Sermon preached at FBC Worcester
3rd Sunday of Celebrationtide
Acts 17:22-30; Col 1:15-20
For the past ten years or so, every time the Powerball gets up into the hundreds of millions of dollars, I start imagining what I could do with that much money. I can usually come up with some good humanitarian projects, and quite a good number of new toys, but I always come back to one idea specifically.
I’d want to create a new fruit that combines one of my favorite berries: raspberries, with one of my favorite exotic fruits: pineapples. For ease of eating, it’d be more like a raspberry shape and size and texture, no pointy husks, or are they really tusks? Over the years I’ve toyed with this, after all two tangy fruits need a little sweetening. So I’ve decided on adding another favorite berry to the mix—a blueberry. So that now I’d be creating a berry-fruit that is a raspberry, pineapple, blueberry concoction, almost like a smoothie in your mouth. Now how do you come to name this new blue-rasp-pineapple-berry?
Well, in all my Powerball dreaming over the last several years, I decided on an appropriate name.
I’d call them Newberries.
As I was thinking and reading and studying, and reflecting and eating berries this week, I recalled this dream of mine. And as fun as it would be, it’s exactly what I’ve come to see is wrong with our relationship to nature. As if I don’t have it nice enough, as if the ground and the earth and this creation hasn’t given me enough, I want to find a way to extract more from it, to take more from it. I’m no longer content to receive what is offered, I want more.
I’m sure that’s always been the case for human beings, after all, it’s why we ever developed tools in the first place. But it seems like the more we’ve advanced in our knowledge, intelligence, reasoning, the less we consider the important difference between needing and wanting, between giving and taking, between receiving and ingratitude, or maybe most significantly, between receiving and taking.
Because we have the ability, we think that endows us with the right to take what we want, as much as we want, mountains and oceans and animals be damned to our permanent alterations.
In our Acts reading today, Paul is up against a group of Greek philosophers, mainly the Stoics. As we listened, there were all sorts of statues and temples to various gods, but Paul makes note of one that was simply labeled “to an unknown God.” A God they recognized could exist, Paul uses as an opening to introduce them to that God, the God of Jesus. He does so by quoting what many scholars believe to be a hymn or poem of the day, reciting that it is in this God that they “live and move and have their being.”
It’s a clever debate tool, and one that convinces some and enrages others. But by this, Paul seems to suggest that the truth isn’t partial only to Christians, but that truth exists on its own, and in this case, the truth is that we breathe and move and have our being in God.
The same God by which, as Paul later explains in our Colossians reading, everything is held together.
All things. Not just human beings, but all living things, those trillions and quadrillions of other living beings that don’t get a vote in how we treat our one earth. They, too, are held together in Christ.
Perhaps if I had a PhD in quantum physics, and understood quarks and string theory, maybe I could lend some scientific case for this held-togetherness of everything, in Christ.
Eastern Orthodox theologian, David Bentley Hart explains it like this:
“All things that exist receive their being continuously from him, who is the infinite wellspring of all that is, in whom all things live and move and have their being. In one sense he is ‘beyond being,’ if by ‘being’ one means the totality of discrete, finite things. In another sense, he is ‘being itself,’ in that he is the inexhaustible source of all reality, the absolute upon which the contingent is always utterly dependent, the unity and simplicity that underlies and sustains the diversity of finite and composite things. Infinite being, infinite consciousness, infinite bliss, from whom we are, by whom we know and are known, and in whom we find our only true consummation.”
I think that fits with the wondrous nature of a God who breathed life at Creation with spoken words, riding on the wind of God’s own breath. The breath of life in the first human being.
However, it actually came to be, the symbolism of such a story, passed on for generations in the Hebrew faith, is that God is intimately and lovingly involved within creation, and not just over and above and without it. The logos at creation is a powerful antonym to the words of division and chaos and pain in our world.
And just to remind each of us, the word for breath in Hebrew, ruah, is the same word for wind. The wind you feel today on your skin. The same wind you breathe in, the breath of God. But as if that metaphor wasn’t enough, this word is also the Hebrew word for spirit. So that you aren’t breathing in just wind, or just one breath of God’s, but the very Spirit of God.
The idea being that the Spirit of God lives continuously within you, and not just once at the story of Creation. Which means that when the literal winds of destruction replace the metaphorical breath of life, we can trust in the faithfulness of God to hold all of our loved ones together in the nearness of Christ.
In Christ, all things are held together.
In Christ, all things have their being.
Indeed, not just human beings, but all things have their being.
Many of you know the poet, author, and agrarian theologian, Wendell Berry. I think he’s even spoken here before, is that right? In one of his essays, he writes this:
“We will discover the Creation is not in any sense independent of the Creator, the result of a primal creative act long over and done with, but is the continuous, constant participation of all creatures in the being of God…Creation is thus God’s presence in creatures. The Greek Orthodox theologian Phillip Sherrard has written that ‘Creation is nothing less than the manifestation of God’s hidden Being.’
“This means that we and all other creatures live by a sanctity that is inexpressibly intimate, for to every creature, the gift of life is a portion of the breath and spirit of God…”
Creation is the continuous, constant participation of all creatures in the being of God.
Not just us.
Creation is thus God’s presence in creatures. This—creation—is God’s presence among us. In God, we breathe and move and have our being. All of us here, and here, and out there. The creation across the world, rainforests and mountains and oceans are teeming with God’s presence among us, the very breath and spirit of God. All things have their being. In Christ.
And that means that creation care, stewardship of our one earth, suddenly becomes a theological issue, and not a partisan issue. How we care for the environment, for the present and for future generations, of human beings and all living things, is suddenly an act of faithfulness to the Christ in whom all things have their being and in whom all things are held together.
“We will discover that for these reasons our destruction of nature is not just bad stewardship, or stupid economics, or a betrayal of family responsibility; it is the most horrid blasphemy. It is flinging God’s gifts into His face, as if they were of no worth beyond that assigned to them by our destruction of them.”
It’s not about economics any longer, or partisan political affiliation, or anything else. It’s about following the Way of Christ in such a way as to recognize that all things have their being.
Put more practically, can we learn to accept what the earth already provides? Instead of trying to take more from this one earth, how can we more responsibly receive what this one earth is capable of providing?
Today, we are celebrating communion. Because we’re Baptists and we can celebrate whenever we want to. It’s fitting for a Season of Celebrationtide, that we would discover glimpses of the divine by worshipping together in nature. But we also believe that in Jesus, the divine was revealed. The sacred breath at creation lived within him.
But beyond that, it seems that how we celebrate communion is itself theological and instructive for us when we think about the earth, and the abundance of God through it. For when we pass the plate each month, we are serving one another. We are giving to one another.
When we come up in a few moments, we will celebrate communion by intinction, where I will give you a piece of bread—the bread of life, and you will receive the bread; you won’t take it. You’ll dip it into the cup, this water of life, this blood of Christ’s, as a participant in Christ’s life, in whom you and all things are held together, in whom you and all things have their being.
It’s a way of remembering.
Remembering that we are a part of the body of Christ,
and the broader body of this creation.
 David Bentley Hart, The Experience of God, 30.
 Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace, 307-308.