(The readings were Paul's on all members being part of the body, and Luke's story of Jesus reading in the temple proclaiming release etc)
You might want to watch this short video we used for confession/assurance first.
Rev Dr Jason John, B. Sc (hons), B. Min, Grad Dip Env Stud, PhD.
Preached at Scots Church Adelaide, Jan 2007
We, the church, are, “… a community of reconciliation [returning humans to their proper place in life], a body within which the diverse gifts of its members are used for the building up of the whole, an instrument through which Christ may work and bear witness to himself…”
So says the Basis of Union, based heavily on Paul’s metaphor of the church as a body
This is a very straightforward idea for Uniting Church members, with our long standing commitment to inter-denominational recognition and cooperation. More recently the tendency to include and value others has been extended, with somewhat more controversy, to include inter-faith matters. That is, many UCA members now recognise that humans of all religions and none have a part to play in the building up of the whole of humanity, and in offering love to God. They accept that we can see Christ, not just in Christians, but in all humans. We are all brothers and sisters even though we call God by different names. Next week Andrew will be encouraging us to explore that idea in worship, as we consider what it means to be part of a multicultural/multireligious Australia.
Even more recently, and perhaps even more controversially, this trajectory has been extended by some Christians out beyond the boundaries, not just of the our denomination, not just of religions, but of our species itself.
So the tendency towards greater inclusivity begins ecumenically, becomes inter-faith, and ends up transcending the species boundary itself! We are not just part of Scots, or the church, or humanity, but life! We are called to value not just other Christian, or other denominations, or other humans, but all of life as members of the Earth community, of God’s community on Earth.
The Basis itself contains the seeds of this trajectory. It proclaims Jesus as not only Lord of the Church, but also head over all things - the beginning of a new creation.
Then the church’s mission is proclaimed to be to be part of the reconciliation and renewal which God has in mind for the whole creation. Part of reconciliation and renewal is about recognising our connection, our need of each other, our interdependence.
The affirmation of diversity which Paul applies to the church applies to all of life!
Organs in a body. Trees in a forest, Christians in a church.
Appreciation of difference. Unity in diversity. And a diversity without hierarchy, where none are more important than the other, despite what we may judge on the matter.
Without microbes and plants there would be no oxygen, no humans, no church, no Jesus. The “members which seem to be weaker are indispensable.” The least respected members should be treated with the most respect, for it is on them that the whole foundation of our life rests.
To Paul’s list: “Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?” We could add: do all produce oxygen? Do all fly? Do all plumb the depths of the oceans?
And the contributions made by the many members of the body of life are not just important to the extent that they serve us humans.
In Paul’s metaphor the feet do not exist to serve the head. There is no hierarchy. All are important and play their role in creating rich experiences of love and relationships for God. The Uniting Church accepts that creation is not just good because it is useful to humans, but is good in and of itself, because of its relationship with God. We proclaimed that to the nation almost 20 years ago now.
After all, life has been in a relationship with God for billions of years before our particular species ever evolved and started naming them!
The God of life delights in all life, in ways we will never understand.
If so, then God has a richer experience of life, has more to love, has more to delight in when life, like the church, is rich and diverse with many members free to express their many contributions.
Our mission as Christians is to love God, to give God rich and positive experiences of life, not just our own, but of all lives.
We have long accepted that if we enslave another human, or abuse or mistreat or belittle them, we are doing the same to the Christ who dwells within them. For too long we have drawn the line at humans.
In our first hymn today: Filled with the Spirit’s power, we confessed our biblical mandate to embrace those of every race, a sentiment echoed in the Basis of Union and Paul’s metaphor. But, like George Rawson, who wrote our second hymn back in the 1800s, probably around the time this church was built, we do not limit God’s truth to biblical truth.
We build on the work of our faithful forebears and so, I believe, embrace not just those of every race, but those of every species as having a place in God’s love and family. Perhaps not as brothers and sisters, but surely as cousins, and definitely as ancestors. With George, we call for an expanded comprehension of God’s love of others.
Then, shockingly perhaps, after that rousing hymn we entered into the confession and assurance.
(the video for this is here)
“They dress the wounds of my poor people
As though they're nothing
Saying "peace, peace"
When there's no peace
(for) Days without number
(now) in their want
Who'll dress their wounds?
So sang Sinead O’Connor, as God's voice (you can get the song free from here). Applying the verse to animals in factory farms is a natural consequence of allowing ourselves to entertain the idea that God delights in all life, that all life is significant, that the kinds of lives lead by all creatures are significant. If all life matters, then how we feed ourselves matters. If the earth is really the Lords, as our newssheet usually proclaims, then the creatures of the earth are the Lords. So how we treat God’s other creatures matters.
Animals have personality: ask any pet owner or farmer. Personality. Persons. People. God’s people.
Restoration of sight to the blind might not just mean restoration to those made blind, or born blind, but to all of us who choose to be blind to the oppression and bondage around us. Or even to our own oppression and bondage.
What we conclude about the kind of foods we will eat or not eat is not something that can easily be prescribed, and I wouldn’t want to. The free range animals at the end of the confession were still going to be eaten. But we cannot avoid the reality that the way in which they live until their death is a moral, a spiritual, a faith issue.
There is no basis, I believe, for saying that the only captives God cares about are human ones, except the kind of basis which once was used to say that black slavery was not a moral or Christian issue.
But perhaps you disagree. This is a church which welcomes healthy dissent when it comes to the near impossible, and certainly perilous task, of talking about God and what God thinks!
Not now, of course, whilst I stand up here 10 feet above contradiction, but I have to get down sometime, so feel free to disagree strongly and lovingly over a coffee!
Perhaps you would be right to disagree. I’ve certainly met people out there who do. Perhaps God does only cares about humans, and our mission is to do the same.
Even if that is the way you see things, then our environment still remains a critical issue.
At this point in history, animal lovers and animal ignorers are in the same boat: huge decisions about our relationship with this planet have been ignored for decades, even centuries, but cannot be any more, even if we just care for human welfare.
As I said before, the 1988 Uniting Church statement to the nation proclaimed the goodness of creation and that it had value apart from its usefulness to humans. But a decade before that, when we were only concerned for humans, we nevertheless proclaimed that,
"We are concerned with the basic human rights of future generations, and will urge the wise use of energy, the protection of the environment and the replenishment of the earth's resources for their daily use and enjoyment."
So even if we only care for humans, we need to think about how much of a share of “the environment” they need, and how much we can use.
We also boldly said back in 1977,
We will challenge values which emphasise acquisitiveness and greed in disregard of the needs of others and which encourage a higher standard of living for the privileged in the face of the daily widening gap between rich and poor
In other words, if some humans have more resources, or a bigger share of “the environment” than others, then this is not fair, and something we will seek to redress.
So: If we care only for humans, we need to look at the world and see whether everyone has a fair slice of the environment pie to use. If not, we need to deal with it.
This is where the idea of the ecological footprint comes in. As you’d know from TALK, Tiffany form ecoconscious is helping us measure our ecological footprint, and at SMAS in February she and I will explain more about it. There are also dvds near the aquarium space if you would like to have a look before then.
Today I want to use another analogy: the glass of water.
This glass of water is our planet EARTH. If we drink it all it will refresh us and keep us healthy all year, and fill up again magically by next year. In other words, we can sustainably drink the whole cup.
At the moment, we are drinking this cup, plus 10%. In other words, we are degrading the Earth. We are using up our natural capital.
I say “we”, but of course, some people are taking big gulps [gulp] so others get only tiny sips, and are thirsty all year round, or are drinking polluted water.
If everyone took a sip as big as the average Adelaidian, we would need four cups to share around. Four planet earths. (get out the other three cups)
Four planet earths. If God cares nothing for other animals, if they are irrelevant, we still need four planets for all the humans to live like we do. Or like the average Adelaidian.
For those of us who think, say, that God does care about other animals, and that it would be fair for our species to consume only half the resources of the planet, to make room for forests and plains and reefs and so on, if we want to have the Adelaide hills as reserves and not farms, we would need EIGHT planet earths.
Until we need neither four, nor 8 planets, or until we discover 3-7 in another galaxy and find a way of getting everyone there, our relationship with the rest of creation remains a critical faith issue, I would say the faith issue of our time.
But be encouraged!...
The Spirit of God is upon us, to empower us
To bring good news to the poor
Release to the captives
Recover of sight to those who cannot or will not see
To let the oppressed go free
And to proclaim that we- we all – have the Lord’s favour.
To the extent that we are poor, captive, blind and oppressed this is good news!
To the extent that we are rich, free, and can see the world around us, it is a challenge.
Unless we are either living in a factory farm, or perhaps a homeless human on the one hand, or James Packer or the Queen on the other, its a bit of both.
Even if caught in the middle somewhere, we are empowered by the Spirit. Again, as we heard in the assurance:
I wanna make
For U and from U
To show U
I adore U
And your journey
Which I see
So let us consider the lilies, the birds, the planet and the God of all of it, so that we can live empowered lives of good news for our lives and all lives.
Prayers of the people.
Lets join in prayer for people. All people.
EAST: all those people who came before us, our ancestors
NORTH: all those here now, including ourselves
WEST- those preparing to leave, or for our own preparations to leave
SOUTH: those who were with us but have gone before us (thanksgiving, mourning).