Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord - Psalm 33:12a
A nation whose God is the Lord is blessed because God’s values in life promote morality, decency, honour and truth for the well-being of all its citizens. A nation under God has stability and such a nation praises God for his care.
And notice: that is how the psalmist begins his song of praise.
Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous;
It is fitting for the upright to praise him.
The message is: Christians, be happy in God who is in control. Be happy in God who is Lord of lords and King of kings.
As this Tuesday is Canada Day, I want to talk for a few minutes on some of the values we hold in high esteem which helps to make us into the country we are. Every country has its own history and sense of character. We are no different in this respect. Our history has shaped who we are. These values define what it means to be a Canadian. And our values as Christians have a role to play in creating this country. This country is part of the New World. We are a land of new beginnings. So one of the great virtues we esteem in this country is Freedom. Freedom is part of the fabric of this land.
Freedom is of course not something that we invented. Freedom has been one of humanity’s highest ideals since the dawn of history. It is one of the great driving goals of all people everywhere. Because Canada is a new nation, it doesn’t have a long history of injustices or wars. Our nation has been a grand experiment in responsible freedom. It is a place where people can experience great liberty. It is a real gift to be able to live free from the coercive power of others. It is a breath of fresh air to be free of the domination of foreign powers. In this vast land, there has always been room for a person to act on their own. To have the power to act for yourself, and be in control of your own destiny.
People have been coming to the New World to escape the tyranny of governments and religious oppression for centuries. People have been coming to the New World to find economic and social opportunities which the old world only offered to a select few. The opening up of the New World by the European powers came at the same time as a great religious and social transformation swept across that continent. So when the Governments of Canada and the United States decided that there should be freedom of religion, this opened the door to people being free to follow their own chosen spiritual path. No one religious group is privileged here. All are free to follow their conscience. We are not to be judged by someone else’s creed. In this land there is a sense of egalitarianism. There is a fundamental equality between all people. We are all to be treated the same.
Freedom is a hard concept to maintain. Because as soon as there are two people who are free, there are competing interests. How does your freedom impact my freedom is one of the oldest questions in the field of politics. Freedom at its heart is a responsible freedom. It has a cost. Freedom without responsibility is nothing more than chaotic lawlessness. Freedom requires that we respect one another’s freedoms. We are to make sure our freedom does not hurt or hinder someone else’s freedom. We owe each other mutual support and respect. Such respect is especially important when we have different opinions.
The late great Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker once said
"I am a Canadian, free to speak without fear, free to worship in my own way, free to stand for what I think right, free to oppose what I believe wrong, or free to choose those who shall govern my country. This heritage of freedom I pledge to uphold for myself and all mankind."
Diefenbaker knew of the respect for one another that was necessary for such freedoms to be possible for us all. When such mutual respect is present, it opens the door for us all to share in the freedom to pursue our own religious beliefs, our political opinions, and economic opportunities. But it isn’t always easy. It can be hard to respect the fact that other people will not share your particular beliefs. It is possible to have a difference of opinion without taking it personally.
When it comes to Canada’s national sport of hockey, I, as many of us here, am a Montreal Canadiens fan. The Habs are the most successful team in the history of the sport.
Why anyone would choose to support the Toronto Maple Leafs is just beyond my imagining. Toronto hasn’t had a good team in decades. They failed to even make the playoffs this year. As much as I do not like the Leafs or their fans, I have learned not to take it personally. Someone who has chosen to support the Leafs has not done so just to deliberately insult me. It’s not about me.
This is why we must do more than just merely tolerate our differences. Nelson Mandela once said that “to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” We need to enhance and encourage the freedom of others if all of our freedoms are to thrive. If one group suffers a loss of freedom, we are all the poorer for it, for we will have lost out on the contributions which they would have made to our larger society.
As Christians, it can be a challenge for us to acknowledge the need to enhance the freedom of others. We are used to having a privileged place in Canadian society. We are used to having a privileged voice in the public arena. We are used to having no one openly question or challenge our pronouncements on social or moral issues. But if we truly live in a world of free speech where we are all equals, that means people must be free to disagree with us. We aren’t being persecuted when people are disagreeing with us. It just means we are treated as one voice amongst all the possible voices.
Our message has to be good news if it is to take root in a person’s heart. The gospel message can’t be heard if it is full of hatred. We won’t win hearts and minds if we are consumed with bitterness. People are tired of listening to angry Christians. They’ve had enough of mean Christians. We must work through the power of persuasion rather than by threats or coercion if we are to be heard today. We need to relearn how to offer a message of an accepting and transforming love. People are looking for a hopeful voice which has helpful solutions. They are tired of the wagging finger. The want a hand which will help them up. They want people of goodwill to work with as we build this great new world together.
In our world today there are many people who are like the woman Jesus met in the marketplace. There are many people who are hurting. People are desperate for hope. They want to reach out to something. They want the kind of healing which Jesus represents.
We can be the healing presence of Jesus in this hurting world. We can be the voice of love which transforms. We can enhance the freedom of others as we act with humility, compassion and grace. In the name of Jesus, we can be a blessing to this country which we all love.
From the time of the hootenanny days in the early sixties to the present, this Canadian folk song has been expressively sung by young and old alike.
“This land is your land, this land is my land,
From Bonavista to Vancouver Island
From the Arctic Circle to the Great Lake Waters
This land was made ... by our God... for you and me.”
The song was originally an American song, written by Woody Guthrie in the 1940's.
Somehow, though, the lyrics:
“From California to New York Island
From the Redwood Forests to the Gulf Stream waters”
…don’t stir my heart quite as much. For the record, the Canadian version of the song was penned by Pete Seeger in the early 1960’s, following a visit that Pete made to the Canadian Maritimes.
Nearly three thousand years ago the writer of Deuteronomy recorded a similar song; similar in both it’s national pride and its joyful expression of hope:
“For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land,
A land of brooks of waters, of fountains and springs,
Flowing forth in valleys and hills,
A land of wheat and barley...”
The Israelite people believed with all their might that God, in bringing them to the Promised Land, was bringing them into a land of milk and honey, a land where there would be bread without scarceness.
They were all the more appreciative of that because they had just spent decades in the slavery of Egypt and forty years in a dusty desert.
When they reached the Promised Land they knew it; they smelled it; they tasted it, and they fell on bended knee to give thanks.
Canadians, no less, live in a Promised Land, a land of milk and honey.
The Israelite people were well instructed that it was GOD who created their nation.
They had been singing for centuries that which Canadians have only been mouthing for decades:
“Your hand, O God, has guided your flock from age to age...”
Here, then, is but a very small slice of our Canadian history.
You may know of Pierre Radisson, the wily frontiersman, who with musket and moccasin, opened up the Hudson’s Bay Trading Company in the vast north-west.
You may know of Father Jean de Brebuf, the frontier saint, martyred at Midland, Ontario inside his crude log church, for the cross of Christ.
I ask you to remember this morning, though, one of our lesser-known compatriots, David Thompson. Lesser known, yet the greatest of all Canadian map-makers and explorers; some think of him as “the greatest geographer who ever lived.”
Thompson was born in 1770. Throughout his life he was motivated by scientific curiosity and Christian saintliness. Although blind in one eye, he travelled the breadth of North America
- over 80,000 kilometres on foot, horseback and canoe- putting 1,200,000 square miles of Canadian territory on the map.
In 1778, with all the money he had, he bought a brass sextant. With it he could shoot the sun and the stars and fix the position of rivers and lakes, mountain passes and trading posts.
Thompson was not only a map maker but out of necessity was a hunter, fur trader and a leader of a wild group of Courier de Bois.
His most memorable moment came in 1799 when in the stillness of the Rocky Mountains Thompson watched the water flowing WESTWARD down Blaeberry Creek and knew at last he had tracked down the mysterious river of the West, the Columbia River at what was later called the Continental Divide. Here he had to outwit the Indian war parties who were so opposed to his crossing of the great divide. His men insisted that he win them over by using rum as an ideal item of trade. Thompson staunchly refused. He had sworn an oath before God that as long as he was leader of the expedition no liquor would be brought across the Divide “to debauch the Indians”.
Mysteriously, then, but undoubtedly as Thompson had wished, the barrels of ‘demon’ rum sprang leaks, spilling onto the flanks of the horses as they rubbed against the rocks of a narrow pass. David Thompson had kept his oath.
On their knees beside this little Blaeberry Creek (by waters that would eventually flow into the mighty Pacific) in one of the most sacred moments in all of Canadian history,in 1799, Thompson and his little group prayed:
“May God in His mercy
give me to see
where its waters flow into the ocean
and return in safety.”
God granted the prayer! But, for a frontier hero who had achieved so much, his final years were sad and neglected. Eventually he had to sell his precious instruments due to poverty.
For the last ten years of his life the man whom the Indians called the ‘Stargazer’ was completely blind. His death in 1857, near Montreal, went unnoticed by the world.
But this Canada Day, let’s remember him and give thanks to God for his courage, his frontier spirit and his witness:
Let’s all make a promise today, here together before God:
Many of us will be soon going on holidays, and a lot of us will be out exploring the beauty of Canada.
Somewhere, sometime, out on the road this summer, stop.
Look around you. Feel it. Taste it. See it. Really see the majesty around you.
And we might look foolish getting down on your knees... so perhaps we could just bow our heads for a quick minute, in the midst of all that grandure and beauty, and give humble thanks to God.
This land is your land, this land is my land,
From Bonavista to Vancouver Island
From the Arctic Circle to the Great Lake Waters
This land was made...by a loving God...
and graciously loaned to you and me.
Now, as we take time in our worship today to thank God for this country of Canada, it’s also good for us to ask ourselves some questions. How we might be called to think of ourselves as Canadians AND as Christians? Are the two one and the same, or are there times when our faith, our love of God, might take precedence over our nationality, our love of country? Do we live in a Christian nation, and is it right to want Canada to be a Christian nation?
Whatever we might say in answer to these questions, I think we can start by saying that we are blessed to live here. Yes, the taxes are high, our governments never seem to do enough for us, and not everything works as well as it should. However, when we consider what we do have, our complaints seem to dwindle in size to mere grumbles. We are blessed with a richness of resources. We are blessed to live in peace with our neighbour. Our standard of living is high. We have more schooling, more health care, safer cities, longer life expectancies and more opportunities than billions of people enjoy around the globe.
My cousin was a career soldier in the Canadian Armed Forces. Once, newly home from a tour in Bosnia, he said to me, "My tour was a real eye opener for what we take for granted here in Canada".
Of course, being Canadian, he didn’t tell me this in a bragging way, but in the quiet, matter of fact way that most Canadians use when we speak about our country. At sporting events we don’t sing the national anthem loudly (sometimes not at all) but I am sure that everyone in a crowd, whether they sing O Canada or not, would agree that Canada as a country is blessed.
Was it just luck that we happened to be born in this place at this time in history or was there some purpose to it? If God has truly blessed us, as I think he has, what does he expect of us in return? How does God want us to use these blessings? Does God want Canada to be a Christian country?
I think that one of the greatest blessings of Canada is our virtue of tolerance. Tolerance is the glue that holds our country together, that allows us to work and live with Canadians of other faiths, or of no faiths. We can’t call down fire on one another when we disagree – that way led to Rwanda and Bosnia. We always need to work and strive and pray for a country where the immigrants are welcomed and encouraged to bring the best of who they are, understanding that their new identities as Canadians include the responsibility of tolerance. Hatred and prejudice is not welcome in their luggage, and it should be shunned by we who welcome them.
As Christians in Canada, our culture of tolerance to all races and religions poses problems that the first Christian settlers and founders could not have envisioned. It seems clear to me that we can’t call ourselves exclusively a Christian country any more. Your children and grandchildren will go to school and work with the sons and daughters from races, cultures and religions from around the world. Our challenge, in our families, in our churches, and in our Sunday Schools, is first to teach our children to be Christians, but also to teach them to live in tolerance and harmony with our neighbors, our friends, our fellow Canadians.
By loving God and loving one another, sharing the good things that God has given to our country, we can all live in gratitude for our blessings. We are truly blessed to live in Canada – may we always want to share those blessings, so that our country is salt and light to the world.
So, in the words of our National Anthem:
Help us to find, o God in Thee
A lasting, rich reward.
As waiting for a better day,
We ever stand on guard
Happy are all those who acknowledge God as their Creator.
Blessed is the nation that wishes to honour Christ as King.
And, in the meantime:
God keep our land, glorious and free:
O, Canada we ever stand on guard for thee.