Christ Church Cathedral Grafton
Creation Time 1: Earth
5 September 2021
[ video ]
Season of Creation
What were you doing in 1989?
On 1 September that year, Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios I proclaimed that date as a day of special prayers for creation by members of the Orthodox family of churches throughout the world.
In the 32 years which have passed since that proclamation, the idea has spread and developed further.
The World Council of Churches embraced the idea but extended the Season of Creation through to the feast for St Francis of Assisi on 4 October.
Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth,
who sustains and governs us,
and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs.
The encyclical is well worth a careful read, but at more than 40,000 words is far too lengthy and complex to read during a church service. I draw your attention to the link in these sermon notes, and encourage you to reflect on the wisdom of Francis; both the saint and the Pope.
God saw what happened and it was good
Our first reading this morning was the opening words of the Bible: Genesis chapter one. We only read as far as verse 25 because we shall read the following verses next Sunday when we reflect on humanity as part of creation.
The opening lines of the ancient Hebrew Scriptures imagine the creation of the universe as a process spread over a week.
It is a carefully crafted text, with actions on days 1-2-3 paralleled by developments on days 4-5-6. As is well known, on the seventh day (Shabbat), there is no more creating to be done and God rests.
We are invited to share that sacred rest, and indeed that may be the ultimate point of the opening chapter.
We tend to read it as an account of God making everything, but in reality it is a poetic invitation to join God in observing Shabbat. The point of creation is not activity (staying busy), but resting mindfully.
Along the way we see the harmony of creation and its intrinsic goodness. At the end of the each of the six days of creative activity, other than day 2 when God simply creates the sky, we read: “And God saw that it was good …”
We miss the point of this classic spiritual text if we mistake it for a description of how the world was made. This “story,” as it is called in Genesis 2:4a, is about who made everything (i.e., where does the universe come from) and the character of the universe (it is good) and the point of it all (resting awe).
Creation matters to God
In the ancient world and even in some forms of Christianity today, there is an idea that the physical world is somehow inferior to the physical world, and that this life does not matter as much as the life to come.
Our biblical texts today make it clear that such ideas are mistaken.
Rather than being a distraction from God’s core business, the universe is a sacrament of divine presence, power and truth.
The universe exists because God wished it to be so and it derives from God’s inner love seeking self-expression.
To love nature and care for creation is to worship God.
Indeed, for Christians, God not only created the world but became part of the world in the person of Jesus.
As theologian Sally McFague has reminded us, we can (she would say “must”) think of the world as God’s body.
As Christians we are not really into abstract ideas and disembodied spirits. Our metaphor for afterlife is “resurrection of the body” and not—as many Christians mistakenly think—immortality of the soul. That idea is never found in the Bible, but comes from Greek philosophy.
Let’s conclude this brief reflection for the first Sunday in Creation Time with the soaring theology of John chapter one.
This hymn of the Logos is clearly a riff on the creation poem of Genesis.
In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things came into being through him,
and without him not one thing came into being.
What has come into being in him was life,
and the life was the light of all people.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness did not overcome it. [John 1:1–5]
This Logos that brought the universe into being is also at work in us; if we accept his activity within us:
The true light, which enlightens everyone,
was coming into the world.
He was in the world,
and the world came into being through him;
yet the world did not know him.
He came to what was his own,
and his own people did not accept him. [John 1:9–11]
And note especially the stunning final stanza of the Logos Hymn:
And the Word became flesh and lived among us,
and we have seen his glory,
the glory as of a father’s only son,
full of grace and truth. [John 1:14]
The Word became flesh and pitched his tent with us …
There is no essential divide between matter and the spirit.
We care about the world—and we care for our Planet Earth—because they are not only gifts from God, but also because these are ways for us to express our love for God.
I finish with these words from St Francis:
Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day; and you give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendour!
Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars,
in heaven you formed them clear and precious and beautiful.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Wind,
and through the air, cloudy and serene,
and every kind of weather through which
You give sustenance to Your creatures.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water,
which is very useful and humble and precious and chaste.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom you light the night and he is beautiful
and playful and robust and strong.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Mother Earth,
who sustains us and governs us and who produces
varied fruits with coloured flowers and herbs.