September 11, 2016 Sermon
Jeremiah 4:1-2, 22-28/ Luke 15:1-10
God, God’s Creation, and Us
While reading today’s Jeremiah text and pondering the destruction of God’s creation, there was a movie that popped into my head. It was called I Am Legend, which is a post-apocalyptic horror movie. The virus created as a cure for cancer mutated, wiping out most of humankind and turning some into mutants who can only come out at night. Naturally, streets are deserted and destroyed, wild animals roam through the city, and the hero of the movie, the sole survivor in New York City, broadcasts every day to find fellow survivors who might be out there somewhere. It is a horror film, but you don’t have to wait for the mutants to show up to be scared; just seeing the deserted city streets, our hero’s despaired face, and his struggle to survive is enough to fill you with chills and fear. Humans played God by creating a virus to cure cancer, and it led to a devastating future.
Have you ever read the Old Testament prophets, such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, and so on? Have you noticed that these books are full of “This-bad-thing-will-happen-to-you” speeches? A little spoiler for the upcoming study group on the Bible; Biblical prophecy is not “fore-telling” as in telling the future events in advance; it is “forth-telling” as in speaking and declaring in front of the people, the words that God put into the prophets’ mouths. The prophecies of future destruction in the Bible are not prediction of what is to come per se; it is rather a warning to the people of God who are not living by God’s commandments. “Bad things will happen IF you keep straying from God and do evil”; this is a warning rather than a prediction. The prophecy about destruction and desolation that we read today is a theological commentary for the ancient people of Israel. The verses we read today remind us of the creation story in Genesis chapter 1; everything that God created and called “good” are now destroyed as a result of the wrongdoing of God’s people. The biblical prophets lived in times when Israel and Judah kept being invaded by foreign nations. They couldn’t understand why God would make them suffer, if they are the chosen people. They needed a theological explanation; the conclusion was that it was because God’s chosen people didn’t abide by God’s commandments. They are being punished. The only way to recover and heal from this national trauma is to repent and go back to God’s ways. This was a theological reflection on what was happening to the people of Israel.
Last Sunday, we started talking about human greed damaging God’s Creation. The situation in the movie I Am Legend, although clearly fictional and imagined, feels real to a certain degree. Humans played God and they ended up creating a virus that wiped out most, and turning some into mutants. We know by now that what we do in the name of development and progress can come back as a karma and harm us. Old days hairspray caused damage to the ozone layer exposing us to harmful sun rays, cutting down too many trees in the forests in Kenya caused a water shortage at a major lake and the reduction of its flamingo population. Also global warming is causing icebergs to melt, which may drown some parts of the world in the future. I’m sure the examples are plenty; I’m not a scientist and these are just a few things that I have heard.
The disaster we read in Jeremiah is not directly related to humans destroying God’s creation; it is the destruction caused by foreign invaders, and was understood as the punishment from God because God’s people failed to live by God’s commandments. But both our situation and that of the ancient Israelites have to do with our relationship with God. It’s all about relationship. First, let’s take a look at today’s gospel text.
Today, we read two famous parables. Both the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin teach us that God cares about God’s lost children. Traditionally we understood the lost sheep story as the epitome of God’s grace and love for us, sinners. But if you look closely, these two parables take different angles. According to verse 3, these parables are not addressed to the “lost sheep”, sinners and the marginalized; it is rather addressed to the Pharisees and the scribes, those who have never been lost to God. The parable of the lost sheep is about the 99 sheep that the shepherd leaves in the wilderness, not the one lost sheep he goes to look for. The parable of the lost coin, however, focuses on the woman who looks for the lost coin; there is no mention of the other coins that are not lost. The focus in this parable is the woman’s search and the joy at finding her coin.
Remember when we read the parable of the prodigal son in the perspective of the older son and not the prodigal son? That story and the stories we read today are connected; I mean they are literally connected in the same chapter and form one story cycle, teaching the same lesson; about God’s unconditional love and forgiveness. As we sing in Amazing Grace, we were all once lost but now are found. We were the lost coin that the woman in the story came to find. But now that we are all living as God’s children, we are like the sheep or coins that are not lost. As we give thanks that God found us and brought us into God’s loving arms when we were lost, we should now read these stories as the sheep that are not lost. The religious leaders grumbled that Jesus was spending time with sinners. The prodigal son’s older brother complained that his father was treating his delinquent brother better by preparing a banquet for him. We are the 99 sheep left in the wilderness; shall we complain that we are being neglected or shall we be mature and help our shepherd? If the shepherd left us alone in the wilderness, that means we can be trusted to take care of ourselves, and more than that, we could help find the lost one. We as the Church are the 99 sheep that are not lost.
As the 99 sheep that are not lost, what should our response be to God our Creator, and to our fellow creations? If we have been found and created a bond, a relationship with our Creator, what should our relationship be with the other creatures, the other part of God’s Creation? It’s all about relationship. When we are chosen as our parents’ children, we create a bond with both our parents and their other children (our siblings). We have to love both our parents and siblings. Families should love and take care of each other, shouldn’t they? It’s all about relationship. When we become God’s children and recognize God as our Creator, we create a bond not only with our Creator but also with our siblings; human, animal, plant, and mineral members of God’s family. As families should love and take care of each other, we as a part of God’s Creation should take care of each other. This is why we have to care that our greed is destroying God’s Creation, our home the planet Earth; because all members of God’s Creation are siblings, and we are all connected to our Creator God. It’s all about relationship; God, God’s Creation, and us humans. We all contributed in damaging this relationship, so let’s start mending it together. This week, let’s enjoy our mountains, forests, and other beautiful things among which we live, and make a resolution that we will start protecting them and mending our broken relationships with them.
Rev. Sunny Kim