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At and As One

The Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost (Revised Common Lectionary, Year B, Proper 24)

October 21, 2012

The Reverend Paul Roberts Abernathy, Rector

      Today, we inaugurate a six-week thematic series of liturgies and sermons on the creation. We, as rational creatures, conscious of our time in space, thus mindful of history and hopeful for the future, celebrate, rejoice, and contemplate, reflect on our responsibility regarding the viability and sustainability of air, earth, and water, flora and fauna, and all humankind.


      Our perspective, particularly as sentient, self-initiating creatures, is not one of dominion over creation, despite that proclamation of the God of Genesis.[1] Rather, our view, like that of St. Francis of Assisi, who called the sun, wind, air, and fire his brothers, the moon, his sister, the earth, his mother,[2] and claimed all creatures as members of his family, is not dominion, surely not domination, but relation in intimacy and equality. You and I, as integral threads in a cosmic tapestry, woven together by a divine hand with all other strands, are not brighter, bolder, or better than any other.


      From this vantage point, we, in a spirit of confession, can claim our part in the desecration of the earth. Our scripture texts are lenses through which we may perceive the dreadful consequence of our corporate behavior and behold anew our true calling, one as ancient as creation itself: to live at one and as one with all life.


      Isaiah speaks of God’s innocent suffering servant who bears the curse of affliction for the people, the true offenders.[3] Whatever Isaiah’s original objective, it is no surprise that Christians, centuries later, interpreted this prophecy as applicable to the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross to redeem us from our sins:


Surely, he has borne our infirmities, carried our diseases;

He was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities,

and by his bruises we are healed.[4]


      Following the pattern of that Christian revisioning of Isaiah, today, I reinterpret the prophecy as a word about the world and us. Using Francis’s metaphor of earth as mother:


Surely, she is made infirm and diseasedby us;

wounded by our transgression of profligate pollution,

crushed by our iniquity of wasteful consumption,

and because of her bruises she may not be renewed.


      Mother Earth has changed, is changing. Naturally, so it has been from the dawn of creation through continental shift, volcanic eruption, the spinning and tilt of the world on its axis, the movement of ocean tides. Yet, especially since the 19th century Industrial Revolution, our reliance on fossil fuels and our rapacious clearing of land of vegetation to make way for the building of “civilized” societies has aggravated and has accelerated the aging of our mother.


      Though many still argue about climate change and its causes, and we, today, may protest our deniability of responsibility for harm done in ages past, it is difficult to refute that we, particularly westerners, are overindulgent consumers, taking more than we need, wasting more than we use. We can wax poetically about the beauty of the earth, yet we enjoy the blessings of electricity produced by power plants run on fossil fuels emitting pollutants, we love our gas-burning and diesel-powered cars, and plastics and paper are existential essentials. With detached fascination, we could watch the new television series, Revolution,[5] and its post-apocalyptic dystopian vision of a world without electricity, devoid of technology certain that it won’t happen and even if so, then confident that it will be something for subsequent generations to endure. We could react that way. But we, conscious of our time in space, cherishing our ancestors and caring about our descendants, cannot. We are pledged to do all that we can when we can with what we can to reimagine how we see and understand ourselves in relation to all of life. Individual though we always are, each of us is one part of the whole creation.


      Concerning our reimagining, our reimaging ourselves, Jesus offers to us a model of transformation.


      James and John, now understanding Jesus to be Messiah,[6] as those who desire dominion over others, in this case, their fellow disciples, with whom they already had argued about who was the greatest,[7] lobby for the principal positions of honor.[8] Jesus tells them that the prominence they seek is not his to grant. Indeed, humans are the ones who crave and confer one upon another the status of title and rank, echelon and estate; the hunger for which can blind us to the prestige of our essential human dignity already granted by God through our birth.[9] Existence – having, inhabiting a state of beingthere is our first and foremost status!


      An inevitable, universal question: What do we do with this our position of prominence of having life in this world? Jesus answers by calling James and John and all of his disciples, including us, to follow him, moving from our very human entitled, exclusive self-interest to the inclusive greatness of service to, for, and with everyone and everything in all creation. Jesus calls. What say we? What do we do?

Genesis 1.28

[2]See Francis’s Canticle of the Creatures

[3]Isaiah 53.4-12 (emphasis mine)

[4]Isaiah 53.4a, 5

[5]Revolution, debuting September 17, 2012, on NBC, tells the story of the worldwide loss of electrical power and the collapse of political and social order, and the race to discern the causes and to reverse the effects.

[6]See Mark 8.29.

[7]See Mark 9.33-34.

[8]The gospel passage appointed for the day is Mark 10.35-45.

[9]See John 5.44.

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