SERMON FOR THE SECOND SUNDAY BEFORE LENT 16.2.20 at CSMV and St Mary’s
We tend to forget that although scripture was originally written down in some form, for many centuries very few people would have been unable to read it. Instead people encountered scripture though hearing it, usually within some form of liturgy.
Today’s readings have repeated and striking internal themes which call out to be read aloud. They have life and action. The long passage from Genesis has 32 words and phrases which are about action. Now, we could simply see it as a list of points of action by God. But if we allow the rhythm of the text to become prominent and see the repetition ofthe word God as a repeating note we can have a new sense of the wonderful and extraordinary movement of the process of creation. As we move from the cosmic beginning to the creation of vegetation and animals and eventually the human race, the rhythm is emphasised by the repeated brief expression “and it was so”, and then that “God saw that it was good”.
In this passage we are given a stream of reminders that God makes and brings only good things to the world. And we read that God says thatwe are to multiply and to subdue and dominate the earth. If we read this in the context of the time in which it was written, we can see that these are words of hope for people living in exile in Babylon. God is promising the exiled people will have their own land to care for. But this is not a license to exploit the land for selfish gain. Rather, it is a promise of a healthy and godly relationship with land that they do not yet possess.
Thousands of years later, we live in a time when it is becoming abundantly clear that the good things of God are being mistreated and exploited through human sin and, particularly, greed. We are beginning to see that there is a finite limit to God’s provision for us, unless we make fundamental changes to the way in which we live and care for God’s world. We are in real danger of over-using and abusing the resources of the world to the extent that we can no longer assume that we shall be secure and provided for. Recent extreme weather in many parts of the world has brought home once again the fact that we are either damaging or exhausting God’s provision for us by disregarding the delicate and complex balance that we have with the rest of God’screated world.
Although God saw that creation was very good, by the time Paul is writing his Letter to the Romans, something has gone wrong. He refers to creation groaning and yearning for freedom from bondage and decay. His thinking is influenced by the creation story in Genesis with its description of human sin leading to distorted human relationships with the earth, which has been cursed. Paul does not see an entirely bleak future, however. He describes this groaning and cursing as something like human labour pains, which he hopes will bring forth new life, after waiting and longing, and without worrying.
However, in today’s gospel there are some real worriers. Jesus finds himself telling the disciples six times that they should not worry. This seems to indicate that even living with Jesus they live with a degree of fear. They are worried about obtaining the bare necessities of life. We need to read these verses in the light of the five verses which precedetoday’s passage. These in turn refer to Ecclesiasticus 29.8-11 where we read that laying up treasure in heaven involves almsgiving. So Jesus sends the disciples back to look at the glory of the creation, the birds, the lilies, those creations that God pronounced good. The foundation for not worrying is the goodness of God. On the seventh day God could rest and so should we.
As I mentioned earlier, we certainly have cause to worry about damaging creation. Part of the underlying problem is that we fail to notice just how wonderful the created world is, and neglect to care for it appropriately. As Christians we have to recognise that in our neglect of the created world around us, we neglect no less than God.
Our gospel passage prompts us to look at creation and our use or abuse of it from another viewpoint. In the gospels Jesus asks us a familiar and fundamental question: where is your treasure? Wherever your treasure is, there too is your heart. This sharp question needs to be asked regularly. By looking at it openly we can start to set aside the relativism and justifications and even deceptions that we use to justify our actions and words. In so doing we may come to identify our gods, the things we ultimately value. Pondering this question honestly is sobering for most, if not all of us. Our answers to the question of where our treasure ismay include such things as comfort, health, success, a position in the community, buying things, being seen favourably by other people, and so on. It may be our family, which is good in itself. But where does God fit in? The question for us today is: does what we do in pursuing our treasure show that we care for God’s creation or not? (I repeat) Does what we do in pursuing our treasure show that we care for God’s creation or not?
May we have the grace to ponder that question and respond to it openly and honestly.
The collect for today sums this theme very well.
Almighty God, you have created the heavens and the earth and made us in your own image: teach us to discern your hand in all your works and your likeness in all your children; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit reigns supreme over all things, now and for ever. Amen.