September 13, 2020, Scripture Readings and Sermon
Message from Rev. George Porter
Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.
Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God.
We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.
Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written,
"As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
and every tongue shall give praise to God."
So then, each of us will be accountable to God.
Psalm 103:(1-7), 8-13
[Bless the Lord, O my soul, *
and all that is within me, bless his holy Name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul, *
and forget not all his benefits.
He forgives all your sins *
and heals all your infirmities;
He redeems your life from the grave *
and crowns you with mercy and loving-kindness;
He satisfies you with good things, *
and your youth is renewed like an eagle's.
The Lord executes righteousness *
and judgment for all who are oppressed.
He made his ways known to Moses *
and his works to the children of Israel.]
The Lord is full of compassion and mercy, *
slow to anger and of great kindness.
He will not always accuse us, *
nor will he keep his anger for ever.
He has not dealt with us according to our sins, *
nor rewarded us according to our wickedness.
For as the heavens are high above the earth, *
so is his mercy great upon those who fear him.
As far as the east is from the west, *
so far has he removed our sins from us.
As a father cares for his children, *
so does the Lord care for those who fear him.
The Gospel- Matthew 18:21-35
Peter came and said to Jesus, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
Sermon: George Porter
Did you know it is Creation Season?
In liturgical traditions like ours, we often use the words ‘sermon’ and ‘homily’ interchangeably. They aren’t, however, exactly synonymous. I used to have a bishop who said that the difference between a ‘sermon’ and a ‘homily’ was ‘about 15 minutes’.
Well, that’s not really the difference. A ‘sermon’ can be a religious discourse about any subject, whereas a ‘homily’ is an exposition of the biblical texts – specifically the Gospel text – being read. Today, it will be a sermon – a kind of introduction to what I hope to touch on in the next week or so.
In case I forgot to mention this, September 1st marked the beginning of an emerging ‘special time of focus’ in the church year – the Season of Creation (or ‘Creationtide’). It runs through October 4th. This is a relatively new development – a change, if you will – that hasn’t yet become an ‘official season’ for most of the church. There are no prescribed texts, prayers, or liturgies; no specific colour is officially recognised.
I think it will eventually be officially designated as a season of the church year and, whether or not it is, it’s vital to keep before us the issues involved. I don’t mean by that the rather fruitless and, I think, misdirected, debates about creationism, intelligent design, evolution, and all that.
Rather, it has to do with recognizing both the importance of creation to the Creator, to us and to all life as we know it. Some time back, in the Anglican Church of Canada the baptismal covenant was modified by the addition of this question or promise:
Presider::Will you strive to safeguard the integrity of God’s creation, and respect, sustain and renew the life of the earth?
All: I will with God’s help.
It’s in this sense that I think this is absolutely vital. It’s more than a popular eco-cause or fad. Fundamentally, it’s a recognition that creation doesn’t just play a minor or supportive role in the biblical narrative. It’s not just backdrop; it’s not just incidental to the gospel message – the good news of God.
Last week I drew attention to the Lakota phrase Mitákuye oyás'iŋ [mii-TAH-koo-yay oy-YAH-siin] – a phrase or prayer common in many Indigenous cultures – meaning something along the lines of ‘All my relations’ or’ We are all related’. I said then that, for me, this conveys something of humans in relation to one another before God. With all our vast diversity on many levels, we are all related in Christ.
The phrase has, however, an even broader meaning than just human beings. Christianity has long embraced a very human-centred view of life and existence – and of ‘creation’. By and large, the church is only slowly starting to realise that this isn’t completely true to biblical presentations – at least, it’s not the whole story. From the creation stories of the Hebrew scriptures through to the new creation teachings of the Christian writings, we have most often over-looked the ongoing relationship between Creator and creation and, therefore, of human-creation relationships and the relationships within the web of life.
In part, I more than a little suspect, we have latched on to poor translations from the Genesis accounts – translations which have created the belief that non-human creation exists for the sake of humans. This, in turn, leads to the very much mistaken view that humans can therefore do pretty much whatever they want with, or to, everything non-human, culminating in all sorts of disastrous environmental crises and potentially irreparable harm to what one of our Eucharistic prayers call ‘this fragile earth, our island home’. Extinction of species – even human extinction – aren’t just wild science fiction scenarios anymore, no matter how strenuously we deny – or want to deny - it. REM may have been prophetic when they sang ‘It’s the end of the world as we know it ....’
But what I’m talking about here isn’t meant to be a science lesson. (As interesting as I might find that, I’m not qualified for it.) Rather, what I want to suggest – to challenge us to – is a rethinking of our whole approach to a theological cosmology, and the spirituality to which it gives rise – and therefore how it relates to the gospel of the Kingdom of God – to the good news of God’s love and salvation.
Obviously, this is a bigger bite than we can chew in the short time we have today, but I want to at least suggest a start – make a beginning – in this rethinking process. I say ‘rethinking’ not because Christian theology and spirituality are all about reason and intellectual ideas. They’re not. What we’re about is, at the core, relationship – relationship with God, with ourselves, with one another and with the world in which we live.
I use the term ‘rethinking’ because that comes very close to the biblical word commonly translated ‘repentance’. And it is to repentance that I believe God is calling us. That biblical word means, literally, ‘to think beyond what we already think’ – which is not how it is usually used in religious language. It is, however, related, because this ‘thinking beyond’ is intended to lead to new ways of believing. New ways of believing – what we truly believe, not just what we think we believe – new ways of believing lead to new ways of relating to God, ourselves, each other and the world – new ways of ‘beliving’ and of ‘beloving’ – which are at the very heart of the good news of God’s love in Christ – the good news that God so loved the world that God gave God’s only son not to condemn but to bring a new kind of life.
Now, quite apart from the ‘how’ questions people usually ask about creation – questions which led to the famous Scopes Monkey Trial and to vicious debates about creation, intelligent design and evolution - philosophers and theologians and interpreters have argued and reasoned and written about the ‘why’ questions: Why did God create? There are uncountable reasons given as to the ‘whys’ of it all.
From the biblical writings, however, some things are rather clear if we take the time to, as the hymn writer said, ‘ponder anew what the Almighty can do. ...’ For example, from the Revelation: ‘Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and for your pleasure they exist and were created.’
Quite contrary to the usual idea that creation exists for the sake of human beings, the scriptures say everything was created by God for God’s own sake – for God’s own pleasure and purposes. The poet, in Psalm 24 said: ‘The earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein. For the Lord has founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the floods.’
Now, I am pretty convinced that part of the ‘pleasure and purposes’ of the Lord are tied in to God’s desire for relationship with humans. The writer of I john says that ‘God is love’ – the essence, if we may so say, of God is love. It’s who God is and what God does. The relationship of Father, Son and Spirit is pure love.
Out of that love, God creates that which is ‘not-God’ – that which is ‘other-than-God’. The biblical writers say that the love of God ‘super-abounds’ – it overflows and spills out; it can’t be contained. But love is relational – what Martin Buber called I-Thou/I-you relationship. Love requires ‘the other’. That’s how relationships of love work. That writer of I John says that ‘[w]e love because God first loved us’.
So we see that part of the great drama – indeed, a central theme of the great drama of creation history – is this relationship of love between God and people. That’s central and vital to the good news of God’s love in Christ.
Christians today seem to swing to two extremes with this. Some make it all the whole biblical story is about, so that nothing else matters. Others get caught up in so many popular causes and issues that it sort of falls by the way as if it didn’t matter at all.
Balanced somewhere between these two extremes, however, is the realization that, while this is vital – even central – it’s not the whole story. Part of the ‘repentance’ – the ‘rethinking’ – to which I think God is calling us is to realize that all this is part of a larger picture – a bigger story – a more complex reality. For us, the call of repentance is to realize that we may have shrunk the gospel of God into a bit of a sentimental Jesus-and-me sort of thing, and if we feel like everything is ok between Jesus and me, than other things like ‘loving mercy, doing justice, walking humbly with God’ fade into background noise. But didn’t the prophet say thee are the very things that God requires of us?
So in this ‘Creationtide’ – this Season of Creation – we need to look again at the creation stories, asking what’s really going on. Then we need to look at the themes of reconciliation, redemption and salvation, and how these things tie into creation- how the life, death and resurrection of Jesus tie into the Creator’s purpose for creation and ultimately into new creation. As we do, I think we’ll begin to realize that ‘all my relations’ – ‘we are all related ‘ – is a very big reality in a very big creation in relationship with an awesome God.