Friday, December 18, 2015

The Stewards of Creation: Elizabeth, Mary and the Church (RCL Advent 4C 20 December 2015)

The Stewards of Creation:  
Elizabeth, Mary and the Church

RCL Advent 4C
20 December 2015

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

Click here to listen to the Sermon as preached at the 10.00 Eucharist.

And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto thee . . . . [1]

            To any of us who were raised in the Prayer Book tradition, these are familiar words to us.  If you grew up here in Canada, then you remember these words being recited by the priest following the communion of the congregation. [2]  If you grew up in the United States, as I did, these words were recited by the priest during the eucharistic prayer.

            In both traditions, however, the importance of these words was of such weight that they were often accompanied by actions that the rubrics did not direct.  For example, here in Canada, even though the rubric made it very clear that only the priest recited the prayer after communion, it was not and is not uncommon for the congregation to join in the recitation of these words.  Among some Anglicans in the United States, the priest, when reciting these words in the eucharistic prayer, would bow and place his hands (I am thinking of pre-1976 days) on the altar.  By this action he would form a physical bridge between his body and ours with the bread and wine being consecrated.

            These words and the actions they inspired and continue to inspire are tangible reminders of the importance of physical things in the Christian faith.  There are religious traditions which see the physical world as a barrier to knowing God.  Even some Christians think so.  But Anglicans as well as the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox communions believe that this world is the creation of a loving God.  Matter matters to God.  While scientists continue to amaze us as they unlock some of the secrets of how the universe works, they cannot tell us why this universe exists at all.  But we can.  We exist because God loves and God’s love requires an ‘other’ to be loved, to be the beloved.

            It is because of God’s love that we hear the story of Elizabeth and Mary, two women who become agents of this divine love towards creation.  Elizabeth, childless for so many years, becomes the mother of John the prophet who will prepare the way for the Christ.  Mary, betrothed but not yet married, will brave the stares of others to become the mother of the Christ whose life, teaching and sacrifice will be God’s costly gift to reconcile all of creation to its divine Lover.

            An old lady says ‘yes’ to God and a prophet is born who calls people to repent and return to the Lord.  A young woman says ‘yes’ to God and a child is born who shows the way so that all people may know life in its fullness, not just in some distant future, but in the here and now of human history.

            These stories are but two of the many stories that tell of how God exercises stewardship of this creation.  Time and time again God chooses to use the stuff of creation, men and women, wind and rain, animals and plants, to bring about the divine purposes.  Only once was God so desperate that God chose to send a flood in an effort to re-start creation.  But God’s love was so great that God promises never to do this again.  This world and all the worlds matter that much to God.

            There is, though, another dimension to these stories and all those like them in our tradition.  In working to restore right relationships God always seeks out human agents to collaborate with God in this mysterious project we call the universe.  God’s initiative needs a human response, a human choice to be a steward of what matters to God --- earth and sky, sea and land, animals and plants.  Genuine Christian faith cannot dodge the obligation to care for what God has created.

            Our attention these past weeks has been drawn towards Paris.  The tragedy of the terrorist attacks set the stage for what may be one of the turning points in human history.  People of faith and no faith, government leaders and non-governmental organizations, developed and developing nations gathered in recognition that we have not been good stewards of ‘this fragile earth, our island home’.  Millions of dollars, reams of paper and many sleepless nights wrought an agreement that may, if honoured by all, reduce the harm being done to our planet and to all its species, human and non-human.  The as yet unanswered question is whether we will offer and present to our sisters and brothers a thoughtful, holy and living sacrifice so that all may know fullness of life.

            So, on this last Sunday before the celebration of the birth in time and space of God’s Beloved, the Christ, the son of Mary and Joseph, the cousin of John, we are reminded of our vocation to be stewards of creation.  First and foremost, let us be good stewards of our souls, our minds, our bodies and our strength.  If we do not care for ourselves, then our ability to care for others will be diminished. 

            Let us also exercise care in the use of the goods of creation.  You and I have access to resources well beyond the reach of the overwhelming majority of our sisters and brothers throughout the world.  Reuse, reduce, recycle is not just a catchy phrase; it is a religious obligation for those who proclaim faith in a God who comes among us in the flesh.

            Let us raise our voices, along with the voices of the rich and the poor, the near and the far, to proclaim our willingness to offer ourselves, our souls and bodies, in the effort to tend this earth, this precious gift, our only home.

            Bill Frey, the bishop who ordained me to the priesthood thirty-four years ago tomorrow, once said, ‘Some Christians are so heavenly minded that they are no damn earthly good.’  Today we join Elizabeth and Mary, Zechariah and Joseph, John and Jesus in giving thanks for God’s love made known to us in creation and in saying ‘yes’ to God’s call to be stewards of that creation.

And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto thee . . . . [3]

[1] The Book of Common Prayer (1979), 336.

[2] The Book of Common Prayer (1962), 85.

[3] The Book of Common Prayer (1979), 336.

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