Benediction Online

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Living in Relationship

Psalm 8

God is awesome. God is much more than we can ever imagine. God is beyond our wildest dreams. Over the millennia humans have imagined many gods, like nature gods who control the weather, or mythical gods a level above us, or an indifferent mastermind who keeps order, or a distant king who has left us to ourselves.

The Christian God is first and foremost relational. This is at the core of our description of God as Trinity. Creator, Son and Spirit are who they are by doing what they do: they relate to each other. Then, out of God’s infinite and creative love, God creates outside beings to relate to as well. God relates to rocks and goats and ground squirrels and humans according to their capacity to respond. Absolutely nothing can exist outside of some relationship with God.

But we humans have a very special place in God’s heart and in creation. The psalmist asks, ‘What is man that you should be mindful of him? the son of man that you should seek him out?’ Our ability to be self-aware, our level of consciousness gives us the ability to be more like God than any other creature. In some ways we have god-like powers. (I’m quite sure that Sam, my dog, thinks I am God!) The early stories of the Bible grapple with the question of humanity’s proper place in the cosmos. In the Garden of Eden we develop the ability to know good and evil, and later come together to build the tower of Babel. Did this make us God? No, but according to the ancient people, it made us sufficiently god-like that we had to be given the restrictions of physical difficulty and communication barriers in order to stop us imagining that we are equal to God.

God has always spoken to his people through prophets and in direct revelation, but in Jesus God became intricately bound with humanity. When God incarnated in the birth of Jesus, God’s future was forever linked with the destiny of humans. God’s life is henceforth incomplete without humanity. We can’t get on without God, and God can’t get on without us. God’s basic pattern of relationship now includes us.

Let’s return to the psalm. Things get a little more difficult in the next two verses:
You have made humanity but little lower than the angels; you adorn people with glory and honor;
You give them mastery over the works of your hands; you put all things under their feet.

This is similar to the verse in Genesis 1 which says that God made humanity to have dominion over the rest of creation. The word dominion also comes up in one of our Eucharistic prayers, and when I catch it in time I change it to say that we are stewards of Creation. So which is it? Are we Lords or Stewards?

I think we have to interpret these verses in the context of the whole of Scripture and especially, as we are Christians, in the light of God’s revelation in Jesus. Jesus taught us a whole new way of being. In Jesus we see the one who is indisputably Lord acting in a way that it is quite out of keeping with our ideas of power and authority. How would it be if humanity were to exercise dominion over Creation in the way that Christ exercised his dominion?

It would mean approaching Creation with reverence, because it is made by, and is beloved of, God. It would mean assisting all beings to find the joy of their own true nature. It would mean putting the needs of the planet before our own.

When we think of having dominion in the way Jesus showed us, there is very little difference between stewardship and lordship. But given our tendency to forget, and the difficulty we have living as Christ-like beings, I think we would be better to use the language of stewardship.

We are called to be stewards of all that God has given us. We don’t own any of it, because it is all God’s. We don’t own our homes or our cars, and neither does the bank – God does. We don’t own our land or our country – God does. But we are God’s hands and feet. We are the Body of Christ. It is up to us to love and cherish each thing and each being that God has made and entrusted to us.

Which brings me to the oceans. It’s been six weeks that oil has been gushing out into the water of the Gulf of Mexico. My thoughts and prayers are with those who are working to stem the flow, with those who are working to mitigate this disaster, and with those whose livelihood is threatened. I am heart-sick at the damage and the suffering this is causing and will cause for years to come to fish, reptiles, birds and sea mammals.

Why did this happen? It’s easy to point the finger at BP but it really isn’t that simple. We want to buy things as cheaply as possible which means that companies want to produce them as cheaply as possible which leads to decisions to cut corners and do it quicker and faster. We want to maintain our standard of living which is dependent on oil and so the oil companies continue to look for ways of providing what we want. But it’s becoming more difficult and it’s only going to go on getting more difficult because we are depleting the world’s oil supply. Until we can quit our addiction to oil, disasters like this will become more and more frequent.

We don’t just use oil for transport, we use petroleum products in every area of our lives. Think of all the plastic we use. Most plastics are made from oil. How would we manage without them? I can’t imagine. But I can imagine finding ways to use less plastic just as I can imagine ways to use less gas. Just think how much packaging there is on our food. Buying in bulk and looking for things with the least packaging can make a significant difference to the amount of plastic we use. It’s instructive to take a look at everything you put in the recycling bin and see what you didn’t need to bring home in the first place.

These are little things in comparison to the magnitude of millions of gallons of oil polluting the ocean, but it is going to take all of us making small and big adjustments, changing the way we do things, before the big oil companies are going to change the way they do business. Just because we don’t personally have the power to shut off the oil leak doesn’t mean that we don’t have the responsibility to do things differently.

I want to take a moment to thank everyone who takes our cups and plates home to wash, and especially to thank Alice who donated them. It isn’t as convenient as using paper or plastic. In fact it’s a hassle – I know – I took some home one week and they sat on my porch for days until Carol Baker came and took them away to get them washed. But it is one way that we can exercise our stewardship of what God has given us. Every time we do something that reduces waste, we are acting as the Christ-like beings we were made to be.

The Transition Towns movement comprises people who are finding ways to reduce our dependency on oil. So are those who are committed to eating locally grown food and those who eat very little meat. So are those who are committed to using alternative sources of energy and to walking or cycling whenever they can. There are many ways we can reduce our carbon footprint by doing things differently, by reusing and by recycling. As Christ-like stewards we are called, now that we are conscious, now that we know what we are doing, to find ways, as many ways as we can, to reduce our own oil and carbon consumption and to encourage others to do the same.

Just as the Trinity is always in relationship, so are we. We are always in relationship with God, with ourselves, and with Creation. The relationship of the Trinity is one of immense joy, creativity and love. That is the kind of relationship that we yearn for and that we were made to have with God, with ourselves and with Creation. We’re not there yet, but every time we use our god-like powers to bring life and hope, we’re moving a little closer. As we pray for healing for each other this morning, let us also pray to God for the healing of the planet and especially of the oceans.


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