April 25, 2021
1 John 3:16-24
Our second reading today comes from 1 John. Continue to listen for the Word of God as it speaks to you again today.
READ 1 John 3:16-24
I have to say at the outset of this sermon how inadequate I feel in talking about the environment and these many, many issues that we are facing because we live in such disharmony with the world around us. And in a way, that disharmony is part of our modern philosophical approach to the world. During the late 1800’s and into the early 1900’s we were rapidly moving away from the natural world and being a culture centered around agrarianism and a more Jeffersonian democracy. We turned away from that and became industrialists and sought ways to increase our control over the world we lived in. We invented and created and developed in ways that benefitted so many… that cannot be denied… and the costs seemed small for so long… but as this modernist movement kept moving down the track and new innovations continued to wow and become the norm… the costs have kept ticking up and up… acting almost like compound interest until those costs could no longer be ignored or cast aside because they did not land on our doorstep.
Like so many… I always feel overwhelmed by the immensity of the changes happening in the world today and the attached challenges we are facing because of those big changes. It’s become so common to be shown large sections of ice falling into the oceans or the retreat of glaciers… as visual cues for the changes happening… and whenever I see these pictures or others like them that really make real what ecological devastation looks like… it just makes me feel that much smaller. I can easily imagine an editorial cartoon of a smiling me on the beach putting a piece of trash in a trashcan while behind me a giant tsunami like wave of trash is about to crash down upon my head. That’s what it feels like. It’s like we’re caught in a trap where we don’t want to let go of anything we feel is beneficial… and we definitely don’t want to pay the cost… we know the trap is closing but we feel paralyzed and hopeless… watching the trap close around us. I know I spoke once to you about plastics and Earth Care… how we live in a world of an overwhelming amount of plastics and reducing plastics goes so far beyond just making some minor consumer choices here and there. The reality of family budgets means I can’t always buy the usually more expensive but deemed better for the environment product… if there’s more to that than just some advertising ploy trying me to choose this product over their competitor. You know what I’m talking about… the benefits overhyped and not really significant in any way. Let down by advertising once again. In many ways, I’ve become so skeptical caught here in the trap. Who has time to research every product that ends up in the cart? Most of the time, I have to make the less expensive… probably more environmentally damaging choice. Who would have ever thought that packaging could be such an existential landmine? All day every day there’s packaging. It’s easy to ridicule well-meaning social campaigns… but there’s got to be something more than the attitude of “well, what are you going to do? It’s out of my hands. I can’t make enough of a personal individual impact to make any real difference.” The momentum is so great that it seems as though we are fated to go over the cliff. Maybe somewhere those who make decisions that have a larger impact will make a difference. But that thought again makes me feel just that much smaller. Waiting and hoping that someone somewhere will do the right thing for the rest of us when it comes to benefits and costs. Maybe the billionaires will actually do something good for the rest of us and not invest in their own protective bunker bubble that will keep them safe while the rest of us are left to fend for ourselves. I’m not holding out too much hope there.
Since we are still in the Easter season … I’ve been thinking a lot lately how the natural rebirth of Spring and those celebrations of nature that got wrapped up into our theology of Easter. Theologically… it’s a terrible analogy because resurrection isn’t about expected renewal. Spring reveals the life hidden from our eyes by winter. Grays and browns are replaced by lush greens and other vibrant colors. The world seems to come back to life… but the life was always there. As we approach Earth Care and imagining what a world would be like again where this set of costs we’ve created have decreased… because of new innovations and the changing of certain industrial practices… and maybe some revolution in packaging… it’s a lot like the expectations of Spring and the world coming back to life again. There is still the assumption that life is there just waiting for the opportunity… the right conditions… to reappear. We knock down the current costs… and create a new set of costs which one day we will have to deal with… but hopefully that day will be far off. Maybe even finding a bit more harmony with the world around us will delay that new day of reckoning even further. It’s Spring thinking. Life may look down and beaten. The days of winter may be cold and bleak… but life will reemerge. Flowers will shoot up again from the ground. Animals that have lain dormant will start their beneficial work all over again. The planet will survive and hopefully we’ll still be here. The cycle will continue.
But resurrection is different than Spring. Resurrection is about breaking the cycle. Resurrection is about completely shifting the norms of costs and benefits. To believe that Jesus came out of the tomb is not about life returning to something that was dead. Lazarus coming out of the tomb is life returning to something that was dead. That is Spring. The other people in scripture that Jesus and others bring back to life from death is Spring. They are the same in life as they were before death. Resurrection is something else. And just to say that phrase… something else… it sounds so inadequate… it’s so vague. But just believing there is something else sets us looking to discover that something else. There’s life. There’s death. It cycles round and round. There’s something else. God is leading us to the something else. It’s like that’s all we need to hear sometimes to find the drive to get out of the traps that we’ve become caught in… the traps we’ve expertly built for ourselves. God breaks into our cycles with resurrection and God’s Spirit with ours dares to take us somewhere else. That is the value of being a spiritual person… to have such hope… to have such a belief that it is able to find life through you… through your connections with others… through a vision and sometimes a stubbornness that comes into our lives… a stubbornness of the Holy Spirit that drives us to create better.
So… our reading starts with… “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us – and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.” That is more than the words of martyrdom and death… there is in that a spirit of resurrection… of that something else. Love in itself isn’t new. Love has been around for a long long time. There are so many different expressions of love. Some expressions are good. Some expressions of love get twisted and are harmful. Because of resurrection… we read… a resurrection filled love will take us somewhere else beyond the limited cycles we experience. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? That question upsets the usual patterns we might use to analyze benefits and costs. Our spiritual selves know that pitting ourselves against one another doesn’t work… or that devaluing some for the benefit of others doesn’t work. Such limited spirits always destroy us in the end. So as long as all our packaging ends up near those people we believe are of less value… then that is ok? But costs keep adding up and break through our efforts at containment. Having the resurrection fueled spirit of laying our lives down for one another… that takes us someplace different.
We know that part of the efforts to change course… much of the efforts to change course… almost all the efforts to change course… will require technical change. Practices change. Solutions change. Technologies change. But those technological changes won’t be enough without some manner of adaptive change. We have to adapt as human beings… and by that I mean we have to spiritually adapt. If we are going to regain any sense of harmony with the world, we need to regain a sense of harmony with one another… the harmony God is revealing to us. I still believe… even with my cynicism… that Christianity… the faith that is described in these verses… this is the way forward for us. There is a needed and necessary equity in God’s love… the way we are to love one another. That’s the commandment emphasized. Love one another in truth and action… not just in word and speech. Love one another and let that clean water of life flow into the world… flow downstream so that it nourishes all of God’s creation. Resurrection is the filter that takes the poison of sin out of the water… so that all who come to drink will know life abundant. That’s the vision in Revelation… not a book of death and destruction… a book of resurrection life… “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month, and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” Can’t you hear that quality of that something else in those words… don’t they inspire you to see the world through different eyes? Love one another in truth and in action as Christ loved us… willing to lay down our own lives so that others might be free. Truly there is enough there… enough spirit in those words… to move us towards the world that resurrection creates. A world not just cast in the by and by… but a world of now… a world of today… a world for all our tomorrows. Amen.