Sermon for the 16th Sunday after Pentecost - September 9, 2018

Sermon for the 16th Sunday after Pentecost, Year C
September 9, 2018
The Rev. Evelyn Wheeler, Rector

Proverbs 22:1-2,8-9,22-23; Psalm 125; James 2:1-17; Mark 7:24-37

Jesus “put his fingers in the man’s ears …, and he spat and touched his tongue and said, ‘Ephphatha, be opened.’”

The man could neither hear nor speak, but “his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.”

I wonder, how many ears are stopped that could be opened, how many voices stilled that should be heard?

Last week, I spoke about Jesus’ declaration that “There is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile.”  I spoke of Creation as intrinsically good.

I believe I went so far as to say that Creation is not “fallen” in the sense that we are told humanity is fallen; and that is why there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile.

Yet I know that we might, if we are paying attention, hear a different message – that Creation also fell when humanity was expelled from paradise.  You should know that I am of the theological school that rejects the idea that the descriptions of creation in the Book of Genesis present a literal, historical, tale that describes the way in which God created everything that is.  But that does not mean that I don’t value the stories we can read there.  

I know we have been told that the first sin was disobedience, and that somehow we all are affected by this.  As St. Paul once wrote, “Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.”[1]

Adam’s sin brought death to humankind; while Jesus’ righteousness brings life.

We have been told the sin was disobedience, but Paul only said “sin brought death.”  Was the sin just the disobedience, or was there more to it than that?  The story offers us a few other options – for instance: Adam blaming Eve, Eve blaming the snake, and even Adam blaming God for putting the snake there in the first place. The sin was as much about the human habit of blaming others for things that turn out to be bad, rather than taking responsibility for their mistakes.  Here’s another idea:  having taken the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve then took to deciding they were the judges of what is good and what is evil.  And we haven’t stopped yet, have we?

But here’s the point – CREATION did not disobey.  Even the snake, offering temptation, broke no directives.  (Or as Paul said, there is no sin without law.)[2]

So where did the idea come from that creation is fallen?  It’s not in Jewish thought.  And if I was right when I interpreted Jesus statement that nothing outside a person by going in can defile, then it wasn’t in his thought either.  Augustine of Hippo flirted with the idea, probably because Paul spent a lot of time wrestling with his ideas of spirit and flesh, and because Augustine had been a Manichean before he became a Christian.  Manicheans argued that there were two equally powerful opposing forces in the world: good and evil. 

The website Theopedia describes Manicheanism: as postulating “two natures that existed from the beginning: light and darkness. The realm of light lived in peace, while the realm of darkness was in constant conflict with itself. The universe is the temporary result of an attack of the realm of darkness on the realm of light, and was created by the Living Spirit, an emanation of the light realm, out of the mixture of light and darkness.”[3]

That’s definitely not Judaism or Christianity, yet it was fairly popular when Augustine was young.  However, Augustine grew up to reject it, and what we know about it is mostly from his writings; it was at least in part due to his influence that Manicheanism faded away.

By the time he wrote The City of God, however, Augustine was convinced that, while humanity was indeed fallen, and in a state of sin from one generation to the next, the rest of the creation was not.

How can I tell you of the rest of creation, with all this beauty and utility, which the divine goodness has given to man [sic] to please his eyes and serve his purposes, condemned though he is, and hurled into these labors and miseries? Shall I speak of the manifold and various loveliness of sky, and earth, and sea; of the plentiful supply and wonderful qualities of the light; of sun, moon, stars; of the shade of the trees; of the colors and perfume of flowers; of the multitude of birds, all differing in their plumage and in song; of the variety of animals, of which the smallest in size are often the most wonderful, of the works of ants and bees astonishing us more than the huge bodies of whales?  Shall I speak of the sea, which itself is so grand a spectacle, when it arrays itself as it were in vestures of various colors, now running through every shade of green, and again becoming purple or blue?  Is it not delightful to look at in the storm, and experience the soothing complacency which it inspires, by suggesting that we ourselves are not tossed and shipwrecked?  What shall I say of the numberless kinds of foods to alleviate hunger, and the variety of seasonings to stimulate the appetite which are scattered everywhere by nature, and for which we are not indebted to the art of cookery?  How many natural appliances are there for preserving and restoring health?  How pleasant are the breezes that cool the air!  How abundant the supply of clothing furnished us by trees and animals!  Can we enumerate all the blessings we enjoy?[4]

Paul Santmire, a retired ELCA pastor and teacher, writes in Nature Reborn that Augustine also favored the idea not of humans dominating the earth, but of humans recognizing and extolling the wonders of creation, useful or not, even in the midst of human brokenness.[5]

Nature may be deaf; it may be mute, but we are not.  We can be the voice of creation.  What we say about that matters.


[1] Romans 5:18 (NRSV)

[2] Romans 5:13 (NRSV)

[3]  Accessed September 8, 2018.

[4] Augustine, City of God, 22-24; quoted in Nature Reborn: The Ecological and Cosmic Promise of Christian Theology, H. Paul Santmire (Minneapolis: Fortress Press) © 2000, Augsburg Fortress, Kindle 422-427.

[5] Santmire, Kindle 430, 437.

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