Thomas exclaims, “My Lord and My God!”

Thomas had come to believe in the resurrection.

He didn’t understand. But he had come to believe.

There was nothing in the appearance that helped Thomas understand any better. He still didn’t have the theological words to make sense of it. But that didn’t matter.

He believed.

And the most important message of this story of Thomas is that belief in the resurrection is enough. Belief gets to the heart of the matter.

As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians:

“Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”

Belief in the resurrection, and that death is no longer final, is the only thing that can take away the sting of death. No amount of understanding ever will.

It is important to keep these categories “belief” and “understanding” straight in our minds.

Sometimes people try to preach on the story of doubting Thomas and make it out to be a story about evidence for belief. They try to make the case that there is something either good or bad about seeking evidence for belief, and their definition of “belief” is then closely linked to their definition of “understanding.” They say that belief either happens BECAUSE OF having evidence, or by having a LACK OF evidence. (There’s not a lot of consistency in how this passage is interpreted!) Belief in the first case, because of having evidence, is better called “understanding.” And belief in the second case, because of a lack of evidence is better called “faith.”

But this passage we read today isn’t about either faith or understanding. There is nothing about Thomas putting his finger in Jesus’ wounds that gave him more faith, or more understanding. Putting his finger in the wounds didn’t reduce the amount of information he had to work with, and somehow make his belief more “faithful.” Nor did putting his finger in the wounds give him more understanding, because he already knew that nails and spears could make holes in human flesh.

What Thomas putting his finger in Jesus’ wounds gave him, was belief.

Belief in the resurrection.

All of us sitting here today have probably tried to make sense of the bus accident this weekend. We all yearn for a greater understanding.

Perhaps, like me, you have played through the scenario in your head and wondered about what might have caused the accident. Or maybe some of us are like Job’s friends who think such misfortune must be the result of God’s judgement for some horrible sin.

We want to understand the cause of the misfortune, whether it be something physical or something spiritual, so that we can avoid the consequences of these actions, ourselves.

We are hardwired to think this way because in most situations it is a healthy thing to learn from consequences. Once we have this kind of understanding of cause and effect, it gives us a sense of control over the situation. If we can boil a painful memory down to a simple rule like “confess your sins” or “don’t drive distracted”, it can help us stop thinking about the painful memory itself.

All of this is very natural. No one wants to relive this kind of pain everyday for the rest of their lives. Nobody could, and still function.

But having a better understanding of the bus crash this weekend will not take away the sting of death.

Can anything?

The pastoral side of all of us wants to answer “no.”

A part of each of us knows that when tragedy strikes, there is nothing that can make it better. In those situations, the only thing we can do is love those affected by the tragedy. By wrapping our arms around them and doing what we can to care for them, physically. Being a shoulder for them to cry on. Making them a sandwich. Giving them money to help deal with the unexpected expenses. It is not a time for any words other than, “I love you.”

But no amount of love we can offer can ever take away the sting of death.

There is only one thing that can take away the sting of death, and that is Jesus’ resurrection.

The church exists to love the downtrodden. To extend care and comfort to those who are suffering. And there are lots of other people in this world who are also doing such things.

But what the church offers to the world, that the world cannot offer, is the message of the resurrection.

We are the only ones who have the Good News that can take away the sting of death.

And after the freshness of our own wounds starts to heal, we as a church will continue to proclaim the message about Jesus’ wounds. Wounds that did not have the last word. Wounds that were forever overcome, once and for all.

Like Thomas, may we believe in the resurrection, and along with it, that all of this death will be swallowed up in victory.

Lord, take away this sting. And help us to be faithful stewards of this powerful message of the resurrection.

In Jesus’ name we pray.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Building on a Firm Foundation, Wednesday Morning Revisited

“Your will be done on earth as in heaven.”

St. Paul’s statement of reality, which we confess in our Epistle Reflection this morning, is also a challenge to us.  Do we show that we are God’s servants?  When people see how we react to troubles, difficulties and hardships, do our actions in response to these circumstances show that we are God’s servants?  Any one of us could be the first, or only, person that some other ever meets, who associates their name with Jesus’.  As Jesus’ ambassadors, are each of us showing that we are His servants?

This morning, we might consider whose will is done in our lives – we know how we’ve been taught to pray.

Posted in Community, Easter, Firm Foundations, Praxis, Sacramental Living | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Building on a Firm Foundation, Tuesday Evening Revisited

“Your Kingdom come on earth as in heaven.”

How often we seek ourselves: our own name, our own fame, our own pleasure, our own benefit, our own advancement, our own happiness.  Not all of it is done to the exclusion of other people receiving the same.  But for all of the self-seeking that we do, our Lord teaches us to pray for His Kingdom to come.  Not our own.  In Luke 17:10 Jesus says, “…when you are done all you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done.’”  Jesus’ teaching flies in the face of feelings of entitlement, or of earning our worth.

These evening, we might reflect on how we live: how do our lives advance God’s Kingdom on earth?

Posted in Community, Easter, Firm Foundations, Praxis, Sacramental Living | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Building on a Firm Foundation, Tuesday Morning Revisited

“Your Kingdom come on earth as in heaven.”

I’m struck by image of putting on Christ (like a garment), this morning.  It is used elsewhere in St. Paul’s writing (this portion of our reflection is from Galatians 3, as I pointed out last week), where the saint draws a more complete picture of the believer taking off their old self and then putting on Christ (Ephesians 4:22-24).  We might reflect, this morning, on our own clothing.  Wolf in sheep’s clothing?  Emperor in new (and revealing) clothes?  Repentant sinner, wrapped in the righteousness of Christ?  As His identity becomes our identity more and more – as we put on Christ – how, then, does this bring His Kingdom on earth as in heaven?

Posted in Community, Easter, Firm Foundations, Praxis, Sacramental Living | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Building on a Firm Foundation, Monday Evening Revisited

“Hallowed be your name on earth as in heaven.”

Shortly after Jesus was talking to the Sadducees (see last week, Monday Evening), Jesus was approached by the Pharisees.  It is these ones who ask Him what the greatest commandment is, and He quotes Deuteronomy 6:

“‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (NRSV)

Tonight we reflect on Jesus’ words.  Sometimes we call this the Summary of the Law.  We might consider, this evening, our love for God.  With, or without, our whole heart?  Or, our love for our neighbours.  As, or not as, ourselves?

Posted in Community, Easter, Firm Foundations, Praxis, Sacramental Living | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Building on a Firm Foundation, Friday Morning

“Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.”

The Epistle Reflection this morning is drawn, in part, from Romans 5:6-8.  St. Paul is making a point: we are unworthy of God’s mercy; undeserving of God’s favour.  “While we were yet sinners…” He still loved us.  “While we were yet sinners…” He came to earth for us.  “While we were yet sinners…” we were rightly separated from God, who is righteous.  And yet, such is the love of God for us that He died for us while we were yet sinners.

Our meditative time this morning might be spent considering how deep the Father’s love for us is, that undeserving He would still forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.

Posted in Community, Easter, Firm Foundations, Praxis, Sacramental Living | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Building on a Firm Foundation, Thursday Evening

“Give us today our daily bread.”

Our Gospel Reflection this evening is taken from John 15.  Perhaps this week you will choose to reflect on the image of the Vine.  Jesus is speaking, and He is illustrating the deep need that His followers have to draw their life from Him, as the branch does from the vine.  His point is to mind us toward our dependence on Him.  He uses a powerful image.

In our meditation this evening, we could reflect on the question begged by Jesus’ words: where is my life rooted?  We might move to orient our lives in ways that are appropriate for people who pray: Our Father, give us today our daily bread.

Posted in Community, Easter, Firm Foundations, Praxis, Sacramental Living | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Building on a Firm Foundation, Thursday Morning

“Give us today our daily bread.”

The opening stanza of the Epistle Reflection that accompanies our reflection this morning is taken from 2 Corinthians 9:6-7.  St. Paul is writing concerning a special collection that is being taken for other Christians, and he seems to want to make sure that everything is in order, for it, before he arrives so that it doesn’t take up any of his time while present.  His reminder to the Corinthians, is about their attitude toward material wealth and possessions.  Their attitude, in giving to the Church, should be one that is familiar to our lips: All things come of Thee, O Lord, and of Thine own have we given Thee.

Our meditation this morning could be around God’s provision for His people, as He provides for our needs.  Our Father, give us today our daily bread.

Posted in Community, Easter, Firm Foundations, Praxis, Sacramental Living | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment