Sunday, September 10, 2023

God Sees Every Thing

Sermon preached on the 14th Sunday after Pentecost (observing Creation Season) at Church of the Redeemer, Addison.

Let us pray.

 Almighty God, who hast so linked our lives one with another that all we do affects, for good or ill, all other lives:  So guide us in the work we do, that we may do it not for self alone, but for the common good; and, as we seek a proper return for our own labor, make us mindful of the rightful aspirations of other workers, and arouse our concern for those who are out of work; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

           This is the Collect for Labor from The Book of Common Prayer, and it is also a fitting prayer as we begin five weeks of celebrating God’s creation and the responsible part we play in it.  Here is the reality we are trying to come to grips with:  God has created life in a web and everything we do in that web affects all the web, and we are not talking solely about human interdependence.  Indeed, we are talking about the interdependence of all creation.

           In our day, when we speak of the common good, we speak not only of the common human good, but the good of all creation.  We are still learning to speak in this way, and, as a result, are still learning to act in this way.

           We have always said in the church that, as the great Anglican poet John Donne once wrote, “no man is an island.” We are not made to live life alone, and we are not made to live life in competition with one another. No, our vision is cooperation, not competition.

           What we have not always said in the church is that the cooperation to which we are called is not only with one another, on the plane of human existence.  We are called to cooperate in and with creation.

           We have rather thought that the creation is a gift for us to be used to advance our own lives.  We thought that God gave us the right to rule over the creation. Subdue it, bend it to our will.  It’s right there in the very beginning of the Bible.

           But we have for centuries abused the creation story, twisted it to our own benefit. I remember being taught at some young age that at the end of each day of creation God said, “This is good,” but when he made human beings, he said, “This is very good.”

           But that isn’t what the text says. It doesn’t take a biblical scholar to figure that our. At the end of the sixth day, the day on which all the animals and humankind were made, the text says,

 God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.

           God saw everything he had made, and indeed it was very good.  That’s the biblical worldview that we must begin with if we are going to think and act rightly about the creation.  Each thing God makes is good. Only all together is it very good.

           And yes, God said to humankind to fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over all living things.  But what does it mean to “subdue” and have “dominion?”  The Hebrew word translated “subdue” does not mean have power over. It doesn’t mean subdue as in enslave. It means something more like “organize,” “create a pattern with.” The image I have here is of the conductor of an orchestra.

           That’s what it means that we are in the role of subduing, having dominion. We are the overseers of the great cooperation God has made.  There’s a balance that is expressed in the Eucharistic Prayer we will use during the rest of this Creation Season. Prayer D says:

 You formed us in your own image, giving the whole world into our care, so that, in obedience to you, our Creator, we might rule and serve all your creatures.

           “Rule and serve.” That’s the balance. I’m going to keep coming back to that phrase over the next several weeks. What does it mean to rule and to serve the creation.

           Pope Francis said, “Nature cannot be regarded as something separate from ourselves or as a mere setting in which we live. We are part of nature, included in it and thus in constant interaction with it.”  It reminds me of something Richard Hooker said more than 400 years ago.  Hooker, the great theological mind of early Anglicanism, writing as if it were today and he could see the environmental disaster we are in.

 God hath created nothing simply for itself: but each thing in all things, and of every thing each part in the other hath such interest, that in the whole world nothing is found whereunto any thing created can say, “I need thee not.”

           Nothing, no one, can say to any other thing in the whole world, “I need thee not.”

           That’s a good place to start our reflection on the creation and our place in it.

           We do not have the power to say to anyone or anything, “I need thee not.”

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