Earth Sunday: open your eyes

*reflection based on Romans 1:18-23 and John 1:1-14 for Earth Sunday – Season of Creation*

A couple of years ago my optometrist told me that the best gift I could give myself when I hit 40 was a pair of reading glasses. I’m now 42 and quite proud of the fact that I still haven’t had to get a pair; although, honestly, my eyes are very tired after a few hours of serious study and there are more than a few nights when I’ve gone to bed with a searing headache.

That gift to myself is actually long overdue, but I have plenty of good excuses: I don’t have time to go and see an optometrist; I’ve never found a pair of frames that really suits my face; it’s just another thing to remember and misplace and waste time looking for; but – honestly again – I’m actually pretty smug about the fact that I’ve spent hours of my life in front of a computer screen gaming and I still have excellent eye-sight!

The truth we encounter in Scripture today is that God longs to be known and offers us all of creation as the lens through which we can begin to see God’s eternal power and to unveil the mystery of God’s divine being.

Equally true is that many of us don’t want these God-coloured glasses – even though they’re the best thing for us. And we’re full of fantastic excuses:

  • we don’t have time to sit with and see the Divine Optometrist;
  • we’ve never found frames that suit our pre-existing picture of God or ourselves or the world around us;
  • they’re yet another thing for us to forget and misplace and have to intentionally search for;
  • and, actually, we’re pretty smug surrounded by the cheap figurines we’ve accumulated along life’s way that give the impression that we’re really important or smart or popular or successful or just plain better than other people.

The Message tells us that the reality of God is plain enough (vs. 18).

It’s captured in the stars, the silence, the burnt-orange sunsets, the crashing seas.

It’s in the science that keeps us grounded to this spot instead of suddenly floating away; that dictates that with the phloem and xylem of a flower cut off from the roots of the plant, it will wither and die in a few days; that allows us to create and capture our thoughts while sitting in our studies in Australia and share them with people we’ve never met, in places we’ve never visited in an instant.

It’s in the sum total of your life story and my life story woven together – all of the “coincidences,” all of the “you won’t believe what happened next-s,” all of the inexplicable moments that we haven’t even shared out loud because people might think we’re crazy.

The reality of God is plain enough … if we are prepared to open our eyes and take a long and thoughtful look at what God has created.

When we put on the God-coloured glasses of creation, and take a long and thoughtful look around us, there are a few things that we can see more clearly.

Firstly, we can see that God is far bigger than we can ever imagine or comprehend or describe or even begin to worship adequately. That’s why mystery is such an important term in the Christian faith: we’ll never know it all; we’ll never be able to claim that we are on the inside track of God’s good graces while others are on the out; we’ll never have a perfect understanding of who God is or what God wants – at least not in this life.

But God longs to be known by us, and every day, if we’re open to it, God enriches our knowing and our wonder and our love by unveiling the next little bit of the Divine mystery that we’re ready to receive, ready to wrestle with, ready to respond to.

In being open to the length and breadth and height and depth of God – and God’s love – we, secondly, see more clearly our own smallness in the ways in which we seek to contain and control this creative fellowship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – or Birther of the Cosmos, Liberator of Women, and Comforter of those who weep – if we’re looking for less traditional imagery and language.

Sometimes we don’t treat God like God because we’re afraid of what we might have to sacrifice or surrender or change along the way. Sometimes we’re just being stubborn. Sometimes we’re so focussed on being good leaders that we forget to be humble followers. Sometimes we want things to work out in our favour, to go according to our plans. Sometimes we’re enraged by the bad things that happen to good people and the good things that happen to bad people and figure that if we take charge things would turn out more fairly. And sometimes, well, sometimes we think that we know best so we roll up our sleeves with an “I’ve got this God” attitude and get right to work without thinking through the consequences or worrying about who we might hurt or alienate or forget along the way.

There’s no excuse for it. No way to avoid the damage that we do when we pretend to know it all, to have it all sorted; when we replace the hands that hold the whole world with our own.

For it’s when we try to trivialise God’s glory and apportion God’s love and administer God’s justice through our own small view that human mistrust and wrongdoing and lying accumulate and people lose faith in a church that has lost sight of the renewing, restoring, revitalising life and love of the God who paints with many colours ….

Indeed, through the lens of creation we begin to see the both-and possibilities of God, rather than the either-or (or even neither-nor) position that, in our smallness, we seem to adopt as our default way of being in a world so big and a universe so unknown and mysterious.

In the beginning … was the Word and the Word was with God; in that beginning, as all things came into being through the Word and the words “let there be light” brought something new into the darkness, we saw the full glory of God – not in the light obliterating the darkness but, in fact, accentuated by it.

Light and dark;
heaven and earth;
ebb and flow;
life and death;

Father, Son and Spirit;
proton, neutron, and electron;
gas, liquid, and solid;
animals in the sea and sky and on land;

spring, summer, autumn, and winter;
earth, air, fire, and water;
north, south, east, and west ….

In our ever-expanding Universe, God is always astounding and – sometimes – confounding us – in the miracles of conception and development, the abundant diversity of life, and the confluence of factors that sustain it.

You and I are wholly insignificant in the grand scheme of things and yet we act as though we are at the centre of the universe and all that exists should either contribute to our happiness or be cut off, cut out, ignored, isolated, attacked, ridiculed, corrected, or even – obliterated.

Do you want to know the most amazing thing about being God’s created children?

Despite our smallness and our relative insignificance and our silliness, God sees us – clearly; beyond the skin and bones that God knit together cell by cell, to who we are in our hidden depths … and God wants to be known and loved and worshipped by all (the whole) of us.

Over the next five weeks of the season of creation, as we look together at the earth, at humanity, at the sky, at the mountains, and at the animals, we have the opportunity to examine our lives through the lens of God’s creation and see who or what it is that we are really worshipping.

Against the vast mystery of who God is and how and why God loves us, we can know our own smallness and take ownership of the myriad ways in which our insecurities and ambitions have damaged the Earth and caused the people with whom we have journeyed pain or sorrow. We may even be moved to that radically vulnerable act of saying sorry and working towards reconciliation and understanding.

We can be liberated through the creative imaginings of God who brings together colour and form and function in oftentimes contradictory and surprising ways to enrich the grand tapestry of life from the sense of scarcity and self-importance that leads to so much of the mistrust and wrongdoing in the world.

We can find rest as we entrust those things that we have grasped hold of as our own and sought to manage and contain and control into the hands of the One who holds the whole world.

And, above all, if we’re open to it, we can be surprised by God, delighted by the gift of Earth, re-energised and revitalised by the wonder of what is and what might be.

So … clear a morning, or an evening, turn off your phone, shake off your walking shoes, pack a picnic, head to a quiet spot … perhaps even take a friend or a family member with you … and sit in a place that speaks to you of God’s greatness and your smallness … and treasure a moment in which you are surrounded by the handiwork of God … and wonder at the fact that in that moment God is treasuring you too – for you are God’s handiwork.

The reality of God is plain enough … if we are prepared to open our eyes and take a long and thoughtful look at what God has created.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Eternal Perspective

Ascension Day marks an important change in perspective: Jesus who lived and walked among us, preaching, teaching, healing the sick, restoring dignity to the vulnerable, challenging the oppressor, and even raising the dead to new life, is taken up to heaven in glory.

This we know.  This we believe.  This we affirm when we say the familiar words: “Christ has died.  Christ is risen.  Christ will come again.”

Jesus’ ascension marks the end of counting off each earthly hour and ushers in eternity.

The Greeks for whom John’s Gospel was written, like many other cultures, had a cyclical view of time.  They believed that life was an ever recurring sequence of events from which they longed to escape.  In this modern age we would probably call it the rat race.

For the Greeks then, the idea of redemption, of being saved, meant breaking out o that cycle so that they could enter into timelessness or nothingness.  John’s Gospel introduces them instead to the idea of eternal life which has to do rather with the agelessness of God over all the ages of time, bringing continuity and stability and joy to human lives so bounded and defined by their age and by the ages in which they live.

It’s a major shift, a dramatic change in perspective.

The Ascension of Christ invites us to wrestle with the question: is our picture of heaven a distant dream of the most marvelous holiday hotel which we can check into once we’ve checked out of life or is it a perspective of our lives held and sustained in the hands of the God who was and is and is to come?

The distinction is important because it determines whether we are living for the future rather than the present; for ourselves rather than for God.

John 17:3 gives us the most wonderful glimpse into what eternity is all about: “And this is eternal life: that people may know you, the only true God, and that they know Jesus Christ, the One you sent.”

If we go back to the times in which John’s Gospel was written we see a distinct struggle emerge: for the Greeks, there was the idea of the Supreme Good – an eternal truth from which all truths took their value that they dedicated their lives to discovering through study and debate; for the Jews there was only God’s truth and God’s way and an abundance of laws to ensure that they lived by that truth, that way.

One group focused on belief, the other on action but Jesus – according to John’s Gospel – came into the world so we might know that eternity is not achieved by finding the right belief or by living according to the right set of laws, but by entering into the right relationship, with God and with the One God sent.

The word “know” is key to that relationship.  It comes from the Greek “gignoskein” meaning:

  • to perceive directly,
  • to have understanding of,
  • to recognize the nature of,
  • to have experience of,
  • to be acquainted or familiar with.

This is not a head knowledge, a book knowledge, some intellectual and abstract knowledge; it is intimacy and familiarity and relationship.

It’s the nuances of language that grow between loves who, with a look or the use of a particular pet name, can convey an entire history of shared memories and an immediacy of desire.

It’s the protection offered by a brother who doesn’t even necessarily like you at times but who will not let any harm come to you because you are family and belong to him.

It’s the comforting hand of a friend in your lap when you’re lonely or hurting or heartbroken or anxious about what is to come.

It’s the unrestricted, oftentimes overwhelming affection of a child, who suddenly wraps his or her arms around you and holds on tight, regardless of the ringing phone or the pot that is about to boil over.

This is eternal life: knowing God and being known like this.

There is another aspect to this knowing, however.  “Gignoskein” also means “to recognize as being the same as something previously known.”

So eternal life is also the moment of recognition that even when we did not believe, even when we were not open to the presence of God, God was present and active in our lives.  And, in that moment of recognition, when we finally receive and respond to God’s invitation to salvation and to eternal life, it is not a moment of awkwardness as if meeting a stranger for th first time but a joyous celebration of coming home to a love that existed long before we knew it.

Ascension Day invites us, in this moment, to consider our perspective on eternity:

  • Is it a distant holiday destination to which we’ll one day escape from the struggles and challenges of life?
  • Is it something to which we are entitled because we have rightly believed that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life?
  • Is it something that we earn by following the right set of rules to keep us moving in the right direction?
  • Or is it, as John reminds us, a present, joyous, transforming experience of the outstretched arms of the God who has always known us and who invites us into the mystery of knowing God?

 

 

 

 

Choose Life

One of the driving forces of human nature is competition. I simply have to watch my children squabbling over their test scores without any regard for their differences in grade or ability to see what an early age we start ingraining the need to outdo one another into our thoughts and motivations. Our language has even developed in such a way as to enable our comparisons: it’s not simply good enough to be wealthy but one can be wealthier than another and, if truly blessed, the wealthiest of us all.

Smart, smarter, smartest;
successful, more successful, most successful,
pretty, prettier, prettiest … these are the patterns that govern not only our speech, but our lives.

No wonder life is, for many of us, an unfulfilling, exhausting experience. No wonder the abundance and prosperity God promises us seems to be like a distant dream instead of a present experience. No wonder heaven becomes the goal that we set our eyes on longingly in an effort to escape the daily grind.

Our Scriptures (Deuteronomy 30:15-20, Psalm 119:1-8, 1 Corinthians 3:1-9, Matthew 5:21-37) this week invite us to examine the standards by which we are evaluating ourselves and others. What are the things that bring you joy and a deep sense of satisfaction? What are the gifts on offer to you in the relationships that you have? What are the gifts that you have to offer? What are the sins – the ingrained habits, the negative thoughts, the possessive desires – that hold you back and drain you? What are the judgements and grudges and expectations that limit your potential to give and receive love? How do you define happiness, success, prosperity, promise and have these definitions hurt or helped you?

God longs for us to know the fullness of life. We know that. Do we, however, long for the kind of life God promises – a life of community and harmony, of servanthood and sound morals? Or are we looking for the life in which we are the winner of every competition?