Sunday, 24 February 2019

‘The integrity of creation
and … the life of the earth’
are not marginal to mission

Sunset at the Rectory in Askeaton last night … our responsibility for creation is at the heart of the mission of the Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 24 February 2019,

The Second Sunday before Lent (Sexagesima), The Creation.


9.30 a.m. Castletown Church, Kilcornan, Morning Prayer;

Readings: Genesis 2: 4b-9, 15-25; Psalm 65; Revelation 4; Luke 8: 22-35.

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

It is very easy to be misunderstood, for someone else to understand our motivations and the reason behind what we do.

It’s natural: it is easier to judge than to understand, it is easy to ask questions without waiting for and listening to answers.

And usually answers are not simple and they do not come easily.

So, when it comes to the environment, we all know we as humans are responsible for what is happening. We want someone to do something about carbon emissions – as long as it does not make demands on me that I feel are too demanding.

‘Not in my backyard.’

The workers in factories blame the farmers, the farmers say the people in the towns do not understand their dilemma. Everyone blames the politicians, but I continue to add to my carbon footprint when I book yet another cheap flight.

‘Not in my backyard.’

The blame sharing that goes on between industry and agriculture ought to be turned around to sharing not just responsibility but developing our vision for a better and brighter future – a better and brighter future that may be a symbol, a sign, a sacrament of what the Kingdom of God is like.

Working together, industry and agriculture, town and country, in sharing our responsibility for the creation and the environment might be a very good way to introduce the partnership that we are supposed to share in – between God and humanity – when it comes to responsibility for the environment and the creation.

God’s creation is good, we are told in our Old Testament reading (Genesis 2: 4b-9, 15-25). This is the second account of the Creation narrative in the Book Genesis. Forget, for a moment, about the mythological ways of telling stories about creation, and think for a moment about the purpose of telling the story, and what lessons it tries to teach.

This story tells us that without God’s gift of rain and without human presence ‘to till the ground,’ there would be no growth in the soil.

This second account of creation therefore presents humanity as co-creators with God, or partners with God in God’s plan for bringing creation to full fruition and growth.

Humanity is given responsibility for creation, but there are limits on the use of creation. We are not to see everything as ours, to do with it what we decide. We are created from the soil of the earth – the Hebrew name adam means ‘from the dust of the ground’ – and we are to cultivate and care for the earth (verse 15). Being God’s partners in the creation brings responsibilities for caring for that creation.

Our Psalm (Psalm 65) is a song of thanks for the Earth’s bounty.

All flesh, all people, all humanity, praise God for the harvest of the earth. He answers prayers and he forgives us our transgressions. The place to thank God for the goodness of creation is in prayer and in worship, for God is ‘the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas’ (verse 5).

This psalm praises him for creation, for the earth and the seas, for soil and the rain, for the pastures and the hills, for the meadows and the valleys.

The Gospel reading (Luke 8: 22-35) introduces two miracles of very different kinds. One shows that Christ is the Lord of Creation, the other shows he the Lord of humanity. Together they show that he has authority over chaos in nature and chaos in humanity. We see the calming of the stormy seas, and the calming of a stormy personality, the calming of the waves and the calming of the mind.

Christ and the disciples have left the crowd behind them (see Luke 8: 19), they get into the boat, and Jesus sends them to the other side of the lake crowd away. The act of sending is at the heart of mission. Mission begins with God so loving the world that he sends his only Son so that we may know that love. And Christ then sends those with him on a journey that is fraught with danger to a strange place where they expect to find disturbing realities and disturbing people.

Sending is the foundation of mission – and the sending of the disciples is a sending on mission, just as our dismissal at the end of the Eucharist marks, not so much the end of the liturgy, but the beginning of mission.

Christ invites the disciples get into the boat and sends them to a strange place. But, instead of finding that the boat or the church empowers them for mission, the disciples treat it as a place to take them away from the crowds and the world. They see it as their own cocoon, their safe territory.

How wrong they are. When the storm comes, when the waves batter them, when the wind rises up against them, they find that we cannot be in the church and be without Christ and without the crowd.

Christ falls asleep on the boat and seems unaware of the peril at sea as they sail towards the other side of the lake.

When Christ shows his power over the stormy reality of creation, he challenges the disciples and asks, ‘Where is your faith?’

They are afraid and amazed. Are they more afraid and amazed when it comes to Christ’s command of the wind and the waves than they are of the wind and the waves themselves?

Their faith has been tested, and it has been found to be weak, in the deep waters it is found to be shallow.

On the other side of the lake, they arrive in the country of the Gerasenes, east of the Jordan and deep in Gentile territory. The wilderness and the deserts were regarded as places where demons and destructive forces lived, and the abyss was the realm of Satan and home to demons. They seemed to be parts of creation beyond God’s attention and without human tilling.

The man they meet is not like Adam and Eve in our first reading, who are unaware of being naked. This man is aware of his desperate, naked plight in a wilderness place. Yet, he falls down before Christ in an act of humility and worship.

This man recognises Christ for whom he is, ‘Son of the Most High God’ (verse 28), unlike the disciples in the earlier part of this reading, who have just asked, ‘Who then is this …?’ (verse 25)

When the people come to see Christ, this man is now sitting at his feet, like a disciple sits at the feet of a teacher or master. Like the disciples in the boat in the first miracle in this reading, they too are afraid.

Later, after this reading, we are told that this man becomes a missionary to his fellow Gentiles (verse 39). This is a dramatic story with dramatic consequences, and this man is about to tell people ‘throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him’ (verse 39).

So, Christ is the Lord of Creation, and the mission of the Church is only going to work in harmony when God and humanity work in partnership in creation.

If we do this well, then, the Book of Revelation tells us, the whole of creation is invited into the Kingdom of God.

In his exile on the island of Patmos, Saint John the Divine has an ecstatic vision of the heavenly throne.

Around the throne of God are 24 thrones with 24 elders who are wearing white robes and golden crowns. The number 24 could be read as symbolising a new or perfect creation, doubling the number of disciples, who double the number of the days of creation.

Around the throne too are four living creatures – a lion, an ox, a human person and an eagle – who came later to represent the four evangelists.

God is worshipped by these 24 elders or priests and by these four living creatures or evangelists as the Lord God who has created all things and by whose will all things exist and are created.

Later, as this vision continues, we are told that this is Lamb on the throne (see Revelation 5: 6-8).

In our liturgy and worship, the Church invites the whole of Creation into the Kingdom of God. Indeed, at the heart of the liturgy, our worship, is our concern for the whole of God’s creation.

There are five marks of mission that we agree on in the Anglican Communion. The fifth mark is, ‘To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.’

Our co-responsibility for creation is not peripheral to mission, it is at the heart of mission, and underpins it.

At the General Synod of the Church of England last week, the Revd Andrew Lightbown expressed concern that the material prepared for a debate on mission and evangelism was ‘a bit thin — I worry that mission and evangelism is reducible to conversion.’

If we reduce mission to evangelism, and miss out on the centrality of the liturgy of the Church and on our responsibility for creation, then the Church misses out on the opportunity to invite all creation, through the Church, into the Kingdom of God.

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

‘He got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side of the lake’ (Luke 8: 22) … fishing boats in the harbour in Rethymnon, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 8: 22-35 (NRSVA):

22 One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side of the lake.’ So they put out, 23 and while they were sailing he fell asleep. A gale swept down on the lake, and the boat was filling with water, and they were in danger. 24 They went to him and woke him up, shouting, ‘Master, Master, we are perishing!’ And he woke up and rebuked the wind and the raging waves; they ceased, and there was a calm. 25 He said to them, ‘Where is your faith?’ They were afraid and amazed, and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?’

26 Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27 As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. 28 When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, ‘What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me’ – 29 for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) 30 Jesus then asked him, ‘What is your name?’ He said, ‘Legion’; for many demons had entered him. 31 They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.

32 Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. 33 Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.

34 When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. 35 Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid.

The 24 elders and four evangelists before the Lamb of God on the Throne … the Altar in a church in Ballyragget, Co Kilkenny (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Liturgical Colour: Green

The Collect:

Almighty God,
you have created the heavens and the earth
and made us in your own image:
Teach us to discern your hand in all your works
and your likeness in all your children;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who with you and the Holy Spirit
reigns supreme over all things, now and for ever.

‘He woke up and rebuked the wind and the raging waves; they ceased, and there was a calm’ (Luke 8: 24) … window in a church in Rush, Co Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Hymns:

58, Morning has broken (CD 4)
612, Eternal Father, strong to save (CD 35)
346, Angel voices, ever singing (CD 21)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

No comments: