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Exodus 20:1-4,7-9,12-20 Ps.19 Phil.3:4b-14 Matthew 21:33-46

The Season of Creation and the earth and climate crisis; Saint Francis of Assisi Day and the plight of animals and all creatures; a day of Action for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, on top of the pandemic and a second wave, drug poisonings and tents cities, systemic racism and continuing inequities, elections and stresses on mental and physical health and community; and, and, and…. God’s commandments to God’s people for life over death, and another of Jesus’ vineyard stories where the failing of the tenants to share the fruits leads to their being thrown out and a miserable death. It is difficult, maybe impossible to imagine how we hold all of this together; in worship, in community, in our lives, in faith. Do we have a hope?  

Last week, on a wonderful Orange Shirt Sunday with Cari Klassen and others, I had the opportunity to speak with one of the readers, Beverly, after worship. I learned Beverly is a member of the United Church of Canada, involved in a congregation in the lower mainland, regionally, and nationally in Indigenous concerns and advocacy within the church. We talked about the importance of acknowledging Orange Shirt Day, and the continuing legacy of trauma for Indigenous people caused by Canadian Residential Schools; And about how it has to be more than one day, how the acknowledgement and work needs to continue everyday. And we spoke about this Sunday being a National Day of Action for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. And Beverly told me exactly what we needed to do. We need to hang a red dress as a visual reminder of all the Indigenous women and girls missing in Canada. (And in connection to the REDress project displaying 600 red dresses.) And we need to light a candle and place it beside a plate of food for the ancestors, and to say a prayer of remembrance for all the missing and murdered. She said it with a clear conviction for us to honour. And so we are today, as instructed, and God commands, to remember and to work for right relationships, to end division and racism in ourselves and our communities everyday, until all indigenous women and girls are safe!

As Pastor Lyndon shared with the children, we celebrate the festival of St. Francis of Assisi, who gave up his wealth to care for those who were poor, to care for the earth, all creatures and all God’s creation. The tradition of blessing the animals is something our neighbours at St. Luke have done annually, and are again this year, today at 2:30pm. It is one way to honour and remember the gift and blessing of all God’s creatures, and the suffering of animals, often at human hands for our consumption or by our misuse or neglect. St. Francis is an example of a right relationship with all God’s creatures that we and our world need to and can relearn, challenging our living as though all other creatures are lesser, for our use and misuse, not blessing.

And so we pray and sing today that God bless the animals, and that in so doing we are changed, to bless not harm, not only our pets, but all animals, all God’s creatures, not only on this day of St, Francis, but everyday in our practises and especially eating habits, and as God commands to be in right relationship, to love God’s animals as neighbours, as ourselves.

The festival of St. Francis marks the end of the new Season of Creation, recognized ecumenically and globally, acknowledging the critical need for us to address the climate crisis and its impact on the earth, all creatures and all God’s creation. We have lifted up this concern for God’s creation over these weeks, in words and songs and prayers, but we know it is not a concern that can end with the Season of Creation ending today. It is and has to be ongoing, challenging and changing our daily habits and actions to be in right relationship with all creation, consuming and impacting the earth much less than we are now, especially for future generations.

Catherine Boise Parker, a Victoria Lawyer who was a guest at a “Breakfast and Dialogue” at the Church in February, is representing fifteen brave and inspiring Canadian youth bringing a lawsuit against the Federal Government for failing to address climate change and therefore protect the future of the planet for their and subsequent generations. The update, in a CBC article that Catherine sent us which is in our Crossroads newsletter, is that the Federal Government while acknowledging “climate change is real … and is having very real consequences on people's lives. (and) Its impacts will get more significant over time." is attempting to have the case thrown out because “it asks the Court to decide whether the executive is governing well.” The youth claim instead that “their rights to life, liberty, security and equality are being violated because Ottawa has not done enough to protect against climate change” that will more adversely affect them and generations after them. They want to hold successive governments legally accountable and responsible for reducing carbon emissions in response to the climate and earth crisis so that their and future generations will be able to live on this planet that is our only mother and home.

In the Tuesday Video Study Group, the series titled “ProFuture Faith, The Prodigal Species Comes Home,” presenter Michael Dowd, speaks about theology and the reality of ecology as intimately and inextricably connected. And we as a species must come home to the reality of our prodigal human centred, self destructive ways. Dowd writes: “Self-destructive is the acknowledged state of our global civilization today.” And quoting William Catton: “Today humankind is locked into stealing ravenously from the future... Human self-restraint, practiced both individually and especially collectively, is our indispensable hope.” Dowd identifies this restraint in “Ten Commandments for today,” that list what we must stop doing as a species to survive the present and future together including: Stop measuring progress in short-term, human-centered ways. Stop prioritizing the wealthy over the poor. Stop idolizing profligate living. Stop defining good and evil without ancestors and descendants. Stop extinguishing other species…, right down to, Stop exploring for resources and leave them in the ground! All of these commands calling for a return to right relationships with all creation and affirming Dowd’s belief in the essential prophetic role of religion in identifying the limits for us as a human species in the hope that we might survive on earth.

All today holds, as I said, on top of all the challenges of this pandemic time - heavy, burdensome, raw, explosive, grief-filled times in our lives and world; is too much to hold together, and raises the question, Do we have a hope?

But these people, Beverly, Francis, Catherine, Sierra and the fourteen others, Michael, William and so many like them including you and many among us and in our community and world together, past, present and future, are God’s response! Those willing to hear again and anew for our time God’s gracious commandments to right relationships between ourselves as a human species and with the earth and all its creatures, and to act in daily practical ways to see this God’s intention of life over death realized today by God’s grace. Those willing and able to inherit God’s vineyard and take up God’s work of producing the lifegiving fruits of it for the wellbeing of all, and all creatures and all creation, where others before, including us, have failed, that no one, that never again any of God’s beloved, people or creatures, be cast out to death because of human greed and division over which we stumble and that is crushing us all. God continues by the gracious Spirit of Christ Jesus to hold everything, and everyone in all creation together, making possible our living and acting together in faith and hope for the life of this God’s world. Thanks be to God. Let it be so. In all our relations. Amen.