The Adventurous Lectionary – The Fifth Sunday of Easter – April 24, 2016
On Earth Day Weekend, the adventurous preacher would do well to reflect on the widest images of divine revelation. Often our faith has been parochial, xenophobic, and anthropocentric. We privilege our brand of spirituality and ecclesiology, our culture, ethnicity, or species, assuming that it is the fullest expression of divine wisdom and handiwork, when, in fact, God is generous in revelation and salvation, and loves sharks and whales, bob cats and osprey, as well as humankind.
In the reading from Acts, Peter is defending breaking down the barriers between Jews and Gentiles. All are chosen, not just one nationality or way of worship and lifestyle. This is not arbitrary but the result of divine inspiration. God has given Cornelius and his family a full portion of the Holy Spirit and we need to affirm these former “outsiders” as full-fledged members of the emerging Christian movement. Acceptance is not grounded in homogeneity or uniformity but divine blessing. In accepting Cornelius as fully part of the Christian way, the emerging faith is acknowledging that diversity is a gift of God and that God will be revealed in a variety of ways, according to culture, ethnicity, and personal experience. This is not relativism, nor does it level religious experience or fidelity; this is a theocentric openness to the dynamic reality in which all creation “lives and moves and has its being.”
Every sermon needs a “so what” and the “so what” here is that God loves diversity and that we should be open to the varieties of divine revelation and religious experience, greeting diversity with hospitality and not fear and being willing to expand our faith through encounters with otherness.
No one and nothing is unclean. No place is without divine revelation, if we believe God to be omnipresent and omni-active. This leads to Psalm 148, in which the Psalmist proclaims a world of praise. In its own way, everything praises God – the breaching whale and the nesting osprey, the grasshopper lingering on a backyard flower, the Muslim bowing in prayer, the faithful Catholic praying her rosary, the scholar poring over texts, the young child at play. All things, at their deepest, praise God by their very being. God praises in and through them, parenting forth a world of delight.
Our calling is to “increase the praise” by supporting all creatures, in so far as possible, in their quest to fulfill their callings. We must, as the Psalmist proclaims, go beyond humankind and recognize that the non-human world has value apart from human interests. The world of creation flows with experience, creativity, and praise, whether or not we notice it. Whatever praises is loved, first of all, by God. God’s love elicits our own praise and appreciation for the non-human world.
The words of Revelation speak of the world as it is meant to be. The eschatology of Revelation invites us to ethical embodiment. We are challenged to be part of wiping every tear or, at least, minimizing needless pain. We are challenged to seek a world where pain and death are no more or, at least, minimize our perpetuation of deathful situations. We currently don’t live in such an idyllic world, but we can begin to act as if it is coming and ultimately our destiny; seeking to make our lives holy “on earth as it is in heaven.”
“Love one another.” The way forward is through love and the “one another” is not just fellow followers of Jesus but all creation, beginning where we are and expanding to the human and non-human communities. Love is challenging, and we can’t avoid some destruction, some death, in order to survive, but we need to minimize deathful behaviors. Our love mirrors God’s love for us. Our love also reflects God’s love for all creation in its diversity and calls us to the same all-encompassing love, albeit from our limited and fallible perspective.
Today’s readings invite us to join the local and global in appreciation and ethics. We live in a world where no one is truly a stranger. We are all star stuff, children of God’s energy of love, and bound together as companions on our fragile planet. Each moment can be saving, for as we save one soul, be it human or non-human, we contribute to God’s world-saving quest.