Here is the sermon I gave in chapel for the Krost Symposium on Environmental Justice.
Wow! My last post was here was exactly 7 months ago. So, to prove that I have not been just sitting idly by and ignoring the problems posed by consumerism, ecological devastation, etc., here is the homily I will be preaching this Sunday in connection with a teaching series our community is going through which I also wrote on Creation and Discipleship.
Would everyone please stand? Put your right hand over your heart. Repeat after me, “I pledge allegiance…” Please sit down.
Many of us grew up pledging allegiance, to flags, to states, to nations. Some of us may have even pledged allegiance to a Christian flag. Perhaps we did this without thinking. We did what we were told or what everyone else was doing. Consciously and unconsciously we all make commitments, we all pledge allegiance, whether it’s to the ideas that drive us or belief systems that shape us, whether it’s to specific places or people, to political parties or organizations. We all pledge allegiance.
Last weekend we celebrated the Fourth of July. This is a day when we retell the myths and stories of the United States, consciously or unconsciously, myths and stories about freedom, democracy and even the divine role of this country in the world and through history. This is how the idea of a nation and those in power continue to court and maintain the allegiance of its citizens.
Telling stories is also how we remind ourselves who we are as followers of Jesus and where our allegiance and commitments lie. The Israelites and modern Jews tell the story of the Exodus during Passover to remind themselves that they are a people who have been liberated from oppression by Yahweh in order to follow this God and be God’s people in the world, to bear witness to this God who sets people free.
Later in the Old Testament the people cry out to God to be a nation like the other nations around them. It’s hard to not fit in. It’s hard to be different. We all want to belong. Belonging is part of what it means to be human. But sometimes this need to belong can get us into trouble. It can lead us to belong to the wrong groups or we can belong for the wrong reasons. So, reluctantly, God relents and allows the Israelites to form a nation, like other nations. The Israelites now belong to the group of nations around them, but they have sacrificed something in the process.
We all have competing allegiances and commitments. We must all make choices between these commitments. God asked Abram to leave his homeland and everything he knew based on God’s covenant promise. Jesus asked his followers to leave their commitments to family to form a new family. He asked them to leave others to bury their loved ones and to leave the comfort and stability of their homes and support systems to follow him. The call for us as Christians is radical.
It is also important to distinguish between what God creates and what human beings create with our own creative and destructive impulses. God did not create nations. God did not draw borders in the dirt. God did create diversity. We see the biodiversity in the creation story with plants, animals and all kinds of living creatures. In the story of the tower of Babel, when the people try to achieve god-like power and status by consolidating and centralizing power by forming one people and one language, God reiterates that diversity is the way of creation, not sameness. At Pentecost the Holy Spirit comes, not to make everyone the same, not so that everyone would hear one language, but so that each one would hear the Gospel in their own language. Paul reiterates over and over that the unity of the Body of Christ is in its diversity, not in spite of it.
What happens when we pledge allegiance to nations, parties or ideologies above God’s reign in the world? History tells us disaster ensues. One of the main features of civilizations throughout history that have collapsed is that they have destroyed the creation that supports their growing populations. As citizens of God’s kingdom we belong to a nation that includes all of creation. The president of this “nation” is the Creator, not just of this planet, but the entire cosmos.
So, what allegiances and commitments are required of us as followers of Jesus and citizens of the kingdom of God? Clearly our allegiance crosses borders and transcends nations. Our commitment is to all of creation and all of humanity in all of its diversity, but also to this particular piece of creation we call home and these particular people we call brothers and sisters. So if you would please stand again, and let us pledge allegiance once again…
I pledge allegiance…
To the Creator of all things and the creation which sustains me
To the soil beneath my feet which feeds me and all creatures that make up my home
To all those who the Creator has made including those who speak, look and think different than me
To the plants and creatures that are my roommates in this place
To the Body of Christ and my brothers and sisters who help me fulfill my calling as a child of God.
This story is similar to my own journey in understand the relationship of economics to the purpose and mission of the church.
We tried to imagine an economy informed by the narratives of scripture, one bearing witness to the reign of God. It would be made of the same ingredients as the dominant economy: the same money, jobs, buying and selling goods and services. We weren’t going to try to roll back to a subsistence economy, or a household economy, or barter, or self-reliance. What was needed, we thought, was an economy not based on the goals, values and practices of this age, but one based in the life and teachings of Jesus, as revealed through scripture and the life of Christian communities through the ages.
An economy driven by such a direction seemed to be one in which all are taken care of; none acquire wealth at the expense of the others; all have what they need to live on; excessive consumption is not valued but a shared communal life is; mutual dependence is pursued; true costs are measured; all are called on to participate; we avoid categories that place some in the role of service provider and others in the role of service recipient (volunteer, minister/ministry, needy…). We assume we have all we need to take care of each other as brothers and sisters, fellow members of Christ, the living expression of the grace and provision of God.
To me, it seems that as Christians, we have a responsibility to follow Christ’s example in our lives, and this includes economics. Christianity should not be associated with the seeking of profit and property, but with radical economic community and sharing. This was the economic vision of the earliest Christians, and it should also be for us today as society becomes more consumerist and the gap between rich and poor widens.
In the first post on this topic I gave some context in which this conversation about reconciliation has been taking place. The second post explored ways in which we avoid dealing with reconciliation as a real practice within our community. In this post I want to explore some of the ways we might begin to take steps toward reconciliation and what might make that possible.
You may have noticed all of the qualifiers in that last sentence. That’s because the question I wrestle with is whether this is something we do or something God does? Continue reading