Tuesday, October 28, 2008

My Regional Assembly Sermon

Tennessee Regional Assembly 2008

Sunday morning worship, October 26

Fall Creek Falls State Park

John 1: 1-5

What does the Incarnation have to do with Creation Care?

In the beginning… In the beginning, God…In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God…In the beginning. At the core of who we are as a people of faith there are these scriptures that help us understand the nature of creation and the nature of God. They do not begin like your favorite childhood story, “once upon a time.” No, these stories of our identity as a people start off with, “In the beginning…” When you hear a scripture start off with “In the beginning,” listen closely! You are about to learn something wonderful about God.

The Gospel of John opens with an, “In the beginning.” John skips all the fun Christmas stuff we love so much when he tells this miraculous story of God come to Earth. You will find no shepherds, no angels, no over-booked inns, no stable, no manger, no Holy family- you will simply find “The Word.” What we find here is what John’s Gospel feels it most important that we know about Jesus, that Jesus is the Word of God made flesh. God’s gift to the created world God loved so dearly is this gift of a holy, human presence. John’s Gospel reminds us that this Word has been with God since the beginning of time. Friday night we read the words of the first chapter of Genesis, we heard about how all created things came into being and that God declared it good. John says the Word was there as well, creating everything that has come into being with God.

Incarnation is the way we describe what John is telling us about the Word. We know “The Word” walked and talked and has a name, and that name is Jesus. Later in the opening chapter of John it will become clear. Chapter 14 will spell it out for those of us who have not yet caught on when it says, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us…” God’s Word, that is not just words, but words and actions and life comes to us in the form of Jesus our Christ. That is the miracle of the incarnation- God coming to be with us.

I remember when I was just out of undergraduate school, with my elementary education degree and a classroom full of students. We would have staff meetings, and the principal of our school would tell us about some policy that the administrators at the school district were handing down to us. Sometimes we would shake our heads at the things we were asked to do that made no sense in our classrooms. We would talk with each other and say, “They just don’t get it. They don’t understand what its like to be in a classroom full of students anymore, this policy makes no sense to us- they just don’t get it!”

And then I can think back to my experience in seminary. By our second year, my friends and I were serving churches all over the Nashville area. We were learning through practice in our churches, and we were learning theory in the classroom. On occasion our professors would make suggestions about how we were to do ministry that we thought was ridiculous, or simply wouldn’t fly in our congregations. We would say to each other, “they don’t get it! They’ve been out of the church too long, and in the classroom too much- they just don’t get it!”

If you have ever worked for someone, or maybe even if you have ever been a teenager- you know what I’m talking about! I’m talking about the moment when you look at a boss, administrator or parent and whether or not you say it out loud you think to yourself, “You don’t get it!”

The gift of the incarnation is this: God gets it. God understands what it is like to be us. God knows what it is like to put on flesh and walk around in the world with all of the struggle, the pain and the joy that humanity entails. God gets it. God gets it because, “the Word became flesh and lived among us.” I read this week that the greek word that my Bible translated as “lived,” and some other translations read as “dwelt” among us, could just has easily have meant “pitched a tent.” When Jesus was sent to be with humanity, he came to live, to dwell, to pitch a tent and stay awhile with us. God gets it. Jesus gets it. The incarnation means God understands us at the very core of who we are as humans, because Jesus had the experience of being with us in his humanity.

Ok, so God gets it, Jesus was with us, what in the world does any of this have to do with care of God’s earth? Caring for God’s creation means taking care of each other. Caring for creation means taking care of all of the humans that God has created, just as we care for the animals, the trees and the water. God created humans to care for one another. We were created for companionship, friendship and interdependence. We were created to care for one another.

Many times caring is easy. Often we find it easy to care for our closest friends. We care for our own children, and our family. We care for our family either because it is easy to do, or because we feel obligated by the connections that bind us together. Care of other humans gets more difficult when we have no immediate reason to care for them. The more difference there is between us the harder it is to care.

I recently picked up a copy of The Green Bible, this is a new copy of the New Revised Standard Version translation of the Bible, with an emphasis on pointing out the Bible’s messages of creation care. In the Bible’s introduction, Desmond Tutu speaks of caring for one another even in our differences. Tutu writes:

“Thus we are made different so that we can know our need of one another. And this is a fundamental law of our being. All kinds of things go horribly wrong when we flout this law- when we don’t ensure that God’s children everywhere have a supply of clean water, a safe environment, a decent home, a full stomach. We could do that if we remembered that we are created to be members of one family, God’s family.” (Foreword to The Green Bible).

We are created to members of one family, God’s family. If we are to live as God’s family then we have an obligation to help care for all of humanity. When the Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us, we got to see a glimpse of what it means to care for other humans as God intended us to care for one another. Through the actions of Jesus, we see that the people that the world cares for the least are the most precious in the kingdom of God.

When the disciples tried to protect Jesus from the bother of people bringing children to see him, Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Jesus made time for children who had no power, status or earning potential. These children were not related to him except by way of being a part of God’s family. Jesus cared for people.

When a tax collector of small stature climbed up in a tree just to catch a glimpse of Jesus passing by, Jesus took notice and called Zacchaeus to come down and share a meal with him. A despised, crooked tax collector got a little face time with the Savior of the world. Jesus’ time with Zacchaeus transformed his life, and he became a better man in the light of God’s love. Jesus cared for people.

When a woman came with an alabaster jar of ointment and her own tears to anoint Jesus, Jesus made time for this important human touch. The Bible says the woman was a sinner. We don’t know exactly what made her a sinner but whatever was happening in her life- she came seeking the presence of Jesus. She found that presence, and Jesus did not let her status as a woman, or a sinner, interfere with the intimate moment they shared. Jesus granted her what she was seeking; forgiveness and peace. Jesus cared for people. We are called to care for people.

Through our “in the beginning,” story we come to know more about God. We understand that our God is a God who “gets it”, who “gets us,” and who sent the Word to become flesh and live among us. As we journey a little farther into the story we read that, “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” The darkness did not overcome the light. Another translation I have reads, “the light shines in the darkness but the darkness has not understood it.” Light that is not even understood by darkness; that is the powerful light of Jesus Christ.

Jesus was a bearer of light. If you and I are going to care for God’s creation we are going to have to become light- bearers to God’s family. We are going to have to carry the light into people’s lives. We are going to have to carry the light where it looks like the darkness is going to overtake the light. We are able to shine light that no darkness can ever overcome when we take care of each other; when we care for people regardless of circumstance just as Jesus did.

Have you ever happened to catch a glimpse of the light? Have you ever noticed someone shining the light of God by caring deeply for someone else? Maybe you’ve seen a little flicker of the light, or maybe you’ve been so overwhelmed by someone else’s kindness that you had to put on your sunglasses to keep from being blinded by the light. Where have you seen the light of Christ shine in the darkness?

I had a chance to see the light shining brightly this summer. In June I was a first-time counselor at Muscular Dystrophy summer camp. I went to camp with my husband David. This year was his twenty-fifth year to be volunteer at MDA camp. I saw the light when I listened to the camp director during the training. She told us, “This week is not about you. This week is about your camper. This is an entire week is about them. Here they will not feel different like they do at school or at home, they will be the norm. The needs and wants of your campers come before your own. You are an amazing and special group of people- but remember- this week is not about you!”

And then I watched it happen, I saw teenagers, brothers and sisters of campers, moms, dads and other adults who set aside their own needs for the week to make sure their camper had an amazing week. Each camper at MDA had at least on counselor and some had two. None of the counselors were biologically related to the campers they cared for, they didn’t have any obligation to be at camp, they weren’t getting paid. I watched them set aside their egos and their desires and selflessly love another human being for a week. And the darkness couldn’t even touch the light that week! We bear light to the world when we care for people.

I have seen light all over this region as we engage in ministry together; haven’t you seen it? I see the light when teenagers collect cans for needy people in their own communities on Souper Bowl Sunday. The light shines when a child’s life is transformed by church camp because a counselor was willing to volunteer a week of their time to bear the light. I have seen the light in fair trade coffee houses, that teach people to value the coffee farmers a half a world away that they will never meet! I see the light when we go on mission trips and do manual labor, things we might never do at our own houses- because another human being needs our help!

I see the light of Christ anytime we care for one another as God cares for us. We shine the light when we appreciate our friends, and when we tell our family members that we love them. We shine the light when we show patience and love to our children and our elderly parents. This is the light that cannot be understood by darkness. This is the light shone to us by the Word made flesh. This is the light of God who was with us “in the beginning.” May we take that light and share it with the world. Amen and Amen.

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