Years ago Susan and I were in Atlanta at a conference. Our time was split between two churches, both very large, wealthy churches. In the one building we felt at ease while in the other we felt uncomfortable. Our comfort or discomfort came down to the imagery featured in the sanctuaries. In the one there was a cross while in the other there was a scene of the ascension. In the one church every image spoke of servanthood while in the other every image spoke of triumph. These are two very different spirits which operate within Christian community. The servant church tends to be gentle and humble, it listens to other faiths and celebrates diversity and honours creation. The triumphant church tends to believe that it alone has the truth and that truth needs to be proclaimed loudly and without challenge.
The church is not alone in having such warring spirits. In some nation states we see a spirit of patriotism; a gentle spirit of pride which delights in the good of the particular country but understands that other nations will feel the same sense of pride about their own. In other nation states we see a spirit of nationalism; a triumphal spirit which claims to be the best and all other inferior. Nationalism is a dangerous spirit, it is divisive, it is destructive.
As we approach Canada Day I feel patriotic, I love my country. One of the things I love about it is it’s spirit which I believe to be one of servanthood. We Canadians are global citizens and will do what we can to make the world a better community for all humanity. While I believe this to be true I understand that there are times and elements which are closer to nationalistic in spirit. There are some who speak more of protecting Canada, of having a competitive edge, of keeping the chaos of the world at bay. I hope that they remain a fringe voice.
Our bible has both spirits alive within its pages. There are triumphalist texts such as in the book of Revelation but I believe the overarching spirit is one of servanthood. “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.” Our church, our denomination has followed this servanthood model. We are called to love and serve others. May we do so as Christians and as citizens of Canada. Amen.