Homily for the 5th Sunday of Easter, April 24, 2016 – The Ven. Grant Rodgers
Last Sunday (Good Shepherd Sunday), listening to Carla (The Rev. Carla McGhie) reflecting on the place of sheep in the scheme of things, I found myself counting sheep – not nodding off to sleep, but wondering: how many sheep have I consumed in my life? And how many cows, chickens, turkeys?
A recent article carried by the Daily Mail in the UK suggests the average First World person devours at least 7,000 animals in their lifetime including 11 entire cows, 27 pigs, and 2,400 chickens. By the time they reach 80, the average Briton on an average diet will have consumed 30 sheep, 80 turkeys and 4,500 fish each. Apparently, we each consume about 35 tons of food in a lifetime, so if you’re one of those people who has given up on Earth and thinking of becoming a settler on Mars, you may need a few extra rocket ships for supplies!
As I did a little online research, I discovered it costs 10,000 times more to produce a litre of bottled water than a litre of tap water, that the average person will drink 70,000 cups of coffee in a lifetime, and that McDonalds worldwide produces enough garbage to fill the Empire State Building – every single day.
There’s a lot to think about on Earth Day. It’s fascinating what you discover when you stop just for a few minutes and realize the impact we are making on the planet – the tremendous amount it takes to sustain just one person. (And if everything I eat becomes part of me in some real way, I should be mooing a lot more often by now.)
But I find myself asking: What have I given back? Indeed, how do we give back? How do we balance the equation? Short of the odd garden, a couple of trees, and a lot of Carbon Dioxide, what have I given back to Mother Earth? As an ancient proverb says, “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. Now is the second best time.”
The fact is that our tendency, especially in North American culture, is to use and dispose, and we apply that attitude not just to things we consider redundant, but people, pets, entire communities, cultural norms, etc. It seems to me that NOW is the best time to start acting on meaningful change.
In recognition of Earth Day this week, our Primate, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, and the National Lutheran Bishop, The Rev. Susan Johnson, issued a joint statement in which they said:
“We pray for the humility and discipline to use the earth’s resources wisely and responsibly; to take action with care for those who will come after us; and to continue to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth.”
This resembles the promise recently added to the Baptismal Covenant of the Anglican Church, according to which we now ask: “Will you strive to safeguard the integrity of God’s creation, and respect, sustain and renew the life of the Earth?” The proper response being: “I will, with God’s help.”
According to an official Anglican Communion web site: “The Five Marks of Mission are an important statement which expresses the Anglican Communion’s common commitment to, and understanding of, God’s holistic/integral mission.” The fifth “Mark of Mission” of the Anglican Communion is this: “To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth.”
“Officially,” the Anglican Church is committed, but how that works out in individual commitment is hard to gauge. Our sense of what it means to be a “practising Anglican” is pretty minimal. As Jimmy Kimmel said “They estimate that a billion people participated in Earth Day activities. Then they all went back to driving their SUVs to the gym.”
The bishops reference the recent Storforsen document, which upholds the wisdom of First Nations people, particularly in the face of Arctic development, and says “All the land, all the cosmos is sacred, a sacrament, infused with meaning. Each being has a purpose. This is the soul and spirit of the land and all life. The purpose of each human being then is to be a responsible caretaker. All human beings are called to this priestly vocation . . . Our traditions stress the interconnectedness and the solidarity between humanity and the living Earth. It is our hope that we can change and make peace with each other and with the creation.”
Earth Day began in 1970, and numerous activities are planned in the Vancouver area this weekend. As the web site says, “Earth Day is more than just a single day — it’s bigger than attending a rally and taking a stand” (http://www.earthday.org) . . . We are now entering the 46th year of a movement that continues to inspire, challenge ideas, ignite passion, and motivate people to action.” Interesting! That sounds like the kind of enthusiasm one would like to see in our churches (believing as they do in the creative and resurrecting power of God). Indeed, Nature is such a powerful metaphor, expression and experience of the Resurrecting power of God, it is most appropriate that during the Easter season we include a focus upon the environment that we inhabit and express something of the gratitude, accountability, awe and respect that Jesus and many of his followers since have displayed.
According to Biblical scholar Dr Clinton McCann, Psalm 148 suggests that God will not properly be praised until the congregation includes not only all people, but also all living things and the inanimate features of creation.” As the Psalm says “Praise the Lord, heaven of heavens, sing praises, you waters … Let them praise the name of the Lord; who gave the command and they were created. Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea-creatures and all deeps; Fire and hail, snow and fog, tempestuous wind, doing God’s will; mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars; wild beasts and all cattle, creeping things and wingèd birds; praise the name of the Lord, whose name only is exalted, whose splendour is over earth and heaven.”
McCann continues: “Obviously, the ecological implications of this vision are profound and far-reaching. In the season of Easter, we might put it like this: Just as the resurrection offers the promise of life to us human beings that are beset by the forces of sin and death, so it also offers the promise of life to the “whole creation [that] has been groaning in labor pains until now (Romans 8:22). From this Easter perspective, the redeemed resurrection-community consists of people together with the whole creation. Such an Easter perspective is not unlike the praise-perspective of Psalm 148. We — people, living creatures, and the features of the whole creation — form a single worshiping community!”
The recent papal document Laudato Si continues to make an impact on people of faith. It is a document, rooted in the spirituality of St Francis of Assisi, that points to the importance of attitudinal and practical changes in terms of how we relate to the planet. It holds up the simple but profound faith of St Francis, who felt a personal affinity not just with other people but with all other creatures, and even Creation itself. Locally, and around the world, reflection on Laudato Si has been drawing people into a deeper dialogue and understanding of the kind of eco-spirituality appropriate to our time.
As people of faith, Christians have tended to believe that God can make everything new, as today’s reading from Revelation suggests. On that basis, we have (either consciously or unconsciously) tended to assume that the resources of the earth are endless and that we can consume as much as we want and pollute as much as we want without real consequence.
We are indeed prone to over-indulgence. I love the scene in the Blackadder series, in which First World War Captain Blackadder, visiting the idiotic George, one of his men, in a field hospital, notes George’s recent food parcel from his somewhat less-than-brilliant family: “a potted turkey, a cow in jelly, three tinned sheep, and twelve hundred chocolates.”
I believe in the goodness and providence of God, but we have to ask: at what point do we become responsible – to see ourselves as co-creators as opposed to passive receptors or consumers? Even Jesus said we were not to tempt the Lord our God – not to take God’s power and goodness for granted, as though it is automatically and involuntarily given. Everything comes at a cost of some sort.
A Kenyan proverb says: “Treat the Earth well. It was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children.”
I think my generation was the first not to be able to take for granted the continuing existence of the planet itself due to distinctly human activities. We have now come up against the real possibility that as a direct result of human activity, the planet quite possibly may not be able to recover on its own (or even with “God’s help”) – that we may actually have to do something about it.
Dr Robert Oppenheimer, director of the Manhattan Project quoting the ancient Hindu scriptures the Bhagavad-Gita, said “I am become death, the destroyer of worlds” after helping to invent the atomic bomb. As a child, I dealt with vivid nightmares about the entire planet being destroyed, turned into a wasteland, and wondered who would be left to bury all the people.
Or, as Kimmel puts it: “There’s a lot of talk about how global warming will be a disaster for future generations. When you think about it, it’s hard to care. What have these future generations ever done for us?”
To be a steward in our world – to be someone who takes responsibility – is to be counter-cultural – it is to be someone who has woken up and become aware that creation requires tending, balance, giving back as well as taking – it is to be a prophet as well as a child of the universe.
There is integrity and harmony in the biblical view – an awareness of our dependence on nature, a sense of its beauty and complexity and fragility, and no one expressed this better than Jesus himself, not just in what he said but in the manner in which he lived. Jesus introduces us to the idea of being bearers and givers of life, embodying and expressing the goodness and generosity of God, operating primarily out of love, rather than being merely takers and users.
The earth is a sacred book and every creature is a word of God – that is how a modern Christian mystic might put it (though to be fair, a Medieval mystic already said it).
The one prevailing, essential sign of our validity, our integrity as a religion, is love. Without love, St Paul says, we are nothing and our actions are meaningless and even harmful. Of course this means love for other people, but it also has to mean love for the planet, for the creation which itself is a living entity, which itself is an expression of its Creator. Genuine, meaningful love must be directed toward the planet, toward all the creatures who share life with us, toward the oceans and waters of the earth.
I believe in the God who makes all things new, but I also believe that Christians are those who accept the challenge and the gift of being Christ-like, of being ambassadors for Christ, embodiments of Christ, inviting people into the simple and profound lifestyle to which he pointed.
Jesus is portrayed in the New Testament as the one who gives of himself. “I am the bread,” he says, and offers his life, and in so doing invites us into his self-giving way of being. This is the exact opposite of what our culture tells us to do. Instead, we are urged, persuaded, and pressured to take, to claim, to expect, and to be concerned only about ourselves. We can no longer continue to be agents of death and destruction. We need to be able to say, as Jesus did: “I am become Life” and “I am one with the One who loves the world so much that she gives of her very self.” I pray that we at St John’s will choose to live simply, gnerously and creatively on this planet that is such a beautiful expression of God’s being.
The Ven. Grant Rodgers, Rector+
Acts 11:1-18 Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I replied, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But a second time the voice answered from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.’ And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”
Psalm 148 Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise him in the heights! Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his host! Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars! Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens! Let them praise the name of the LORD, for he commanded and they were created. He established them forever and ever; he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed. Praise the LORD from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command! Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars! Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds! Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth! Young men and women alike, old and young together! Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven. He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his faithful, for the people of Israel who are close to him. Praise the LORD!
Revelation 21:1-6 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. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.
John 13:31-35 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you 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.”