Let us Create

May 19, 2019

Revelation 21:1-6, John 13:31-35

So, who here likes to create? I know there must be some creative people among you here.

You can create out of anything! The construction of a house is creation. Making greeting cards is definitely creation. Planting your garden and caring for your flowers is an act of creating and caring for creation. We create on a daily basis and some of us may not even be aware of it.

One of my first memories of creating was playing with Lego bricks. I had quite the collection of Lego sets when I was younger, and I would spend hours putting them together and playing with them. The real creation would start when I left the instructions behind and just used my own creativity to create something new out of the various bricks that I had in my inventory. I would make buildings, cars, spaceships, and anything that came to my mind as I locked the pieces together. I had thought that it would be cool to be a Lego Master Builder. Imagine, building with Legos all day long and getting paid for it!

Everything that we are surrounded by, or pick up, or even our own bodies had to be created in one way or another. There is also the creation that is yet to come.

This season of Easter our second readings have came from Revelation. It is important to remember that Revelation is a piece of apocalyptic writing based on a vision of the author John. The message of Revelation takes two forms. First, the terrifying visions are warnings to those that are falling away from the faith. Second, the glorious visions of triumph offer encouragement to those who are oppressed, persecuted, or feeling powerless in a hostile world. [1]

The message this morning comes to us in the form of hope for the kingdom to come. God promises that all things will be made new and in this promise we are welcomed into a creation that is unfolding before our eyes.

We must remember that we are already living in a glorious creation! Looking back at Genesis, when God creates everything, it is regarded as good! From the seas to the land. From the animals to the birds of the air. From plants to the very creation of humanity itself. It is all very good!

However, we know that over time humanity has taken dominion over the earth in ways that are not beneficial and has eventually led to death and destruction. We look at this destruction and become numb to it. An apathy sets in and we turn inwards and just worry about our immediate surroundings. We forget about our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world that are dying from hunger. We forget about wars happening around the world if they do not immediately affect us. We lose sight of what it means to care for creation as it has been given to us. As we worry about things falling apart, we turn even more inward and close off the outside world instead of trying to create change.

In our gospel lesson this morning, the disciple’s world is starting to fall apart around them as well. We enter the reading just after Judas receives the piece of bread from Jesus and he exits the supper to betray Jesus. While the disciples may not know exactly what Judas is up to, Jesus has already been predicting his death. There is a sense in the room that things may be headed in a different direction than what they would prefer they had.

Judas’ betrayal is part of that same brokenness that is reflected among us in the very care of creation. Judas is taking things into his own hands; however, it is unavoidable. It is part of the procession that we have become familiar with during the passion. It points to the ways that we too will betray Jesus in our sinning. Jesus is present in the very creation that we have turned our back on, yet in our own brokenness, we must come to realize that Jesus is standing there feeding us the bread of life.

That bread of life comes to us is a new creation. The new heaven and the new earth that John writes about in Revelation is a hope that comes to us through Jesus Christ in the present time, but also in the time to come as we encounter a new kingdom. The heavens and the earth as we know them today will pass away. That does not mean that the earth as we know it today is disposable. We still have the call from God at the beginning of Genesis to care for creation and not to take advantage of it. Every time that we exploit the earth and any part of creation, we are sinning and revealing our own brokenness to those around us.

Not only will the old pass away, the sea will be no more. Now, this does not mean that the oceans will evaporate or completely disappear. The image of the sea in the Hebrew scriptures is a reference to the chaos of the world and the brokenness and the sin that lies within it. In the coming of a new heaven and a new earth, that means that chaos as we know it will vanish.

In the meantime, Jesus has risen, Alleluia! In this very action, God has already shown us the wonderful and mysterious that can be done in creation. The new heaven and new earth are already on their way as we move ever closer to the kingdom of God. In the midst of it, we too, can help in the very creation.

Patrick Carolan wrote in a newsletter this past week, “What if the purpose of the Incarnation and Resurrection was not so we could go somewhere else, but rather so we, with God, could create a new earth.”[2]

Imagine what that would look like. The chaos would be gone. And even more importantly, we would be fully living into the teachings of Jesus. In the gospel lesson he instructs his disciples to “love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

What if we were to begin creating a new earth today and approached everyone with love. Not judgement or scorn. But pure, simple love. The love that Jesus showed to us by his death on a cross. The love that he wants each and everyone of us to experience through the grace of God. It is a love that knows no end and a love that pulls us into the very being of God.

Let us pray. Creator God, you give us the opportunity to reach out in love to our neighbors and be a part of the breaking in of your kingdom into this world. May we walk with creation in love and care as we are guided along our path by your son, Jesus Christ. Amen.


[1] Lutheran Study Bible, Augsburg Fortress

[2] Patrick Carolan, Franciscan Action Network newsletter, May 13, 2019.

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Shepherding God’s Creation

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April 22, 2018, Earth Day

John 10:11-18

These are the sounds that you would hear out in the field if you were watching over the flocks. The bleating of sheep. Possibly the sound of bells. The birds chirping. All the sounds of a glorious creation that has been given to us by a loving God. A creation that we have been entrusted, and a creation that is vulnerable to the demise of our own greed.

Today is the fortieth anniversary of Earth Day!  While, as humanity we have been entrusted to care for the creation since the beginning, we have not always done the best job. We have taken from the earth with reckless abandon and have in just the past century began to realize the affect it has had on our environment. The call to care for creation first came to us in Genesis.

Today has also been known throughout the church as Good Shepherd Sunday. We hear in the Gospel, Jesus’ promise that he knows each one of us and has laid down his life for us. This promise flows over to creation. Martin Luther once wrote that, “God writes the Gospel not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars.” We are surrounded by the living Gospel. The good news that surrounds our lives.

The discourse that we enter this morning is a continuation of Jesus’ response to why he healed the man that was born blind. The Pharisee’s were questioning Jesus on why he chose to heal the man on a sabbath day. We do not get to hear the entire dialogue but come in from the point where Jesus says he is the good shepherd.

The sheep are not always left in the care of such a loving shepherd. As Jesus points out, the hired hand could care less what happened to the sheep. He cares more about his own safety and ensuring that he is protected from harm then he is about the wolves that may come to harm the sheep. The hired hand does not have a vested interest in the well-being of the sheep. Other than perhaps a paycheck! The hired hand does not love and have compassion as the good shepherd does.

When it comes to the care of creation, too many of us are apathetic. We simply do, without thinking about the consequences of our actions. We are no better than the hired hand that Jesus speaks of in the gospel lesson. When we take little to no vested interest in our communities and the care of them and the ecological resources, we are far from being a shepherd. This is part of the statement that Presiding Bishop of the ELCA, Elizabeth Eaton, released for Earth Day:

As members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), we share a deep love for all of God’s creation and a profound responsibility for it. Made in the image of God, we are called to continue what God is already doing for the earth (Psalm 104), enabling it to flourish. God assigns humans to care for the earth as God does, in loving servanthood. (Philippians 2:7, Genesis 2:15).  

 Daily we witness the evidence of a rapidly changing climate. At the same time, we also witness in too many instances how the earth’s natural beauty, a sign of God’s wonderful creativity, is defiled by pollutants and waste, resulting in ecological crisis. As a member church of The Lutheran World Federation, we affirm “that the global ecological crisis, including climate change is, human-induced. This is a spiritual matter. As people of faith, we are called to live in right relationship with creation and to not exhaust it.”[i]

We find an overwhelming grace in Jesus as the good shepherd. Jesus has taken on death like no one before him. In his willingness to lay down his life for all of humanity, we encounter a grace that the world had yet to experience. In the image of Jesus as good shepherd, the Pharisees are offended because they come to realize that they are the hired hands in the story.

Jesus as the good shepherd is an image that we are all very familiar and one that speaks a message of welcome. It is as a good shepherd that Jesus welcomes all into his flock as his body and blood are given to us at the Lord’s Table. In this simple, yet complex act, we become one with the body of Christ and are encouraged to become shepherds ourselves.

It is a good thing that Jesus only called himself the good shepherd. Imagine if he would have called himself the “awesome” shepherd, or the “extraordinary” shepherd. These would have been big shoes to fill and ones that we would have been overwhelmed to even think of stepping in to. However, good is an adjective that seems doable. We can be good! We can step up and learn to care for others the way that Jesus did. We may not always get it right, but to be good is much easier than to be “extraordinary!”

How about we start to see if we can be a good shepherd when it comes to caring for the creation that has been entrusted to us since Genesis. Heather Bennet, Executive Director of Blessed Earth Tennessee, wrote a piece for Rethink Church on caring for our environment and points out the six “R’s” of living sustainably. Perhaps you have heard of some of them.

 

  • First, REFUSE. If you don’t need it don’t buy it. If you don’t need it don’t take it. This includes food.
  • Second, if you can’t REFUSE then REDUCE. Reduce the amount you need.
  • Third, if you can’t REFUSE or REDUCE then REUSE.
  • Fourth, if you can’t REFUSE, REDUCE, or REUSE then RECYCLE. Recycling is probably the most popular, but recycling is energy intensive. Think about the transportation, energy and water involved in the process.
  • Fifth, if you can’t REFUSE, REDUCE, REUSE or RECYCLE then ROT. That’s just an R word for compost.
  • Sixth is pretty special: REST. This one is not dependent upon the others. Every week practice REST. When we rest, we’re not driving or engaging in commerce. We’re probably going to enjoy some time outside. For Christians, this day would include spending time in God’s word and in God’s creation.[ii]

 

When we begin to think about how our actions affect creation, we start to embody the image of a good shepherd. It is something that is very doable.

Jesus comes and reveals himself to the disciples and us as the good shepherd. A shepherd that is willing to lay everything down for the life of just one of his sheep’s.  Let’s not just simply follow as a sheep. May we be so bold to be a shepherd for others that are lost and lead them to the way of not only caring for creation, but in the truth of the saving grace of Jesus Christ. Bishop Eaton concludes her statement:

In grateful response to God’s grace in Jesus Christ, this church carries out its responsibility for the well-being of society and the environment. Our “concern for the environment is shaped by the Word of God spoken in creation, the Love of God hanging on a cross, the Breath of God daily renewing the face of the earth.” Our concern is, then, propelled by hope and guided by principles of justice.  We find our hope in the promise of God’s own faithfulness to everything God has made. We seek justice for all of creation in concert with God’s creative and renewing power. We do so understanding that we have the ability and responsibility to act together for the common good, especially for those who are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

 

Let us pray. … Christ, the good shepherd, may we find hope in your relentless ways to bring in all of humanity to your flock. We give thanks for being called to be your hands and feet in spreading that good news for all to hear. May we spread the good news through our actions in caring for creation and in our love that we model from your love of us. Amen.

 

[i] http://www.elca.org/News-and-Events/7922

[ii] http://www.rethinkchurch.org/articles/changing-the-world/spirituality-and-environmental-care

 

Book Review: Every Living Thing, General Editor: Christine Gutleben

 

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As we look across the Christian landscape within the United States there are many denominations with varying degrees of theology which guide their doctrine and practices. It is the hope of many to be able to work on an ecumenical level with our sisters and brothers in Christ. We do not always have the pleasure of doing so as we let our differing opinions get in the way of what is better for our communities.

The collaboration of Every Living Thing brings many denominational statements and beliefs around creation care into one convenient resource. While at times we tend to get into a theological war of words, it is nice to be able to see where our common beliefs align and build a foundation to reach out in common care for all of creation. While there definitely are apparent differences when we discuss the specifics, it does not mean that we end up mostly at the same conclusion.

The creation of Every Living Thing started as a collection of social statements online by the Humane Society of the United States Faith Outreach program in collaboration with Antonia Gorman, Ph.D. This project morphed into the current edition of Every Living Thing, which is very well annotated and gives detailed notes so that the reader can do further research if she so chooses. Gorman states in his history of the creation of the book, “As you will see when you read further, religious values have much to say about our engagement with animals and our obligation to treat all God’s creatures with kindness, compassion and mercy.”

Thirteen of the largest denominations in the United States are included within the collaboration, from Evangelicals, Roman Catholic, Mainline Protestant, and many more. The denominations themselves put a lot of work into the creation of their social statements and all have reference to biblical exegesis as they cite many of the same verses in support of the care for creation. The social statements of each of the denominations included most likely went through vast screening processes and many versions before they were accepted by the denomination as a teaching to be upheld by the greater church body.

It is hard to argue against the fact that the care of animals is of great importance and that as a creation of God we must ensure their protection within creation. Not too many people go around stating that we must exterminate all of the animals of the world. The argument does come to light as we look at practices of farming and hunting. While some denominations, such as the Seventh Day Adventist, call for care of all creation and a meat free diet, others see that we are able to responsibly care for creation while also letting it provide for our needs. These arguments are both contemporary and historical.

One of the blessings of Every Living Thing is that it looks at the social statements of each denomination closely, gleaning from them where care of animals and creation are relevant. At times this can seem redundant as the authors give a summary of the social statements, and then the social statement itself is presented. This at times can seem monotonous and unnecessary. As stated earlier, the statements reference many of the same Bible verses as they present their justification for caring for all of God’s animals. The social statements are then followed up by historical references that may have represented the denomination in earlier years, from early 20th century to pre-medieval time depending upon the denomination.

As we look at the historical, it is hard to look past some of the saints of the early church. Especially St. Francis as he is known as the Patron Saint of Animals and Ecology. Of course he is discussed within the Roman Catholic history in his regard to being able to speak with the animals and truly caring for them. Many other of the Mainline Protestant Denominations celebrate St. Francis as well in their care of creation and blessing of the animals services on or around St. Francis’s feast day.

Each denomination is concluded with Contemporary Reflections that highlight some of the current practices of the churches presented and some examples from other sources within the denomination. These are the most current reflections on the place of animals within the world order as the denomination views it. These contemporary reflections give some insight to some of the leading scholars within each denomination.

A bonus to this collection is the Appendices which reflect on some other historical figures that reflect a positive promotion for the care of creation within our world. C.S. Lewis, Hannah More, and William Wilberforce all promoted the care for animals in their own way. Their gifts that they have left for us can still have an affect on how we care for creation today. Lewis, among the most notable names, was an ardent lover of animals as is evident in his books, especially the Chronicles of Narnia series.

Perhaps if all of creation were to step forward in the manner of love that St. Francis had for creation or the magnanimous care that C.S. Lewis had for all then this book would not be necessary, as well as the social statements contained within its covers. As humanity was given dominion over all of God’s creation, we must remember that that dominion does not mean domination. The dominion presented to us must be reflected back in love and care for all of God’s creation and Every Living Thing does a wonderful job in presenting its argument for the care of all.

*Reviewed for The Englewood Review of Books