Sunday, July 20, 2014

Sermon for July 20, 2014; Romans 8:12-25

Rev. George N. Miller
Romans 8:12-25
“Creator and Creation”
July 20, 2014

Years ago Lifesavers candy ran a series of commercials involving a father and child sharing a moment together.

In one clip a father and daughter watch the sunset and when the sun disappears she says “Do it again.” In another a father and son are fishing and the son asks “Can we do this again tomorrow?”

These sentimental clips are first and foremost meant to sell candy, but they also find their own way to celebrate the bond of parent and child, and to celebrate the way in which the simple joys of nature can be used to increase that bond.

Two weeks ago we talked about a fictional heroine who rediscovered the presence of God through nature. Last week we encountered the Sower who sowed seeds extravagantly, and we acknowledged that what made soil so good was the manure.

Today we complete our informal nature-based trilogy with a complex, theologically rich letter from Paul to a congregation ready to go from spiritual milk to spiritual meat.

But first, to set the tone, allow me to share this reading with you:

“Take up weeping and wailing for the mountains,
and lamentations for the pastures of the wilderness,
because they are laid waste…and the lowing of cattle is not heard, both the birds of the air and the animals have fled and gone.

How long will the land mourn, and the grass of every field wither? For the wickedness of those who live in it the animals and birds are swept away...

The whole land is made desolate, but no one lays it to heart. They come to the (wells), they find no water...because the ground is cracked...

The farmers are dismayed; they cover their heads.
Even the doe in the fields forsake her newborn fawn because there is no grass. The wild donkeys stand on bare heights, they pant for air like jackals; their eyes fail because there is no (vegetation).”

Sounds like it could have been a letter to the editor in yesterday’s paper. But it’s not. It’s from the prophet Jeremiah speaking nearly 3,000 years ago on behalf of God (Jeremiah 9:10, 12:4 & 10, 14:2-6).

God has given the people the most beautiful of land, but instead of treating it with love, they polluted it in many, many ways.

They polluted the land socially by failing to show compassion to the poor and oppressed. They polluted the land politically by aligning themselves with countries they had no business with.

They polluted the land to the point that the birds have fled, the rain has stopped and the donkeys have no more plants to eat.

If the prophet Jeremiah was here today, what example would he point to?

Would it be Hartford, IL which sits on top of 1-3 million gallons of gasoline that has seeped into the ground, in which the rains cause the petroleum to rise and people’s basements to smell of fumes and when it’s too dry people’s homes have been known to burst into flames?

Would it be the events of the B.P. Oil Spill in which the ocean, sea creatures, wetlands, fishing communities, beaches, unhatched turtles, birds and humans dependent on tourists were all affected?

Would it be the current issues regarding sinkholes that have destroyed homes, taken unsuspecting lives and caused communities to be fearful right here in Florida?

Paul’s letter to the Romans makes reference to Creation groaning, stating that Creation has been groaning ever since Adam ate the apple. I would say it’s also been groaning when Cain killed Abel and the blood poured upon the ground.

“Do it again”? Perhaps not....but, as always, there is hope.

Over the last 25 years there’s been a growing movement in Christianity, called ecotheology. Eco means the environment; theology means the study of God.

Ecotheologians believe that all of Creation belongs to God, and it is a gift that God has given to us to look after: the plants, the animals, the land, the waters, even us, since we are part of Creation.

Ecotheologians believe that God didn’t just create the world for our amusement and pleasure, but that God created for the sake of all things. For example, how a cat can find so much joy by laying in the sun or how a dog loves rolling in the grass.

It has been this portion of Paul’s letter that has helped to propel this relatively new ecotheology. For in Romans 8:18-25 we hear of the symbiotic relationship between humans and non-humans.

We share the same fate: when one falls, so does the other and when one succeeds, so does the other.

According to Paul, in the advent of the resurrected Christ this becomes great news. His logic is simple: since Creation suffered due to Adam’s actions, then Creation will find restoration, just as humans do, through the saving reality of Christ.

This is not a radical, hippie idea originating in California, circa the 1960's, but a deeply introspective, spiritual idea presented by the apostle Paul circa the original 60s.

If you read scripture and pay close attention to the stories, you’ll discover that the earth and all of Creation has always played a big role in the Bible.

After all, the Bible begins with Creation. Exodus involves natural wonders like water, rocks and quails playing a role in the Hebrew’s deliverance.

Psalm 104, praises God for creating things for the enjoyment of all creatures: night is so the forest animals can come creeping out, the springs quench the thirst of wild beasts, trees grow by streams so birds have a place to build their nests, the mountains are a place for the goats, leviathan frolics in the ocean and wine is made to gladden our heart and oil is so our skin can shine.

And what honor did God give us? Genesis says that we are to have dominion over God’s creation. Does dominion mean to use up and abuse, or does dominion mean to watch over, love and protect?

Have we succeeded in our God-given responsibility? Or have we failed? Is Creation singing a song of joy, or is it groaning in anticipation, for hope in things yet seen?

What will it take for the groaning to stop? A major disaster that will rock the world and swallow us up? An ecologically minded Moses-figure?

Or has the answer already arrived...

...Paul, says “yes” and the answer is Jesus.

Human sin may have led to Creation’s fall. But in Christ we receive amazing grace; grace so amazing it’s not just extended to us, but to all of Creation.

In Christ there is restoration, in Christ our sins are no more, in Christ we are forgiven and given second, third, infinite chances for our lives to be improved and our behavior to be changed.

It stands to reason that if through the grace of Christ our actions towards one another change, than so would our actions towards ourselves and the rest of Creation.

When we realize and accept the grace of Christ, when we embrace the fact that we are justified, that we have already won the reward, than we can begin to act more caring and responsible.

We become aware of our relationship with God and our relationship with everyone and everything.

By acknowledging our salvation in Christ we come to realize the salvation for all living things, freeing ourselves and all else from the bondage we’ve all been in.

For different people, these ecological acts of grace can manifest in different ways. Some may adopt a stray cat or dog. Others may plant a garden for the birds and bees to enjoy.

Others may purchase their furniture and household goods second-hand; others may buy organic and locally grown produce.

Others may steer away from factory raised flesh; others may buy a more fuel efficient car.

Does it have to be large, momentous steps? Or can it be one thing at a time to lessen the groans?

Today, we as a congregation, take a small step simply by putting out new recycling crates asking that if you don’t take your bulletin home, you drop it into the purple container so they can be recycled.

As we continue to respond to Christ’s call, we will hear with fresh ears the ways in which we can play our own part in making real the Kingdom of God.

Today, Paul calls us to embrace our heritage as children of God, brothers and sisters in Christ, filled with the Spirit, holders of hope.

Playing our own part in tilling the soil, planting seeds and turning even the most manure-filled of situations into opportunities for grace and wonder.

Jesus did not just live, die and be resurrected for us, but for all of Creation: the animals, the plants, the waters; the entire world and Cosmos.

Creation shouldn’t always have to groan, but it should have its moments in which the hills can sing for joy and the floods can clap their hands.

“For thus says the Lord: sing aloud with gladness for Jacob and raise shouts for the chiefs of nations...

They shall be radiant over the grain, the wine, the oil, and over the young of the flock and the herd;

their life shall be like a watered garden, and they shall never languish again.

Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance and the young men and old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy, I will comfort them and give them gladness for sorrow...

And my people shall be satisfied with my bounty, says the Lord.”
(Jer 31:7-17)

Or in the more secular words of the Lifesaver Commercials: “Abba! Do it again!” and “Can we do this tomorrow?”

Amen and amen.

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