Sermon for the 18th Sunday after Pentecost - September 23 2018

Sermon for the 18th Sunday after Pentecost, Year B
September 23, 2018
The Rev. Evelyn Wheeler, Rector

Proverbs 31:10-31; Psalm 1; James 3:13-4:3,7-8a; Mark 9:30-37 

We opened our service today with an interesting collect: Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure…

This counts as scripture, as it summarizes a portion of the Letter to the Colossians.  In this letter, Paul quotes an ancient hymn to God Creator: 

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him.

He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything.

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.[1]

This hymn reminds us that all things – all things – are reconciled to God though Christ.  Heavenly things and earthly things.  Spiritual things and material things.  This is not what I talked about last week – the Great Chain of Being, that rejects the material in an effort to ascend to God.  This is an outright acceptance of material things, earthly things, being redeemed.

But when we look at the Collect for today, we might wonder what happened, because it says don’t be anxious about earthly things, be focused instead on heavenly things. 

There’s a reason for that, and it is helpful to understand how the two parts of the letter sound so different. 

Paul starts with a declaration of reconciliation and redemption for all Creation; and then he moves on to discuss the ways in which we – human beings – fall short.  We look to Creation to satisfy our needs, which is both right and wrong, because Creation itself is sustained by the Creator.  When you’re driving down the road and you see a road sign that says “Madison, 32 miles,” it doesn’t mean you’re in Madison, does it?  Like that road sign, all created things point to their Creator; but they are not their own Creator.

Paul says, we died with Christ, and are raised to new life with Christ as well.  So the old ways of treating earthly, created things as the most important things are no longer valid; no, now it is time for us to hold fast to Christ, not because the world is bad, but because heaven is better.

And living in Christ, we will understand Creation’s place, our place, in the cosmos; and our common role – to live in the resurrected life we have been granted, and to “put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience”[2] – with one another, with all Creation, and with and for God.

He goes on to say, “Be tolerant with each other and, if someone has a complaint against anyone, forgive each other.  … And over all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.  The peace of Christ must control your hearts – a peace into which you were called in one body.  And be thankful people…”[3]

Joan Chittister’s advice, that I quoted in the E-pistle this past week, is similar:

Try saying this silently to everyone and everything you see for thirty days: “I wish you happiness now and whatever will bring happiness to you in the future.” If we said it to the sky, we would have to stop polluting; if we said it when we see ponds and lakes and streams, we would have to stop using them as garbage dumps and sewers; if we said it to small children, we would have to stop abusing them;…if we said it to people, we would have to stop stoking the fires of enmity around us. Beauty and human warmth would take root in us like a clear, hot June day. We would change.[4]

And we are called to change!

Proverbs talks about the capable wife – and while I am sure there is no one alive who would not enjoy a wife like this, I rather suspect this text is not limited to telling women how they are supposed to act.  Because, let’s face it, few of us can do all these things as well – but if we think of this Proverbial Wife as the description of our role in God’s Creation, then we may be getting closer to the point. 

Those words in Genesis, so often rendered as “exercise dominion” and “subdue the earth” can be translated – perhaps are better translated as “till and keep.”

Before industrial agriculture took hold, and most farms were small, every farmer worth her or his salt knew that if they did not take care of the land, it would fail to yield.  But you and I, we’re not farmers.  I don’t know about you, but I haven’t been on a farm since I was in college – undergraduate college.  That’s nearly 50 years ago.  I’ve had the occasional garden, but even there, I have little practical skill at tilling and keeping.

Like many people in our country today, we have lost touch with the land that sustains us; we have forgotten the skills of our ancestors; we have forgotten the knowledge of our ancestors; we have let the soil drop from our fingers and walked away.

We do not see the damage being done to Creation.  We hear of a thousand square miles of plastic floating in the Northern Pacific gyre, and it has no reality to us.  Up to 150 million metric tonnes of plastic are estimated to be in the world ocean.  On average, 8 million metric tonnes of garbage are dumped into the oceans every year.  The numbers astound us, yet they have no meaning. 

We don’t see it; it means nothing.  We are the source of great pain to the earth, to all Creation, and we don’t see it.

With every extinction event, with every melted glacier, with every rise in the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, with every toxic river, the earth is crying out to God, just as it did when Cain killed Abel; just as Paul wrote:

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved.[5]

”In hope, we were saved.”

That hope is not just for ourselves, but for all of God’s beautiful, wondrous, magnificent, living Creation.

What if we lived like we believed that?

“I wish you happiness now and whatever will bring happiness to you in the future.”



[1] Colossians 1:15-20

[2] Colossians 3:12

[3] Colossians 3:13a, 14-15

[4] Joan Chittister, In a High Spiritual Season, Triumph Books, 1995.  Also found in A Monastery Almanac.

[5] Romans 8:18-24

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