We are not God

Preached at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Cambria – June 21, 2015

Jesus stills the storm

(1) The news this week reminds us that we are surrounded by storms: 

There was sudden and shocking news – last Wednesday night, at the same time we at St. Paul’s were meeting in our own Bible study, a white gunman shot 9 black people in a Bible study at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. The ongoing violence, and the ongoing racism, of our culture is a challenge to our nation: it is time to work together to heal our society.  In today’s Prayers of the People, we will begin to respond to the news from Charleston.

And then there was some ongoing news – of climate change, of environmental degradation, of the extinction of hundreds of species every year.  And so on Thursday, Pope Francis issued a challenge to the world: it is time to work together to heal our planet.  In today’s homily, we will begin to respond to the news from Pope Francis.

(2) In response to this week’s news, what do today’s SCRIPTURES say?

From the Gospel (Mark 4:35-41):

Jesus is in Galilee, teaching his disciples and the crowds who follow him. After a long day, he and his disciples get into a boat to go to the other side of the lake.

A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But Jesus was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

At our Bible study Wednesday night, here’s what we heard: In their panic, they called out to Jesus.  And Jesus responded by asking them, “Where is your faith?”

If we eliminate this passage because it violates the laws of nature,
we miss its real point: God is in the boat with us, in the middle of the storm.

At the time Mark’s Gospel was written, people had no trouble believing that God was active in the natural world – but their challenge (and ours) is to see God working in Jesus.

• Mark’s message: Trust in Jesus, trust in God.

From the first lesson (Job 38:1-11):

Job and his friends have been arguing about why he has suffered so much. For endless hours, Job’s friends have said that God is punishing him for his sins, and they counsel him to repent. But Job cannot figure out what his sin is. Finally, he calls out to God in his distress. And then God answers Job out of the whirlwind:

“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up your loins like a man; I will question you, and you shall declare to me: “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements– surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?”

At our Bible study, here’s what we heard: In his despair, Job cried out to God.
And God responded by saying: “You think you understand… but you don’t.”

God tells Job, “You don’t understand because you are not God.”

• Job answers God, and his answer is very short: “I had heard of you before, but now I see you…” (Job 42:1-5)

• Job’s message:  We may never get answers to our deepest questions, but to know God moves us all to awe; we begin to get a glimmer of the mysterious love that has created us and still dwells among us.

Some notes on the book of Job:

• This is the longest passage on the natural world in the entire Bible.  The book of Job tells us that God not only created this natural world – with all its storms and all its beauty – but God is still present and active in this world.

With help from modern science, we may understand a lot more about the world than Job did, but still – we are not God.

(3) In response to this week’s news, what does the POPE say? *

This week Pope Francis released a papal encyclical, a message sent directly to the world’s Catholics – but really meant for everyone on earth. In his letter Francis tells us how God cares for suffering people in our world, but also for the suffering of the world itself.

The message begins, “LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore” – “Praise be to you, my Lord”.  Pope Francis, who took his name from St. Francis (the patron saint of far more than the birds of the air and beasts of the field) begins his encyclical with a quote from St. Francis’s Canticle of the Sun:

In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us… This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will.

The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail.”

We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth; our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters. *

Then Francis addresses those who still think that God has appointed human beings to be masters of the whole world:

The creation accounts in the book of Genesis … suggest that human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbour, and with the earth itself.

According to the Bible, these three vital relationships have been broken, both outwardly and within us. This rupture is sin. The harmony between the Creator, humanity and creation as a whole was disrupted by our presuming to take the place of God and refusing to acknowledge our creaturely limitations.

This in turn distorted our mandate to “have dominion” over the earth (cf. Gen 1:28), to “till it and keep it” (Gen 2:15). [In]… our situation today…sin is manifest in all its destructive power in wars, the various forms of violence and abuse, in the abandonment of the most vulnerable, and in attacks on nature. (Paragraph 66)

We may be aware of our sins against other people; we have been taught to confess, and to ask for forgiveness.

But most of us are not aware of our sins against the world we live in, or our sins against other species. In fact, most people on earth still think human beings are in charge of the planet.

But again and again the Pope says, “We are not God.”

We are not God. The earth was here before us and it has been given to us….

The Genesis account which grants man “dominion” over the earth has encouraged the unbridled exploitation of nature… This is not a correct interpretation of the Bible… We must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures.

The biblical texts are to be read in their context… recognizing that they tell us to “till and keep” the garden of the world (cf. Gen 2:15). “Tilling” refers to cultivating, plowing or working, while “keeping” means caring, protecting, overseeing and preserving. This implies a relationship of mutual responsibility between human beings and nature.

Each community can take from the bounty of the earth whatever it needs for subsistence, but it also has the duty to protect the earth and to ensure its fruitfulness for coming generations. (Paragraph 67)

(4) In response to this week’s news, what does today’s LITURGY say?

We are blessed by the riches of the Book of Common Prayer – but other traditions can also give us new words, give us expanded visions of God and God’s world, and can help us learn how to care for the world God has given us.

And so our Eucharistic prayer this morning comes from New Zealand, and it was written with the understanding that comes from today’s scriptures: God is in the boat with us, in the midst of the storms that shake our world. And, if God is present in and through the material world – then God cares about the whole material world – its atmosphere, its resources, its species, everything – not just the human species.

Whenever we sing the Sanctus, we are remembering the prophet Isaiah’s vision. Worshiping in the great Temple of Jerusalem, Isaiah saw the glory of God: the curtain covering the Holy of Holies, the most sacred room in the Temple, was lifted – and Isaiah saw God’s throne, surrounded by angels and clouds of incense. And Isaiah cried out:

Holy, holy, holy Lord,
God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Isaiah 6:1f – BCP p. 362

But today, when we say the Sanctus,
we will be borrowing words from the New Zealand Prayer Book:

Holy, holy, holy:
God of mercy, giver of life;
earth and sea and sky
and all that lives,
declare your presence and your glory.
NZPB p. 469

Repeat those words now yourself –
notice the curtain covering the Holy of Holies is opened once again,
but we are not seeing God contained in a room in a temple, even a great Temple.
Now we are seeing God’s glory present in the whole world:
earth and sea and sky and all that lives declare your presence and your glory.

(5) And in response to this week’s news, what will we say?

As we come to the end of the Eucharistic Prayer today, we will ask God to

Empower our celebration with your Holy Spirit,
feed us with your life,
fire us with your love,
and confront us with your justice,
and make us one with every creature on earth…
NZPB p. 470

How can we dare to pray that prayer together?  Dare we believe that God is in our world, this material world, and calling us to heal it?  Dare we believe that we have the strength to take on this call?

This is my prayer for us today – that God will empower our celebration, feed us with Christ’s life, fire us with the Spirit’s love, confront us with the call to justice, and make us one with every creature on earth crying for healing, for justice, and for love.  Amen.

Preached at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Cambria – June 28, 2015

*  Read the Pope’s Encyclical at  http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html

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