Sunday, June 14, 2015

Five Points about Creation: 11th Sunday of Ordinary Time

(Listen to this homily here).

            It has been rightly said that God has written two books.  The first is the easy one to guess—the Bible.  The second isn’t really a book, but a metaphor—for creation.
            I would like you to listen again to how many times our readings referred to something in nature this morning: cedar, branches, tender shoot, high and lofty mountain, birds, shade, boughs, field, high tree, lowly tree, green tree, withered tree—these were from only three verses in Ezekiel!  Such references continue in the Psalm: dawn, night, palm tree, cedar, fruit, rock.  Even in the Gospel, Jesus uses nature to teach two different parables: seed, night, day, land, fruit, blade, ear, grain and the mustard seed, plant, branches, birds, sky and shade. 
            Our readings this morning are saturated with what surrounds us—our environment.  Because of this, I want to share five points about what we believe about creation.
            First point—creation is good.  In the first chapter of the Bible the creation of the world is described.  After each day, what did God say?: “it was good.”  This probably seems obvious to us, but believing in a good world is unique to our faith.  Throughout the centuries there have been heresies—like Gnosticism or dualism—that have utterly rejected anything material.  Or even today, some worldviews (like some Eastern spiritualities) feature fleeing the world and/or body because material things are prisons for the spiritual.
            We have always believed God’s creation is good.  It demands our respect and stewardship—we are to take care of the many gifts God has given us in nature.
            At the same time (second point) we must not go to the other extreme and think that the created order is equal to God.  There are such belief systems today—pantheism, for example—which hold that everything contains a piece of the divine.  More common is treating nature out of a proper order.  We were not created for nature—nature was created for us.  Thus, we have to place the created world in proper order.  Trees are not gods.  Pets are not people.  It is okay to eat an animal.  
            Third point: Jesus’ use of parables almost always refer to something found in creation—a mustard seed, trees, sheep, vineyards and the like.  Jesus teaches moral and spiritual truths by referring to what his audience knew well.
            Which leads to a fourth point: spending time outside can and should lead us closer to God.  St. Bernard of Clairvaux was said to be able to fall into mystical prayer by looking at a tree—because he saw the tree’s Creator.  He also said something profound, a quotation I will only share now because the kids are out of school!  He said, “Believe me, you will find more lessons in the woods than in books.  Trees and stones will teach you what you cannot learn from masters.”  Again, this is a summer only quote.  You will learn more in the woods than in books!  I tried telling my seminary professors that, but they wouldn’t buy it. 
            At this point (point five) some would refer to a common northern Minnesota quip.  You wouldn’t, because you are at Church, but you know what it is: “I would rather be at the deer shack/fishing/hunting, thinking about God, than in Church thinking about the deer shack/fishing/hunting.”  Do you know what this thought process is called?  Bovine waste material!  While it is great to soak in creation, we still need to leave the created order to enter the heavenly order and come to Mass!  You’re here on a beautiful morning—well done.
            I have a homework assignment for you this morning.  And given it’s hot in the church, this will be easy.  Your homework: go outside.  Okay, that is too easy.  Your homework: go outside and look for God. 
            We live in one of the most beautiful places on the planet.  The lakes, woods, trees, wildlife are some of the best you could find anywhere.  Take advantage of this extraordinary part of God’s creation.  Soak it in and see the Creator Who gave us such great gifts.

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