February 18, 2018

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Sermon - Brad Brookins

Bible Study

February 18, 2018 Sermon - Brad Brookins
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For the Earth

Matthew 6. 9-13

 ‘Pray then in this way:
Our Father in heaven,
   hallowed be your name. 
   Your kingdom come.
   Your will be done,
     on earth as it is in heaven. 
   Give us this day our daily bread. 
   And forgive us our debts,
     as we also have forgiven our debtors. 
   And do not bring us to the time of trial,
     but rescue us from the evil one.

In his book titled The Land, Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann says that the central temptation for Israel was to forget.  To forget who they were, as the people of God.  To forget whose they were—the people who had been redeemed from slavery in Egypt by the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And to forget that the land on which they settled in Palestine had come to them as a gift.  Purely a gift from their creating, redeeming, traveling God.  
They forgot that it was not by their own hand that all this happened; forgot that it was the voice of God that had first called to them and claimed them and guided them.  
And when they forgot all of that, they stopped listening.   If you stop listening for a long enough time, you know, you lose the ability to hear; even when the one speaking is loud and clear.
Israel forgot her history, she forgot her story, lost her hearing and became something other than what God planned for them to be.
So God spoke a little louder—here through Moses in the book of Deuteronomy: 
Take care that you do not forget the Lord your God, by failing to keep his commandments…lest when you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, your heart be lifted up and you forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrible wilderness…who fed you in the wilderness with manna…beware lest you say in your heart,  ‘My power and the might of my own hand have gained me this wealth.’    Deuteronomy 8. 11-17
“My power, and the might of my own hand”.  Brueggemann calls this the “seduction of imagining”.  They stopped listening and they began to imagine the land was theirs because they conquered it.  They imagined the resources of the land were theirs to use as they pleased because they owned them.  They imagined the kingdom was theirs because they built the palaces and the temples and the towns.
Theirs was a history that never should have happened—slaves of a powerful empire became a free people.  Sojourners in the wilderness became settled, landed residents.  That these things did happen testifies to the work and the gift of God.  This is what Israel forgot.  
And they forgot that the way to sustain this gifted life was to stay in right relationship with the gift Giver.  To remember where they came from; to remember who brought them there.  To remember their helplessness, their tendency to very bad decisions, their need for a working pair of ears and a listening heart.
So God said again, and louder, “If you forget the Lord your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you…”  
But they did forget; and so they lost everything.

In this series we are in right now, exploring what it means to “be the church”,  today’s sermon on “being the church for the earth”  is easily the most difficult one I’ve had to write and the hardest one to deliver.  This is because I believe that we—and by “we” I mean people in general and the Christian church in particular, are dangerously close to following in Israel’s footsteps.
In fact, it seems to me, we may already have stepped over the line into Israel’s “seduction of imagination”.  Have we forgotten who we are and whose we are?  Have we forgotten that this life on this planet amid this stunning abundance of wealth and resources is all a gift—every last ounce of it a gift from the Creator who made it and made us?
And is this why we imagine  it is perfectly acceptable, necessary even, for us to do whatever we want with the land around us and the resources under our feet?  Are we repeating Israel’s amnesia and saying to ourselves, “My power and the might of my own hand have gained me this wealth”. 
Is this why there is a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico the size of New Jersey?  Is this why there are tar sands mines in Canada that can be seen from space and felt in native communities downstream where cancer rates from leaching toxins are soaring?
“My power and the might of my own hand have gained me this wealth.  It is mine to do with as I please!”
Is this, perhaps, why the arctic ice is melting and the seas are rising and the coral reefs are disappearing.  Is this why the storms are growing stronger and  the wildfires are burning hotter?
Is this why we are leaving to our children and grandchildren a planet much less abundant and life sustaining than the one we grew up on?
“If you forget the Lord your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you…”
It’s time we consider ourselves warned.  It’s time we remember what we seem to have forgotten—that this life on this planet amid this stunning abundance of wealth and resources is a gift—every last ounce of it a gift from the Creator who made it and made us.  The earth is not ours to spoil and throw away.
The soil and water and air, the forest and farm fields and resources are given into our care, not for our contempt.  We are called and created to serve and con-serve Creation; not to despoil it and burn it up.
And it’s time, well past time, that we remember something else Israel forgot—that the only way we will sustain this life is by being, and staying, in right relationship with our Creator.  
I’ll take this even further.
The only way we will sustain the planet on which life itself depends is to we pray as Jesus taught us—and to mean what we say when we pray as Jesus taught us:  “May your kingdom come.  May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven”.
Because when we pray to see God’s will done on earth, we are praying for ourselves to be shaped by that will; to be molded more and more into God’s likeness.  We are offering ourselves to be conveyors of the Divine will; offering ourselves for the repair of the world.
The Creation will be saved, if it is saved at all, when enough people see it as God saw it at the end of that 6th day—as “indeed very good”.  Only when enough of us fall in love with Creation, as God fell in love with it, will we stop the waste and the destruction; only then will we care more for beauty than for profit and value wonder over wealth.
Will we do this?  Will enough of us do this?  Will enough people do this before it is too late?  I don’t know.  We’ll have to see.  It will take a miracle; but I still believe in miracles.
Here’s what I wrote for the adult class earlier this week:  Not everything is broken—yet.  Our world is still a beautiful, abundant home—for now.  So while we still can, while we still have breath, as long as the world continues, we must pray and we must work and we must let our lives and our families and our communities and our church be molded to do God’s will—here on earth as it is in heaven.  
This has never been easy.  It has never been more difficult than it is right now.  
We must do it anyway.
Because we are the church for the earth.  This is what we were created to do.  
We live not for ease, but for equity.  Not for wealth, but for wonder.  Not to be rich, but to be generous.  Not to use up, but to preserve the Creation.  
We live to be, as Walter Brueggemann says, “the neighborhood of (peace)”  on this planet God, and we, love.  Amen.  


Text and Questions

Matthew 6:9-13


 ‘Pray then in this way:

Our Father in heaven,

   hallowed be your name.

   Your kingdom come.

   Your will be done,

     on earth as it is in heaven.

   Give us this day our daily bread.

   And forgive us our debts,

     as we also have forgiven our debtors.

   And do not bring us to the time of trial,

     but rescue us from the evil one.


We call this passage we call the Lord’s Prayer, but if you think about it that isn’t quite right, is it?   This isn’t the Lord’s prayer, it’s ours.  “Our Father in heaven…”

In this portion of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus describes ways of approaching God that bear no fruit—making a big show of you giving, praying on street corners so you can be seen, praying with an excess of words.  “Don’t do that”, Jesus says.  “Do this…”  And then he offers, in 10 short lines, the way to communion with the Divine.

Approach God this way:  “Our Father…”

Pray to see this:  God’s will done on earth.  Sufficient provision for the day.  Forgiveness.  Forgivingness.  Guidance away from trial (things that separate us for God).  Rescue from the effects of evil.

Today we are focusing on the central petition of our prayer:  “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” in the context of the whole prayer.

1.        Why do we pray “for” things?

2.        Why does Jesus tell us to pray for God’s kingdom to come when in other places he says “The kingdom of heaven is here”?

3.        Why do we pray for God’s will to be done on earth?  (This is almost a rabbit question.  Look for the easiest, most obvious answer)

4.        What is God’s will for the earth? (Think in terms of both Creation stories in Genesis 1 & 2).  What is God’s will for us on the earth? 

5.        We’ve discussed being the church in relation to neighbors, strangers and the powerless.  In each case “being the church” amounted to being the neighbor toward  our neighbors and toward the strangers and powerless among us.  What would it mean for the church to be a neighbor toward the earth?  What responsibility do we, as the body of Christ, have toward the environment that sustains us and our children?

6.        Discuss this quote from the farmer-poet Wendell Berry.  He’s talking about our willingness to damage the environment that sustains us:  “Most of us are still too sane to pee in our own cistern, but we allow others to do so and we reward them for it. We reward them so well, in fact, that those who pee in our cistern are wealthier than the rest of us”.

7.        Why has human kind shown such a willingness to destroy the earth (or at least large swaths of the earth)?

8.        Consider the Flood story: “And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth” (Genesis 6.9)  The earth that began in formless water (Genesis 1) returns to formless water, “the waters swelled above the mountains…and all flesh died”  (Genesis 7. 20-21).   Is it possible for God’s will with regard to the earth to fail?

9.        Is it possible for the earth to become uninhabitable and for humankind to go extinct?  If you answer yes, what are you saying about God’s will?  If you answer no, what are you saying about human freedom?  This is not an easy question.

10.   How can we be the church for the earth in those places where the environment has been effectively destroyed?

11.   How can we be the church for the earth when we are participating in the dismantling of Creation?