Sermon: "Wisdom and Reverence"
St. Paul’s Episcopal – Brookings
Fr. Larry Ort
Acts 3.12-19; Psalm 4; 1 John 3.1-7; Luke 24.36b-48
It is the third Sunday of the Easter season, the third Sunday of April, the Sunday commonly called Earth Sunday. It is a good time to consider wisdom and reverence as the gifts of our Creator. The Book of Common Prayer contains a Prayer for the Conservation of Natural Resources (p. 827) which reads:
Almighty God, in giving us dominion over things on earth, you made us fellow workers in your creation: Give us wisdom and reverence so to use the resources of nature, that no one may suffer from our abuse of them, and that generations yet to come may continue to praise you for your bounty; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
We need to pause, to reflect, to ask if our actions are causing others to suffer from our abuse of natural resources, to ask if generations yet to come (our grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and the generations beyond) will still be able to praise God’s bounty.
Monday through Thursday, Judy and I attended the clergy retreat at the Abbey of the Hills (formerly Blue Cloud Abbey). It is a wonderful natural setting, although it could have been a bit warmer. In a discussion concerning lament and hope, we were to do three things, especially considering the trials of the past year and Covid-19: First, to name the nightmare – to identify what keeps us awake at night. Second, to ask for help – to share our burden with friends and with God. And third, to trust in the Lord – to dream about what might be.
I think most of us could agree that, beyond the nightmare of Covid-19, one of our nightmares is climate change. Global weather patterns are shifting; we are experiencing some dire consequences – severe droughts, increasing numbers and severity of forest fires due to drought conditions, severe storms and hurricanes, record rainfalls and flooding, melting icecaps, and rising sea levels. Climatolologists and scientists are increasingly speaking of the “Anthropocene Epoch” when human activity began to significantly influence the earth’s climate and systems. Unfortunately, much of degradation of the natural environment comes from our pursuit of wealth. We need to seriously consider God’s question posed in Psalm 4.2: “You mortals, how long will you dishonor my glory; how long will you worship dumb idols and run after false gods?” (BCP) Let’s face it, the degradation of our environment is fueled by our desire for wealth.
While researching this sermon, I found a hymn which expresses a Lament for the Earth. It is entitled The Garden of the World:
The garden of the world, the paradise we share,
The greening of all life is dying in our care,
The covenants we made are rendered null and void,
The garden that is God’s, dishonored and destroyed.
The prophets tell the signs of fire, flood, and storm,
Now all creation groans as nature changes form,
And yet we will not change, though ice floes melt away,
Though children bear the cost, earth’s planting cannot grow.
The poor and the displaced must struggle more than all
When hope and harvests fail, when drought has taken toll,
When air is poisoned breath, when water does not flow,
Earth’s children bear the cost, earth’s planting cannot grow.
The callous face of greed, the trading of the powers
Will fuel and will feed a lifestyle such as ours.
We pray for one more chance to tend to earth’s repair!
The greening of all life is dying in our care. (Shirley Erena Murray)
Will we wake up in time? Scientists are saying we have a small window of opportunity to act before the effects of global warming turn catastrophic.
There is some debate as to whether our earth will eventually be destroyed and a new earth be created or whether it will be renewed. Some Christians go so far as to hold the view that since we will have a new heaven and a new earth, we do not have to worry about conservation or climate change. We might come to such a conclusion if we isolate a verse such as Revelation 21.1: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more” (NRSV). But in the larger context of God’s word, we must remember that we were placed in the garden “to till it and keep it” (Genesis 2.15; NRSV). Even after the Fall, upon being cast out of the Garden of Eden, Adam was sent forth “to till the ground from which he was taken“ (Genesis 3.23: NRSV). As such, we are meant to care for this creation whether it will be recreated or renewed.
As Christians, as Easter people, we need to trust in the power of the resurrection and the renewal of creation. We are given a glimpse of the power and nature of the resurrection in today’s gospel reading from Luke.
Our reading begins with “While they were talking about this …” About what? The story of the Emmaus Road event. After Jesus revealed himself in the breaking of the bread, we are told, the two disciples “got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread” (Luke 24.33-35; NRSV).
Suddenly, Jesus stood among them, and said, “Peace be with you.” What would you think and feel if a close friend were just buried and three days later appeared in your midst? Yes, the disciples were terrified; they thought they were seeing a ghost. Terror is a normal response when confronted with things we cannot comprehend. Jesus asked them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have” (Luke 24.38-39; NRSV). Note what it says next, “While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence” (Luke 24.40-43; NRSV). Talk about mixed emotions: terror, joy, disbelief, and wondering! The disciples had a hard time of it yet were joyous at the same time! It is as though Jesus said, “Let me really prove it to you. I would like a Culver’s fish sandwich!”
Jesus next opened their minds to understand the scriptures, then said, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24.46-49; NRSV).
The resurrected Jesus is not some nebulous spirit; Jesus has a resurrected body of flesh and bone, yet it is a body that can apparently appear at will. As St. Paul tells us, Jesus is the first fruit of the resurrection – “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven” (1 Corinthians 15.42-49; NRSV).
Our reading from 1 John reminds us that we are children of God: “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure” (3.2-3; NRSV).
So how does all of this relate to Earth Sunday. How does this fit together? As children of God who have purified themselves, we are to love and care for God’s creation. When we are filled with God’s love, we will love and care for our fellow creatures, and for their environment.
Now for your assignment find two ways, two things you can do, which reflect God’s love for you, your love for God, and for all of God’s creation. Do them, then share your story with others. Share what God has done for you, and how you have been challenged to care for God’s creation.