Sermons

Going green is the latest trend in everything from the food we eat to the places we live to the transportation we take to the products we use. With the recent explosion of media attention to the environment, one might think that protecting the Earth is a new idea. It’s not. In fact, Creation care is at the core of our Christian tradition. When we read the Bible, we often focus on the relationship between humans and God. Yet, the foundational stories of our faith reveal the importance of another set of relationships—the relationships between God and Creation and between humans and Creation. This is Earth Day Sunday – Earth Day is April 22nd, Wednesday of this week. And in so many ways it makes perfect sense to me for Earth Day Sunday to follow directly after Easter Sunday. To allow us to build on the promise of the resurrection – the promise that we can now enter into communion and relationship with God, and live out that relationality with the entire created world around us. That is what this day is all about – and it is what the message of Holy Week gives us the opportunity to embody!

Frederick Buechner, one of the great Christian preachers and storytellers of the last century, was speaking on the Kingdom of God, when he said,“But Jesus said something else, too. Thank God for that. He says our time is up, but he also says the Kingdom of God is at hand. The Kingdom of God is so close we can almost reach out our hands and touch it. It is so close that sometimes it almost reaches out and takes us by the hand. The Kingdom of God, that is. Not a human kingdom […] Not any of the kingdoms that worry like us about counting calories while hundreds of thousands starve to death. But God’s Kingdom. Jesus says it is the Kingdom of God that is at hand […] The Kingdom of God? Time after time Jesus tries to drum into our heads what he means by it. He heaps parable upon parable like a madman. He tries shouting it. He tries whispering it. The Kingdom of God is like a treasure, like a pearl, like a seed buried in the ground. It is like a great feast that everybody is invited to and nobody wants to attend.” (157).  Friends, we are coming off of the holiest, and often most transformational, weeks in the Christian liturgical calendar. The most beautiful thing about Holy Week – The kingdom of God has come! No longer is it just at hand, almost reachable, as it was in the parables, or the Mark passage Buechner is referencing. Christ rode into Jerusalem off the Mount of Olives to a Kings welcome … and then completely transformed what that kingdom was going to be like. It was a reign that began by turning over the tables of the money changers in the temple, that spent time communing with God, that knelt and washed feet as a servant, that suffered and died rather than embrace the brokenness around him, and then rose – in order that we may be able to live in such a way.

And so, like I said before, this movement of Sundays makes sense to me. When we can move right from the resurrected Christ to our call to live that out in our relationship with all of Creation. But, do we really understand, one week later, what this means? What this means for the brokenness we see around us now? Do we recognize the radical transformation that Holy Week calls into being? The first set of disciples certainly did. I am going to read a different translation of our Acts passage this morning, from the Message: “The whole congregation of believers was united as one—one heart, one mind! They didn’t even claim ownership of their own possessions. No one said, “That’s mine; you can’t have it.” They shared everything. The apostles gave powerful witness to the resurrection of the Master Jesus, and grace was on all of them. And so it turned out that not a person among them was needy. Those who owned fields or houses sold them and brought the price of the sale to the apostles and made an offering of it. The apostles then distributed it according to each person’s need. “These first disciples and followers got it – they understood what Jesus resurrection was calling them to. They lived in ultimate community and relationality – sharing all that they had with one another.

And, this week, Earth Week, reminds us that this is a message of radical relationality for not only the people of God, but for all of God’s Creation.  That this kind of sharing of Christ’s love extends not only to the people of God, but through the people of God to the rest of the created world. Christ invites us back into relationship with the Creator, and once there, we are invited to extend that relationship to the totality of Creation. Sallie McFague writes, “Jesus Christ is the lens, the model, through whom Christians interpret God, the world, and themselves. The doctrine of Creation for Christians then, is not different in kind from the doctrine of the incarnation: in both, God is the source of all existence, the One in whom we are born and reborn. In this view, the world is not just matter, while God is spirit. Rather, there is continuity between God and the world. The world is flesh of God’s “flesh”, the God who took our flesh in one person, Jesus of Nazareth, has always done so. God is incarnate, not secondarily but primarily” (73).But, we certainly are not living this way today. Not a chance. I often like to stay away from the science of all of this. To not throw stats around about the amount the Earth is warming, or how high the seas may rise. Instead, I just invite you to look around you and ask yourself – is this the kind of radical relationaltiy the resurrection is inviting us to live into? Things are out of wack in the world around us.  We are clearly not living in a way that is sustainable with the rest of Creation.  In fact, we are choking the life out of the very Creation which sustains us – bringing into question the ability of that Creation to continue its sustaining of us.  In the article, “What’s Really Normal?” by David Radcliff in the Jan/Feb 2004 issue of “The Messenger”, he states, “Patterns of consumption in the United States ensure a comfortable, even luxurious, style of living for many of us.  But were our consumption of 200 pounds of stuff per person per day imitated by the rest of the world, we’d need quickly to find two more planets to provide for us.”  And there certainly aren’t two more planets – and in fact, for most of us, a quick taking of an ecological footprint quiz will reveal that this number is more like 5, or 6 extra planets. And, I certainly don’t stand before you as one not convicted by this reality. I stand before you this morning as a driver of an SUV. And someone who takes showers long enough to qualify for a block of time on my morning schedule.  And someone who forgets to take reusable bags to the grocery store more often than I remember them. And yet, I stand before you as someone who sees the problem of the destruction of Creation, and believe it is a challenge to the faith that I claim to hold to work to fix it.

And this is the beauty of the resurrection message! This is why Earth Sunday follows so wonderfully after Easter Sunday. God has entered all of this, is present in all of this, and has put within us the power to change brokenness into relationship. God has shown us the kind of relational living that can transform the world in which we live, move, and breathe. Sallie McFague writes, “We are not expected to save the world or become someone or something else: just ourselves. We become ourselves by acknowledging our radical dependence on God and on our planet: we find our place to be within God, and with and for other creatures. This is who we are. Freed from having to save ourselves or our world, we rest in God, whose body, the world, supports, delights, and calls for our help. To give this help, we have a place in which to stand: within God for the Earth. And now we can get to work” (176).  This is part of what our Psalm passage for this morning refers to: the blessing from God we receive when we start to seek this relationality. “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity! 2It is like the precious oil on the head, running down upon the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down over the collar of his robes. 3It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion. For there the Lord ordained his blessing, life for evermore.”  As we seek to live lives of transformed relationality – lives reflective of the resurrection message, we receive blessings of God that lead to greater transformation. It’s not about what we are able to do on our own – it is about what we allow God to do through us!

But this does not abscond us from responsibility. Not even a little bit. We have to create the space for God to work in. We have to open our hearts to the possibility of transformation – to the reality that this kind of relational living is possible, through the resurrection event we celebrated last week! And so, in this resurrected, Kingdom of God is here life; we are called to changes in the way in which we are living. It is not enough to just acknowledge the lack of relationality – the Kingdom of God being present in the here and now dares, and our faith compels us, to seek to live into it. It starts with small steps – a recycling program, changing the light bulbs in our houses, and houses of worship, and yes, like I need to do more, remembering to take reusable bags with us to the grocery store. But then, it grows. It grows into recognizing that every decision that we make, and everything that we do, needs to be reflective of a resurrected reality. When we decide what to buy and put into our reusable bags at the grocery store, are we reflecting the resurrected reality? When we drive when mass transit, or biking or walking, is an option, are we reflecting the resurrected reality? When we make energy use decisions, in our homes and in our churches, are we reflecting the resurrected reality? Again, from Sallie McFague, “A just, sustainable planet is not possible unless all of its parts have access to resources. The whole cannot be healthy if the parts are sick. In other words, ecological catholicity means the implementation of radical changes in the lifestyle of some parts of the whole – specifically, the 20 percent of human beings who possess 80 percent of the worlds resources […] If ecological catholicity is a mark of the church – if it is – or should be – one of the distinctive characteristics by which the church is known, then Christians, especially well off ones, must live differently” (35).  This again brings us back to the community the first followers embodied in our Acts passage this morning. The kind of sharing of resources that embodies the reality of the resurrection. It means the little things, but also the big ones. When people interact with you on a daily basis, do you show them the present kingdom? Can they look at you and see it? When they walk by, or into, this church building, do they see a community of followers living out resurrected relationality with the entire created world?

I like to tell churches that modeling Creation Care may just be one of the greatest evangelism tools available to us. I would be willing to bet that putting solar panels on the roof of a church building will bring new people in. They are an outward sign of a community of believers who gets it. And then when they come in, and they see things like recycling bins, energy efficient lighting, and other signs of  “green building”, they know again – they have found a community living out the Kingdom of God. A community who understands that the way to embody the resurrection is to live not for ourselves, but into relationship with God, and through God with the world around us. Thomas Merton also writes about living in this kind of a way, writing, “It is therefore of supreme importance that we consent to live not for ourselves but for others […] Only when we see ourselves in our true human context, as members of a race which is intended to be one organism and ‘one body’, will we begin to understand the positive importance not only of the successes but of the failures and accidents in our lives. My successes are not my own. The way to them was prepared by others. The fruit of my labors is not my own” for I am preparing the way for the achievements of another. Nor are my failures my own. They may spring from the failure of another, but they are also compensated for by another’s achievement. Therefore the meaning of my life is not to be looked for merely in the sum total of my own achievements […] It is seen, above all, in my integration in the mystery of Christ” (xxi-xxii).

This is the message that comes from the first community of followers of Christ in Acts. It is the message of our text for this morning – a text that in the lectionary tradition comes right after Easter Sunday. I didn’t pick this by chance. It is the text meant to be read on the Sunday after Easter. It is about living out the embodiment of what Easter meant. And it fits with the message of Earth Day Sunday.   It is a message of a Kingdom that has come – and about a new way of living that has come about because of it. It is a call to recognize the incarnation, the reality of God, in all of the world around us, and to live into relationship with that world. This is the resurrection message. Not that Christ died so that we may have life in some other far off place, but that Christ died so that we may get to experience the kingdom life in the here and now!  Merton describes that this world looks like, what this relational living looks like, in much the way the first community of believers were practicing.

Church, there is a lot of work to do. Make no mistake about that. Our lack of living in relationship has brought great destruction in the world around us. We are warming the planet, we are killing off species, we are destroying forests, and we are, through all of these things, causing hunger and poverty the world over. We have work to do. But as I noted earlier, it is not about the work we have to do, it is about the work we can allow God to do through us, through the resurrection, and through the power of these relationships. McFague writes, in an essay titled Human Dignity and the Integrity of Creation, “We are called to live in a different world, a world where the good of the individual and the good of the community are intrinsically and intimately related.  But how do we get there?  How do we even begin to live differently when our world is increasingly ordered around the greed of the individual and the decay of nature? […] God is already there.  The world imagined by our biblical texts is not a fantasy; it is what the Jewish and Christian traditions tell us is God’s will and promise for us.  The One in whom we live and move and have our being assures us that this other world of appreciation for each and every individual creature living in networks of interrelationship and interdependence – that this is not a dream, but the way things should be, and will be, with God’s help.  To the degree that we live in God, from God, and for God, this world will emerge” (205).

We are living now in a time of resurrected reality. In the knowledge that the Kingdom of God has arrived – maybe not as we expected it, with trumpets and crowning glory, but instead in servitude and radical relationship. And it has come that we might live in it – here, and now. It is a call to us – a call to live as the early communities of Christ lived, with radical intentionality and relationship with one another, and with the created world around them. Celebrate Earth Week, my friends. Celebrate the resurrection which you profess. And live in such a way that everyone around you can see it. Live in God, and watch the world you seek and profess come into being. AMEN.

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