October 10, 2021: Sermon Preached by The Rev. Katie Holicky

Proper 23, Year B                          

The Rev. Katie Holicky, Assistant Rector

I would like to invite you into the space of your imagination. Find a focal point to focus on, or close your eyes. Whatever suits your mind and body. Take a few good breaths in and out… in and out. Now, I want to invite you back in time. You are outside and arrive at a place that is new to you. You see corn. It is thick, rows upon rows as far as you can see. It stretches out to your left and to your right. It is tall, stretching above your head and reaching towards the sky. It is vibrant. The stalks are healthy and bright green. You breathe in and the wind stirs. You hear the corn rustling as it sways in the wind. The air is fresh and crisp and there is true serenity and majesty in the land stretched out before you. I invite you to stay here in your mind for another moment surrounded by the beauty of more corn than you have ever seen or imagined. 

Now, let us come back together. What you have just seen is the way the Iroquois set up their villages. I recently learned of this in the book, An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. You see, before this land we stand on, stolen land, was colonized, the Iriqous surrounded their villages on all sides with six square miles of corn. That is something like three thousand eight hundred and forty acres. 

This vision of six square miles of corn surrounding a village is one that brings to mind the word ‘abundance’, and is tragically juxtaposed by what I was taught about peoples native to this land. What I have come to learn by way of this book and others, is that before colonization natives peoples found themselves in exceptional health, trading on well established road systems, were remarkable stewards of lands, and opportaing in confederacies using consensus democracy.

As I think of this abundance of corn, and I think about the sins we have committed in the name of God, and continue to commit, it strikes me that these sins are committed in connection to the colonizer’s sense of claiming God’s abundance. But is God’s abundance the same as what we think abundance to be? In this case, no. We have been so well trained to think about acquiring things, like the land stolen from Natives, is how we live into the reign of God. The hard, and yet very real, truth of this is that it was done under the, now repudiated, Doctrine of Discovery as a tool of oppression, of White Supremacy.  

In Mark we are presented with these three sections that contain some rather memorable scenes. The gift of the disciples this week when they still don’t get it, though they try, is they KEEP following even in the midst of this difficult lesson. Rather apropos as we look to Indigenous Peoples’ Day. 

The section on the Ten Commandments include the Commandments especially pertaining to relationships. A clear message from Jesus as to which Commandments we should focus on here (JANT, 81). And we are also given a clear sense that, “Following the commandments while accumulating and preserving wealth is thinking in a human way, not in God’s way” (WBC, 487). For the ancients, material prosperity was widely seen as a reward or byproduct of spiritual virtue (FOTW, 164). However, Jesus invites this rich man to turn his sights away from himself and to others (FOTW, 164), and while I am not sure I understand his particular grief, I do feel the weight of this ask in my heart. 

We often think that this rich man goes away grieving because he has so much he can’t bear to part with. But what if it is that he goes away upset because he has decided to truly follow Jesus? What if he was transformed in this moment? Reconciled in a new life. What if we were to do the same? To truly examine our attachment to the empire, colonizing, the sins we have been, and are still, a part of committing on this land… what new life might await us? 

I think part of the answer to this lies in the following section. This part of the scripture overturns the status quo with regards to both wealth and family (WBC, 487). We get a sense that, “In the new household under God’s rule, men are not valued above women, adults above children, rich above poor” (TBC, 319). We are being shown that those who stay open to God and truly follow God are part of a newly imagined community. A community that is to welcome outsiders, serve the vulnerable, and fully include women and children”, some of the lowest members of ancient society (TBC, 319). First last, last first..The hierarchical status quo is being entirely stood on its head (WBC, 487). 

You may know that the state of Maine is the last in the States to not extend sovereignty to their native population. Natives here do not have their inherent tribal sovereignty that is recognized under federal Indian law, because of the terms of the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act of 1980. How might we take up this call of flipping the status quo, that of empire, in regards to our Native siblings? How might we name the fullness of the sins we have committed as a church and nation, repent, hand over our privilege? We can start here at home with action like supporting pieces of legislation, like LD1626. In fact, this month at Diocese Convention we will be presented with a Resolution that would denote Formal Support of the Episcopal Diocese of Maine for LD 1626, An Act Implementing the Recommendations of the Task Force on Changes to the Maine Indian Claims, and help take steps to giving native peoples their sovereignty. 

This is work huge, it feels daunting and for me often like the sins of our forefathers will haunt us forever. Yet, the hope of the kin-dom of God is that we hold fast when Jesus tells us that all things are possible through God. Today is of course about naming the hard parts of our story and the growing pains, and it is also about our truth that God is about the business of making the impossible possible. It is about rereading this story and considering maybe the man’s grief was because he decided to truly turn his heart to following Jesus. This is about communal justice through individual transformation and commitment to Jesus, which requires us to let go. To let go of our privilege, to let go of what we think to be best by way of the world’s or empire’s standards. 

We get to claim new life and steps in new directions. We might not give up everything at once, but examine more closely what it truly means to care for and share with others. To consider how we might support one another differently; how we might make the first last and the last first. 

Resources: An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, Feasting on the Word, Jewish Annotated New Testament, Theological Bible Commentary, Women’s Bible Commentary