Sunday, April 22, 2012

What God has Cleansed (Earth Day Sermon)

Acts 11: 1-18

            Care of creation as a part of our Christian life seems a little obvious. Does it feel that way to you? We believe that God’s hand was active in establishing the universe. We understand that there are natural processes that are mysterious to us. We grasp the fact that we are not alone on the earth and that many millions of plants, non-human animals, fish, and lots of other people can be affected by our choices and our actions.

            So we understand, basically, why it’s important. We get it. But do we change what we’re doing based on what we know to be true? I had a lot of heartburn about having a service on Earth Day, oriented toward creation, with a 12-page bulletin. That’s a lot of paper. But we have people who can’t hear and need to be able to follow the service. We have a worship book that turns out not to be very visitor-friendly in its orientation (lots of flipping back and forth). So we sacrificed trees for the sake of hospitality. Does it mean anything to regret this decision? Could we figure out how to go bulletin free one Sunday a month?

            When I ask that kind of question, I immediately see that I have a problem, a flaw in my thinking. I’m skipping right to the specific before I comprehend the reason for the general. I can read Job and understand, again, that God knows and loves all creation on both the micro and macro- scale. Yet, how am we brought into that love? I do not mean how are we brought into loving creation. I mean, how are we brought into God’s love, into God’s knowledge?

            Imagine, if you will, that you are Peter. The Apostle. You fished for years, your life was pretty much set, and then came Jesus. Like a bat out of Nazareth (or something like that). You follow him. You see amazing things. You have powerful revelations. You deny, confess, distort, and accept. You see the risen Christ. You witness the flames of Pentecost. And through all of this, you’re a Jew. Jesus was a Jew. John was a Jew. Thomas, Andrew, Philip- Jewish, Jewish, Jewish. All the people at the Pentecost event- Jewish.

            And now there are people who believe in Jesus as the Messiah. They trust that he is the Son of God. They experience truth in the story of the resurrection. And they. Are. Not. Jewish. What do you do? Send them away? Slap the pork chop out of their hands and circumcise them on the spot? Tell them it is too bad they weren’t chosen?

            When Peter is in Joppa, God sends a vision to a man named Cornelius. Cornelius is an Italian soldier who believes in God and, in his time of prayer, God tells him to go and see Peter. In the meantime, God sends Peter the dream of the “unclean animals” and repeats the scene until Peter gets the point God is trying to make, “Who are you to say that what I have made is profane? Unclean? Unworthy?” When Cornelius appears before Peter and introduces himself and tells Peter of his vision, Peter probably has a little hallucination of a pig, induced by lifelong hatred of Romans and conflation of Roman soldiers with pigs. Then he realizes this is the point of the dream! Truly God shows no partiality because God has even spoken truth to this Italian swine soldier.

            Of course, Peter later gets a lot of flack for sharing the gospel with Gentiles. His reasoning is actually rock solid, “God did it first.” Peter cannot keep the Holy Spirit from blowing where it will, descending as it desires, inspiring the understanding of truth in whom it shall. One of the interesting ironies of the Bible is how long it takes people who have been called by God to realize that God is also working in other people and in other circumstances.

You might think that people whose understanding of God’s work in history included Ruth, Cyrus (the Great), Melchizedek (blessed Abraham), and Pharaoh’s daughter (raised Moses), among others, might not be so shocked that God would conspire to bring inspiration and salvation to non-Jews. And the thing is, we cannot speak against Peter and the other Jews for being slow to come to this understanding. Christians do it all the time. We forget how we have been grafted onto the tree of life. We assume that we are the very roots, trunk, branches, and leaves. (And we know what ass-u-me does.)

            This brings me back around to care of creation. We did not invent this. A green revolution did not begin with us. It began with God, whose farm is all creation. The stories of God at the beginning of the world mention that there was not yet land because there was not yet people (man) to tend the soil, to care for the land, to be co-creators.

            People have slowly come around to understanding God’s call to all people, God’s welcome and openness to every person. How long can the rest of the world wait for us to understand the extension of renewal and redemption? How long can we pretend that we do not understand Peter’s dream that nothing God has made is profane? How long will we profane what God has made by being careless with what we eat, what we do, what we buy, how we live?

            I’m saying this to you, but the voice in my head is saying, “Sit down and be quiet, you hypocrite. Remove the plank from your own eye.” We’re in this together… on Earth Day… on the third Sunday in Easter…

            Where do we start? Let’s begin by making the revelation of Peter’s dream our prayer: “What God has cleansed you must not call common.” When you eat, let your prayer be of gratitude for the ways the food got to your table. “What God has cleansed you must not call common.” When you look at the grit of spring or cut your eyes from a man holding a sign on the corner, “What God has cleansed you must not call common.” When you take out the trash or sort things for the garage sale, “What God has cleansed you must not call common.” When you look in the mirror, when you wash your face, “What God has cleansed you must not call common.”

            The first step toward the acceptance of Gentiles was the realization that God had loved them already. God was there first. So the first step in our own journey toward care of creation, realizing that God loves it already. God loved it first. And God has loved us to share entrust the responsibility of caring. But we have to begin with understanding that what God has made clean, what God has welcomed, what God loves, cannot be called or treated as common.


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