Creation Time 2, Pentecost 17, Year CReadings: Jeremiah 4:11–12, 22–28; Psalm 14; (1 Timothy 1:12–17); Luke 15:1–10
Creation time. We’re thinking about our relationship with it all.In our prayers later, we will remember the people of Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania. Romania was in the news the other day. A Canadian company has arranged to go there, take the tops off four mountains and dig a huge open pit mine for gold in Romania. There’s a rumor that bribes were received by highly placed elected officials. They have smoothed the way for the project, but now popular resistance has sprung up. It seems the plan is to use cyanide to extract the gold from the rock. People are frightened about their environment, and angry that their resources are being sold cheaply, with little lasting benefit for their country.
The Canadian mining company may sue Romania for loss of income if the government listens to the protesters and stops the project. The nation may suffer greatly if it goes ahead. And a long ago prophet is forecasting how it will be on the earth when creation is no longer filled with the sacred. And a long ago teacher is talking about things that have gone missing. The bible keeps proving to be relevant, even after all these centuries.
How do we get ourselves into these situations over and over? Oil and spills. Agriculture and disease, soil problems and runoff. Mining, cave-ins and poisonous tailings. Forestry and clear cutting. We can always think of ways to do things more cheaply, on a bigger scale, faster. We start to lick our lips about bigger profits, or beating the competition. We don’t seem to anticipate the down side of our proposals until it’s too late. And even after the problems become apparent, the lure of money is very, very great.
Jeremiah is the prophet. He has things to say about policies of his time. His profound sense is that they are not consistent with the original vision for his people. So, he says, a hot wind is coming. Not a breeze that might be helpful with the harvest, but a whirlwind, a destructive force. He imagines the effect in stages: on the earth and the heavens, the mountains and hills, the birds and crops, the cities full of people. And finally: “The whole land shall be a desolation.” (Jeremiah 4:27) When you think about it, he’s going through the days of creation: earth and heavens, mountains and hills, birds, crops, people. Only the oceans are missing from the list. What happens when people are foolish, doing evil, not knowing how to do good? The earth shall mourn. We sin, and all earth pays.
And if Earth is lost, where will we will find another planet? The teacher is Jesus, and he has these vivid images to make people think. If Earth is lost, where should the creator go looking for it? Should she sweep the whole galaxy in the hopes that a renewed, fresh Earth will turn up? Should he go looking in the craggy parts of the universe for the beautiful little planet that got separated from the sacred?
It’s Creation Time, week 2. Creation Time is a new addition to the church calendar. Christians are thinking we need a very specific time to focus in on a very big issue. We could go on and on about the trouble we are giving to the planet. A mine in Romania is just one example. What if we thought instead about how a church could respond to a challenge such as this?
What is our purpose here? What call do we hear? How do we respond to it? This congregation has provided leadership for a long while. Members here have been willing to buck some conventions, walk the road less travelled over the last few decades. You have built a house of welcome and inclusion, although that project is never finished. You have given citywide leadership on Pride issues, especially making the United Church present in the big, annual parade. Make that nation wide leadership.
Now we are discerning the congregation’s call. What is our sense of what God from us now, in these coming few years? Last week we used hymn choices to get at this task of discerning. This week we’re going to have another Holy Conversation, same general topic, this time using scripture. You may have a sense of the kind of church you are being challenged to be at this point in the history of the planet. How can we make a place on the one hand that feels all warm and cozy for people who are bruised or friendless, let’s say, and on the other hand prophetic about the sins of humankind? Prophets often have to be the opposite of warm and cozy. Whether we’re talking about our life together in here, or our response to the world out there, we want a church that stretches us, asks for our best selves.
We can’t go on long like this, with our energy use, our resource consumption, our treatment of the oceans, the air, the land. The hot wind is already blowing, more on some places than others, of course. Fresh water shortages in the Caribbean, rising sea levels for some low lying Pacific island nations, melting tundra and sea ice in the north. A dangerous level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere already, and we’re not even slowing down the rise, never mind turning it around.
There’s a parable about a village by a river. It’s not in the bible, so I’m afraid you can’t use it after church. A woman goes down to the river to get water one morning and finds a man at the edge, wounded, in a fight, it looks like, barely alive. She calls for help and her neighbours come running. They get him to safety and bind his wounds. He is slowing recovering when someone finds another person in the water, just as badly off. This time they’re a little more organized with the assistance. It happens again, and again. They get really good at hauling people out of the river and patching them up. Little committees, jobs assigned, supplies stock piled in anticipation, that sort of thing. Finally someone looked up the river and said, What are they doing to each other up there? Maybe we should go find out. The why questions can be the tough ones, and they’re usually the ones with the most interesting answers.
Why are the rules seemingly so tilted in favour of people who want to get gold out of the ground and against the people who live there now and the rivers and the animals and the land? Why are we overfishing? Why is it cheaper to spew poison into the air than to make and use cleaner, safer technologies? Why do people need food from a food bank in a wealthy nation such as this? Or any nation? Pulling people in trouble out of the river is important. We do it well and we’re always trying to figure out how to improve. We have hundreds of stories from downstairs to tell about how people end up in the river, and a fair insight into what this costs us as a society. As a congregation, are we supposed to go up any rivers to find out what’s going upstream?
We’re a church. We come at things a little differently than other organizations. We look to scripture for insight into why things are the way they are, and how we should live our lives. That became very clear last week during our hymn discussion, and I suspect it will be just as powerful and provocative again today. Psalm 14, for instance. A poet looking around her fearfully, indignantly, perhaps even lovingly, and probing for reasons about what’s going on upriver.
“The foolish have spoken in their heart, and said, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt; they do abominable things…all have gone astray, all are corrupted.” (Psalm 14:1, 3) Corrupt, astray. They were created for something else, but turned away from it, strayed. This is theology. Judeo-Christian anthropology, actually. A view of people rooted in a very deep hope. “Have they no knowledge, all those who do evil? They devour my people like so much bread, and do not pray to God.” (v. 4) I think the poet means knowledge of God, and therefore faith, humility, compassion, a conscience. “God is on the side of the righteous. Do not mock the hope of the poor, for God is their refuge.” (vv. 5, 6) More theology. A view of God this time. God is not neutral, carefully staying out of human injustice like the Greek gods of the time, but on the side of those poor souls who wash up on river banks needing assistance.
The topic, the issue for us as humans in the 21st century could be anything—environment, the economy, how we do government and make decisions that affect all creation, you name it. And our task at the moment, our task always, is to do theology, to imagine a church that is responding creatively, purposefully, playfully, provocatively. If someone is lost, God is looking for them, Jesus says in this lost and found section of the bible. And we can go farther and ask our world why they keep getting lost, those child labourers, those endangered species, those villagers in the mountains whose world is about to rocked by yet another Canadian mining company moiling for gold.
Our purpose. Will it be easy to talk to those people up the river who keep bashing others, who seem to have lost their sense of the sacred? Will they respond calmly to pleas for calm, for peace? What if the people downstream and the people upstream all turn out to be us?