Date: 24 April 2016 – Earth Sunday
Text: Luke 12:22-34
Site: Bethany United Church – Halifax, NS
Jesus Scholar N.T. (Tom) Wright says our time, “the modern Western world is built on anxiety. You see it on the faces of people hurrying to work. You see it even more as they travel home, tired but without having solved life’s problems. The faces are weary, puzzled, living with the unanswerable question as to what it all means. Our world thrives on people setting higher and higher goals for themselves, and each other, so that they can worry all day and all year about whether they will reach them. If they do, they will set new ones. If they don’t, they will feel like they have failed. Was this really how we are supposed to live?”
Many of Jesus’ hearers only had just enough to live on, and there was always the prospect that one day they wouldn’t have even that. Most of them would have perhaps one spare garment, but not more. As with many in today’s non-Western world, one disaster – the family breadwinner being sick or injured, for example – could mean instant destitution.
We now know that anxiety can be a killer. Stress and worry can cause disease, or contribute to it – producing the enchanting prospect of people worrying about worrying, a downward spiral…
Tom Wright says of our Gospel text this morning, “God, the Creator, loves to give good gifts, loves to give you the kingdom – loves, that is, to bring God’s sovereign care and rescue right to your door.”
Ten years ago I served a church in Toronto. Around that time the church was looking to have some landscaping done. I asked at a Board Meeting if there were any landscapers in the church. I was told there was one landscaper. Michael came with a reputation, one Board member told me “he has his own ideas”. It turns out one of his ideas was to interview all prospective clients, discover their values, their spirituality, and research the area where they live, what plant life is indigenous to that piece of Creation. You can imagine a typical Torontonian who might call Michael only to be interviewed, and then given a list of plants, shrubs, trees, flowers, etc… that he would be willing to use. For Michael landscaping was not a job like paving someone’s driveway, it was a labour of love, finding a way to return the land to its original intention, which for Michael was to bring the Creator’s nourishment, refreshment, and renewal.
Going back to Tom Wright’s analysis of our fast-paced, high-demand, stress-filled living environment, we are always looking for a magic bullet that will decompress our spirit. What is your magic bullet? A glass of wine after work, yoga, a vigorous run, watching “Jeopardy”, doing the Cross-word puzzle, gardening, listening to some music… Again listen to Wright’s observation about our Gospel text, “God, the Creator, loves to give good gifts, loves to give you the kingdom – loves, that is, to bring God’s sovereign care and rescue right to your door.”
What if God gift to us is Creation, right at our door? What if Creation has the imprint of the Creator and with this imprint comes something we need, something deep we can connect to, something that reminds us who and whose we are?
One of the biggest changes I’ve seen in my 25 years of ministry is how families describe important parts of a loved one’s life. More and more families are naming their loved one’s favorite place (where ultimately ashes are often scattered), a garden that held their affection, and/or a view that took their breath away. Nature has a hold on us in a way we seldom consider.
“Consider” is a word Jesus likes. In Luke 12:22-31 Jesus uses it a lot. In Greek it means, “perceive, remark, observe, understand, fix one’s eyes and attention on.” Thomas Berry, a Roman Catholic Priest and a theologian says that the role of the Church in the twenty-first century is to help reshape future human-Earth relations. Berry says the world about us has become an ‘it’ rather than a ‘thou.’ “Perhaps a new revelatory experience is taking place, an experience wherein human consciousness awakens to the grandeur and sacred quality of the Earth process. Humanity has seldom participated in such a vision since shamanic times, but in such a renewal lies our hope for the future for ourselves and for the entire planet on which we live.”
But getting to a place where God’s Creation can minister to us in our anxiety will require a change in the way we look at nature. Our Western minds have led us to see the Creation around us as a commodity, a resource. And of course it is and has been, a relationship that has led to many advances in the way we live. But this transition has come with some baggage and some negative results, namely pollution and an ever-worsening condition for many types of life. You already know that. And the choices we make will determine if there will be an earth for our grandchildren to enjoy. My sermon today is not to repeat what you already know. Rather I want you to know that in your quest for respite from the ever-increasing volume of anxiety you have Creation, not as a resource to be mined or extracted but rather as a source of healing and wonder and love. Did you know that?
Thomas Berry says, “The human venture depends absolutely on the quality of awe and reverence and joy in the Earth and all that lives and grows upon the Earth. As soon as we isolate ourselves from these currents of life and from the profound mood that these engender within us, then our basic life-satisfactions are diminished.”
In 2006 Kim and I returned to Nova Scotia, moving into the suburbs of Halifax. As I walked throughout the subdivision one part of God’s Creation was particularly arresting, the sight of those bright yellow dandelions. They just came from nowhere, one day it was cold and dreary and the next there was warmth and sun and these wild flowers that made lawns sparkle. I was enchanted. But I also knew that around me neighbours were using every possible means to rid themselves of the dreaded weed. So I decided to do something about it, to start with the young. So on a Sunday morning in spring, with the church full of people who had come to check out the new Minister I showed the children a photo of a lawn filled with dandelions. I asked the children what they would say if they walked by a lawn that looked like this. I expected to hear the innocence of children’s voices as they praised these wild and vibrant flowers. Instead a hand went up in the front row and in a voice filled with righteous contempt one boy said, “They should get a lawnmower!” The church cheered the answer.
Jesus said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Consider what the Creator has done for us. Consider the gift the Creator has given us, food, shelter, heat, energy, yes all of these. But consider something else, just being in and with Creation is also a source of healing and reassurance that we are part of something bigger, more expansive, more connected, where everything and everyone has value and has purpose. What a gift, what a blessing, what a Creation, what a Creator! Amen.