Sunday, May 04, 2008

Having our Being in God

Sermon preached on April 27, 2008, the 6th Sunday of Easter, at the Church of St. Luke & St. Simon Cyrene, Rochester, New York: Acts 17:22-31

“Rogation” is not a word in anyone’s normal vocabulary, and the “Rogation Days” are not much celebrated in the Church anymore. They belong to a day when farmers were what most people were and farming perhaps the most honorable of industries.

You wouldn’t know it now, but this parish was founded by farmers and those who depended on farming for their livelihood, given the flour mills that had sprung up along the Genesee in these parts. Agriculture was at the center of life then, the only hint of that truth being the agricultural symbols that frame the windows of this building.

The rogation days were a special time of prayer in the spring as the earth awoke from its winter slumber and new planting was beginning to be done. At the beginning of the growth cycle it was a time to stop and give God thanks for the land, remembering just whose creation it was to begin with.

We live in a different world. We are still dependent on the land and those who work it, mind you. Our food comes from somewhere, we just don’t think about it very much and those who produce it are mostly far removed from us. By and large they are not our neighbors, as they would have been two hundred years ago.

Yet we still need to stop ourselves and remember the gift of the land and our dependence upon it and its Creator. This is all the more urgent given the ecological crisis which now almost everyone agrees we are in. Our abuse of the land—of all creation—has gone about as far as it can go—further actually—without doing us and those who come after us significant harm.

So the basic message of these “rogation days” remains vital: the gift of the creation and our stewardship of it.

At first glance none of the readings seem to jive with this theme of creation, but if you look closely at the first reading from Acts you’ll find it.

Paul quotes an ancient Greek philosopher, “We are the God-created,” or in the more familiar language, “In God we live and move and have our being.” That’s a bottom-line for we people of faith—creation is God’s handiwork. However it works, God’s hand supports all creating and all creation, so that everything that lives, lives and moves and has its being in God.

That includes us. This may seem like a no-brainer, but I think we lose touch—real touch—with this truth all the time. Our being and all other beings seem very much to be in our control, ours to use as we please.

We often act as if we literally do “have our being;” it is ours to possess, and if our being is ours than it is ours to possess everything else is as well.

But one of the things the life of faith calls us to wrestle with the most is the whole notion of possession and ownership. We are called to struggle with our fundamental stance toward the creation. We are not to think of ourselves as possessers. We are not to think of the creation—even our own lives—as something we can possess.

The life of faith tells us that everything is a gift. We only possess in that we are given stewardship over parts of the creation, including our own bodies. We only have our being in God. Nothing is ours alone.

The consequence of this alternative reality is that in relation to the creation we can only be grateful. All is a gift and it is our primary job to say thank you and then to treat everything with the dignity a precious gift deserves.

The Church is just as much to blame as anyone else in our current ecological crisis. We spent generations supporting unquestioningly the notion of ownership and the creation as given to us as something over which we have dominion, which meant it was ours to use as we needed to use it. We lost for centuries the true nature of that word “dominion” from the Creation Story in Genesis. Dominion means stewardship, something given to us not to use but to care for.

It is an imperative for us as people of faith, as they are saying these days, to “reduce our carbon footprint.” The waste and abuse of creation is a sin, pure and simple, a sin that infects our lives perhaps more thoroughly and perniciously than any other. Rooting out this sin takes a great deal of commitment and even courage.

I say courage because the resistance of the waste and abuse of creation means saying “no” to some things that are still highly valued in our culture, including things like cheap produce and other commodities and unthinking additions to our landfills. Cheap produce is sustained largely by unsustainable use of the land. Mountains of garbage continues to be created because we value disposable goods.

If it is true that everything belongs to God and we are stewards of the whole creation, than taking out the garbage is an act of faith. It has real, moral consequences.

So do all our purchasing decisions. It’s a real pain in the rear end, actually, but not a single one of us can afford not to face this pain head on and do whatever we can even if it hurts a little bit. It is a moral and faith imperative.

In God we live and move and have our being. That means we are responsible for life, for our actions, for our very being. We are to be driven only be our gratefulness. And the planet desperately needs for us to get with God’s gratitude program.

Once again the message is simple but unsettling to the way we tend to live: let the thanks in which we center our worship also be the way we center our life.

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