September 3, 2023 - 14th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 17)
“There are no unsacred places; there are only sacred places and desecrated places.”
Since 1989, the ‘Season of Creation’, ‘Creation Time’, or ‘Creationtide’ has grown to be a lively global and ecumenical movement in Christian churches, dedicating the Sundays of September and the first in October (closest to St Francis' Day, 4th October) to worship, prayer, reflection and action on the Commission of the Risen Christ, to bring Good News to All Creation (Mark 16:15). It’s a chance for us as a church to celebrate what it means to be Church against the real, urgent and increasing threat of climate and other environmental crises. And to rediscover the meaning of a distinctive human calling of justice, care, guidance and partnership with - as well as dependence on – fellow creatures with whom we share so much. It’s also a chance to change up our Eucharistic prayer to acknowledge this fragile earth.
So that all said, my first thought when I read this week’s letter from Paul was, “Paul, are you serious?” This stuff sounds great… it’s the kind of thing we can admire, but do you actually expect us to live this way? I mean, it would work if everyone lived like that, but they don’t. And come on! We live in the real world. It can get nasty. Holding things over one another is baked into our lives, and if we live like Paul says, we’re going to get taken out of life early. And none of us really wants to be crucified at the age of – say 33 – do we?
But if you pay attention to Paul, you know that he isn’t known as a joker, so we are best to assume that Paul means it and we are to take this reading seriously, and to live it out, every day. So what does that mean for us?
You might have heard a consistent theme in my sermons the past few weeks – we must live our faith together. Here, that doesn’t mean that there is safety in numbers, but rather that we need fellowship and the support of others who are trying to do the same thing, regardless of how impossible it seems. Because those who know that they have received God’s mercy must respond by offering themselves in God’s service. Learning how to take those steps of obedience is both an individual and corporate experience.
We hear Jesus say, “Wherever two or three are gathered together in my name…” and we are to take comfort in the Holy Spirit moving in our lives. The Kingdom of God here on earth is about sharing, not about giving. Giving can be impersonal - we give money to support causes, we give presents at those awful office Christmas parties - it can leave us untouched except for a bit less money in our wallets. But we are essentially unchanged when we give.
But sharing, that is a different thing altogether. When we extend hospitality to those whom we don’t know, we make a relationship, we don’t keep our distance, and we share, we don’t just give. When we “associate with the lowly” or “live peaceably with all”, we don’t just change the situation; rather the situation changes us.
And then we hear “do not claim to be wiser than you are”! What a challenge to us in our current society! We are masters of the Earth - we rule it and exploit it for our use. We think we can bend the universe to do our will. And we convince ourselves and one another that we don’t actually need to change our ways, but we just need a new technological fix.
So what do we do?
Have you heard the cry of God’s people? We are, as “I AM” said, standing on holy ground. And yet, disasters are becoming ever more frequent. We have entered the era of climate chaos.
The people of God are crying – are you listening? Do you know you are standing on holy ground?
Take off your sandals for the place where you are standing is Holy Ground … Do we love the earth? Do we believe that it was made by our Creator God and so bears the fingerprints of God? The story of Moses and the burning bush is a clear one, for we are in it for the long run. Our actions must be rooted in prayer and meditation – we must come in silence to listen to God on the mountain, refill our spiritual tanks – we must fall in love with the wonders of this beautiful creation – learn to hear the great choir of God’s creation.
Wendell Berry once said, “There are no unsacred places; there are only sacred places and desecrated places.” Do we hear the cry of the Earth? For creation is groaning, waiting on tiptoe for the children of God to be revealed (Rom 8: 19-22). “Associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are”.