Welcome to the Season of Creation. As a reminder to some, and what may be new to others, for the last three years as part of a global ecumenical initiative, we are recognizing September 1 to October 4 as the Season of Creation. This year’s theme, as you may have read in Crossroads, is “A Home for All, Renewing the Oikos of God,” the word “oikos” meaning “dome” – as in the Genesis creation story, or “household” like domicile. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and others called the oikos of God “the Beloved Community,” a community in which all of life are equally members. We all know this oikos, dome, household of creation is threatened. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change representing 234 scientists from 66 countries released a report on August 9 that UN Secretary-General António Guterres said was nothing less than "a code red for humanity. The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable:” he wrote, “greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel burning and deforestation are choking our planet and putting billions of people at immediate risk. Global heating is affecting every region on Earth, with many of the changes becoming irreversible.” (UN Secretary-General’s statement)
A Season of Creation is a critical time to both sound the code red alarm for immediate action together for the wellbeing of a suffering earth and all its creatures, and to honour the sacred, wonderful, beautiful, gift of God’s creation that inspires our heartfelt actions to care for the earth and its climate. With thanks to our Greening Committee, and the Board of Worship, and the Board of Education and Sunday School, the Season of Creation is present all around us, creation fabrics, songs, prayers, professions of faith; video presentations by people of the congregation, guest presenter Beth Eden speaking this Saturday morning about her work with the UN, and more. We pray this Season of Creation inspires our deep concern and action for the earth and its climate everyday together to renew the oikos, the household and beloved community of God where all creatures and all creation are equally members.
With this Season and the climate crisis in mind, we look to the readings for today. Both the reading from Proverbs and from James, express the desire of God that we care for and share generously with those who are poor and hungry, showing no favouritism toward those who are rich over those who are poor, for God is maker of both, and we are to love our neighbour as ourselves; and oppose injustice which brings calamity and despoils life, to speak not only words of caring, but act in love, to not only have faith, but show faith active in love for any in need.
These are words of wisdom and truth. Though we resist any sense of works righteousness, that our actions can never merit our favour with God, by grace, by grace through faith in Christ Jesus, we are freed to act in love and care for others, especially for our neighbours who are poor, hungry, and hurting. And so also for a suffering planet and its creatures, our neighbours, and our common home.
And it is just such people and their suffering who come to or are brought to Jesus for help and healing for themselves or others. The first is a Gentile woman of Syrophoenician origin pleading for her little daughter who has a demon. Translating this language for our time, this is a completely foreign person to Jesus, of a different culture, religion, practices, and a woman, approaching Jesus, a Jew and Rabbi, and speaking to him, asking that he free her daughter from whatever physical or mental illness afflicts her. The inequity between this woman and Jesus, in gender, culture and circumstance, and the needs of her little girl are as clear in the story as they are in our communities and world. These same inequities are present for new Canadians, for Muslims, Jews and other religious minorities, for women and children, for those who are sick and struggling. And if you know the story, you know the shock of what Jesus says to her. That Jesus says the children should be fed first, and not throw the children’s food to the dogs, should shock and trouble us. Jesus’ words are exclusive and demeaning to this woman and her child. But as we heard, she doesn’t back down, and turns Jesus’ own words on him, saying, “even dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the table.” And because of her saying this, Jesus heals her daughter. Jesus doesn’t apologize or confess in words, but does as she asks. And that her little daughter is well, is no doubt all the woman cares about. But Jesus and we who witness this inequity and prejudice, and this miracle of healing, are left wondering if Jesus has been opened, and the way of hearing and seeing others who are foreign, different, outsiders, and his mission to them, has been changed, and we with Jesus?
As we heard, with a change in location, the next person brought to Jesus is also an outsider, not from Judea, a man who is deaf and has a speech impediment, and his friends beg Jesus to touch him. Once again, these same circumstances for people who are differently able can mean exclusion and inequity in our time. And we need to be careful not to treat this reality as simply a spiritual metaphor, but the lived experience and challenges for people in a world that favours certain abilities over others. In a secret and strange healing scene, Jesus touches the person’s ears and tongue and looks up to heaven and sighs, and says, “be opened.” And the person can speak plainly. And ironically, Jesus says, don’t tell anyone.
What is in Jesus’ sigh? Is it the sigh of sadness for all those who hurt, struggle, suffer and how that is compounded by our seeing differences as threats, isolating and excluding people who are different from ourselves, including differently able? Are the words of Jesus, be opened, for this man and his ears and tongue, also words for Jesus and us? Is the miracle of the man being healed also Jesus and our being opened to him and the woman pleading for her daughter? Does Jesus’ own journey to include a wider and wider circle of humanity in all its diversity and all its struggles and all its poverty, our journey, our healing?
These stories acknowledge humanity comes from and is in such different places, then and now. How can some people believe that a deworming medication for horses is a safer treatment for Covid-19 than globally developed, researched, and studied vaccines? We are in different places. How can people protest in front of hospitals criticizing and harassing the very people who have worked so hard to care for people most affected by the pandemic? We are in different places. How can people resist vaccine identification or mask wearing as an imposition on individual freedom with no sense of collective responsibility and care for others? We are in different places. And differences in power and privilege, with different abilities, opportunities and barriers, inequities and prejudices, all in need of healing and wholeness before God. And that this healing of sickness and poverty of humanity is intimately connected to the growing sickness and poverty of the earth, its climate, ecosystems, habitats, and creatures, and their need for healing. We are all intimately connected. When we exploit and dehumanize others who are different, so we also exploit and objectify the planet and its health and wellbeing. When we seek healing, all are healed.
These stories of Jesus’ healing and being opened for people, are stories of hope and healing for all, including us; to be challenged as Jesus was by this courageous Syrophoenician woman and the needs of her little daughter to share not only crumbs from the table, but the abundance of creation where all have enough, where poverty need not be the daily diet for some while we and others have so much; to be touched and opened with the man who couldn’t hear or speak, and Jesus with him, that we hear and speak and act in love for the health and wellbeing of those in any poverty and everyone, in the need for healing for all of us and all creation. To sigh together for a suffering humanity, look up to the heavens and be opened also to a suffering earth and climate and the disproportionate impact on those who are poor and sick and suffering already and seek new ways of living and being together on this planet that the lands and air and waters would be good as God created them, and all people and creatures with them, for them, and of this great and glorious creation together, healing, and more whole.
It is a “code red for humanity. The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable. To go as Jesus before us, and encounter and be encountered by those different from ourselves, and be challenged, and touched and opened by one another, by God, is the beginning of healing for others who suffer, for ourselves, and for a suffering planet and climate, toward wholeness and life abundant that God has always intended in a renewed household and beloved community of God, in which all of life are equally members. In this Season of Creation, and at all times and in all places, for all peoples and all creatures, and the earth itself, let it be so, in all our relations.