Monday, 17 June 2013

Unity based on what? Gal 2

We are continuing to look at Paul’s letter to the Galatians. The major question seems to be how do you become a Christian? This question is especially important for the Galatians who don’t seem to be Jewish. They are coming from a variety of different backgrounds, but have become attracted to Jesus. Jesus was Jewish. The God the Galatian church was worshiping was the God the Jewish people worshipped. So it makes sense that there should be a certain Jewishness about following Jesus. People had come into town from Jerusalem who were Jewish followers of Jesus. Paul taught the Galatians that they didn’t need any of the Jewish symbols to follow Christ, but these visitors claimed that it was important to take on certain Jewish symbols and ways of life. They said the Galatians should take on the symbol of circumcision, they should observe certain special days (like the Sabbath), they should perhaps eat a more Kosher diet. It isn’t an illogical demand that there should be a certain Jewishness about following the Jewish Messiah.  Paul, however, sees that this is a question at the very heart of the Gospel. He has a huge issue with making these kinds of demands of the Galatians. Paul had told them that these signs of Jewishness weren’t part of following Jesus.
What is at stake is this. Will Non-Jewish (Gentile) followers of Jesus be second class Christians? Because if they aren’t eating Kosher then they will be sitting at separate tables when they eat. What is at stake is the unity of the Church. Where does their unity come from? Does that unity come from observing certain parts of the Jewish Torah (Law)? So they have unity because they are circumcised and eat Kosher and observe certain Jewish holy days? Where does their identity come from?
  Earlier in the letter Paul tells his own story and how he heard the Gospel from Jesus himself. Then he tells the story of going to Jerusalem where he tells the Apostles about the Gospel he was given, and they confirmed it. He understood it completely. They didn’t add anything to what he already knew to be the Gospel. Earlier in chapter 2 Paul recalls returning to Jerusalem 14 years after his initial visit. He brought along some friends with him on that journey and one of those friends was a gentile Christian- Titus. In Jerusalem surrounded by the original disciples and many Jewish Christians, Titus was not compelled to become circumcised. Peter, himself, ate with Gentile Christians and baptized them without requiring them to take on any of these Jewish signs. We can read about Peter’s experience with Gentiles in Acts 10 when Peter has a vision and he is presented with non-Kosher animals on a white sheet. Shortly after this vision he is presented with Gentile believers in Jesus at a Gentile’s house. Gentiles were considered unclean. It was against the rules for Jewish people to eat at the same table with Gentiles. And he remembers the voice from his vision, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean” (Acts 10:15). Peter accepts these Gentiles and even witnesses the Holy Spirit working in them, so he does not hesitate to baptize them.  However, at some point Peter began to withdraw from the Gentiles under the influence of some of those who believed it was important to take on these signs of Torah. We’re not sure exactly why Peter flip-flopped, but Paul called him on it.
Peter wasn’t making a big deal out of observance of Torah when he was with the Gentiles, but then he started to make a bigger deal out of it. Paul presents him with a problem. Did Peter break Torah before when he wasn’t making a big deal out of it? When he was eating at the same table as Gentiles and not requiring Gentile to be circumcised before being baptized, was he sinning?  If he did break Torah then who was responsible?  It was Jesus that made Peter feel free to embrace the Gentiles. So if this Torah observance really matters, then it is Jesus who caused Peter to break the law of Torah and sin. That is too offensive to accept.  If what really matters is Torah observance then they had that before Jesus came, and Jesus came and died for nothing.
The thing that matters is faith in Jesus. Trust Jesus and what he has done. That is what matters, not whether you are circumcised, or eat kosher, or observe Sabbath. Those things aren’t bad. If you are a Jewish Christian you can follow all of them, but don’t make them a big deal. Don’t make them matter. It’s faith in Jesus that matters. And that means that for Gentiles and for Jews it is faith in Jesus that ultimately matters. Their identity is primarily grounded in Jesus, not anything else. If their identity is primarily grounded in Jesus, then everything else is secondary and should never be a cause for division in the community.
Christ broke down the walls between human beings. By making Torah observance matter the visitors that have come to Galatia are rebuilding a wall that Jesus dismantled. In Jesus, there is no longer anything separating human beings. There is a new unity between human beings that overcomes all divisions.
 When I drive through Edmonton I see all kinds of churches. There are churches for people who speak Spanish, churches founded by German Immigrants, churches founded by English immigrants, churches founded by Scottish immigrants, churches for African immigrants, churches for families, churches for people who like classical music, churches for people who like rock music, churches for people who like quiet services, churches for people who like traditional liturgies, churches for people who like T.V. screens in worship, Churches for people who like traditional looking gothic buildings, the list goes on and on. If the Galatians acted like us there would be a church for Gentiles and a separate Jewish church. … And I think that would horrify Paul. The reason this would horrify Paul is that it seems like something else about our identity takes priority over our faith in Christ.  It matters more what our ethnicity is, or how much money we make, or what kind of music we like, or whatever. Paul would remind us that our primary identity is in Christ, not in any of these other things. It’s fine to be aware of your ethnicity, even to celebrate it, but Paul would say that it is not okay to make your ethnicity primary in terms of your identity. It’s okay to like a certain kind of music, but don’t let that be a primary identity marker for you. It’s okay to have tastes, but when we let our tastes divide our communities then that is where Paul would become very disturbed- and we should be disturbed too. 
          When we speak about something taking over the central part of our identity we are really starting to talk about Idolatry. Idolatry is when something sneaks into God’s rightful place in our lives. It is placing something that is not God into the God spot in our hearts. It can be lots of things- sex, money, power, job, a house, a sense of security. Subtly, what idolatry usually amounts to is a kind of self-worship. We place our desires on an altar and make offerings to these forces hoping they will ultimately make us happy. The forces of Consumerism feed into this self-worship. Consumerism convinces us that what really matters is that we have all our individual desires met. The life Jesus calls us into is actually quite anti-consumerist.
          Jesus calls us to pick up our cross and follow him. We are called to give up our selfishness. To give up our obsession with ourselves. Paul says, “I have been crucified with Christ”. Our false selves are called to die, so that a new self can come into being. The self that was important to Paul before his encounter with Christ was the self that was determined to follow the Torah perfectly. Paul died to that false self. Part of following Christ is that certain visions of ourselves have to die. The self that seeks worth based on wealth, or beauty, is crucified. The self that makes ethnicity, or musical taste displace our worship of God, is crucified. Our false self dies to give rise to Christ living in us. Our true selves that are alive to Christ’s reality are what arise when our false selves die. His life arises in us and works in the world through us.  This new community is based on the freely given love of Christ rather than on any human social arrangement.
          It is this love of Christ and our trust in him that transforms the world and realigns our souls. That is what matters. So when we are at the altar rail and we put out our hands to receive what God has offered us, there is no separating young and old, or rich and poor, or European from African- at Christ’s table there is no division. What he sees is extended hands of people in need. And that is why Christ came. And that is why Christ died and rose again. To offer his transforming love and forgiveness to those with extended hands who want to grab hold of it- whoever they are and wherever they came from- to create a unified people.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Finding ourselves in God's story- Galatians 1: 11-24


    Paul was part of the very beginning of a movement that was called “The Way”, which would become “Christianity”. It was primarily a Jewish movement, but that would shift dramatically and quickly because of missionaries like St. Paul. Paul had been travelling and telling people about Jesus. He would come to a town, and first he would find out if there were any Jewish people there and speak to them, and later he would speak to anyone else who would listen. Paul ended up establishing numerous churches especially in what we now call Turkey and Greece. He would stay for a time, but then he would move on. He would sometimes write letters or send a friend to help them, but Paul was always on the move. He planted churches then moved on. One of the dangers of always being on the move is that Paul wasn’t always close by to help them when difficulties arose. They couldn’t call. They couldn’t email. They probably weren’t always aware of where he was. He was all over the Northern and Eastern Mediterranean. Some scholars believe that he even made it to Spain.
Paul wrote his letter to the church in Galatia because of a crisis. Galatia was a province in the Roman Empire. It’s in what we know now as Turkey. They ran into trouble because some people came through town talking to them about Jesus… and they didn’t completely agree with Paul on everything. Paul seems to have been part of the establishment of the Galatian church, but he had moved on and these new people were presenting them with some difficult questions. Basically the question is this, “How Jewish do you have to be to follow Jesus?”  Of course, Jesus was Jewish. Jesus was circumcised, as were all Jews, as part of the family of Abraham. Jesus ate Kosher food according to Jewish dietary law. Jesus celebrated Jewish festivals. Jesus read the Torah and kept the laws. So it makes sense that there should be a Jewish-ness about following Jesus. Jewish people who followed Jesus didn’t change much. They kept going to synagogue and they kept circumcising their baby boys. That wasn’t the question. The question was really for non-Jews- or gentiles. They came from a variety of different Pagan religions and a variety of cultures. How Jewish did they have to become in order to follow Jesus?

These other Christians who arrived in Galatia seemed to have a connection to Jerusalem. To them the Galatian church wasn’t Jewish enough. Jesus was about the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham. God gave Abraham the sign of circumcision. It makes sense that Christians should be circumcised. Maybe they don’t have to follow everything, but they should follow some of the basics, shouldn’t they? Paul had told the Galatians that circumcision wasn’t necessary for them. These visitors were telling the Galatians that Paul sold them an incomplete Gospel. He gave them an easy pill to swallow, but it was incomplete. He was preaching to them words they wanted to hear, rather than words they needed to hear. They thought he was too soft. How do you belong to this group that is following Jesus? How do you know when you’re in, and when you’re out? This is why Paul is writing his letter. For the next few weeks we’ll be dealing with some of these questions. 
Paul’s initial response is to tell his story. He wants them to know how ironic their accusation is- that he’s presenting the Galatian church with an easy and non-demanding road to following Jesus. In Paul’s earlier years he was an extremely dedicated Jewish Pharisee. He had a rare brilliant mind and was trained by a famous teacher- Gamliel.
He had a passion in him. He wanted to purify his people. He wanted them to follow the Law to the letter and he wanted to remove all heresy from his people. He believed that Jesus and his followers were spreading lies and so he set out to stop them. He wanted to destroy this movement before it caused any more damage. He was there when St. Stephen was stoned to death. He went from city to city punishing and imprisoning those who followed Jesus as their Messiah. On one occasion Paul received letters from the High Priest in Jerusalem addressed to certain synagogues that allowed him to track down and imprison anyone who was a Jesus follower.

While he was on his way to make his arrests, out of nowhere, a light shone and blinded Paul. He heard Jesus speak to him. The resurrected Jesus was revealed to Paul. He was blind for three days, just as his heart had been blind. A disciple of Jesus laid hands on him and Paul received his sight back. He was baptized and had to re-think how to live in the world. He carried letters from the high priest that now gave him permission to arrest himself. He came to understand that he had been given a mission. Paul was to spread this news to the Gentiles- the non-Jewish people across the known world.
He is adamant that it was Jesus Christ himself who revealed this gospel to him. It didn’t come from any human being- he heard this Gospel from God. After this experience he went to “Arabia”. He went to spend some time in the wilderness to pray and meditate on what he had been shown. Some have even said he went to Mt. Sinai, where God revealed himself and gave the Law to Paul’s people. He did eventually meet with the church in Jerusalem, but they didn’t add anything to the Gospel that was revealed to him. This is important. He is saying that when he met the other Apostles- particularly Peter and James- they didn’t add anything to what he said about the message of Jesus. So where did he receive this from? Surely he knew bits and pieces of the Christian message, but it wasn’t enough to stop him from attacking them, and putting them in prison, and encouraging stoning of Christians- let alone convert him and make him one of their leaders. He says he received this message from Jesus himself. It was the resurrected Jesus that sent him.        
Paul was under constant threat now. We read in Acts 9 that some had hatched a plot to kill him, but he escaped. He once had to escape by being lowered out of an opening in the city wall in a basket because people were looking for him at the city gates. As Paul continued his mission he was thrown into prisons, he was flogged numerous times, he was beaten with rods and pelted with stones. He was shipwrecked and even spent nights in the open water. Since starting his mission he was in constant danger (2 Cor 11).
Those who strolled into Galatia were accusing Paul of teaching a soft Christianity that didn’t demand enough from people. Paul tells his story. Does this sound like someone who believes that the Gospel isn’t demanding? After hearing Paul’s story does it sound like he is going to preach an easy Gospel? Is this someone who wants to water-down the message of Jesus? Paul puts himself in this danger to tell the people of the world that God loves them. No doubt he would have endured long and dangerous journeys just to have people laugh at him when he got to his destination. This was Paul’s imitation of Christ. He suffered to tell the world about God’s love. Paul suffered to let the Gentiles know that God loved them just as much as God loved Israel.   
Paul saw himself in God’s story. He saw what God was doing in the world and he saw himself as a part of it. It’s important for all of us to see ourselves in God’s story. It took Paul time to respond to God’s call and to envision his part in the story. It will be the same for us. We also listen, and wrestle, and respond to God’s call. Most of us won’t have a Damascus road experience, but we all find ourselves in God’s story. Our start in that story might be dramatic like St. Paul’s, but more often than not we burn like embers- slow and long. We might not have a dramatic conversion experience, but our lives will be filled with little conversions. We might not repent of throwing Christians in jail, but we will repent of gossip, or we will learn forgiveness, because of our love for Jesus. We wrestle with making choices and understanding God’s will in the midst of difficulties, like illness or death. We find ourselves challenged to see ourselves differently, or our life situation changes and we are called to see God in the midst of it calling us to new opportunities. And those little triumphs and struggles and even our failures are moments when we find ourselves in God’s story.  Hopefully, when others look at our lives they see glimpses of God’s story. That doesn’t mean that we live perfect lives, but it means that even in our imperfect lives there is this golden thread that runs through it all. 

Paul’s story is his beginning point when reminding the Galatians and the visitors about the message of Jesus. Our lives will also be a starting point whether we like it or not. People will look at us and make decision about following Jesus based on what they see in our lives and in our stories.  It doesn’t mean we have to be perfect, but it does mean that we are continually reaching out as a people who need help and who know where their help comes from. It means we know who we want to imitate and we work to take little steps to control our anger, or our judgmental, or our arrogance, and plant seeds of kindness, humility, and peace. If we are really perceptive we will notice that all of this is God’s reaching out to us and God’s drawing us to himself.    

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Reading the Bible

As a part of celebrating 100 years as a diocese Bishop Jane Alexander has challenged us-“Let us commit as individuals and as members of the diocese, to read successfully through the entire Bible by the end of our centennial year at Pentecost 2014.” You may have picked up the challenge and have been working your way through the reading list since Pentecost. Well done! Keep going! If you have not picked up the challenge. I encourage you to start. Even if you don’t start from the beginning- just start and commit to reading each day. Pick a time- in the morning during breakfast, or during lunch, or just before you turn the lights out at bedtime. Pick a consistent time and do your best to stick to it. If you don’t have a reading schedule ask and we will get you one.  

                This is a significant undertaking, but it is also an exciting one. It is all the more exciting to undertake this challenge as a community where we can encourage each other and also share our difficulties in reading what can be at times a perplexing book. We will be challenged by Jesus’ words to love even our enemies. We will also be challenged as we encounter deceit and murder in this book we call the “word of God”. We are reading thousands of years into human history and across vast gaps in culture. And yet… in these pages we meet people like us and the God we worship.

We live in a world that has been called “Biblically Illiterate”. Most in our culture are no longer aware of many of the stories in the Bible, or of many of the profound truths that have transformed western culture over the last 2000 years.  I do hope that most of us at St. Timothy’s have read through the Bible. Our Sunday lectionary readings bring us through a good portion of the Bible over 3 years. Most of us don’t, however, undertake a daily systematic reading of the Bible. In a culture that is suspicious of “organized” religion and of the Bible. We should at least be aware of the contents of the Bible if our culture is to take us seriously. In 1 Peter 3 we read, “…in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…”.

I would like to pass on a few helps as we enter into this challenge. First, pick a translation that will make reading the Bible more accessible. You may not want to read the King James Version (KJV) since you might get stumble through “Thy-thou” language. For example, Matthew 1:18 in the King James reads- “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.”  A more accessible translation would be the New International Version (NIV) which reads- “This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.” I would also recommend the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). The NIV and NRSV are, in general, word for word translations. There are many other good translations that are easy to read, but NIV and NRSV are among the most available. “The Message” is a translation that is idea-by-idea based, rather than word-for-word and many have found it extremely helpful. The Message version of the above passage reads, “The birth of Jesus took place like this. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. Before they came to the marriage bed, Joseph discovered she was pregnant. (It was by the Holy Spirit, but he didn’t know that.)”   

It may also be helpful to use a Study Bible when reading. These come in many versions. There are study Bibles for women, men, firefighters, college students, mothers, couples, etc. The goal of a Study Bible is to explain difficult passages in footnotes at the bottom of the page, but also to help us see how the Bible applies to our lives. I am particularly fond of the “Spiritual Formation Study Bible” and the “Oxford Annotated Bible”, but there are plenty of excellent study Bibles available in a variety of versions.

There are also books about reading the Bible which can be helpful if you would like to dig deeper and understand better what you are reading. These books guide us by giving us a sense of the theme and flow of the biblical book we are presently reading and also give us a sense of when it was written and what the culture was like at that time and place. A Bible dictionary is also helpful to have in order to understand unknown words or names. Here are a few recommended books of this type-  

The Story We Find Ourselves In by Brian McLaren

The New Joy of Discovery In Bible Study by Oletta Wald

How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Gordon Fee

How to Read the Bible Book by Book by Gordon Fee

You can Understand the Bible by Peter Kreeft

The Blue Parakeet by Scot McKnight

Old Testament Survey by Lasor, Hubbard, and Bush

Reading the Old Testament by Lawrence Boadt

The Writings of the New Testament by Luke Timothy Johnson

Eat This Book by Eugene Peterson

Harpercollins Bible Dictionary by Paul Archtemeier

Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible by Freedman


God Bless your adventure!

“Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.” 

Monday, 3 June 2013

"creation" not "environment"

When I was 19 I went camping in Banff National Park. I grew up tromping around in the woods, making fires, and building forts, but I had never hiked into the Rocky Mountains to camp overnight. My aunt and her friend invited me along with them and I was excited to go. We packed our bags (I probably over-packed my bag), and we drove to the trail-head  We got out of the car and I saw a massive playground- Foothills, trees, creeks, and grizzly bears. We started walking and after about 10 minutes my aunt’s friend mentioned to me that I wasn't walking in the right spot.
          The trail in front of me was mostly grass, but there was a 10 inch deep muddy ditch that cut through it. I was walking on the grass beside the ditch…. But she said I was supposed to walk in the deep muddy ditch. … There was something that bothered me about what she said. Perhaps it was just my rebellious ego. She was officially right- We were supposed to leave the park as untouched as possible. We were supposed to walk in the ditch so that there weren't trails all over the grassy foothills. She was officially right, but there was something that bothered me about what she was telling me and I think it went deeper than my rebellious ego. I have come to believe that theologically she was wrong. 
          She was theologically wrong because behind what she was saying was the belief that I was an alien to that place. I am an alien on this planet. I don’t belong here. Not only am I an alien. I am a damaging and destructive alien. I need to walk in the muddy ditch because I don’t belong among the trees, and the hills, and the creeks, and the grizzly bears. I don’t belong there and by walking through it I am damaging it. My feet are poisonous. My footprints are different than the deer’s tracks. My breaking a twig is different than a bear breaking a twig. My swimming in a lake is different than a fish swimming in the lake. I don’t belong there. That belief is a theological mistake.
          It is a theological mistake because Genesis tells me that I was made from the earth. In Genesis 2:7 we read “Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” God made “Adam” from the “Adamah”. It is a play on words. “Adam” means “human being”. “Adamah” means “earth”, or “ground”. It would be reasonable to translate Adam as “dusty” and say he was made from the dust of the ground. ‘Adam’, the first human being, represents all of us. We are all made from the earth. Through some process God made me from the dust of the earth.
          Theologically, I belong here. This is my home. My footsteps are no different than the deer’s tracks. When I break a twig it is no different than when a bear breaks a twig. When I swim in a lake it is no different than when a fish swims in a lake. I belong here. I am from the ground in the same way a flower is from the ground, or a bird is from the ground, or a frog is from the ground. The atoms in my body came from this earth. This is my home. This is how God made me. God made me a part of this place.

       St. Francis of Assisi understood this theological truth. In his Canticle of the Sun he calls the sun “Brother Sun”. And he calls the moon “Sister Moon”. He calls the earth his “sister” and “mother”. Francis knew he was created along with the sun, the moon, the earth, and the animals. God is the Father Creator… and that makes all creatures brothers and sisters. Francis knew he belonged here on earth among the streams, among the birds, and under the stars.    
          There is a name for the theological mistake that says we don’t belong here. It’s called “Gnosticism”. “Gnosticism” says that we don’t belong here. It actually says we’re trapped here. “Gnosticism” says the world was made by the devil. It says we are not home here. The Christians recognized this mistake.  Christianity is not about escaping life on this earth. It is about perfecting life on earth. “Thy Kingdom come”, Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. At the end of the book of Revelation the heavenly city comes down to earth. When Jesus defeated death his actual body rose from the grave. There is a continuity between his earthly body and his resurrected body. Jesus’ earthly body was perfected- he didn’t leave his earthly body behind in the tomb. God cares about this place He has made. He cares about the creatures He has made. This place will have continuity when God finally brings about the new heaven and the new earth. This place will be made new the way we are made new as we follow Christ. We aren’t destroyed to be replaced by someone else, instead, we start along the road of perfection. It’s a long road.

          Many of us know the experience of walking outside and looking at the sky, maybe at the clouds or at a sunset, or at the stars and we suddenly feel at home, and as if all is right. Maybe it’s a cool breeze on a hot day. Maybe it is swimming in the ocean. At some point we feel something that pulls at us.  Psalm 19 says “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.” The Bible’s answer to why we feel at peace when we take a walk along the river is that we are hearing our sister the river declare the Glory of God- it’s no different than a choir singing praise to God. Our hearts recognize the song, and the atoms of our body want to sing along.
          The main reason the creation is suffering so badly is that we have been seduced to believe that this is not our home. It’s the old Gnostic mistake. This is a place we are trapped. It is no longer “creation” that we are a part of, it is an “environment” we have been dropped into as aliens. If the tree is not our sister, but only a natural resource, then we don’t really need to worry about cutting her down.  The less we feel at home here, the more danger the world is in. When we recognize that we are made from the earth and that God asked us to tend to the garden he has planted, then the creation begins to heal.

          My friend’s daughter came to my parent’s house to visit one day. We sat outside around the fire in the backyard. My friend’s 3 year old daughter looked up at the tree and asked what the red things in the tree were. We told her they were apples. She asked us why they didn’t have any stickers and looked suspiciously at us saying that apples come from a drawer in the fridge, not a tree. In 2010, there was a shift. For the first time in human history there were more human beings living in cities than in the country. There are now less humans watching their food grow in the fields and on trees. There are less humans who raise cows and chickens, and more who eat them. We are becoming less connected to other creatures and to the very soil God used to make us.
            The Bible tells us we have an intimate bond with other creatures. In Paul’s letter to the Romans (ch 8) we read, “the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” In some mysterious way the creation shares our desire for freedom and perfection. Human beings everywhere share the feeling that something isn’t quite right. There are many names for that inner feeling of lack. Paul tells us that Creation feels it with us.
          In today’s Psalm (96) Creation is invited to join in praising God. “11 Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it.12 Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them;  let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.13 Let all creation rejoice before the Lord, for he comes, he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in his faithfulness.” They are called to rejoice because God is coming to put things right. He is coming to bring justice. God is coming to right the wrongs. The book of Revelation (11:18) even says judgement will come to those who destroy the earth. God’s justice is about restoration. God’s story isn’t just about saving human souls. God’s story is about restoring creation. God’s desire and love is for the squirrel and tree and river, just as it is for you and for me. God’s saving work is bigger than we imagine. Psalm 96 is often sung at Christmas and it is precisely because that is what the incarnation is about. God entered into history in Jesus Christ to bring salvation- or we might say ‘restoration’- not just for human beings, but for our fellow creatures as well. And part of that restoration is calling a people who once again remember that they are made from the soil, and that the bird is their sister, and that at the very beginning God entrusted to care for the garden.


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