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Creation Waits

Sermon - 4/25/10
Daniel E. H. Bryant
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon

Romans 8: 18-25

The text for this Sunday comes from Paul's letter to the Romans, the eigth chapter, verses 18 to 25:

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. 19For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.


This was the 40th anniversary of Earth Day. It began as a protest movement against environmental policies of the country, and resulted in the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act, which dramatically changed our air and water for the better. And now it has become part of the mainstream -- there are Earth Day sales in stores, and all kinds of observances, so it's no longer that sense of protest movement that it was.

I originally did not plan to preach on the topic, thinking it's a topic I've covered in various ways, and was thinking I don't need to do this every year. But I didn't realize it was the 40th anniversary when I was planning my sermons. And then there has been this series of events -- earthquakes in Haiti and in Chile and China, this week we saw the volcano in Iceland. Talk about your demonstrations of the power of nature, grounding all flights throughout the most of Europe for the better part of week. To this morning's news with the devastating storms in the South, and tornadoes that have wrecked havoc.

And then there are the catastrophic accidents we have seen in the process of extracting energy from the earth. The coal mining disasters in West Virginia and China, the oil platform this week in the Gulf of Mexico. It's almost as if the earth is trying to get our attention. The whole creation has been groaning in labor pains, writes Paul, waiting to be set free from its bondage to decay. Be that from pollution or overpopulation, the loss of rainforest, the loss of farmlands, whatever the case may be. And to that the possibility of climate change, even if the worst-case scenarios are completely wrong, just the possibility that they are even partially right should make us stop and ponder what is happening.

And it strikes me that observing Earth Day in the church is no longer something that is optional for us as Christians who believe in God as the creator of the world--it is the essential for us. And thus are concern for the care of the earth is as essential to our faith as the golden rule or John 3:16 or concern for the poor or justice or peace.

Just how important is it? John Cobb, who was one of my primary mentors in seminary, and many people (including myself) believe he is probably one of the most prominent theologians still living in the United States today, put it like this in a recent address he gave to an assembly of the United Church of Christ:

"I propose, quote, that the church take as its mission, working with God, for the salvation of the world". Isn't that what John 3:16 says? For God so loved the world he gave his only son. . . .

The problem is, we, being the ego-centric beings that we are, have taken that passage to refer exclusively to humanity. And the rest of the world, having no eternal consequence for us, can literally be damned -- if not by God (at the end of time), then by us, in the meantime.

Only such is not Paul's vision. Creation, Paul seems to be saying here, is waiting for us to be revealed as the children of God. That creation will join us in the glory of God. That's a different vision.

So rather that us waiting for God to clean up the world, creation is waiting for us to clean up the world.

And so how do we do that? There are all kinds of things that we can do as individuals, and you know them. Reuse, recycle, reduce. Our Power and Light Committee has been trying to get us to pay attention, to figure out what our carbon footprint is, and be very intentional about reducing that. Eating locally produced food, and we have the "That's My Farmer" program supporting community-supported agriculture that's just now gearing up to do that. Lowering our consumption, you've heard it all.

Many of you, I think, probably know by now that I've gone back to my wild days and have bought a two wheeled scooter. It gives me a chance to wear leather, you know, and a helmet :). Here's the thing: it's electric. It's 100% electric. It's the cleanest energy you can have. Phyllis Weare reminded me that some of our electricity is still produced by coal, you know, just when I was feeling good about it. At least I can feel 'better' about it. And better yet, to ride your bicycle to work. I don't want to have that much fun, however. I'm glad to have a little bit of power behind me.

This is all part of trying to do my part. Many of you have gardens, and have brought your produce to share with us. And then there's our community garden that Phyllis and company started a couple of years ago. So many things we can do, and when added together, really does make a significant difference.

Then there are things we can do as church. Andy Laird has helped us over the years to replace are our lighting fixtures to more energy efficient fixtures. That has been significant. John the Plumber in our first service (every church needs a plumber and electrician, now if we could just find a lawyer :), has helped us change our hot water system to reduce our energy usage. We're exploring right now upgrading our windows in the office building to more energy-efficient windows, because that's where a big loss of energy occurs, especially in those old style windows. And of course, as many of you know, we're being forced to go off steam that EWEB provides, and the good news is in the process we will have more efficient steam production here in our own building that will greatly reduce our costs. The bad news is, we're going to have to pay for it. But still, that's going to be a gain in energy efficiency.

One of the really exciting possibilities that is emerged, First United Methodist Church is installing this summer a photovoltaic system financed through a limited liability corporation (if you know something about that, energy credits and so forth, it is almost cost free) that will generate half of their electricity. So we plan (we're already discussing this with them) learning from how they're doing this and see how it works, and maybe that might be something we will add in the near future as well.

So there are many things that we can and are doing to reduce our energy usage, and thereby save us money as well. So it's a win-win. And there are things that we can do collectively. Working with groups like Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, in their advocacy efforts to support legislation to promote green energy and alternative transportation and higher fuel efficiency and greater environmental protections and the like.

All of these things are important. But none of them are really unique to our role as a people of faith. These are all things that anyone can do, and should do. They're not central to our identity as Christians.

So I propose to you, therefore, that first and foremost, before any and all of these important things, the single most important thing we do is what we are uniquely gifted to do. Namely, to articulate a sustaining vision for God's creation and our role in it. This is, I think, what creation is waiting for. The revealing, by the children of God, hope in that we do not yet see, but which will save the world.

So what is that vision that we can offer as God's people that will most benefit all of creation?

Sallie McFay, who was a professor of theology at Vanderbilt University (now retired) proposed a rather simple but powerful metaphor for God, eight years ago in her book "The Body of God". Just as we speak of the Church as the body of Christ, she proposes we speak of creation as the cosmos as the body of God. And Franciscan teacher and writer Richard Rohr has picked up on this metaphor and he says that we need to expand our understanding of the incarnation. We think of the incarnation as that of the event in the birth of Jesus -- God made flesh. But Rohr says that's just the latest or the later incarnation. The first incarnation occurred 14 billion years ago in the big bang. God made universe, so to speak. God in the universe. That's the first incarnation, says Rohr.

And everything, not just humans, bears the clear imprint and likeness of the Creator. "How could we miss that"?, asks Rohr. "We must realize what a muddle we have gotten ourselves into by not taking incarnation and the body of God seriously. It is our only Christian trump card and we have yet to actually play it".

I like that notion of the trump card, so what I'm suggesting, following McFay and Rohr, is that we play this trump card. That we loudly and clearly proclaim creation as the incarnation of God in the universe. The body of God. The earth is the Lord and the fullness thereof. Why? Not because it is God's creation. Not because it is God's possession. But because it is God's body.

It doesn't get any more sacred than that. When we contaminate the earth, we contaminate God's body. When we poison the water, we poison God's blood. When we pollute the air, we pollute God's breath. Only when we see the land and water as God's body and blood, and the air as God's breath, will we finally give the earth the respect, the honor, and the glory it is due.

Thomas Aquinas said it some 800 years ago, writing in his Summa Theologica ("All of Theology"), he wrote: "The immense diversity and plurality of this creation more perfectly represents God than any one creature alone or by itself". And St. Francis, 400 years before that, spoke to the sun and the moon, the earth, as brothers and sisters.

In a new book by McFay, "A New Climate for Theology", she argues for a new understanding of our relationship to the earth in which we see "The animate and inanimate energy sources of our planet not as resources for our desires, they are the sources of our existence. The magnificent bounty of planet earth", she writes, "are a marvel for our delight and our nourishment and not our possession to be squandered and destroyed".

To view the world as the body of God is to hold it as something sacred. To treat it with reverence. To behold it in awe. That is the vision, I think, for our world that we have to offer. The vision for which creation waits with eager longing to be revealed by the children of God. A uniquely Christian vision that cannot be seen by most, perhaps, for we hope in what we do not see. But it can be sung.

It is the kind of vision that mystics have proclaimed for ages, like Paul and St. Francis, based not on science or knowledge but in their their awe for the wonder of the cosmos, and their experience of the beauty of life.

To give us, perhaps, a glimpse into that awe and wonder, I'd like to play for you a recording of St. Francis' "Canticle of the Creators", which we used as part of our call-to-worship already. And with a little help from the music Andrew Lloyd Weber, and pictures from NASA:

Conclusion to this sermon can be viewed here.


In reverence to the body of God, the creation, I invite you to stand and to share in this Canticle of faith that you see on the screen:

Praise be you my Lord, with all your creatures, especially Sir Brother Sun.

Praise be you my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars.

Praise be you my Lord, through Brother Wind.

Praise be you my Lord, through Sister Water.

Praise be you my Lord, through Brother Fire.

Praise be you my Lord, through our sister, Mother Earth.

Praise be you my Lord.


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