Gathered and Scattered

Gathered and Scattered

Weekly Prayer
Living God, you have created all that is. Send forth your Spirit to renew and restore us, that we may proclaim your good news in ways and words that all will understand and believe. Amen.

Focus Reading
Romans 8:14-17

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, "Abba! Father!" it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ--if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

All Readings For This Sunday
Acts 2:1-21 or  Genesis 11:1-9
Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
Romans 8:14-17 or Acts 2:1-21
John 14:8-17 [25-27]

Focus Questions

1. How do you understand the Holy Spirit as the "green face of God"?

2. How can we connect the fact that we are the children of God with the restoration of creation?

3. What are the implications of understanding creation as a sacrament?

4. What do you think keeps us from relating our faith to our care of God's creation?

5. Do you experience creation as "deeply interwoven with the essence of God"? How does that affect your faith?

Reflection
Professor Steven Lewis
Bangor Theological Seminary

It is particularly fitting that Pentecost Sunday be the final Sermon Seeds for Mission 4/1 Earth: 50 Great Days. The Holy Spirit connects us to creation, reminding us that the Spirit of God dwells within us and empowers us to act and function as children of God in the world. Pentecost is a fitting reminder that we are embodied people through whom the Divine Spirit of God dwells. While Acts 2, the traditional text for Pentecost, is a beautiful and well-rehearsed narrative, I would like to highlight the epistle lesson for this Sunday, Romans 8:14-17.  

In chapter 8 of Romans, Paul outlined his understanding of life that is led by the Spirit. He highlighted the connection between the Spirit of God and being the children of God, the freedom found in Jesus and the power of the Spirit to transform both people and creation. Paul suggested that "creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God" (verse 19). "We know that the whole of creation has been groaning in labor pains until now, and not only creation, but we ourselves..." (verse 22-23a). These verses are beyond the lectionary texts for today, but they are key components of the chapter's Spirit emphasis and highlight the connection between creation and the children of God.

Throughout Romans 8, Paul shows how deeply we are connected to God through the Spirit. For it is those who are led by the Spirit that may make claim that they are the children of God. The presence of the Spirit within overcomes those things that would separate us from God, namely sin. Verses 14-17 emphasize that the power of the Spirit is so compelling that we are drawn into an intimacy with God as adopted children who call out "Abba! Father!" as Jesus did. While the father metaphor is often overlooked in our more inclusive readings, Paul's statement reflects a deep intimacy known only within family. Generally, only one's own children would refer to parents as daddy and mommy. These terms are intimate, revered for the closest of relationships, and reflect a vulnerability and innocence. They are not utilized by strangers or even friends. 

The connection between creation and humanity

Furthermore, Paul continued to affirm the family connection by stating that the children of God are heirs of God, joint heirs of Christ (verse 17). This deep connection has been central to a Christian understanding of the Incarnation. God in Christ, Christ in us, and the Spirit of God enabling the entire enterprise is affirmed in the entirety of Romans chapter 8. However, this does not imply that humanity has embraced or even understood the connection between creation and humanity. We are beginning to take more seriously the responsibility that we have to support, improve, and restore creation, a responsibility given to us as the children of God; however, we have a long way to go.

What is our connection to creation and what exactly is our responsibility? First, we may consider that the same Spirit that hovered over the waters as the formless earth took shape is the Spirit that dwells within us. The Spirit that God breathed into the first human is also within us. The Spirit that inspired the poetry of the psalmists, the Spirit that descended at Pentecost is the same Spirit that dwells within us. Second, Paul suggested, "creation awaited with eager longing" for the children of God to awaken to the reality that creation also needs to be freed. In The Great Work: Our Way into the Future, cultural historian Thomas Berry suggests that "we are here to become integral with the larger Earth community." And Sallie McFague, in The Body of God: Ecological Theology, introduced the metaphor of the universe as the Body of God, which suggests that all of creation is a sacrament, an expression of Divine grace. If in fact the universe is deeply interwoven with the essence of God, then as the children of God, as heir and joint heirs, humanity is connected to creation itself in more specific ways than perhaps is realized. McFague offers her own vision for a new shape for humanity that includes a greater awareness of creation, solidarity with the oppressed, and awareness that we are the "stewards of life's continuity on earth and partners with God." This is in fact our vocation as humans. 

An ancient appreciation of creation

A number of writers both ancient and modern have addressed the connection between creation and humanity. Hildegard of Bingen, a 12th century monastic, offered an earthen spirituality, which emphasized the Holy Spirit living in and through the natural world. She worked with nature to provide healing through plant-based medicine, and included creation themes in the hymns she wrote (Scivias). Catholic writer Matthew Fox has a number of works that explore Creation Spirituality. Belden Lane's latest book, Ravished by Beauty, provides a theological foundation of Reformed Spirituality connected to the earth. His exploration of Calvin, Puritans, and Jonathan Edwards reveals unrealized passions for the environment and care for creation. The list of theologians who are engaging the conversation around creation, the Church, and the Spirit are countless. Add to that a list of environmentalists, spiritualists, poets, and artists who are committed to "saving" the earth. 

We have so much more capacity to change the world than we realize, not because of our intelligence, not from our commitment to justice, but from the Spirit that inspires our compassion, stimulates our imaginations, and fills us with the assurance that we are truly the children of God with many rights and responsibilities. Pentecost confronts us with the reality of that Spirit of God dwelling within us. Mark Wallace suggests that the Holy Spirit is "the green face of God," which is not only a Divine reality in the world, but also a reality within us.

Why does this matter to the children of God?

The implication of this actuality is too often ignored when in reality the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is central to our Christianity. Our commitment to care for the planet, environmental justice, feeding the hungry, assisting the sick, and speaking truth to the world all flow from the fact that we are the children of God. We have been given the authority to forgive sins or to retain sin because we have received the Holy Spirit (John 20:22-23).  We have been given the power to bind or loose things on earth and in heaven. We have been given the keys to the kingdom because we are the children of God (Matt 16:19). Will we embrace these realities and live into the responsibilities that they imply? 

It is clear that the future of the planet is in our hands. Beyond the debates of climate change, global warming, and environment responsibility, lies the reality that we are the children of God, empowered by the Spirit of God to care for, to restore, and yes, even to create environments that honor the Creator. 

Our guest writer this week for Mission 4/1 Earth:

Dr. Steven Lewis, the Academic Dean and Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Bangor Theological Seminary, holds a B.A. from Oakland City University, M.Div. from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, M.A. from Central Theological Seminary, and Ph.D. from Saint Louis University. An ordained elder in the United Methodist Church, Dr. Lewis speaks at retreats and conferences about the future of the church amidst the shifting sands of postmodern culture. His research interests include the various forms of 21st century ministry and their impact, actual and potential, on individuals, institutions, and society. Body art as spiritual expression, landscape metaphors for the spiritual journey, theology in film, the current preference for the spiritual over the religious, and the potentialities of the spiritual imagination all feed his passion for exploring and charting the intense relevance of Christian expression in the 21st century.

For further reflection

Samuel Beckett, "Proust," 20th century
"The creation of the world did not take place once and for all time, but takes place every day."

Fyoder Dostoyevsky, 19th century
"Love the animals: God has given them the rudiments of thought and joy untroubled." 

Henry David Thoreau, 19th century
"This curious world we inhabit is more wonderful than convenient; more beautiful than it is useful; it is more to be admired and enjoyed than used."

J.B.S. Haldane, 20th century
"If one could conclude as to the nature of the Creator from a study of creation it would appear that God has an inordinate fondness for stars and beetles."

L.J. Suenens, 20th century
"I believe in the surprises of the Holy Spirit."
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Weekly Seeds is a United Church of Christ resource for Bible study based on the readings of the "Lectionary," a plan for weekly Bible readings in public worship used in Protestant, Anglican and Roman Catholic churches throughout the world. When we pray with and study the Bible using the Lectionary, we are praying and studying with millions of others.

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Weekly Seeds is a service of the Congregational Vitality and Discipleship Ministry Team, Local Church Ministries, United Church of Christ. Bible texts are from the New Revised Standard Version, - 1989 Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Prayer is from The Revised Common Lectionary -1992 Consultation on Common Texts. Used by permission.

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