I want us to begin today by not thinking about Jesus. Remove the pictures of baby Jesus or old Jesus, dead Jesus or living Jesus, nice Jesus or stern Jesus, black Jesus or white Jesus, long-haired Jesus or short-haired Jesus, tall Jesus or short Jesus—remove them all from your mind for a moment. Now I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “I’ve been to church before. The answer is always Jesus. Something strange is going on here.”
A little over a decade ago, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada published a short booklet that outlined a biblical case for environmental stewardship or “earth-keeping.” At the heart of the document was this observation: “We stand . . . at a watershed in human history: we are no longer at the mercy of the seasons, yet our continued drive for mastery may lead to disastrous environmental consequences.” This assessment is hard to refute, yet even years later the way forward is fraught.
A few weeks ago, just beyond the edge of our neighborhood, an excavator crawled off a low bed trailer and went to work. The big machine was equipped with a brush-clearing attachment. Over the span of a couple of days, the operator worked his way around the retention pond, munching through small deciduous trees and mowing down the cattails. The excavator’s twin steel tracks left deep ruts in the wet ground. The work blocked off the path we use for our daily walks. Nevertheless, my family and I watched anxiously to see what would be left. [the rest of this column for Mennonite Creation Care Network is available through this link]
Years ago I had the impression that doubt was mostly a thing for young adults. It was the sort of thing that hit you in your second year of university or in those early years working alongside people very different from yourself. Maybe it was spawned by encountering a thoroughgoing naturalistic worldview for the first time or maybe it was meeting someone of a different faith background who turned out not to be as questionable as you had grown up assuming.
One of the most prominent ancient interpreters of the Bible, a fellow named Jerome, said that reading the Bible—really reading it—is like eating a fruit that has a tough, dry husk. It takes some work. It takes time to peel back the layers, to get at the sweet, succulent fruit within. Jerome would know, he produced the authoritative Latin translation of the Bible. You can recognize paintings of Jerome because he’s usually depicted with a large book and a skull.
Our main text today, a story from the book of Judges, is one of those that has a tough outer husk and sweet inner fruit.
Most of us have been refreshing news websites more than usual these last few days. We’ve done more than a little addition and subtraction related to the number 270. We’ve had a good refresher in US political geography. Our eyes have become quite quick at discerning red from blue, light red from dark red, light blue from dark blue. Some of us have even found ourselves caring more than is natural about the workings of this obscure creature known as the electoral college.
Whatever the outcome of the US election itself, it is already clear that the social divisions that plague our communities have not gone away. There has been no massive unifying reaction to the presidential term that is about to expire. In that sense the situation in the US remains similar to many other western countries, Canada included. In such a context, we might wonder, what is the role of the church?
Let’s begin by hearing a bit more from the prophet Micah. I warn you, these lines from the beginning of chapter three, are a bit macabre: “Listen, you heads of Jacob and rulers of the house of Israel! Should you not know justice?—you who hate the good and love the evil, who tear the skin off my people, and the flesh off their bones; who eat the flesh of my people, flay their skin off them, break their bones in pieces, and chop them up like meat in a kettle, like flesh in a caldron.”
The writer Christian Wiman includes this provocative little snippet in the story of his conversion: “If that’s what he means,” says the student to the poetry teacher, “why doesn’t he just say it?” “If God is real,” says the parishioner to the preacher, “why doesn’t he simply storm into our lives and convince us?”
Today I’d like you to take my sermon as an invitation, or maybe a provocation, to have big conversations. Some of you might have teenagers in your household. You might not need this. The rest of us, however, are pretty shy about having big conversations.
The congregation I serve here in Ottawa is holding a funeral for one of our long-term members. Unfortunately, due to pandemic-related regulations and a few last-minute developments, I am not able to participate. Here is a recording of the meditation I had planned on offering.
It is hard to be thankful today. But the reasons are not the obvious ones. It is not really because there are various buffoons in positions of power. It is not really because we can’t visit our friends and family. It is not really because we lack the moral strength to say “Thank you.”
Is Christianity becoming a more environmentally sensitive faith? In 2016, a scholar named Bron Taylor, along with colleagues Gretel Van Wieren and Bernard Daley Zaleha, published a paper in the journal, Conservation Biology suggesting there is no evidence that the world’s religions are becoming greener. Earlier this year, a Nigerian scholar named George Nche published a paper that surveyed more than 100 empirical studies and came to a similar conclusion. There is scant, if any, empirical evidence to suggest that religions in general, or Christianity specifically, are becoming greener. Continue reading “Are Christian Becoming Greener?”→