Sermon, June 4

  1. The Creation Story 
    1. Why we have it today: Trinity Sunday. 
      1. God the Creator; the wind from God; and God’s creating Word, which, later, John’s Gospel will identify with Jesus. “In the beginning was the Word…” 
      2. The Trinity is the Church’s understanding and teaching about how One God can have three Persons – God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; the One who Creates, Befriends, and Inspires. And I’m not going to talk about the Trinity today.
      3. Instead, I’m going to use the opportunity of the Creation story to talk about something I did last week, and what it’s left me thinking about. 
  1. But first, I want to talk a little about the Creation story itself. 
    1. Genesis 1 and 2 are not a scientific account of how the world was formed. We do not have to choose between this story and the stories told by physics and biology. 
    2. But these chapters are a sacred account of God’s relationship with creation, and humanity’s relationship with creation. In that vein they say some important things which I find, basically, to be true. 
      1. First, it all begins with beauty, with diversity and plenty, and with belovedness. Every step of the way, God calls Creation good!
      2. Second: Somewhere along the way, something went awry. Genesis 2 and 3 tell that story: The first humans – Adam and Eve – are warned away from the tree of knowledge, but the serpent tempts them, and they eat. As a result, God sends them forth from the garden; from that point onward, they are condemned to struggle and work the earth – and to kill animals – for their food. This part of the story is often called the Fall. 
    3. It’s a complicated story; it’s easy to point out the embedded misogyny, and some extremely bad parenting on God’s part. 
      1. But when we as the Episcopal Church name this as Scripture, as holy text, we don’t mean that we have to take it at face value. We mean that we can look for the ways our faith-ancestors were coming to understand themselves, the world, and God. 
      2. This story in particular points to a sense of loss – of a sense of intimacy and belonging with the land and living systems.
        1. Look: The first time I tried to write this part of the sermon it started to turn into an anthropology lecture and got way too long. Let me try to keep it simple! 
        2. The idea of a kind of romantic primeval simplicity, of an original harmony between humans and the land, is not especially faithful to the facts in many cases, and can be risky to tell. 
        3. But if we look at the lifetime of our species as a whole, it is not wrong to say that there has been a worldwide, long-term trajectory – over tens of thousands of years – away from immediate relationship with the land and living systems.
        4. And I think we have felt that loss, culturally and collectively, and expressed it in various ways, including in this particular Scriptural story. 
        5. And I think many of us feel that loss individually, and grieve it, and wonder how it could be otherwise.
      3. Which brings me to where scripture goes next! As we move through Genesis, as God calls a people and invites them into covenant relationship, humanity’s relationship with the land is a big part of the story.
        1. Old Testament scholar Ellen Davis and others argue that the Abrahamic covenant has three parties – God, humanity, and the land. 
          1. God’s people are called into right relationship with the land – treating it with respect and care, not as a tool for individual wealth but as a resource for shared flourishing. 
          2. In Davis’s words, “We are answerable to God for how we use the physical order to meet our physical needs.”
      4. So: there’s a core story here in which the Earth is created in love, with enough for all; over time, humans’ increasingly extractive relationship with the natural world have harmed creation and alienated much of humanity from the land and living systems; and part of our responsibility as God’s people is to strive towards a new relationship of restorative care for creation. 
        1. That is a sacred story in which I find meaning and purpose, as a Christian in the time of climate crisis.
  1. And THAT brings me to what I did last week. 
    1. From Monday afternoon through Wednesday morning, I attended an event called “Pastoring for Justice and Healing in a Climate Crisis.” If that sounds like a big topic… it was. 
      1. It was hosted up the road at Holy Wisdom, and put on by several organizations, including Creation Justice Ministries, Faith in Place, and Garrett Seminary. 
      2. It brought together clergy and lay leaders from many denominations, from Chicago, northern Illinois, and southern Wisconsin, for common learning and networking. 
      3. We learned about climate emotions, about the impacts of climate change in our region and in our hearts, about the interconnectedness of climate change with structural injustice, about resources and initiatives and possibilities. It was hard and exciting and important. 
      4. It’s hard to boil down what I carried away, honestly. It was kind of a fire-hose situation. And I’ll be taking some of it to the upcoming Green Team organizing meeting. 
      5. But here are three points I’d like to share, today, as we wonder how to live into our responsibility to strive for a renewed relationship of care with God’s wounded creation. 
  1. Point one is that churches matter. 
    1. One of the presenters, a scientist, said: Look, we climate scientists have botched this. We haven’t let people know why climate change matters to them, and we haven’t let them know what they can do to help. 
    2. There is a real role, in the large-scale movement that needs to grow and spread and deepen, for communities organized around common hopes and values – such as faith communities. 
    3. We can be learners together. Getting to know our local environment deeply, our human and non-human neighbors, and learning to love and serve them. Learning about the impacts of climate change here, now, in five years, in fifteen, in fifty. 
    4. We can be advocates together, raising our voices to our neighbors and leaders about the losses and the costs if no action or not enough action is taken, and speaking up for changes that matter. 
    5. We can be change-makers together. We can learn about the impact of our actions and choices, and make small changes that add up as we undertake them together and spread the word – especially in partnership with other like-minded faith communities. 
    6. And we can be helpers together, learning about what kinds of climate crises are most likely to impact our communities and how we as a church could be a resource. For example, we could prepare to be a cooling station in a future heat wave, as a respite for neighbors. 
  1. Point two is that the leaders of this event really stressed that climate change is an intersectional issue – meaning, it intersects with race, class, gender, and other axes of injustice. 
    1. We are a church with many commitments and I think we can sometimes feel like we’re pulled in different directions. That there’s potential for competition between issues for time and attention and resources. 
    2. But our presenters said: Climate change intersects with poverty. Climate change intersects with structural racism. Take just about any social justice issue and ask, Where does this connect with climate change, in terms of current impact or future risk? Or take any climate issue and ask: How will this effect marginalized communities? The connections are there. 
    3. So we can work towards an integrated awareness – and integrated engagement – that recognizes the reality of these interconnections. 
    4. Listen to the mission statement of the Center for Ecological Regeneration at Garrett Seminary in Chicago, one of the event sponsors: “For the just healing of wounded socio-ecological relationships in the midwest bioregion and beyond.” For the just healing of wounded socio-ecological relationships… Isn’t that an interesting? Doesn’t it make you want to learn more? We can! … 
  1. Point three is that we are surrounded by things that are dying. By signs of endings, in the words of a favorite Advent hymn.
    1. I’m not talking about people here, but about institutions, systems, norms, ways of being. 
      1. Whether it’s fast casual dining or mainline institutional Christianity, there is a lot of change and struggle and, let’s be frank, a lot of death in our cultural, economic, and social world right now.
    2. In the ecological world, a death means a release of resources and nutrients, and perhaps a niche in a system, made available for other living things to use. 
      1. Just the other day, I harvested some mushrooms on our grounds that were happily digesting a chunk of dead elm tree. 
    3. At a larger scale than a single dead organism, the collapse or decay of systems from order towards chaos also creates certain kinds of opportunities. 
      1. Bill Mollison, a founding figure in the permaculture movement, describes chaos as an opportunity for creative re-ordering. 
      2. In nature, death and decay present opportunities for rebirth and new growth. The dying of the old makes room for the new. 
        1. That’s not a reason to be callous or cavalier about the losses of our times. But it is a reason not to despair. A reason to actively engage in imagining and building possible futures. 
    4. The speaker who shared all this was Tim Eberhard of Garrett Theological Seminary. And the part that I keep thinking about is when he said that all our institutions are facing death – by kenosis or apocalypse. 
      1. Let me explain those two big words. Kenosis is a theological term, based in how the apostle Paul talks about Jesus Christ in his letters. It’s from the Greek word for empty, and refers to Christ’s laying down divine power and glory to live – and die – as a human being. 
      2. Kenosis refers to a willing, chosen laying down of self-interest or even self, for the sake of the other or the greater good. 
      3. Apocalypse is a more familiar word but let me remind us of its theological meaning: signs that point us towards the end of the present age, the Eschaton. 
        1. That end may come with a bang or a whimper; it may be violent or glorious or both. 
        2. Wikipedia points out aptly that the word “apocalypse” has come to be used as a synonym for catastrophe, but in the original Greek it means “revelation” – a showing of hidden truths. The climate crisis shows us how something can be both at once – catastrophe and revelation. 
      1. Tim said that the the multi-systemic collapse that we’re beginning to see now, worldwide, is overdue and earned. We have done too much in so many ways – too much extractive monocropping, too much burning of fossil fuels, too much cutting down rainforests, too much creating cheap and disposable consumer goods and burning fuel shipping them around the globe, too much dumping garbage and toxic chemicals into our air and waters, too much, too much, too much. 
        1. The collapse is overdue, and earned; AND it will be incredibly costly to people, creatures, and ecosystems. It is nothing to celebrate. 
        2. But it is also not a reason to lose hope. Hope is not naive optimism; true hope begins from excruciating realism. And true hope names that seasons of collapse are also times of immense opportunity. 
      2. When Tim said that endings are coming for us all, whether by kenosis or apocalypse, he means, I think, that we have choices. 
        1. As a church: we can’t choose the times we live in or the epochal challenges we face.
        2. We can choose whether to carry on as usual until apocalypse shakes and shatters us; or to recognize those signs of endings all around us, and spend our resources, time, and skill for the sake of the common good, towards a renewed future.
        3. Tim said: There is good news in this season for dreamers, prophets, and builders. There is an opportunity here for deep change – if we seize it. 
  1. Genesis tells us: We belong here. We are part of a Creation that is beautiful and bountiful and beloved. We have a special, God-given role to tend it and help it flourish. 
    1. And: Much has gone awry. As a species, we have lost so much knowledge of, and intimacy with, the land and living systems. 
    2. So much is wounded, askew, spiraling towards catastrophe. 
    3. But there is hope. If we face our situation honestly and boldly. If we build connections – between one another, between churches and organizations, between climate change and our daily choices, between climate change and the other issues that occupy our days and our hearts. 
    4. Tim ended his talk with a quote from Willie James Jennings, one of the great theological voices of our times and a Black Baptist pastor. I’m going to end with Jennings’ words too: “These days I am trying to understand how to be Christian in the dirt. Which means I am trying to think theologically from dirt and trees, sky and water, ocean and animals—not as background to life but as the reality of connection that prepares us for the living of life together.”
    5. Beloved friends, let’s work together to figure out what it means to be Christians in the dirt. Amen. Alleluia. 


Ellen Davis quoted in Sojourners, Oct. 30, 2013

The Willie James Jennings article quoted: