Reconciling everything – The Holy Trinity


Genesis 1:1-2:4a, Psalm 8, Matthew 28:16-20

Once upon a time, the good book tells us, heaven and earth, that is, God’s creation, had it all together. God said, ‘It was good… it was good, … it was very good.’ (Genesis 1: 4,10,12,18,25,31). The first account of creation in Genesis appeals to us and challenges us because we recognise that the world we know is not so good: it is marred, fractured.

We see the degradation of the environment, even Covid-19 is a result of the unwanted collision of wild animals and humans. We feel the rupture of relationships, our own and those around us. Ultimately the cause of this broken world is a mystery, but we can be sure that God means to mend and restore creation.

The Gospel tells the astounding news that we are part of this great project of bringing heaven and earth back together.

Matthew recounts how Jesus led the Eleven up a mountain. For Matthew, going up the mountain meant two things: on the mountaintop we experience the power of God, and secondly, on the mountain, Jesus, like Moses before him, teaches about the reality of God.

So we are there with the Eleven on the mountaintop to experience something of God’s power and to open ourselves, week by week, to God’s teaching. Like the Eleven, we both ‘worship and doubt’ (v.17). We are human beings after all. But our power to believe or not it is not relevant.

‘All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me,’ Jesus states (v.18). The extraordinary claim of the Gospels is that the Risen Jesus has all God’s authority. We can be tempted to domesticate Jesus and turn him into a harmless friend. The reality, however, is that Jesus acts with power in our lives.

Simone Weil

The French philosopher Simone Weil (1909-1943) was born to agnostic Jewish parents. From her childhood, she took seriously the teaching of Jesus to love one’s neighbour as one’s self. After a lifetime of activism loving her neighbour, she was drawn more deeply into the life of Jesus, experiencing his power in a series of prayer experiences. Weil’s book, Waiting for God, has become a spiritual classic. After reading George Herbert’s poem ‘Love III’, she wrote, ‘Christ himself came down and took possession of me.’ These experiences transformed her into ‘a great spirit’ recognised by Christians and non-Christians alike.

Our journey may not be as extreme as Simone Weil’s, but the reality of Jesus’ power in our lives shapes us also to be instruments of healing.

So Matthew reminds the Eleven – and us – of the colossal enterprise to which Jesus calls us: the healing of earth and heaven. We, the community of the faithful, are called to teach all nations his commandments, those of love and healing.

And the best of the Good News is that Jesus ‘will be with us always, to the end of the age.’ (v.20).

Reunion and Reconciliation – Statue by Josefina de Vasconcellos at Bradford University

Creation, Re-creation and Spirit


Psalm 104:24-34, 35b, Acts 2:1-21

It’s happening again. God is repeating history.

In the Biblical languages. ‘breath’, ‘Spirit’ and ‘wind’ are the same word.

God breathes into the man of mud and he becomes a living breath (Genesis 2:7). Or you can read it:  At creation, God breathes his Spirit into a human being, and he became a living spirit.

Not just human beings, but every living thing.

Psalm 104 paints a spectacular picture of all of the Lord’s ‘manifold works’: the heavens ‘stretched out like a tent-cloth’ (v.3), ‘the earth on its foundations’ (v. 6), the sea and the mountains (vv. 7 and 9), wild and domestic animals (v. 12), the birds (v. 13), and the water and food to provide for them all. Human beings have a place to work (v.25).  

God’s world is a supremely fertile and attractive universe. And it all depends on God breathing God’s Spirit:

When you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust.
When you send forth your spirit they are created. (Psalm 104:29b-30).

So on the first Pentecost, God was doing both a new thing and repeating an old thing. God was breathing His Spirit into human beings and all creation, and giving them new life.

But there’s more. The first human being was an individual, Adam. At Pentecost, communities spring to life, not just as individuals; a community of disciples able to pass on the word of Jesus – the first Church members. An even larger community of listeners is brought into being. Its separate components are listed:

Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes,  Cretans and Arabs…’ (Acts 2:9-11)

In other words, the whole known world is gathered into a community. They are gathered by hearing the same language: the very opposite of the scattering into mutually incomprehensible language groups at the tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9). Community happens where we talk to each other and understand each other.

The Spirit still breathes into our lives, gathering us into communities. During these strange days of pandemic, for example, members of the St Mary’s community in Busselton have continued the enormous task of providing meals three days a week for those who need them. As they work together, Spirit is breathed into the workers to gather them closer to each other, and the people who come to the Family Centre are also held in community.

‘God is faithful’ (I Corinthians 1:9), so we can expect God’s breath to breathe into us again and again, bringing us new life and gathering us into godly communities. This is the promise of Pentecost.

We all like sheep are gone astray (Isaiah 53:6)


One of the tragedies of our times is the war on animals, the war we have been waging for two or three centuries, seizing their territory and subjecting them to ever more inhumane conditions.

Human activity was one of the causes of this year’s bushfires in the Eastern States which took away from koalas much of their habitat. Iconic species such as the Bengali tiger and the white rhinoceros are on the brink of extinction. Presumably the thylacine (the Tasmanian tiger) and the dodo would still be thriving in Tasmania and Mauritius if human beings had not ravaged their living space.

Only a few wild animals thrive under the relentless expansion of human activity. Mobs of kangaroos near my town relish in the green pasture and endless water supplies human beings have created.

We clobber our domestic animals too. In the past decades, more and more cattle have been squeezed into feed-lots, unable to exercise and terrified by their imprisonment. Battery hens are confined to less than a square metre and never see the sky or scratch in the fresh air.

We use horses and dogs for sport. Not only do they strain to entertain us, but our society allows some of their keepers to inflict on them excruciating pain when they are away from public view.

Our treatment of animals shames us human beings.  We are given no licence by Scripture to dominate the environment and crush our fellow-creatures. There is no Biblical excuse for setting ourselves up as gods destroying whatever we will.

We consider ourselves superior to other creatures, but the evidence shows that we do not make a good shepherd. We are cruel and despotic in our treatment of the environment.

In today’s Gospel, John teaches us two things about animals and salvation. The first is that Jesus is the good shepherd. No creature, including us human beings, can put ourselves above other creatures. Jesus is our shepherd, caring for us, and he is the shepherd of all creation, restoring all things, not only the human world.

Secondly, we are called to be part of the community of creatures, living together with animals and ecosystems as our brothers and sisters. This is the great vision of Saint Francis of Assisi: to live in harmony with all life as part of the community of creation.

The Good Shepherd proclaims to us that God will draw into a community all his creation and that we will live in harmony with death adders and scorpions, both of them wild animals Jesus ’was with in the wilderness’ (Mark 1:13a), as we will with cats, horses, and especially dogs, the animals who have co-evolved with us and who are our familiars. 

There are many signs of new life. Most farmers I know are concerned about any animal cruelty and do all in their power to care for their animals. WWF and other organisations keep on reminding us of the plight of the non-human world and establish programs to restore habitat and rescue species. More and more middle-class people express real care for pets. Our Jack Russell Lottie is our little sister, a member of our family. There are new ways of feeding the hungry that do not exploit animals, so I have hope that lifting the poor out of poverty will be done ethically.

The Peaceable Kingdom, Edward Hicks, 1834

[‘We have like sheep gone astray.’ (Isaiah 53:6). Quoted in I Peter 2:25, and in the Introduction to Evening Prayer in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer]

The Hope of the New Creation


SERMON FOR THE 23RD SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

November 17, AD 2019

St George’s Anglican Church, Dunsborough

Gospel:

The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Luke,
[Chapter 21 beginning at verse 5].
Glory to you, Lord Jesus Christ.

And while some were speaking of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” And they asked him, “Teacher, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?” And he said, “See that you are not led astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them. And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified, for these things must first take place, but the end will not be at once.”

10 Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. 12 But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. 13 This will be your opportunity to bear witness. 14 Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, 15 for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. 16 You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers[c] and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. 17 You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your lives.

For the Gospel of the Lord.
Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.

 

 

Most mornings I walk to the beach with our dog Lottie. There’s something healing about the gently surging waves of Geographe Bay. Its appearance changes from day to day; some days it is calm, on other days the light refracts into bright colours, red, greens and golds.

Some days, walking near the beach is disturbing. Stinking seaweed covers the sand and I’m not sure if that’s a natural process or not. Sinkholes appear in the sand where there was solid sand before. The sea seems to be eating the coast despite the best efforts of the City of Busselton with groynes and trucks bringing loads of sand.

You’ve probably seen the maps predicting greater storm-surges eroding our coastline. It’s sad enough that by 2040 Stilts near us may be under water, but much sadder will be the disappearance of whole cities like Venice and Bangkok, even whole countries like Bangladesh. The Indonesians are building a new capital on the island of Borneo, starting even while Joko Widodo is President, because parts of Jakarta are already under water.

There’s too much water in some places. In other places, there is stubborn drought. The WA Government has built desalination machines with the capacity to deliver half of our water supply… otherwise we would be thirsty.

In Queensland,  northern New South Wales and California, wildfires burn pretty much year-round. Polar ice is melting at never-before rates.

In St Paul’s language, creation is groaning. It’s not my job to tell you where to place your opinion on the climate change emergency, although I’ve probably hinted what mine is!

There’s a story about a speaker who advocated sustainable living, liveable cities, green transport, planting trees and gardens and renewable energy – the list went on. An angry voice from the back called out, ‘And what happens if we create this better world and there wasn’t a climate emergency?’

It is definitely my role to remind you of the preciousness of creation, God’s gift to us and our responsibility to God for it.

I believe that we Christians should have a binocular view of creation: through one lens, we should delight in the beauty of the world, marvel at its wonders, be thankful – more than that, be deeply grateful – for creation as our life-support.

Out of gratitude, we are called to be like our Creator. We are called not just to be grateful, but to be creative, too.

With the Psalmist, we praise God for creation:

O Lord, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom have you made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures
. (Psalm 104 24)

Through a second lens, we should be aware of all that disturbs us about the degradation of the natural world. Whether or not the climate is about to go over some tipping point or not, our response to the damages we see should be one of repentance. Part of our joyful penance is learning how to look after the earth better.

God commands the man and the woman in Genesis:
Fill the earth and subdue it. Take control of the all living things on the earth. (Genesis 1:28a)

Some scholars say that a better translation is:
Fill the earth and look after it. Take up your responsibility for all living things on the earth.

God is not telling humanity to exploit his creation by force; God is saying that our unique position as the dominant species means we have a responsibility to help creation flourish.

We do this partly by being creative people. Some of us take dyed cotton, cut and sew the material to make prayer-quilts, which are not just beautiful objects, but part of our worship: they embody our intercessions. The prayer-quilts respect the environment: some of the fabric is recycled. All of them are designed to last.

Someone among us searches for digital images to help us worship and these are projected. They create an atmosphere and they suggest links with the readings and themes of the day’s worship. Finding and choosing the best images is a time-consuming and creative task.

Not only do our musicians create beautiful sounds to lead our singing, we lift up our voices and blend them together to express our praise together. In music, in particular, we worship as one. Every time we sing or listen to the musicians, we create something new that has never existed before. Each performance creates something from nothing. Each act of creation is exercising our image of God; we are creative as God is creative.

Today’s readings give us every reason for hope.

It’s true, as we heard in the reading from Matthew, that our politics can mess up everything, from implementing Brexit to killing the Great Barrier Reef. Jesus could be confident in predicting the time when the politics in Judea were so bad that the Romans would come and wipe out Jews. In A.D. 70, the Roman army hammered Jerusalem and razed the Temple to the ground. They wrecked the built environment and severely damaged the natural world. They nearly succeeded in erasing every Jew and every trace of Jewish culture from the face of the earth.

We look around the world today – to Great Britain, to the U.S., to Turkey and Syria – and we see the devastation bad politics brings. Just when we think things couldn’t get any worse in Syria, they do. On current trends, if politicians and others don’t act, the Maldives in the Indian Ocean, and Kiribati and Tuvalu in the Pacific, will disappear under the waves.

And it’s easy to be depressed about this. ‘According to a new U.N. report,’ comedian Jay Leno says, ‘the global warming outlook is much worse than originally predicted. Which is pretty bad when they originally predicted it would destroy the planet.’

But Isaiah forcefully reminds us that this is God’s creation, not a human creation. God cares for it. God will act. God invites us to do all that is needed to help the planet flourish, and the human contribution does really matter, but ultimately the earth and the heavens are in God’s hands!

‘Behold, I create new heavens
and a new earth. …
‘Be glad and rejoice forever
in that which I create…’
(Isaiah 17a and 18a)

We Christians are in a different position than others who care about the environment. We believe that the heavens and the earth, the Bible’s shorthand for the Universe, will end up better than it is, better than it started. Some Christians believe that God will destroy this Universe and make another. I don’t think the Bible supports this view. I believe that the new heavens and the new earth will be this Universe, perfectly restored. That way makes a place for human beings ‘raised,’ as we will be ‘to eternal life’, perfectly restored, like the new Universe.

We could choose to disregard the firm intention of God and live in despair. Or we can reach out our hands and receive from God hope as a gift. When you reach out your hands for communion this morning and receive little pieces of God’s creation, some bread and wine, I invite you to see them as God’s gift to you of hope.

We, as Christian people, can re-frame the way we think about the environment. For us, it is not doom and gloom, even when it appears so. If there are challenges, we can see them as God’s invitation to do something, to put into practice all those things we know as individuals and as communities that will help creation flourish.

And then as St Paul says to the Christians at Thessalonica, ‘Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus.’ (I Thess. 5:18). In everything give thanks. This is the key. We give thanks for the opportunity to counter the effects of pollution. We give thanks for those who work with us to see that the environment can flourish. We give thanks for the works of beauty made by artists and craftspeople.

We rejoice, because this side of the new creation, we will continue to learn about our worlds. Astronomers have discovered planets in far-off star systems that may support life. Material scientists, physicists and chemists are making new theories about the science of consciousness; how our physical brain does not explain our mind, that wondrous world of thought and creativity.

Dogs, horses, cats, bobtails , magpies – when we meet them we often feel they are just as aware of us as we of them. They seem to have a mind, a level of consciousness, too. Some scientists even theorise that there is consciousness in every atom, it’s built into the building blocks of the Universe.

Then there’s the research at The University of WA showing how trees communicate, both through the fungus between them, and by sending scents into the air to warn other trees of insect attacks. Trees also give out a fragrance which is healing for us humans.

Exciting ideas.

And above all, we give thanks for the breath-taking works of the Creator as they are: the cool air of Ngilgi Cave, the red colour of the bottlebrush, the beguiling scent of crushed sandalwood, the jaunty gait of a running emu, the endless play of light and dark in our galaxy.

If you have A Prayer Book for Australia at home, look up the wonderful ‘Thanksgiving for Australia’ written by Bundjalung Aunty Lenore Parker She is an indigenous Anglican priest and her prayer goes like this:

God of holy dreaming, Great Creator Spirit,
from the dawn of creation you have given your children
the good things of Mother Earth.
You spoke and the gum tree grew.
In the vast desert and dense forest,
and in the cities at the water’s edge,
creation sings your praise.
Your presence endures
as the rock at the heart of our Land.
When Jesus hung on the tree
you heard the cries of all your people
and became one with the wounded ones:
the convicts, the hunted and the dispossessed.
The sunrise of your Son coloured the earth anew,
and bathed it in glorious hope.
In Jesus we have been reconciled to you,
to each other and to your whole creation.
Lead us on, Great Spirit,
as we gather from the four corners of the earth;
enable us to walk together in trust
from the hurt and shame of the past
into the full day which has dawned in Jesus Christ. Amen
.

 

 

 

 

Psalm 148 for Western Australia (revisited)


Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord from the sky!
Praise him in the heavens!
Praise him, all his angels!
Praise him, all his heavenly mob!
Praise him, O sun and moon!
Praise him, all you shiny stars!
Praise him, O Milky Way,
and you Southern Cross at the heart of the skies!
Let them praise the name of the Lord,
for he gave the command and they came into existence.
He established them so they would endure;
he issued a decree that will not be revoked.
Praise the Lord from the earth,
you orcas and all you great whales,
O fire and hail, snow and clouds,
O stormy wind that carries out his orders,
you Porongurups and all you Hamersleys,
you quandongs and all you karri trees,
10 you merinos and all you cattle,
you bungarras and you emus,
11 you elders of the Wardandi and all you Noongars,
you Aunties and all you Yamaji and desert folk,
you refugees and you fifth generation Australians,
12 you young men and young women,
you elderly, along with you children!
13 Let them praise the name of the Lord,
for his name alone is exalted;
his majesty extends over the earth and sky.
14 He has made his people victorious,
and given all his loyal followers reason to praise—
the West Australians, the people who are close to him.
Praise the Lord!

New English Translation (NET)

NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2006 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Orcas off Bremer Bay, W.A.
Orcas off Bremer Bay, W.A. Image by Dave and Fiona Harvey

Psalm 24 for Western Australia


Psalm 24

A psalm of David.

The Lord owns Western Australia and all it contains,
the world and all who live in it.
For he set its foundation upon the two oceans,
and established it upon the Leeuwin currents.
Who is allowed to ascend the mountain of the Lord?
Who may go up to his sterling dwelling place?
Those whose deeds are blameless
and whose motives are pure,
who do not lie,
or make promises with no intention of keeping them.
Such godly people are rewarded by the Lord,
and vindicated by the God who delivers them.
Such purity characterises the people who seek his favour,
Wollaston’s descendants, who pray to him.
Look up from Karinjini park, you water-tunnels!
Rise up, you eternal gorges!
Then the majestic king will enter!
Who is this majestic king?
The Lord who is strong and mighty!
The Lord whose power is breathtaking!
Look up, you gorges!
Rise up, you walls of the abyss!
Then the majestic king will enter!
10 Who is this majestic king?
The Lord who gives life breath!
He is the majestic king!

New English Translation (NET)

NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2006 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

dsc_0076-680x1024
A gorge in the Karinjini National Park. Image: Tom Price Visitors’ Centre. W.A.

The Fascinator: A sonnet for Christmas


The Fascinator

Tell the wild tale with vim and with panache
Chorus line of shepherds; veiled discerning
Mystics bringing gifts while earth’s cultures clash
To a baby: He our whole life’s learning.

Ring the bells, all people, stop! Now attend
to whispers of angels, meditations
Of mystics, fresh wisdom to us commend,
kindness of giving, godly fascinations.

Light the candle, we illuminati
with peace, earning goodwill to God’s masses,
Minding the child (He the celebrity)
with lambs and cows and companion asses.

All creation whispers the tale with awe,
All souls are responsive to His divine draw.

  • Ted Witham 2016