What is an Adequate Response to Despair?

by | Jul 4, 2021 | Sermons

What is an Adequate Response to Despair?

What should we do when nothing is going right? Not just in our own lives, but in society in general. When things don’t make sense and are wildly out of control. When despair sets in all around, how should the Christian react?

Scripture: Mark 6: 1-13

Thank you to all of our vocalists who participated in todays service: Brian MacInnes, Rob Lenters, Janet Leadbeater, and Diana Carr. 

What is an adequate response to despair?

The past year and a half could be described as a period of despair. We have endured a global pandemic brought about by Covid-19. We have isolated from people we love for the sake of our health and theirs. When we go out we wear masks and we physically distance from others, standing 6 feet apart. We have observed increased hygiene and hand-washing, likely not a bad thing, as a result of the pandemic.

Over the course of the past year we have also lamented about the state of things. We have wondered how this has happened and how it might end? We have suffered increased anxiety and stress as a result of being cut off from people we love and activities we enjoy. As the pandemic dragged on, we saw people protesting the many restrictions put in place. A strong desire to return to the way things were, has been desired. Now, I’m not sure we should go back to how things were as the pandemic has revealed many disparities about the way we live and care for people. However, I do long to be able to embrace people, to sit in close proximity, and to gather in this space for worship.

At the beginning of the pandemic and over the many months since we have despaired our common plight. Of course, the shared plight hasn’t been common. We heard stories of politicians and business leaders taking vacations when we were all urged to go home. Those who had income, time and space enjoyed freedom that those who are poorer, live in apartment and condo buildings weren’t able to enjoy. Regardless of our age, location, and status we have all despaired over the past year.

What is an adequate response to despair?

Over the past month we have received distressing news about the unmarked graves of children on Residential Schools. First, we learned about 215 unmarked graves at the Kamloops Residential School. Over the past week we have learned about over 750 unmarked graves at the Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan. Close to 1000 unmarked graves for children, we are devastated by this news. We despair that children could ever be treated in such a way and that it was the church and government who are responsible.

The Presbyterian Church in Canada ran Residential Schools. Most of those schools transferred to the newly formed United Church of Canada in 1925. We continued to run two schools until operation of the Residential Schools was taken over by the Federal Government. These are the Cecilia Jeffrey Residential School and Birtle Residential School. In a recent letter to the denomination, Ian Ross-McDonald, General Secretary for the Life and Mission Agency of the Presbyterian Church in Canada writes, “any work regarding former Residential Schools and the land they are or were on must be done in conversation with and after listening carefully to the affected communities and in line with their wishes. Additionally, we work in consultation with the National Indigenous Ministry Council.

“This work takes time and must be respectful of the impacted communities’ wishes. We know there are cemeteries associated with some of the schools that The Presbyterian Church in Canada ran but we do not know for sure whether there are unmarked graves on the grounds of these schools, though it is likely. We are working on opening conversations around searching the grounds of both Cecilia Jeffrey Residential School and Birtle Residential School. The church has also begun looking into how to approach those affected by the schools that The Presbyterian Church in Canada ran but that closed before 1925. We have also contacted the United Church of Canada about how we will work together with regard to the schools The Presbyterian Church in Canada ran before 1925 but then became associated with the United Church of Canada.” (Ian Ross-McDonald statement on Residential Schools)

I remember when I first learned about Residential Schools, it was around 1994 when the Presbyterian Church in Canada made its confession for its role in these institutions. I asked my minister, “our church wasn’t involved in this was it?” The response came, “Yes, our church too.”

We despair that those who came before us presumed to know better than Aboriginal people what was needed for life. We despair that such evil was perpetrated in Christ’s name.

What is an adequate response to despair?

This is a question that arises in the book I am reading, Metamorphosis: Preaching after Christendom by the Rev. Dr. Sarah Travis. What is an adequate response to despair?

In his life Jesus knew rejection. His family, the people from his home village, they reject him. They ask, how is it that Jesus, the carpenter’s son, Mary and Joseph’s boy, how can he do these things?

We read that Jesus was amazed at their lack of faith. But he may have just as easily despaired at their lack of faith! He may have decided, that if those who love and know me best won’t believe me why continue? We note that the people of Nazareth took offense to Jesus, the message he was teaching and the healing he was providing.

The message Jesus taught was a corrective one. Sometimes his words were harsh, these were most often reserved for those who used the law for their own benefit or who due to their social standing had much to lose when the emphasis of the law became about love and equality. However, most of what Jesus taught was based on compassion. He healed those that no one else was interested in. He fed, both physically and spiritually, those who had not yet heard words of love. Who understood the law to be a yoke of oppression rather than a mantle of freedom.

In light of our experience with Covid-19 and with what is being uncovered about Residential Schools, there is much to reckon and reconcile with. This past week I was on study leave, and in the lectures, workshops and sermons I attended I heard three dominant themes for the church to contend with:

  • Dismantling the systems of colonization
  • Listening to the voices of the oppressed, especially those within our midst
  • That the work of evangelism, must now be focused inwards. That it is the church itself which is need of being evangelized.

This is hard work and each of these statements has a lot to unpack. And these questions themselves might cause us to despair.

What is an adequate response to despair?

Jesus, instead of feeling the rejection of the people of Nazareth, went around teaching from village to village. Jesus did not give up or despair.

As we come out of the pandemic, as we reconcile further with the legacy of Residential Schools we too must go out. We need to teach about the love we receive in Christ. Not as it was done before, rigid and dogmatic. Not with the intention to force any person, peoples or groups to change, but simply to state that we are loved. And we need to do so while confessing our own broken legacy of our sin, not of the tiny misdemeanors that we have perpetrated, but of the wholly broken relationship we have created with Aboriginal peoples and ourselves.

What is an adequate response to despair?

To demonstrate love through humility, even in the face of rejection. Amen.

St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church

St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church

St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cobourg is part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The congregation was established in 1833 and continues to serve the community.

St. Andrew’s supports the gathering of community agencies, providing space for the Affordable Housing Committee. Rev. Ellis’ voice is key in advocating for improvements in awareness, empathy and action on key determinants such as housing, income and food security. 

Kristina Nairn

Public Health Nurse, HKPR Health Unit

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Thank you for visiting St. Andrew’s. It’s our prayer that this sermon was helpful to your walk of faith. We would ask you to prayerful consider donating to the mission of St. Andrew’s. You can make an online donation through our website. 

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