This is the story into which we are born, called, and must choose each day to embrace or reject.
I have spent a lot of time over these three years in Edinburgh with Paul’s letter to the Romans as the test case performance at the heart of my PhD (which is now submitted and in the process of being examined). Most themes and stories and experiences now call to mind for me something from the letter. And so it has been with the theme for today’s worship. These words come early in the letter.
Ever since the creation of the world
Creator’s eternal power and divine nature,
invisible though they are,
have been understood and seen
through the things Creator has made.
So they are without excuse;
for though they knew Holy One,
they did not honour them as Holy One
or give thanks to them,
but they became futile in their thinking,
and their senseless minds were darkened.
Claiming to be wise, they became fools;
and they exchanged the glory of the immortal Holy One
for images resembling a mortal human being or birdsor four-footed animals or reptiles.
Paul describes what he sees as the consequences of rejecting our call to live the story of being created – he gives some more specific examples, then this vast list:
And since they did not see fit to acknowledge Holy One,
Holy One gave them up to a debased mind
and to things that should not be done.
They were filled with every kind of wickedness,
evil, covetousness, malice.
Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness,
they are gossips, slanderers, Holy One-haters,
insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil,
rebellious towards parents,
senseless, disloyal, unfeeling, without mercy.
They know Holy One’s decree,
that those who practise such things deserve to die—
yet they not only do them
but even applaud others who practise them.
When we live another story that places ourselves or other idols in the place of the Creator, the consequences are the diminishing of life and wellbeing for us all. Ourselves, our ideas of what is right, even the Bible, can become idols we worship instead of God.
Apparently, it is not so easy to tell from my accent anymore, but I am from Australia. Back home at the moment the people are being invited to complete a one question survey on whether we think the laws about marriage should change to allow same sex marriages. Now, I don’t mind where people stand on this question after faithful interpretation of the Bible and Christian tradition (I’m going to focus on our tradition, for I cannot speak for any other faith tradition).
What I do mind is the way that people, and it is mostly on the negative side of the argument and claiming Christianity, are not respecting those who differ from them in faith, interpretation, lifestyle, sexuality. There is much waving around of the bible and particular interpretations as unerring, enduring Truth with a capital T; there seems to be more concern for protecting one’s ideas than concern for our fellow creatures and their dignity. For to vilify those we fear is to fail to see them for what they are: created. Just like us.
In my work as a storyteller I have composed and performed a series of stories from such settings as WWII, the protestant reformation in Holland, and catholic persecution in Elizabethan England. In all the stories of the (in)humanity series humans do unspeakable things to each other because they do not see each other as human, as being as worthy as themselves. Humans in these stories also act with incredible courage because of their understanding of themselves as created in relation to God, and of others as created and thus having inherent dignity.
For me, the story of Agnes Magnusdottir as told by Hannah Kent in the novel Burial Rites is about a transformation of vision. She is sent to live with a family while she awaits execution, and the family gradually let go of their fear, and embrace love. I was so moved by it, that I wrote my own poetic version of this story of transformation.
(you can have the video of this, filmed at the Scottish Storytelling Centre, and on location in Iceland)
We are not only called to affirm the dignity of fellow humans, but of all that is created. Francis of Assisi, or we might even say Australia’s own Steve Irwin, saw such dignity and worth in the animals of earth, fellow creatures to love and celebrate. On days such as Harvest Thanksgiving, which we celebrate today, the church celebrates the gift of being created, being part of all that is created, living, dying, sustaining a cycle of precious, wondrous, life.
Jesus came to issue the invitation again, from within the flesh and blood of humanity, the dirt and dust of the earth. Taking the place of the created, while simultaneously being one with the Creator. What a mystery that is, and what a gift of love.
Jesus, as I experience both him and the biblical tradition, follows the line of Wisdom tradition from the Hebrew Scriptures – we heard of Wisdom at creation, Wisdom who shows the way to God’s heart, the way to live well, issuing the invitation to all to participate in the story of the created.
How to live the story … I was struck by Paul’s words that nothing in all creation can keep us from that story and our place in it – not even death. Not even life. That struck me in particular – not even life.
I have wondered whether our fear of death leads us to idolise life, as we seek every way possible to hang on to it. Lezley told us the story some months ago of the dragonfly before it is a dragonfly – all they see beneath the water is the loss of another into the unknown. But when they emerge themselves above the water, they discover flight, and light, and life!
To be created is to know only in part, as the dragonfly before it flies. We are not the Creator. It is difficult to let go and flow with the cycle of life, to imagine what life might follow from this one we know.
We question nature and order,
the certainties of the past,
the discoveries of new days,
yet find you are not silenced.
You are in life and all we learn,
even if not known or fully understood.
How you care will always feed our questions –Those words come from Lezley Stewart’s reimagining of Psalm 8 for her doctoral project.
why we suffer pain and grief and loss?
how we live and laugh and breathe?
We seek to know our place in creation, and come again and again into the story to remember to see ourselves, each other, and the earth and all that lives
as we are : created.
May it be so.