The Sanctity–and Brokeness–of Creation

Sermon for Sunday, October 9, 2016 ||  Feast of St. Francis with the Blessing of the Animals ||  Job 12: 7-10; Psalm 148: 7-14; Colossians 1: 15-20; John 1: 1-5 ||  The Rev. Margot D. Critchfield

If he were still alive on this magnificent yet paradoxical planet earth, I imagine this past week would’ve been an emotionally tumultuous one for dear St. Francis, who we celebrate today.

Some of you may have read about the historic meeting last week between His Holiness Pope Francis and His Grace Justin Welby, Archbishop Of Canterbury. For those of you new to the Episcopal Church, the Archbishop of Canterbury is the titular head of the Anglican Church, of which the Episcopal Church is the American expression.

St. Francis would no doubt have been delighted by this meeting between the heads of the Catholic and Anglican churches. And I imagine he would have been downright gleeful reading the joint declaration the men issued Wednesday, in which they affirmed in no uncertain terms that Catholics and Anglicans must work together—work together to: “protect and preserve our common home: living, teaching and acting in ways that favour a speedy end to the environmental destruction that offends the Creator and degrades his creatures, and building individual and collective patterns of behaviour that foster a sustainable and integral development for the good of all.”

Francis, you see, was a lover not just of animals, as we often think, but of all of God’s creation. In fact, he is the patron saint of the environment.

For Francis, God’s presence in the incarnation –“the Word through whom all things came into being and without whom not one thing came into being”—affirmed the goodness and the sanctity of all of God’s creation, all of nature—both animate and inanimate. Francis was, one biographer writes,“enthralled by God’s presence in the created order.”

Francis’ contemporary, Thomas of Celano, said of him that “when he found an abundance of flowers, he {Francis] preached to them and invited them to praise the Lord as though they were endowed with reason….” “In the same way,” Celano writes, “he exhorted with the sincerest purity, cornfields and vineyards, stones and forests, and all the beautiful things of the fields…to love God and serve him willingly.”

Now, talking to inanimate objects as if they could actually understand human language might sound a bit crazy to us, but consider what was really going on there at a deeper level: Francis was refusing to treat any part of God’s creation as an object to be used or a commodity to be exploited, relating instead to all of the created order—even rocks–not as “things” but as manifestations of the Word “that in the beginning was with God, and was God.”

Centuries later Gerard Manley Hopkins would write that, “the world is alive with the grandeur of God.” But Francis intuitively knew this, and humbly deemed everything—animate or inanimate—worthy of brotherly and sisterly love and respect.

We have much to learn from St. Francis. Imagine being so aware of God’s living presence in all of creation that you would walk on stones with reverence, or greet—as Francis did– the sun, wind, and fire as “Brother” and the moon, water, and the earth itself as “Sister”!

Yes, Francis would have been thrilled, I think, by the commitment that our Church and the Catholic Church just made to environmental justice and to healing God’s creation.

But last week also brought us Hurricane Matthew—a “natural disaster” we call it—in which we saw what it can look like when the raw power of chaos and destruction is unleashed on this fragile island home of ours and most cruelly on the poorest and most vulnerable among us.

Surely, Francis would have wept. Surely, this saint who faithfully anticipated the day when all of creation will be restored to God’s original design…who lived as if that restoration had already begun with Christ’s victory over death…surely he would have wept to see such a violent and merciless display of the breach in God’s creation…the brokenness in nature writ large.

To be sure there were no so-called “natural” disasters in Eden, and we know that there will be none when the New Creation is fully realized at the Resurrection.

In his book, “Evil and the Justice of God,” Anglican Bishop and theologian N.T. Wright addresses this very thing. “Creation as we know it,” he writes, “bears witness to God’s power and glory—but also to the present state of futility to which it has been enslaved.”

“But this slavery, like all slaveries in the Bible,” Wright continues, “is then given its exodus, its moment of release, when God does for the whole cosmos what he did for Jesus at Easter.”

Yes! Resurrection. Restoration. New Life. New Creation. It is, and has been since that first Easter Day, both “already and not yet.” And our call, to use , Wright’s words, is to “implement the achievement of Jesus and so to anticipate God’s eventual world.”

Which, if you think about it, is just exactly what St. Francis did—implement the achievement of Jesus and so anticipate God’s eventual world. Communing with animals…talking to flowers…relating to all of God’s creation—both animate and inanimate—not as objects to be used or commodities to be exploited, but as manifestations of God’s own Word with whom we are blessed to share this magnificent but broken world and with whom we will one day live into the fullness of God’s dream.

In the meantime, we have much to learn from Francis indeed–about relating to God’s creation with humility and with respect, as signs of God’s living presence among us.  And if you’d like to do that with kindred spirits here at St. Stephen’s, I invite to be a part of our Green Team ministry.

In closing I’d like to leave you with Francis’s Canticle of Creation, and invite you to pray with it yourself in the days ahead:

Be praised Good Lord for Brother Sun

who brings us each new day.

Be praised for Sister Moon: white

beauty bright and fair, with wandering

stars she moves through the night.

Be praised my Lord for Brother Wind,

for air and clouds and the skies of every season.

Be praised for Sister Water: humble,

helpful, precious, pure; she cleanses

us in rivers and renews us in rain.

Be praised my Lord for Brother fire:

he purifies and enlightens us.

Be praised my Lord for Mother Earth:

abundant source, all life sustaining;

she feeds us bread and fruit and gives us flowers.

Be praised my Lord for the gift of life;

for changing dusk and dawn; for touch

and scent and song.

Be praised my Lord for those who

pardon one another for love of thee,

and endure sickness and tribulation.

Blessed are they who shall endure it in

peace, for they shall be crowned by Thee.

Be praised Good Lord for sister Death

who welcomes us in loving embrace.

Be praised my Lord for all your

creation serving you joyfully.

Amen.

 

 

 

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