WELCOME to this post for Digby Baptist worship on the Sunday before Earth Day, 2021. We begin with a visual prayer…
(Psalm 139:1, 7, 13-18; Luke 24:36-48) J G White ~ 11 am, Sunday, April 18, 2021, UBC Digby
It’s spring! In my distracted moments, I’ll call them, when I’m not paying attention to you and me – humans – what have I been doing?
Wandering in the local woodlands looking at the trees coming to life, with the mosses and lichens and liverworts upon them. Watching for the first signs of life from the ground – the early early flowers and leaves. Seeing and hearing a few birds that have returned: American robin, song sparrow, palm warbler.
I’ve been digging in the earth of the Parsonage, pulling out weeds, trimming bushes and taking cuttings, and even planting some tulip bulbs I never got planted back in the fall. I’ve been sharing a photo every day of something in bloom – a herb, a shrub, a tree.
Online, I’ve been watching the new volcano in Iceland. It is now one month old. Glowing orange lava continues to spew out of now about eight fissures. Scientists and hikers are hanging around, getting lots of amazing footage so the rest of the world can see.
Perhaps you also are enjoying things that delight you this season. Among the many things that mark this week, will be Earth Day (which is as old as I am). With April 22nd this year I decided to spend three Sundays on things earthly, physical, worldly. We are creatures of this creation. A lot of things can happen in our conversation with God about our life on Earth.
Today, let’s think about the human body. When have you ever heard a sermon about the human body? We are always speaking of heart and mind and soul and spirit and psyche and all that. The one way we pay concerted attention to the physical body is as we pray for healing and help in the face of sickness and injury. (And old age.)
We do know Jesus. He did not seem to suffer from any sicknesses. Did not suffer from old age either – He died by age 33, it seems. He was seriously injured: tortured and executed. Jesus – Son of God, Son of Man, was God and human, with a human body. (Jesus’ body)
So let us look once more into Luke chapter 24, the day of Jesus’ resurrection. It is up in the evening now; Cleopas and the other disciple who talked with incognito Jesus finally recognize Him when they stop to eat. Then these two disciples rush back to Jerusalem to tell the others.
And Jesus appears to them all.
They think they are having a vision of some ghostly apparition, but, “Touch me and see,” says Christ, “for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” (L 24:39) This is the real, physical, Jesus of Nazareth, alive once again.
It is a real big thing that God ‘became’ a human being. There is no story quite like this. At Christmas we celebrate this, with the big term ‘incarnation.’ God in the flesh, in the body. Now, we tell the story of God, as a person, who dies.
Sally McFague, ecological and feminist theologian, rightly declared:
Chrisitianity is the religion of the incarnation par excellence. Its earliest and most persistent doctrines focus on embodiment: from the incarnation (the Word made flesh) and christology (Christ was fully human) to the eucharist (this is my body, this is my blood), the resurrection of the body, and the church (the body of Christ who is its head). Christianity has been a religion of the body. (The Body of God: an Ecological Theology, 1993, p. 14)
With Earth Day this week, we can celebrate again. God joined the earth. God gets right into creation, in Jesus, a human being, with a real body. This morning I almost had us sing ‘Joy to the world, the Lord is come…’
Perhaps a few of you have visited the Holy Land. I have never been to Israel. Those who have relate the impact it can have. When you get past the modern day civilization there, the three world religions that vye for Jerusalem, the old church buildings that were built on top of every place something special happened in the Bible stories – one sees the landscape that has been there for two thousand years, and one remembers Jesus was alive here.
I walked today where Jesus walked,
In days of long ago.
I wandered down each path He knew,
With reverent step and slow.
Those little lanes, they have not changed,
A sweet peace fills the air.
I walked today where Jesus walked,
And felt Him close to me.
In the master plan – the Master’s plan – God gets a human body, like yours and mine. And this whole story lifts up humanity. God comes down to us, so to speak, and we are lifted up.
We also know, from the beginning, that Our bodies are good. It was good that Jesus have a physical body; it is good that we do. In the Genesis 1 story of creation, day six tells us of all the animals coming into being, and the humans. “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.” (Gen 1:31a)
As we just remembered, God’s greatest work was done in a human body, that of Christ crucified. And the good work goes on in our human bodies today.
We recited some verses of Psalm 139 today. Here is an ancient song of faith – of course, one Jesus also knew – and it declares so poignantly the marvel of each human life. It is physical, and yet it is more than just that. We are ‘knit together in our mother’s womb,’ and we are ‘made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.’ God, ‘your eyes beheld my unformed substance.’
And now, while we each live, we get to behold the unformed substance of God. God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, nor are our ways God’s ways – yet we get to look into these things. Rejoice in this: we are part of all creation that can look for the Creator, can know and love God, can grow and be healed into the image of God. We are part of the world that can enjoy the whole world. View the whole world – the whole universe, actually. We get to see some of the past, and even the future, like few if any other creatures can. Such is our life, in these bodies.
Even with our limitation, with our diseases, with the disasters of the human body and brain, we live for good reason. Things are not perfect, but they are part of the big picture of physical life, with God, here.
Let me tell you about one of my profs, years ago. Merrit Gibson. Born in 1930, he was one of three sons of a Baptist minister and a woman of the Levy family. Merritt grew up to know the Faith and to trust Jesus, and he grew up to love the outdoors and all nature. He went off to the Baptist university in Wolfville and studied biology. He played hockey there. He went on to study more. To get married and raised a family. He came back to Acadia to teach biology. He served as a very faithful layman most of his life in the Canning Baptist Church.
Dr. Gibson was an accomplished, kind man. You might not notice anything unusual about him. But if you did, you would see he just had one arm; born with one arm. No wonder he specialized in embryology. That’s the course he taught me. How an embryo grows from a fertilized egg into a fetus, into a baby, born to become an adult. Or how any animal grows from its egg.
How an embryo grows into a person with just one arm would have been of interest to him. Yet, he learned and taught so much more to so many thousands of people. He wrote books about all the natural history of Nova Scotia: the birds, the plants, the amphibians, the snails, all of it.
Dr. Gibson shall always be, in my memory, a man of Christian faith who embodied a gracious and wise understanding of human bodies and all living beings. He had a good body. He helped students like me use their brains and bodies too. (The brain is part of the body.)
Then, one evening, a decade ago, I was driving to my cottage and noticed an ambulance at the Gibson home in Canning. Dr. Gibson had a stroke and died that night. The wonderful human body and brain ‘fails us,’ we might say. Yet, for eighty years, that body had succeeded, I’d say. Praise God!
You and I are earthy people. ‘We are dust, and to dust we shall return.’ (~Gen 3:19) Men and women of dust: Earth dust and even stardust. We get to gaze upon creation and see that This earthly body, this whole planet, is good. This ‘dust’ from which we come.
So, let us be careful not to treat our physical source like a ‘dustbin,’ a garbage can! It should be no surprise to us that, in the Greek New Testament part of the Bible, the word Jesus uses often, that we call ‘Hell,’ is Gehenna. Gehenna was a small valley where garbage was dumped and burned in Jerusalem. The place of punishment is like a burning garbage dump!
We are making Earth into hell in plenty of places.
Once or twice, on past Earth Days, I’ve invited my fellow church members to join me in a little hike to do some garbage clean-up along some trail around town. If you travel the highways and byways you can find plenty of garbage, and even plenty of ‘dump sites.’ Some of them have signs that say, ‘NO DUMPING,’ and, ‘UNDER SURVEILLANCE.’
Let’s not only do this again this year, please pray about a project. A project I’ve mentioned almost every year. I would love us, Digby Baptist, to come up with a new goal, each year, to reach by April 22nd. A new way of doing things that is better for creation. We develop some way to use less furnace oil. Or use up less paper, or less electricity, or less water. This year we take one step, next year another.
I am still waiting for our first official step!
God so loved the world (the Greek word is cosmos) that God’s one Son was sent to us so that people can put their confidence in Jesus and not be destroyed. God loves the world of people, and God loves the world of everything. Didn’t Paul even write of a hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. (Rom 8:21) Whatever that means, the Creator cares for all creation.
We are slow to change, and join the caring project. Late theologian, Sally McFague (1933-2019), said:
Most of us live with the strange illusion that we are other than our bodies, that we and those we love can and will exist apart from them, that our spirits will live on, here or “in heaven,” after death. Centuries of Christian speculation about life after death have encouraged a diffidence toward the body at best, distrust and hatred of it at worst. That attitude is at the heart of one of the central cries of our time: the inability to love the “body” of the earth. The ecological crisis will not begin to turn around until we change at a very basic level how we feel about bodies and about the material creation in all its incredible variety and richness of forms. It is not enough to change our live-styles; we must change what we value. (Ibid, pp. 16-17)
Our behaviour changes as we grow in our values. We value this earth, before the new heavens and the new earth. We value all other people, who are also made from the same dust we are: and the same water, and the same atmosphere. We value the other creatures with whom we share creation. More about then next Sunday.
For now… hear Jesus say again, “Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself.” The vision of his real body may inspire so much in us.
His wounds speak of His sacrifice for us all.
His scars speak of the real pain God knows completely.
His flesh and bone speaks of the Divine value placed on the physical world.
His temporary life here – 33 years – speaks of how the Spirit values these short lifetimes: we all can matter.
Jesus’ goodness and perfection speak of the greatness possible in this life, this one rugged life on earth.
Jesus, in the flesh, is not only to be worshipped, but to be followed. Let us follow Christ.
PRAYER after the Sermon Let us pray.
Jesus, God of body, if You guide us: lead us to know and love our own bodies, to care for the bodies of others around us on earth, to be compassionate towards all creatures of our God and King, and to love the whole cosmos into which You came. Prevent us from going astray in our thinking and our actions, and unite us for your glorious purpose and Your plans among us, Lord. AMEN.