10 September 2013

Longing for Redemption

Preached at Knox Presbyterian Church in Falls Church, VA on Sunday, September 8, 2013:

Have you ever gotten up just before sunrise, and stood out on the porch with a steaming cup of coffee and watched the sun rise over the horizon?  The quiet of the morning, as well as the promise of a new day.  It’s an amazing experience to see the world this way.  I have to admit, I’m not much of a morning person, but when I can experience these moments of the day, it makes up for being up entirely too early. 

In our Old Testament reading this morning, we hear of the psalmist’s praise for God’s universal glory, from every living creature, every living thing, for all the wonders of God’s majesty.  Psalm 24 reminds us that “the earth is the LORD’S and everything in it.”  This morning’s psalm is almost a continuation of that thought, giving praise for creation.  As people of faith, we need to reconnect with this idea of constant praise of God for God’s amazing gifts. 

The world is an amazing place.  I have always been a lover of the beauty and majesty of the outdoors – the opportunity to be outside and reconnect with the God of the Universe is a spiritual moment for me.  One of my favorite places on the planet is Montreat, a very popular Presbyterian conference center in western North Carolina.  I feel like I’m experiencing heaven every time I’m there, either in the valley or up on the mountaintop.  But there are other places in the world where I have to ask, “what are we doing to the glory of God’s creation?”  So many people are able to find beauty and wonder in nature, but then go back to their homes and forget that the actions they take – simply flipping light switches, or running the water while brushing their teeth – are impacting nature.  We take for granted how we get energy in our homes, or how many miles our food travels to get to our plates, and how those choices despoil the natural temple we connect with God in. 

The biblical concept of redemption is the idea that Christ paid the price for our sinful nature in his death and resurrection.  In our New Testament reading for this morning, we read that the redemption bought through the death of Christ is not only for humanity, but for all of creation.  This redemption, this return to the full glory that God intended from the beginning, is coming – and is partially up to us realizing our role as the children of God.  In the beginning we were called to be stewards of the garden, keepers of the kingdom, to care and cherish the creation the same way the Creator does.  But we have strayed from this vision, we have regarded the creation as something to be dominated, something to be used for our purposes, instead of the purpose we read about in psalms – as a way to give praise and glory to the Creator.  Our call is to work in communion with one another and with the natural world to achieve harmony in praise and worship to the King. 

But what does it mean to be part of the redemption bought for us in the death and resurrection of Christ?  How can we be agents of change – the hands and feet of God in the world?  We have a role to play in helping to bring about the redemption bought for us in Christ’s death and resurrection – for the whole world.  We can work towards this redemption in three areas: our church, our homes, and our community. 

My favorite fact about the church I grew up in, outside of Atlanta, is that the city limits of Roswell were drawn at a one-mile radius from the church when the city was incorporated back in the 1800s.  The church was literally the center of the city.  Roswell has since grown and I doubt Roswell Presbyterian is still at the dead center of the city, but the idea of a church as a central hub of a community can still exist.  Sadly, this isn’t the case in many places.  But we can redeem the church – or any faith community – as a central place for important work in the community on all types of social justice issues.  Back in the 1960s, the church, people of faith, were the leaders of the civil rights movement.  People of faith like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., utilized scripture to preach a message of equality for everyone.  Dr. King’s most remembered speech talks about the promised land – and working together to get there.  Many prominent faith leaders today say that the environmental movement is our generation’s civil rights movement – that just like in the 60s must come from the faith community.

We can do this in our congregations by thinking critically about what it means to be stewards of creation and faithful disciples of the Creator.  We can preach and teach about the message of scripture that calls us to praise the creation and the Creator, and to work to relieve the groaning of creation.  We can consider the decisions we make in our congregations about how we use our energy, where our energy comes from; do we source local food and farmers for our congregational meals and gatherings; when we build or renovate our buildings, do we consider ways to do so more sustainably?  There’s a great new term of “green evangelism” for communities of faith that use green activities – placing solar panels on the roof or even installing waterless urinals – to bring more people into the congregation.  Whether your initial decision about doing these things is based on ways to bring in more members, or a genuine concern in the congregation about being better stewards, we are making a difference – based in our faith – to care for creation. 

But it can’t just stop at the congregation.  After church, we head home.  I’ve heard so many preachers talk about our Sunday lives versus our lives the rest of the week.  Preachers work really hard to preach a good word on Sunday morning, but it only means something if our parishioners take it home with them and live out that message throughout the week.  Similarly, if we take measures in our church to reduce our energy consumption, reuse the glasses for communion, and recycle our bulletins, we need to take those actions home.  Sometimes it works the other way – we do these things at home, grew up living this way – and we are the driving force behind getting the people in our congregations to do similar things both at church and in their homes.  We can think about how we get to church on Sunday morning – or to work or running errands – and consider ways to embrace commute alternatives, either walking, biking or taking transit.  Are there things we can borrow from neighbors instead of buying new just to use for one project? 

We hear stories about how crazy environmentalists are for wanting to “live by candlelight” or eat vegetarian.  But we forget how recently our ancestors lived like this.  The convenience of “modern convenience” turns out to not be so convenient.    We’ve tricked ourselves into thinking disposal is a good thing, and single-use products make our lives easier.  But what we’ve done in the last 60 years is created a completely different world for our children than the one we grew up in.  We are now covering over landfills and putting playgrounds and Walmarts on top of them, neglecting the dangerous toxins that come from decomposing trash.  We’ve blown the tops off mountains to get to small seams of coal, so we can power our two refrigerators and five televisions, as well as all our “vampire” devices that aren’t really powering anything, but are drawing energy nonetheless.   If our grandparents were here, they would tell us we’re being wasteful and would encourage us to live like they did, growing our own healthy food in the backyard, interacting with our neighbors while we walked together to church, and enjoying the breeze through a house full of open doors and windows.  We can continue to live a comfortable life, but we need to consider, explore, and invest in new and sustainable ways to do so.  We must remember that we do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.  And as we consider choices we make in our homes, we have to consider how they impact the children we are raising in our homes. 

Finally, we have to take this understanding of caring for creation – of working to bring about the redemption bought for us in Christ – out into the community.  Of all the people that show up here on a Sunday morning, a very small percentage actually work here.  Most of us go to jobs in the community on Monday morning – in schools, companies, local government, corporations, non-profits, even stay-at-home parents!  Evangelism is an important part of the Presbyterian church, and the growth of the church universal.  Evangelism is sharing the story of the good news of the gospel – of Christ’s saving death and resurrection – and in my mind it’s also about sharing our work as stewards of creation, working towards redemption.  The world is longing for redemption – for relationships restored between brothers and sisters, as well as for a renewed creation.  The best place for this to happen is within our communities.  Once we’ve preached the message in church, and embraced it in our homes, we can take it into the other areas of the community where we interact.  As young people, we can go to school and encourage recycling of paper, using digital books and more natural lighting (which, by the way has been shown to increase productivity in students).  As adults, we can ask our boss about opportunities for tele-working or purchasing decisions that reduce our carbon footprint.  If we happen to have jobs where we can make decisions for our community – maybe we can support a decision to change all traffic lights in our town to LEDs so they use less energy considering they are on all the time. 

We can also remember our role in the community when it comes to being part of a democracy.  We’re not all cut out for public service, but that doesn’t mean that we can disengage from what’s going on in politics.  If we are passionate about an issue – whether it’s putting a tax on plastic bags or encouraging our local utility to invest in renewable energy – we should be meeting with our elected officials and letting them know about these issues and asking them to support them.  We should find ways to keep informed about what’s going on at the General Assembly in Richmond or even on Capitol Hill in DC, so when our critical voice needs to be heard, we can make a call, send an email, or sign a petition.  Or hey – maybe it’s even considering an opportunity to run for office!  In VA we are fortunate – or maybe unfortunate – enough to have an election every year for a few years.  The most important thing about this is to make sure you are registered to vote and to get out there and do it.  Decide for yourself what issues are a priority for you – and then do your homework.  Figure out which candidate best aligns with your priorities – and if you don’t know their stand on an issue, ask them.  Go to candidate forums, or email the candidates, and ask those questions.  You know what matters to you – and you need to know the answers to those questions so you can make the most informed decision.

The good news of the gospel is that Christ has already redeemed all of creation.  But we live in the in-between times of the “already-not-yet”.  We know the end of the story, but we don’t necessarily know how we get there.  We each have a role to play to bring about the fullness of the redemption already won in Christ’s death and resurrection.  Caring for creation is a part of our work to bring about redemption.  It is a faithful response to our call to be disciples and stewards of God’s gifts. 

Dr. King shared a dream of equality for all.  I have a dream of an environmental revolution – a redemption of all of creation.  This dream starts in our faith communities – in the church.  And like a rock hitting the flat surface of a pond, the dream ripples across the waters, across creation – into our homes, into our communities, into the whole world – bring about the redemption we’ve all been longing for since Christ appeared to the twelve after his resurrection.  All the world is longing for redemption – are we ready to play our part to bring it about?

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