December 4, 2016










Second Sunday of Advent - Year A

A Sermon Preached by The Rev Ian M Delinger, December 11, 2016


To God who created light,
whose spirit moved over the face of the waters
and through whom all things came into being:
be with us now and always.


Our Adult Education theme for December is Power over Creation. You will have seen a short article in The Witness written by a citizen of San Luis Obispo who wished to remain anonymous. She recommended to me The Green Bible. Our potluck on the theme will be on December 14 when the Director of the Cal Poly Center for Sustainability will join us.


Today’s readings are probably not the best for talking about our Power over Creation. But we are where we are. I was going to draw upon some elements in the Green Bible that was given to St Stephen’s…but I can’t find it! Hopefully that means that one of you is studying how scripture tells us to care for the earth.


Our Judeo-Christian history has had a complicated relationship with Creation and the Environment.


In the 21C, and in the liberal West, we have an almost de facto attitude of a Gospel imperative to care for all aspects of the earth. But that was not true, is not actually true, and will continue not to be true for everyone, including Christians in the liberal West.


In the Christian Era, there are some prominent texts on our Power over Creation at several points in time. Three notable points are:


  • Augustine of Hippo writing in the 4C & 5C
  • Thomas Aquinas writing in the 13C
  • Martin Luther writing in 15C & 16C


They each wrote prolifically about the environment, and they believed that humanity’s intelligence was the distinctive feature that differentiates humans from other animals. Our intelligence, then, reflects the image of God. While the three of them put humanity above the rest of Creation, and while their writings can be used by those who define “dominion over the earth” to mean that the earth is here to serve humanity, and can be used to argue the opposite, the reality is that Augustine, Aquinas and Luther were writing their thoughts on our relationship with Creation well before mechanization. Even though the printing press was invented in Luther’s time, it was not the cause of deforestation in Europe. You can blame the Navy fleets that rose up over the century after Luther on that.


If we skip to the 20C, we come across a oft-cited seminal article by Lynn White in 1967 entitled “The Roots of our Ecologic Crisis” published in the journal “Science”. White wrote that ‘especially in its Western form, Christianity is the most anthropocentric religion the world has seen’. This is because, through Judaism, we have a linear concept of time, and we have a dramatic Creation story which gives to humans ‘dominion’ over the whole earth. This is reinforced by our Doctrine of the Incarnation, giving us a share in God’s will for Creation.


It’s easy to understand how we as humans marched to that inevitability when we put those concepts alongside Western cultural evolution over the last 5,000 years. But it is also to take a linear view of our theology, cultures and the way the world developed, particularly after the European colonization of the Americas and elsewhere. White did give himself a little wiggle room by stating: “When one speaks in such sweeping terms, a note of caution is in order. Christianity is a complex faith, and its consequences differ in differing contexts.”


“Power” is a multifaceted and complex concept, which is why I included in this year’s Adult Education Program. I regret that we had to cancel last month’s potluck on the Power of our Vote. It would have been a fascinating conversation, and an important one. We now have the opportunity to look at Power from the perspective of the Environment. “Power” comes with responsibilities. I do not think that I’m alone in believing that “Power” probably has more responsibilities than it does privileges.


Let me make a crude analogy of what I mean by “Power” and its responsibilities. If you have seen the 1994 Disney film “The Lion King”, you will remember Mufasa, King of the Jungle, is overthrown (very violently) by his younger brother Scar, who is power hungry, and believes his brother to be too much of a do-gooder. Simba, the rightful heir to the throne, is thought have been killed when Mufasa was killed, but in reality, he is in exile. What we discover, after a period of song and dance in exile, is that the Kingdom that Scar has power over is now impoverished, derelict, and dying. Scar wanted all the privileges of being King of the Jungle. He ignored the responsibilities, which, as we all knew would happen, led to the decline of the Kingdom into not worth being King of.


We have Dominion, or Power over Creation, and as Augustine, Aquinas and Luther rightly point out, it is our intelligence that gives us that place in the Order of Creation. We are to use that intelligence and that power to ensure that the Created Order thrives. If we destroy it due to our own desires and needs, we will eventually have nothing to have Dominion over. For Luther, 500yrs ago, it was already dismal. He wrote:


“Even this small part of the divine image we have lost, so much so that we do not even have insight into that fullness of joy and bliss which Adam derived from his contemplation of all the animal creatures.” … “All these good things have, for the most part, been lost through sin.”


We also cannot sell short the rest of Creation. Every time there is an earthquake or a hurricane, we are reminded that there are elements of Creation that may not have the intelligence that we do, but have a lot more physical power. Every time a person is killed by a shark, a lion or another animal, we are reminded that intelligence is not simply book smart, but that the need to protect one’s home when it is under threat involves a different sort of intelligence.


Perhaps we can learn from today’s readings how we are to have a relationship with the rest of Creation. Two of the readings and the Psalm weave elements of Creation into the human stories that are being told:


  • The Root of Jesse draws upon the wolf, the lamb, the leopard, the goat, the calf, the lion, the mountains and the sea.
  • The success of the King’s Son relies on the mountains and hills, the sun and the moon, the rain and the water.
  • John the Baptist sets the wilderness, or “land inhabited only by wild animals”, as the origin of the setting of our sights toward the Messiah, he himself living what seems to be a subsistence lifestyle.


Our readings emphasize that our Dominion over Creation is one that is relational and codependent, rather than one of the dire assessment by Martin Luther.


We as Anglicans have long been concerned about the environment. I looked for the most obvious evidence: our penchant for making resolutions. All the way back on 1968, a year after White’s damning article, the Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops passed Resolution 6: Man’s Stewardship of Nature:


The Conference urges all Christians, in obedience to the doctrine of creation, to take all possible action to ensure man’s responsible stewardship over nature; in particular in his relationship with animals, and with regard to the conservation of the soil, and the prevention of the pollution of air, soil, and ocean.


This is only 100yrs after the Technological Revolution, which is a pretty swift movement for Anglicans!


Further resolutions have been made by our own church. In 1979, General Convention resolved to every Christian committing to:

  • Conserving energy in our homes, jobs, parishes, communities, travels, and leisure activities;
  • Altering our own eating and consumption habits;
  • Planning family size in a responsible manner.

[I just realized that this would have been at the height of the oil crisis! Perhaps that was the motivation for this resolution!]


At General Convention in 2105, there were 10 Resolutions related to the environment. But of course, we need more than a resolution. We need to model our lives on what we know to be our faith in the One through Whom all things were made.


It is wrong to say that all Christians have warped the definition of “Dominion” over the earth through our theology and doctrine. Since the Anaphora of St Basil the Great, the Eucharistic Prayer from the 4C, which our own Eucharistic Prayer D is based upon, the theological concept of the whole of Creation belonging to God has been enshrined in our Eucharist:


Remember, Lord, the weather and the harvest of the soil. Remember, Lord, the rains and the seeds of the earth. Remember, Lord, to let the waters flow in accordance with the measure of each month. Renew the face of the earth and make it thrill with joy, fill its furrows to overflowing, multiply its seed. Grant us what we need for the sowing and the harvest, and bless it with your blessing. You give food to all living things-deal with us according to your merciful goodness.


Our version in the BCP 1979 Eucharistic Prayer D, we wrapped up all of that into one short sentence which goes like this:

You formed us in your own image, giving the whole world into our care, so that, in obedience to you, our Creator, we might rule and serve all your creatures.

It’s not quite as explicit, but it’s there. We also have Eucharistic Prayer C, the Star Wars or Star Trek Eucharist, which draws upon Creation. My point is that our engagement with Christ in the Eucharist has long acknowledged the intertwined relationship between humanity and nature. And we fully acknowledge that the bread and wine the we present to be consecrated come from the earth that we have been given to care for.


Perhaps this sermon has been more informational than a call to action. We do need to act, and we need to act in accordance to our faith and convictions. Today, John the Baptist is calling upon us to repent, for the Messiah is coming. Look back through your own history and present of your bit of Power over Creation, and ask yourself, “Does my relationship with Creation prepare me for the Coming of Christ?” Let us each try to “live in harmony with [Creation], in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together [we] may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”




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