St. Paul’s Episcopal – Brookings
Fr. Larry Ort
Acts 5.27-32; Psalm 118.14-29; Revelation 1.4-8; John 20.19-31
Earth Day, first observed in 1970, is celebrated on April 22; churches are encouraged to promote creation care on the Sunday closest to April 22. As that was Easter Sunday, we are celebrating Earth Day today. The past 49 years has seen many accomplishments, but the situation is dire. I hate to think what we might have been experienced aside from our past commitment.
Let’s begin by noting a few things from the reading. In today’s gospel reading, the resurrected Jesus appeared to the disciples, said “Peace be with you,” then showed them his hands and side. The disciples rejoiced. Again, Jesus said, “Peace be with you,” but added, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” He then breathed upon them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20.19-23; NRSV). As we read, Thomas, who was not present, would not take their word.
A week later, Jesus once again appeared to his disciples; this time Thomas was present. Again, Jesus said, “Peace be with you.” He then offered Thomas the opportunity to place his fingers in the scars on his hands and his hand in his side. Thomas then proclaimed, “My Lord and my God” (John 20.26-28; NRSV). This was a stark profession of faith.
So how does Jesus’ resurrection, our belief, and fellowship in Christ’s Body relate to Earth Day?
A few weeks ago, when reading Richard Rohr’s daily meditation, I was impressed with an entry entitled “The Christ Project.” I sent a copy to Chuck Berry who also found it to be a profound statement related to creation care. Rohr cites the work of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit priest and paleontologist in helping him “grasp, the universal, evolutionary nature of Christianity.” Rohr further draws three points from theologian Louis Savary, a student of Chardin, as expressed in Savary’s book New Spiritual Exercises:
First, for Teilhard, because the creation of the universe is a primary act of God’s self-expression and an important part of God’s self-revelation to us, creation’s evolving story must be integrated into any contemporary spirituality. Even the ancient psalmist was aware that all of nature was trying to tell us about God and God’s love for us (see Psalm 19:1-4). In our day, science is increasing our ability to “read” creation’s story.
Second, for Teilhard, to love God requires loving the world as well, since what God brought forth in the evolving cosmos is precisely God’s loving self-expression. For Teilhard, because God loves the totality of creation unconditionally and wants it to evolve to its destined completion, we too should learn to love the cosmos with a passion. Our challenge in spirituality is to realize how totally integrated we humans are with all creation and how best to work toward creation’s divinely desired evolutionary fulfillment.
Third, for Teilhard, this new evolutionary scientific information (less than a century old) allows us to look at all of creation in its multi-billion-year history and give a richer and more concrete meaning to what God is trying to do in the world. Saint Paul described God’s “hidden purpose” (Ephesians 3:9-10) as “building the Body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:1-6, 13). Jesus expressed it in his prayer “That all may be one as you, Father, are in me and I am in you” (John 17:21). The church’s tradition tries to express this oneness that God is trying to accomplish as “building the Mystical Body of Christ.” Teilhard’s vision of what God is trying to do is what I like to call the “Christ Project.”
God’s Christ Project encompasses the entire evolving universe, and its aim is to bring creation (along with all of us) back to God, fully conscious of our divine origin and divine destiny. . . . For Teilhard, although each individual soul is intimately known and unconditionally loved by God, in the end the one Person that God wants to “save” and bring to perfection is the cosmic-sized Christ, in whom lives the entire universe that God lovingly created and set into an evolutionary process almost fourteen billion years ago (Ephesians 1:9-10). (https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#label/Spiritual+Direction/WhctKJVJjtxjwBCslZSMHqJGCHKlgjDpNrlSbqBwKFvxQVnnsbphhwTXtCGLQdRpSCsnwtq)
And what do we find in Ephesians 1.9-10? “With all wisdom and insight, he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (NRSV).
When we look at the advent of humankind in the grand scheme of time, the billions of years since the big bang, compressed into a twenty-four-hour period, we have been on the scene only during the last two minutes. When viewed from this perspective, we appear to be rather insignificant. Yet the gospels tell a story wherein God became human to live and dwell among us. It truly is a remarkable story in which God sets before us the ways of life and death. In the way of life, we believe in the salvific work of Jesus Christ, we participate in the creation process as we move into the new life Christ offers us and as we care for all of God’s creation. In the way of death, we choose to live for ourselves only and we sow the seeds of destruction in our own lives, in other’s lives, and in creation.
The way of life and death was originally set forth in the wisdom of the Torah, in the closing paragraph of Moses’ final farewell speech to the Israelites. Although these words are ancient, they remain timely:
See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob (Deuteronomy 30.15-20; NRSV).
Will we choose life or death?
In today’s collect, we prayed: “Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ's Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith.”
As Teilhard reminds us, “to love God requires loving the world as well” and God’s hidden purpose is seen as building the body of Christ. There is no conflict between these ideas; they are complementary. When we care for creation, we are also building the body of Christ. I invite you to ponder what more St. Paul’s might do to show that we choose life, and that we choose to live life abundantly, not in term of material abundance, but in terms of spiritual abundance.
We are confronted with the way of life and the way of death. If we act now, we might avert tomorrow’s disaster. The choice is ours, and it appears that time is running out.