Benediction Online

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Ash Wednesday, 2007

Most of the time when we remember who we are, we are reminding ourselves that in our baptism we are resurrected with Christ and live in a new creation. Today is different. Today, the first day of the Lenten fast, we remind ourselves of the opposite. We remember that we are mortal and will die. We remember that we are made of dust, of the same kind of atoms and molecules that make up the rest of creation.

In the time of the early Church there was a philosophy known as Gnosticism which came to be understood as heresy. One of its key ideas was that humans were divine sparks trapped in matter. Matter, that is all creation, was negatively contrasted with spirit. In fact some Gnostics went as far as to imagine that the world was created in error by a lesser god. Their elevation of spirit resulted in a denigration of matter.

Gnosticism was a powerful influence in Hellenistic thought and has continued its influence in Christian theology through the generations. The duality, or the extreme contrast of pairs such as spirit and matter, light and dark, male and female, good and evil, which is especially evident in John’s Gospel comes from this line of thought. Its influence in Christian theology and popular philosophy has helped us to feel separate from the planet on which we live.

But tonight we remind ourselves that we are one. We are part of creation. We are made up of the same dust, the same carbon, as the rest of the created world. Our fate is tied up with the planet. Global warming threatens all of us, human, animal, plant and mineral.

As we consider the spiritual discipline of fasting, I would like to suggest that we consider a fast in relationship to the planet. A fast that will benefit the environment, a ‘green fast’ if you like – one that acknowledges that we too are dust and that we’re interdependent with creation.

This might take the form of fasting from using plastic carrier bags – as you know, they don’t break down, they can get into the ocean where sea mammals eat them and suffer dire consequences, they use energy to make and to recycle; or it might take the form of fasting from Styrofoam which also doesn’t break down, and cannot be recycled locally.

You might consider fasting from imported food. Transporting food significantly adds to global warming because of the gas used. Here in California we have a wonderful assortment of locally produced food. Perhaps this Lent you will buy only food produced locally.

What might it mean to fast from gas? To use your car only when really necessary – to carpool to church – get Dial-A Ride or the bus? This is not an easy community to radically cut your gas consumption, but it is possible.

You might consider a water fast. Clean water is a scarce commodity. Do you use more than you need? Might you wash the dishes by hand rather than running the dishwasher, or wait for a full load of laundry before running the clothes washer?

A green lent would mean something different for each of us. But it would mean using less, recycling more, caring for the environment a bit extra every day.

Fasting usually implies denying ourselves, having extra discipline, for a season.
But I don’t think that was what the writer Isaiah meant when on behalf of Yahweh he wrote,
Is not this the fast that I choose:to loose the bonds of injustice,to undo the thongs of the yoke,to let the oppressed go free,and to break every yoke?Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,and bring the homeless poor into your house;when you see the naked, to cover them,and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

I think he was talking about a change in lifestyle that would continue not just for a season but for a lifetime and beyond. Lent is a time for us to seriously consider how the way we live impacts our world and to repent. It is like an annual checkup.

What difference does your faith make to the way you live? Are you a little kinder, a little more aware? Do you live simply so that others may simply live, or are you taking more than your share of the world’s resources and throwing them away, just because you can? We live in a world of abundance while others live in serious need. Today about 18,000 children died from hunger and preventable disease…

As the people of God we need to find ways to live frugally, to fast, and to call our community to a fast that will improve the lives of all beings and will preserve our environment for our grandchildren and their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.


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