Loving God in the natural world

This is my sermon for September 3rd, the first Sunday of the Season of Creation, which fell on the Fourteenth Sunday after the Pentecost. We are using Wilda Gafney’s A Women’s Lectionary for the Whole Church. The readings for today were 1 Samuel 25:14-19, 23-25, 32-34, 42-43; Psalm 25:4-12; 1 Corinthians 7:1-9; and Matthew 5:38-42.

There is a theme in today’s readings.  It is justice, specifically how we as flawed and broken people live our lives in ways that embody and enact justice.  There is a focus in today’s readings.  It is about relationships, specifically about how we as flawed and broken people treat each other, especially when we are inclined to treat each other poorly.  And, because this is Scripture, the story of God at work in the world in and throughout all time, we know that these readings are also about relationship with God, specifically how we embody and enact justice for and with all of God’s beloved children, always trusting God that God’s dream for the world is the way it should be, even if that way is not always easy to see or understand.

Today is the first Sunday of The Season of Creation, the approximately five weeks the Episcopal Church and others designate as a period to focus intentionally on the earth and its resources.  The theme for this year is “Let Justice and Peace Flow.”   Episopalchurch.org says this about this season:

The Season of Creation, September 1st through October 4th, is celebrated by Christians around the world as a time for renewing, repairing and restoring our relationship to God, one another, and all of creation. The Episcopal Church joins this international effort for prayer and action for climate justice and an end to environmental racism and ecological destruction. The 2023 theme is Let Justice and Peace Flow. In celebrating the Season, we are invited to consider anew our ecological, economic, and political ways of living.  (www.episcopalchurch.org/season-of-creation-and-st-francis-day-resources)

It seems one of those coincidences that Squire Rushnell called “God winks” that today we welcome our siblings from Christ Church in Short Hills to celebrate our recovery from the Hurricane Ida flooding and their loving hospitality when they invited us to join them in worship and fellowship for the five weeks we were displaced when we couldn’t worship here in this beautiful space.  I know I am not alone when I say that the invitation we received from Rev. Bowie on behalf of the Christ Church community was a much needed reminder that we were not alone then, nor are we alone now, no matter how it might have felt in the moment.  And I believe those moments, when we show up for each other in the ways that are needed, are part of how God sees and dreams we would be in the world.

I know there is debate in some circles about the impact of climate change on the extreme weather events that seem to be happening more and more frequently and intensely, though the question is pretty well settled in the relevant scientific communities.  As we enter this Season of Creation, wildfires are raging on each and every continent, displacing hundreds of thousands of people, destroying their homes and livelihoods, disrupting food, water, and health care supply lines, and injuring, sometimes fatally, thousands.  No one is immune from either the destruction or its aftermath.  Every day we continue to get updates about the ongoing struggles in Maui as people mourn the more than 100 dead and continue to hope for word that the just as many missing have been found.  And they are doing this in a tourism-dependent economy that has been decimated and knowing that it will take literal years to recover.

Now, you may be thinking that the connection between climate change and today’s lectionary is pretty tenuous, though I submit to you that it is not.  How we treat God’s Creation – the earth and each other – is inextricably linked to matters of justice and relationship.  As bad as things were in Millburn two years ago, they could have been worse on so many levels.  We are a wealthy community in a well-resourced part of the world and, though not enough to prevent the damage we sustained, attention had been paid to flood mitigation in the years before Hurricane Ida.  The community came together to clean up the mess and to support each other in our recovery efforts.  The majority of us had the resources through insurance, savings, income, or family to rebuild or, in some cases, to relocate, either temporarily or permanently.  Walking through town only two years later, you only know there was a flood if you lived through it or someone told you about it.  In contrast, here are still parts of New Orleans, almost exclusively poor and non-White neighborhoods, that are essentially uninhabited since Hurricane Katrina almost 20 years ago.

Being good stewards of the earth and its resources is one of the most critical ways we demonstrate our love for one another and our commitment to Jesus’ mission of mercy, justice, compassion, and hope.  It is directly related to how we understand who God is and how we express our gratitude for all that we have and all that we are, especially when we are inclined to try to go it alone.  It is about living fully into relationship with God and trusting the promises that God has made to, well, be God.

I leave you with these words of wisdom from Br. Geoffry at the Society of St. John the Evangelist:

Jesus was intimately involved with the natural world. When he spoke of God and God’s Kingdom, he almost always pointed to the natural world:  seeds, the harvest, the clouds, vines, weeds, sheep, fire, water, lilies, bread, wine. Walk out into God’s wonderful creation – and be touched by the very hand of God.

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