Sermon – November 23, 2014
The Rev. Rebecca S. Myers, CSW
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Corbin, KY
Last Sunday after Pentecost, Christ the King
Observance of Native American Heritage Month
`Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. Matthew 25:45-46
Please be seated.
Today we are observing Native American Heritage Month. I think I told you last year that as a child, I was scared to death of Indians. There was Wagon Train, and so many other westerns. There was the train ride at Hershey Park where Indians attacked the train. And my father said some of our ancestors came to Kentucky with Daniel Boone, but were killed by the Indians. There were historical markers in PA for Indian massacres.
Then there were the other images given me by learning about Jim Thorpe who was relocated to Carlisle, PA at the Indian Boarding School there. At age 14, my parents took me to Tahlequah, the Cherokee Nation Capital in Oklahoma and taught me about the Trail of Tears. I had lots of confusion, fear, and curiosity about Indians as I grew up.
In 1989, I joined a group to address racism in our local community. Eventually, we connected with the New Orleans-based Peoples’ Institute for Survival and Beyond. I was fortunate to attend a nationwide training on Undoing Racism in the early 1990s. It was held at a retreat center on the Gulf of Mexico, just outside of New Orleans.
The morning after I arrived, I took a walk along the Gulf. On my way back to the center, I noticed one of the women from the training. She was from the Navajo Nation in Arizona. She motioned me over and told me she was doing a blessing in thanksgiving for safe travels. She also told me she was from a water clan and this was the first time she’d seen the ocean, so the moment was very special for her. She had traveled with a friend, but the friend was from the Wolf clan and the ocean/gulf felt very intimidating to her.
She asked me to join her in the blessing, which I did. We turned in all of the directions and gave thanks for all of creation. It was a wonderful prayer moment for me. And more than that, I started thinking about who I was in a different way. I, too, loved the ocean, and realized that my mother’s family was also “water clan people” of a sort since they’d been on Italian islands for many, many years.
Also, that this woman knew her clan and identified that as important information, made me think, too. In fact, during the training another woman who was Indian asked why white people always introduced themselves by telling about things – their job or where their house was – rather than about their relationships – clan, mother, daughter.
And then, there was the whole notion of not owning the land! That was a hard one to wrap my head around – that the land was just like the air we breathe and belonged to the community, not to individuals.
I’m sure you know of the awful history of how the Immigrants, for many of us, our ancestors, treated the indigenous people of this land. The dominant society, who claimed to be Christian, certainly did not read the section of Matthew we read today nor other sections of the Gospel where Jesus clearly tells us how to treat one another. No, many of our ancestors came, and played mental tricks so the Indians were not seen as human beings, and therefore, could be destroyed. It’s a painful history, which has led to a painful legacy for all of us. We have all been hurt.
And for we Christians who identify with the dominant culture, our understanding and faith in Jesus Christ has been distorted by the actions and legacy of our ancestors. Rather than listening to the indigenous peoples about the reality of the context of life here, right here in what is now known as Corbin, KY, we imposed our understanding of the land and resources where we came from.
The indigenous peoples, the Indians, had been on this land for over 14,000 years! They’d seen Cumberland Falls develop and change, most likely. They’d learned the patterns of the seasons, the patterns of all living creatures.
In thinking about our observance today, I was going through some books I have. One is God is Red: A Native View of Religion by Vine DeLoria, Jr. At the end of the book, Mr. DeLoria says (p. 296, 30th Anniversary Edition):
Who will find peace with the lands? The future of humankind lies waiting for those who will come to understand their lives and take up their responsibilities to all living things. Who will listen to the trees, the animals and birds, the voices of the places of the land? As the long-forgotten peoples of the respective continents rise and begin to reclaim their ancient heritage, they will discover the meaning of the lands of their ancestors. That is when the invaders of the North American continent will finally discover that for this land, God is red.
Ken Phillips will now share some words with us.