March 18, 2009 – Nutana Ecumenical Worship

The following sermon was preached by the Rev. Amanda Currie at Nutana Park Mennonite Church on the fourth Wednesday in Lent, 2009. It was part of a series of ecumenical worship services in the Nutana neighbourhood. Each service focused on a daily theme from the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, 2009. This day’s theme was from Day 4: “Christians face to face with ecological crisis”.

Genesis 1:31 – 2:3
Matthew 13:31-32

I was at an ecumenical gathering on Monday evening, and we were talking about the renewal of the churches’ liturgy over the last 50 years or so. The question was asked, “What has changed in your church’s worship over the last 50 years?” Of course, there were lots of things that had changed. For some it was Latin to English. For others it was more frequent communion. For many it was the regular use of a common lectionary.

But one person answered by saying that we don’t hear so much preaching about SIN anymore. You know, the kind of “Watch out! You’re going to hell if you don’t change your ways” kind of preaching that was heard from many Presbyterian and other pulpits not so many years ago.

More recent students of preaching have been taught to emphasize God’s grace and love for us. Even in the midst of a sermon that challenges us to repent, to turn around our hearts and our lives to God’s ways, still we musn’t forget to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Though I’m not in the habit of pronouncing warnings of hellfire and damnation, I do think that part of my job as a preacher (as an interpreter of the scriptures and an interpreter of our context) is to help us to open our eyes to the ways in which we have sinned and turned away from God’s desire for us. SIN continues to be the subject of many sermons I believe… but perhaps the focus has moved from the more personal, moral questions towards the sins of injustice, or oppression, or lack of care for creation.

This morning we were reminded of the goodness of God’s creation. “God looked at what he had done. And all of it was very good!” But we only have to look around at the world today, or to listen to what we are hearing from scientists and environmental experts to realize that it’s not quite so good anymore as God made it to be. And it doesn’t take a genius or an expert to understand that it’s what we humans are doing that is destroying God’s beautiful world.

Today the world is confronted with a serious ecological crisis. The earth is suffering from global warming as a result of our excessive consumption of energy. The extent of forested area on our planet has diminished by 50% over the last 40 years while the deserts are spreading ever faster. Three quarters of ocean life has already disappeared.

Every day more than 100 living species die out, and this loss of biodiversity is a serious menace for humanity itself. We cannot deny that human beings bear a heavy responsibility for environmental destruction. Our unbridled greed casts the shadow of death on the whole creation.

This kind of message can be disheartening and discouraging, can’t it? Maybe some of you have watched Al Gore’s documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth” and felt the grief, the regret, and the guilt for the state of our world. But this morning’s short Gospel passage points to the hope and the possibility for redemption.

Perhaps the most important theme in Jesus’ ministry was the proclamation of the coming Kingdom of God. He spoke to people who were sick or struggling. He spent time with people who were outcast by others and left alone. And he told them and showed them that the Kingdom of God is coming — in fact, it is here. And with parables and sayings, he gave them hints at what he was talking about.

“The Kingdom of heaven” he said “is like what happens when a farmer plants a mustard seed in a field. Although it is the smallest of all seeds, it grows larger than any garden plant and becomes a tree. Birds even come and nest on its branches.”

The Kingdom starts small, and grows to be big. The Kingdom starts with something of seemingly little importance or power, and becomes a refuge for many. The Kingdom appears at first to be “not much” but it grows into “something great”.

I wonder if any of you ever watch the CBC late night news show “The Hour”. Although I can’t stay up late to catch it all the time, I do enjoy the host George Strombolopoulos and his commentaries on the current events of our country and world.

Well, on Shrove Tuesday this year, George noted the fact that Lent was about to begin, and he invited viewers to write in and tell him what they were giving up for Lent… and, he asked for suggestions for what HE should give up for Lent. George grew up in a Catholic family and seemed to learn that Lent was a time for self-deprivation. And though he moved away from the church, he still seems to have a fascination with religious themes.

Of course, people emailed in to give him lots of suggestions. “Give up wearing black,” many people said. “Give up sarcasm,” someone suggested.

Now, I’ve never written in or phoned in to a TV or radio show before, but I couldn’t help but comment on his desire to give something up for Lent. I have no idea if George read my email, because I didn’t receive a response. But I suggested that adding something positive to your life could be just as good (or even better) than giving something up. I commented on the “One Million Acts of Green” campaign that his show has been promoting all year, and I said that continuing or even expanding that program would be a great way to observe Lent.

All year, “The Hour” has been encouraging people across Canada to do positive things for the environment — start recycling, drive less, use energy efficient appliances, reduce water consumption, etc., etc. And to encourage everyone, and to see the progress, they set a goal of “One Million Acts of Green.” You go online and register your environmentally friendly activities.

And you know, the “One Million Acts of Green” reminds me of the mustard seed. It starts off really small. (George was really worried at the beginning of the whole thing… wondering if they could possibly make it to a million!) It starts off really small… just a few small changes in a few individuals’ lives… not the kind of stuff that could possibly change the world. But then it grows, and it grows, and before you know it, it’s a million acts! Yes, they made it to a million and way beyond… and they’re still going.

The “Week of Prayer” reflection for today challenges us saying, “Together, Christians must do our utmost to save creation. Before the immensity of this task, we must unite our efforts. It is only together that we can protect the work of the creator.” As I wrote to George Strombolopoulos, as a Christian, I believe that our world is God’s wonderful creation, and that humans have been given the responsibility to be good stewards of God’s world. We haven’t done a great job, and we need to start working together to do better… both to stop making it sick, and to start the healing process.

We can come together with other Christians for this common purpose, and we can even come together with people of many faiths who share our conviction that we need to look after the environment or risk losing it. May God bless our efforts to care for creation, and may small beginnings grow and grow until God’s world is once again healthy and whole. Amen.