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This Week's Sermon !

September 25 - Season of Creation -

Proverbs 8: 22-31
Psalm 148
John 6: 41-51


Some people I have met find it next to impossible to say these four words, “ I do not know”. You all know people like that!

I remember that a classmate from my high school debating club found at least one of the sayings attributed to Confucius to be very profound. The saying: “Recognizing that you know what you know, and recognizing that you do not know what you do not know—this is knowledge”

Human beings are, for the most part, hard wired to seek to learn and to know. The early explorers set off into the unknown in search of knowledge. Sir John Franklin and his crew died in their quest to find the “North-west Passage”. . I read that the Innuit claim that if they were asked for their advice they would have survived! I suppose the white explorers felt they knew better!

I remember the first “moon landings” and the excitement that humans had finally found a new place to explore. There is now an opportunity to go to Mars, although the deadline to apply might have passed, but the only caveat is that Mars is so far away, it’s planned as a one-way trip!

When Canadian Chris Hadfield was last on the International Space Station we marvelled at the photographs he took. One was easily recognizable as Prince Edward Island. Almost everyone wanted to see a picture of a place they know - taken from outer space.

As soon as small children are able to interact, older people teach them things such as body parts, colours, names of animals and show delight when the little one gets it right! Eventually children learn to read and print and do math. Some physical activities such as walking seem to come almost naturally to children at a certain age, but others such as learning how to tie shoelaces must be taught. Grade Primary Kindergarten teachers everywhere must have rejoiced when Velcro found a new use in small shoes,

Phrases such as “me do” and “do myself” are both signs of growing up and a frustration to a parent in a hurry!

As I said though, some adults don’t like to admit they don’t know. We also find it hard to unlearn stuff we once knew for certain. To stay with the space analogy, we all remember when Pluto was the planet in our solar system farthest from the sun. Now, it’s not! Oh, Pluto is still where its been for a few billion years, still where it was when it was officially discovered about 1930, but it’s been demoted - and is now just a “dwarf planet” - mostly because its gravity is not strong enough to pull the nearby asteroids and other space clutter into its orbit or its “neighbourhood!” I think I explained it correctly!

Despite our vastly increased human knowledge, the images of the creative work of God woven into the scriptures are no less “true” today than they were when they were first put down on parchment a few thousand years ago - as long as we don’t feel we have to take them literally.

They speak of that gap between what is and what our perceptions of what is, are. They speak of what we “think” we know and ask us to step back a bit and eat some humble pie, because we actually DON’T know everything. As I have said before, the more human beings find out about this planet and the universe, the more we realize we have to learn, the more our old assumptions fall to pieces.

There has been a great deal of work done in cosmology and quantum physics in the last few years and I don’t really understand much of it but there are theologians who are seeking to make those necessary connections between the science we know and the nature of God and creation. It’s very much a work in progress.

Back when Charles Darwin made his first discoveries many people of faith were hostile because it threw what they thought they knew into disrepute and they saw it as mutually incompatible.

Theology and science have come a long way since Darwin. As a people of faith we need not fear science but still need to wrestle with what it means for our life of faith.

When we come to the focus for the season of creation - that of caring for the planet as God’s gift and mandate to us.

The certainty of previous generations came with a huge dose of arrogance. As the only sentient beings on the planet, so far as we know, we accorded ourselves higher value and felt we were entitled to far more resources that the planet could sustain. We did not contemplate that we could make something extinct until we did or almost did!

The arrogance of western explorers when our ancestors met indigenous peoples is also another example of western thinking that our ways were better than the ways of others. We have a long road ahead of us to heal the relationships with indigenous peoples all over the world. We made the assumption that we had superior knowledge and a superior culture and we did great damage.

That attitude is not new! The people whom Jesus encountered on a regular basis seemed to have had no room for new theological understandings or growth as his re-working of old images offended them.

I think that it is important that we don’t become like the people who opposed Jesus when we assume that our understandings are absolute and not open to challenge or change.

One of the recurring themes in the biblical story is the tendency of human communities not to learn from their mistakes and to have to make the same mistakes over and over again. I think that people of faith may even be more prone to this than others mostly because they connect their ideas and behaviours to God’s will.

However, when we stop looking for verses and stories to support our thoughts and behaviour and allow the texts to challenge us we will be on a much better footing and on the path to greater faithfulness.

Creation season is about giving thanks for the bounty of creation. Its like a six week celebration of God’s abundance. But its not permission to indulge in a month and a half of self-centred indulgence - it’s a period of time to celebrate this abundance and look at what God is calling us to be and do.

The wisdom texts remind us that we don’t always know as much as we thought we did. In the relatively recent past there were many things we did that ended up with outcomes that were not expected. The early explorers saw so much cod, for example, that it was thought we could never ever possibly fish it out. That was probably true with traditional fishing methods, but once factory trawlers began to sail the seas, the story and the outcome changed.

We rejoiced when penicillin was first discovered and then other antibiotics. No longer would simple infections kill people, especially soldiers wounded in battle. Then they were overused and add a few years and we now have super-bugs. It was an unintended consequence and, you could say, a sign of human arrogance. A similar thing happened when we tried to save the forest industry by killing the spruce budworm and we forgot about the food chain and how the poisons became concentrated and more toxic as they worked their way up.

When it came to societal change some churches refused to believe that just perhaps the Holy Spirit was leading them to new understandings of human life.

In this season of creation we are called, in the words of our Statement of Faith, as prompted by our own indigenous people, to “live with respect in creation”. We don’t know everything and when we realize the gap between what we know and what there is to learn we may respond in awe and humility.

Were we witnesses to the beginning of the cosmos?


1995- 2016 The Rev. Beth W. Johnston.

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