Tuesday, April 26, 2016

A New Commandment

April 24th, 2016         “A New Commandment”     Rev. Heather Jepsen
John 13:31-35
          Our gospel reading for this morning takes us out of Easter time and back into the stories of Lent.  The setting is Jesus’ final night with his disciples.  He has lovingly washed their feet, he has shared a meal with them, and Judas has gone out into the darkness.  Jesus knows it won’t be long before his time with the disciples is over and so he takes one last opportunity to teach them, and this time he makes his lesson abundantly clear.
          He calls them children, illustrating the nurturing love he holds for them in his heart.  “Little children, I am with you only a little longer.”  The time for his departure is coming swiftly and he knows the path of suffering that lies ahead.  “Where I am going, you cannot come.”  In his desire to comfort his friends he gives them one last teaching.  “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” 
          Scholars have long understood this teaching to be the heart of the gospel of John, the center of the teachings of Jesus Christ, and in fact the core of the entire Christian faith.  The command to love has become the sole marker of the life of a Christian and the true sign of any Christian community.  As Jesus says, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
          We know that the call to love others in the name of Jesus Christ stands at the heart of our faith.  What we may not consider is that this also is a call to how we care for the whole of creation.  I believe that we are called not only to love one another in the community of faith, not only to love our fellow human beings with whom we share this planet, but to love the whole of God’s good creation of which we are a part.
          Of course, I am not alone in this line of thinking.  Much Christian theology centers around the call to care for creation as an expression of God’s justice.  In fact, last year, Pope Francis published an encyclical, which is a letter to the whole Catholic Church, on this very subject.  Laudato Sí, which was given at Pentecost last year, is a call for all people to work toward the care of our common creation.
          Pope Francis writes,
“Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us.
This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.”
          Pope Francis reminds us that we are not called to be lords and masters of creation, who consider ourselves “more than” or “greater than” any other part of creation.  In reminding us that we are dust, Pope Francis reminds us that we are as much a part of the earth as any other form of life upon this planet.  Try as we might, we cannot divorce ourselves from our essential connection to all of creation.
          When Jesus teaches the disciples about the commandment of love that they are to follow, he reminds them that he himself has shown us what this love looks like.  If we are to model the love of Jesus Christ, then we are to model a love that puts the other before the self.  Later in the evening Jesus teaches, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  Jesus calls us to no longer put ourselves in the center place of the universe.  Rather we are called to be malleable, to be willing to bend, to be willing to move aside, and to share resources with others.  We are called to lay down our lives for others.  I think this includes a call to lay down our place as the center of and the most important aspect of creation.
          Again, Pope Francis writes,
“It is not enough, however, to think of different species merely as potential “resources” to be exploited, while overlooking the fact that they have value in themselves. Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know, which our children will never see, because they have been lost forever. The great majority become extinct for reasons related to human activity. Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence, nor convey their message to us. We have no such right.
These situations have caused sister earth, along with all the abandoned of our world, to cry out, pleading that we take another course. Never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last two hundred years. Yet we are called to be instruments of God our Father, so that our planet might be what he desired when he created it and correspond with his plan for peace, beauty and fullness. The problem is that we still lack the culture needed to confront this crisis. We lack leadership capable of striking out on new paths and meeting the needs of the present with concern for all and without prejudice towards coming generations. The establishment of a legal framework which can set clear boundaries and ensure the protection of ecosystems has become indispensable; otherwise, the new power structures based on the techno-economic paradigm may overwhelm not only our politics but also freedom and justice.
Our insistence that each human being is an image of God should not make us overlook the fact that each creature has its own purpose. None is superfluous. The entire material universe speaks of God’s love, his boundless affection for us. Soil, water, mountains: everything is, as it were, a caress of God.”
          This morning I would ask us to consider our own place within the whole of God’s creation.  How do our daily tasks weigh heavy on our “sister earth”?  In what ways have we flaunted or ignored Jesus’ commandment to love one another in the same ways in which we ourselves have been loved?
          From the close bond we share to our household pets, to the plants and animals that provide us with nourishing sustenance, to the beauty of our natural surroundings, the whole of creation testifies to God’s glory and the abundance of God’s love.  Our call as followers of Jesus Christ is to honor and care for the whole of God’s wonderful creation.  We should be mindful of our use of resources and aware of how our waste adds to the load our “sister earth” must bear.  We should thank God at all meals for the plants and animals that sustain us, through the gift of their very lives.  And we should be mindful of how our economic impact as consumers in a wealthy nation also affects those who are living less fortunate lives than ourselves.
          Jesus makes it clear that the Christian community shows that it belongs to him by showing God’s love for others.  Let us display and share that love not only with our fellow human beings, but with the whole of God’s good creation.  Let us thank and praise our God by demonstrating God’s love for this beautiful Earth.
          In the spirit of ecumenism and in honor to Pope Frances, I want to close with the prayer that he closed his encyclical with.  Let us pray . . .
Father, we praise you with all your creatures.
They came forth from your all-powerful hand;
they are yours, filled with your presence and your tender love.
Praise be to you!
Son of God, Jesus,
through you all things were made.
You were formed in the womb of Mary our Mother,
you became part of this earth,
and you gazed upon this world with human eyes.
Today you are alive in every creature
in your risen glory.
Praise be to you!
Holy Spirit, by your light
you guide this world towards the Father’s love
and accompany creation as it groans in travail.
You also dwell in our hearts
and you inspire us to do what is good.
Praise be to you!
Triune Lord, wondrous community of infinite love,
teach us to contemplate you
in the beauty of the universe,
for all things speak of you.
Awaken our praise and thankfulness
for every being that you have made.
Give us the grace to feel profoundly joined
to everything that is.
God of love, show us our place in this world
as channels of your love
for all the creatures of this earth,
for not one of them is forgotten in your sight.
Enlighten those who possess power and money
that they may avoid the sin of indifference,
that they may love the common good, advance the weak,
and care for this world in which we live.
The poor and the earth are crying out.
O Lord, seize us with your power and light,
help us to protect all life,
to prepare for a better future,
for the coming of your Kingdom
of justice, peace, love and beauty.
Praise be to you!




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