Reflection: September 30

Let us pause for a moment in prayer to recognize and give thanks that God is the Creator and sustainer of our lives:

Today, tomorrow and always,
may we be aware of your presence
within and surrounding us, O God.
You are like the overarching branches
of a shade tree on a scorching hot day
and we give thanks for the shelter of your love.

May your wisdom grow within us
so that our faith may bear fruit
in our words and actions.
Just as leaves transform sunlight into nourishment
we pray that the light of Christ’s ministry
will transform everything we say and do
giving life to our community
and meaning and purpose to our lives.

This is our ardent hope and prayer. Amen

Today is the fourth Sunday of Creation Time. As you’ve heard in previous weeks, the overarching theme for this time of the church year is “What is Creation Telling Us?”. In the past few weeks we’ve focused on the awe and reverence engendered because of God’s presence in Creation and the stories that Creation tells to those who are willing to listen and nurture the gift of life in all its splendor and diversity.

The symbol for Creation Time, in the United Church of Canada, is an Elm Tree surrounded by a blue circle with a gold cross inside. The Elm Tree is one of the largest trees in North America and lives up to 300 years. Its root system flares out anchoring the tree and providing support and access to nourishment. Large upright limbs support branches which fan outward and stretch into the world. Four colours are representative of the four elements of creation: earth (brown), air (white), fire (orange), and water (blue). Orange also represents the colour of Autumn fruitfulness in North America and is the colour designated for Creation Time. (Source: The United Church of Canada.)

It seems to me that an Elm Tree is a very good symbol for the church. Like the roots of an Elm our faith tradition gives us a solid foundation and helps us to be rooted and grounded in God’s presence and the teachings of Jesus. Our faith is nurtured and nourished by words wisdom found in sacred scripture and in the writings of Christians throughout the ages and in the lives and actions of faithful followers of Jesus in ages past and in our midst today. The nature of an Elm to spread its branches widely and reach out to the world also speaks of Christ’s mandate to live our faith in the actions of our lives not just when we gather as a community of faith but also in our everyday interactions with others in the wider community.

The specific theme for this fourth Sunday in Creation Time is “Lend Me Your Voice” which speaks to me of the need for advocacy and action. A couple of weeks ago I mentioned the tradition of prophetic voices that bring news that many may not want to hear. These are insistent voices full of passion and urgency that cry loudly and persistently in order to share uncommon knowledge and wisdom. In biblical terms, they are voices crying in the wilderness or the voice of wisdom straining to be heard over the noisy clatter of the marketplace.

It is not surprising that, at times, prophetic voices seem strained and a little on edge. In our reading this morning from Proverbs, God’s wisdom is personified as a persistent woman who calls to passersby to heed the teachings of their faith tradition and follow God’s way. Wisdom points out clearly that those who heed her words and follow her advice will benefit and those who ignore her are headed for disaster. She makes it abundantly clear that if disaster befalls them that they alone will be culpable for they have been amply warned. It is important to note that the word “simple” which is used by Wisdom to refer to those who do not heed her advice is translated from a Hebrew word that more accurately means “one without moral direction” rather than someone with limited intelligence.

Wisdom’s laughter at the misfortune of those who suffer because they fail to heed her warning appears cruel and unforgiving. One scholar suggests it could be understood that she is merely mocking the absurdity of those who flaunt reality; much like we might laugh at someone who is foolish enough to spit into the wind and then is puzzled when they get wet.

This is an apt message for us today as we consider the ramifications of humanity’s use and abuse of Creation. Ecological prophets have been warning us for decades of the degradation of our world and the urgency of changes in behaviour in order to “choose life” and preserve the integrity of God’s Creation for future generations. We have been warned. The time to heed these warnings and respond proactively is now.

The good news is that we are beginning to make a difference. Each one of us that reduces our waste by recycling, repairing and reusing, is helping to care for God’s Creation. The level of awareness and environmental consciousness is higher now than it was when I was a child. This is not just an environmental issue. It is a faith issue. We respond with the actions of our lives based on the teachings of our faith tradition and our experience of God’s presence and guidance in our lives.

We are not alone. We are surrounded by the wisdom of the witnesses in our generation who, inspired by their Christian faith, have dedicated their lives to improving the quality of life for human beings and other creatures in our world.

Tonight, some of us will be attending a presentation at the Key City Theatre in Cranbrook by eminent scientist, Jane Goodall. A few years ago I read Goodall’s book, Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey, in which she reveals the depth of her Christian faith and how it has been a source of strength and grounding for her in the demanding work of advocacy and action that she has participated in throughout her life. In her book she says,

“Each one of us matters, has a role to play, and makes a difference. Each one of us must take responsibility for our own lives, and above all, show respect and love for living things around us, especially each other. Together we must reestablish our connections with the natural world and with the Spiritual Power that is around us.” (Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey by Jane Goodall, pgs. 266-267, Warner Books, 1999)

One program that Jane Goodall has implemented has become a passion for her. I’ll share, in her own words, a bit about this program:

Because I believe that nothing is more important, I am devoting much of my time to developing a program for youth – Roots & Shoots. This is a symbolic name: roots creep underground everywhere and make a firm foundation; shoots seem new and small, but to reach the light can break apart brick walls. …The message of Roots & Shoots is one of hope…We cannot live through a day without impacting the world around us – and we have a choice: What sort of impact do we want to make?…The Roots & Shoots groups, from Kindergarten to university, are involved in three kinds of hands-on projects: demonstrating care and concern for 1) the environment, 2) animals, and 3) the local community. Their tools are knowledge and understanding, persistence and hard work, love and compassion. What they actually do depends on where they are and on the nature of local problems, since the goal is to improve the world around them.” (Ibid. pgs. 242-243)

There are countless other eminent scholars, scientists, religious leaders and environmental activists that I could talk about whose faith has compelled them to address, through their words and actions, the challenges of living and making a difference in the twenty-first century. Instead, I’ll use the time I have left today to tell you about a very ordinary young man who is very much like you and me. Andrew is a person of great integrity who strives to model his beliefs in his words and actions. He lives in Victoria where the climate is temperate and he is able to choose not to own a car but instead to walk or use public transportation. Every day when he is walking to and from work he carries a bag and picks up litter that he finds on the way. One time when I was visiting, in a quiet moment, Andrew said to me that he was worried that he wasn’t living up to his responsibilities as a person of faith. He’d never had any religious education as a child but as an adult he’d attended a couple of churches over the course of a few years. Although he doesn’t currently attend a church he told me that he reads the Bible every day and tries to live his faith in the actions of his life. One thing was particularly bothering him and that was that he’d read in the Bible that as Christians we should “proclaim the Gospel” (eg. Mark 13:10). Andrew was concerned that he wasn’t being faithful because he doesn’t talk about his beliefs to his friends or co-workers. I told him that by reflecting his beliefs in his everyday choices and actions that he was indeed proclaiming his faith. I also mentioned to him that a wise person had once clarified the biblical mandate by saying, “Preach constantly. And, if necessary, use words.”

I’ll finish this Reflection today with some words of gentle wisdom and blessing from a favourite author of mine, Keri Wehlander:

O God,
Keeper of stories and Weaver of dreams:
set our voices free.
Grant us the courage we need to be tellers of the truth
and speakers of the sacred.
Unstop our ears, that we might recognize
the wisdom of the witnesses in our midst.
Empower us with your presence,
that we may seek your wisdom
and strive to live our lives with
confidence and compassion.

Thanks be, for words and actions that reflect God’s wisdom and blessing in our world. Amen

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