In Love and Humble Service (March 25, 2018)
“O God, enlarge within us the sense of fellowship with all living things, with our brothers and sisters the animals and all creatures to whom you gave the earth as their home in common with us. We remember with shame that in the past we have exercised the high dominion of humans with ruthless cruelty; so that the voice of the earth, which should have gone up to you in song, has been a groan of travail. May we realize that all creatures live not for us alone but for themselves and for you, and that they love the sweetness of life.”
That prayer sounds like it could have been written yesterday. It was actually written 1650 years ago by St. Basil the Great, who lived from 330–379.
It seems we’ve been dealing with the problem of creation care for millennia. It seems to me that the heart of our difficulty is that we try to control something that is not ours to control. We try to lord it over other creatures and other people. We begin to think that this world is ours to do with as we please. We seem to think that everything here … is here for our benefit.
But it’s not. And it’s finally caught up with us as we experience the effects of climate change and the degradation of this fragile earth, our island home. We thought we could treat the earth and water and air and all the creatures as something we could buy and sell and use for our own purposes. And now we’re seeing the terrible cost of treating creation as a commodity.
Psalm 27 reminds us quite clearly that “the earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world and those who live in it.” That’s the heart of what the beginning of Genesis is all about. This world does not belong to us. It was given to us as a gift. It was given to us in trust by a life–giving Creator, who calls us to treat the gift gently, gracefully, and responsibly.
Care for creation was one of the big themes in the World Day of Prayer service this year. Written by the people of Suriname, it reflects the risk faced by a small country which borders the rising oceans. It’s located on the north east coast of South America, and most of the population of about 550,000 people live on the coast. Year by year, they watch as their country loses land as water levels rise. A century from now, most of the coastline will no longer be livable and 85% of the people of Suriname will lose their homes. Climate change is a matter of life and death for them.
Winston Halapua, the Anglican Archbishop of Polynesia, echoes the same plea. He remembers going fishing with his father in Fiji. Last year, when he returned to visit the island, he saw the palm trees dying from the salination caused by rising seas.
In a sermon, Archbishop Halapua says, “Humanity’s greed and merciless abuse of the planet earth, our only common home, is causing immense damage. Climate change means that sea levels are rising; there are unpredictable storms and uncontrollable floods. For some of us from the Pacific Island States, the truth is as plain as writing on a wall, our land and livelihood are drowning while others refuse to see.
“How can we say to our grandchildren, the home you were to inherit and were told about is destroyed? Where is justice for them and for others?”
At the same time, residents of Capetown, South Africa, are facing the drying up of their water. Day Zero was approaching—the day when the water system would run dry. Day Zero was originally set to occur in late April. Residents began to use water more carefully; now Day Zero has been pushed back to July 9.
Our poor, fragile island home is in crisis—because of us. Life is being threatened. Reputable scientists tell us that the world is in danger because of climate change. The planet is warming; polar ice is melting; ocean temperatures are rising; plants and animals are being forced to move from their traditional habitats because they can’t live there anymore. Ocean levels are rising. Water tables are declining. That’s what the scientists are saying.
Our sixth baptismal promise is this:
Will you strive to safeguard the integrity of God’s creation, and respect, sustain and renew the life of the Earth?
Creation is not a commodity for us to buy and sell and use for our own purposes. The earth, the waters, the air, the creatures—they are all God’s good gift to us. Basil the Great recognized that we need to learn over and over again that we are bound in a common web of life with all of creation.
We have damaged God’s gift to us. One of the prayers of the World Day of Prayer service put it this way: “We forget that we are only borrowing the Earth. God, guide us to handle your creation with responsibility, gentleness and care.”
In our baptismal covenant, we recognize that God has entrusted creation to our care. We promise to care for the earth. We do that today against the backdrop of Holy Week. Today we mark the beginning of the last week of Jesus’ life on earth. Over the next seven days, Jesus journeys inexorably to the cross.
The week begins as Jesus enters Jerusalem on a colt; a crowd of followers waves palm branches and shouts “Hosanna!”
A couple of days later, an unnamed woman anoints Jesus, as if for burial.
Jesus has a final supper with his friends.
Jesus prays in Gethsemane for deliverance from what is about to happen, while Peter, James and John fall asleep.
Jesus is betrayed by Judas and arrested by a mob of soldiers.
Jesus is interrogated and mocked by the council of Jewish elders.
Jesus is denied by Peter—“I don’t know him at all.”
Jesus is handed over to the Romans, and Pilate the governor condemns him to death by crucifixion.
Jesus is beaten, flogged with a cat of nine tails, the thongs biting cruelly into his flesh.
Jesus is stripped and nailed to the cross.
Jesus cries out that even God has abandoned him.
The week was a nightmare. It was hell on earth. It was the week in which the God of the universe died in the most horrific way imaginable.
For many people, it’s just another example of how the world is essentially hopeless. 150 years ago, Nietszche declared that “God is dead”. Many people agree; they claim that hope is nothing more than wishful thinking. They see no evidence that God cares. God is dead.
But not for us. We dare to make the astounding claim that God’s love persists. We dare to trust that God is with us, and that God’s passionate commitment to the world continues. We are people of faith; our trust in God may waver, but it continues to live in hope.
So while the cross may be nothing more than a brutal anguish for some, for us it is good news. For people of faith, the cross is a symbol of life. This week, awful as it was, is not the end. It’s the beginning of a movement which has captivated millions of people. The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church calls it “the Jesus movement”. It has captivated us, and we walk faithfully in the way of the cross with Jesus.
This movement is not characterized by seeking greatness. It’s not about seeking power. It’s not about putting ourselves first. It’s not about trying to be popular or rich or famous.
This Jesus movement is characterized by humble service, and by giving ourselves in love for the sake of the world. That’s it in a nutshell.
In Holy Week, we immerse ourselves in this story, this drama. I invite you to join … and then at the end of the week, in the first service of Easter on Saturday night, we will renew our baptismal covenant. We will commit ourselves anew to be God’s people, to walk in the way of the cross, to give ourselves away in joyful service.
I invite you to join us for that service.
The point of it all is that Jesus doesn’t want people who love him. Jesus wants people who follow. Jesus wants disciples, people who are ready to do what he did.
Thanks be to God.
Rev. Dr. Yme Woensdregt
March 25, 2018 (Palm Sunday)
Isaiah 50: 4–9a
Philippians 2: 5–11
Mark 11: 1–11