Living the Question

Sermon on Job 12:7-10 & Luke 24:36-48 for the 3rd Sunday in Easter B, April 19, 2015, Earth Day Sunday

Job 12:7-10The Earth is the Lords
“But ask the animals, and they will teach you;
the birds of the air, and they will tell you;
ask the plants of the earth, and they will teach you;
and the fish of the sea will declare to you.
Who among all these does not know
that the hand of the LORD has done this?
In his hand is the life of every living thing
and the breath of every human being.

Luke 24:36-48
Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence. Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you — that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”

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I love to listen to people talk about scientific discoveries. Recently I heard a scientist say that there are more genetic similarities between us humans and our fellow primates, the baboons than there are between African and Asian varieties of elephants. But despite the similarities there are two things you will never see a baboon do that humans take for granted. You will never see two baboons carry a log together. They simply do not know how valuable cooperation is.

Nor will they every pass anything they have learned onto the next generation. Every baboon has to start from scratch and discover the world for themselves. They learn by observation and imitation, but then cannot pass down knowledge. They do not have language. The are not capable of telling stories around the campfire. They have no mythologies, no histories, no written records.

We are living during a knowledge explosion. The BBC regularly reports on 10 things we did not know last week, like that male mice sing love songs to attract females. Who knew?

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But the more we learn, the more questions we have. The more we know, the more we know how much we do not know. Are the principles of mathematics out there to be discovered or do we generate them ourselves? Is there a cure for cancer?

The hardest questions are the ones about the future, and the ones that start with “Why?” Will global temperatures continue to rise at the current rate? Will the polar ice caps and glaciers continue to melt, causing sea levels to rise to the point that massive migration away from current coast lands will be necessary (- not an idle question for a coastal community such as we are)? Will it happen in my generation? Future-questions are hard.

“Why?” questions are even harder. Why are we here? Why should we care? Why is it that our beliefs are so influenced by the groups we identify with instead of by evidence? Why is it so hard to change our minds once we have formed opinions? Why do people do evil, even when they know it causes suffering?

Here is one more that puzzles me: why is it that the church has been known as a place where questions were disallowed? The bible is full of questions. Jesus was full of questions.

Earth Day Questions

We started today, on this Sunday closest to Earth Day with a direct call for questions from the poetry of the book of Job.

“ask the animals, and they will teach you;
the birds of the air, and they will tell you;
ask the plants of the earth, and they will teach you;
and the fish of the sea will declare to you.
Who among all these does not know
that the hand of the Lord has done this?

Ask creation, it will sing back one song:

The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it.” (Ps. 24:1)

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Jesus asked a lot of questions. Among my favorites are:

“What good will it be for a person to gain the whole world, yet forfeits their soul?” (Matthew 16:26)

To the lame man at the pool, he asked:

Do you want to get well?(John 5:6)

Today we heard Jesus ask a question in our reading from Luke’s version of the Jesus-story:

“Have you anything here to eat?”

The setting is Easter evening. This is called a “resurrection appearance scene.” In the scene just before this moment, the risen Jesus has just been made known to those two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and now he is mysteriously back, appearing with the whole group of disciples in Jerusalem.

No matter how you think of the resurrected Jesus, he did not need to eat. There is a lot more going on here than a surface level trivial detail about an appetite.

People say that the answer is often in the question. This is not the first food question Jesus asks in the gospel tradition. In the story of the feeding of the 5,000 from Mark, Jesus looks at his disciples and asks,

“How many loaves have you? Go and see.” (Mark 6:38)

Jesus’ question provoked them to ask the same question. They did the research and came back with the answer:

“When they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.”

Jesus immediately took the loaves, blessed, broke and gave them to the people – the very verbs that define the Eucharist in which bread is taken, blessed, broken and given to everyone.

Jesus has just come from the house near Emmaus, where Luke tells us,

“When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.”

Now, the question on the lips of the risen Jesus to the people who will form the nucleus of the church is: Have you anything to eat – at all?

They did; they had fish. Now they do what he did; they give the food to a hungry person.

So the answer to Jesus’ question “Have you anything here to eat?” was “yes.” Not much, but “yes.”

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Let us ask this question: How does the church, which experiences the risen Christ as we break bread together live, as witnesses to the present power of resurrection? The answer is that we share our food with the the hungry.

This is exactly what the early church did. In the book of Acts, Luke’s part B of the story we are reading, he tells us how one of the first organized actions of the church was a distribution of bread to hungry people: to widows (Acts 6)

When we hear the question, “Have you anything here to eat?” it provokes us, who have an abundance of food to eat, to ask our own questions. Who does not have anything to eat? Who is “food insecure” as they call it? The answer we all know well is that many people are, including children, even in this country.

We go from the easy questions to the harder ones: why is there still food insecurity in our country? What are the root causes? How can we be involved in solutions?

As Christians who believe in a Creator God, not a tribal God, we are unafraid of the larger questions: where, around the world are people hungry? Why are people hungry? What can we do as Global citizens that would bear witness to our faith in the risen Christ whose Spirit is still at work in us to keep doing what he did: feeding the hungry?

Peter Rollins says it so starkly. When asked, “Do I denies the resurrection?”, he says, “Yes, I deny the resurrection every time I see people in need and turn away.”

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There are more questions which Jesus’ question evokes. If the answer to “Have you anything here to eat?” is yes, the question is why?

Where did it come from? Where was it grown or raised? Who were the farmers who raised it? Who picked it? What were they paid?

How was it transported? What were the conditions on the farm? What chemicals were involved? How was the land treated?

How were the animals treated? What condition was the water left in?

From the fields and farms we move to even broader questions. Are the parts of our lives that are not directly connected to food having an impact on our planet’s ability to keep feeding us and others?

We are not baboons; we know very well that the answer is yes. We know all about the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. We have seen how quickly a massive oil spill in the Gulf can happen.

We are not baboons in other, important respects as well. We know how to cooperate to get things done. We know how to hand on information and learn from past mistakes. We know how to “repent” in biblical language – to have another look at how we have been living and to make changes. We have the capacity to change our lifestyles, our habits, our systems.

When I was a child, Lake Erie was so polluted everyone thought it was dead. It was dangerous to swim in it or eat the fish from it. But then the EPA was created. regulations kept pollution out of the water. We learned from past mistakes, and made an enormous difference. We are neither baboons who cannot learn nor are we unable to imagine cooperation to achieve positive results.

We can invent catalytic converters – remember what came out of our cars before? And we can create far more fuel-efficient vehicles. We can even learn to combine trips and drive less.

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We are here to celebrate God’s good earth today. To step back and to wonder at creation. To marvel at this fertile garden God has given us to live in. We are here to delight in the mystery of life, from the oysters and turtles to the next generation of baby humans to whom we will leave this planet.

We are here to respond to our Creator and Redeemer with the praise of our lips and the witness of our lives. We are here to take bread, to bless it, to break it, and to give it away, so that all may be satisfied.

In our personal lifestyles this will mean implementing the famous three R’s Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. In our public lives it will mean supporting policies that ensure sustainable agricultural, industrial practices and fair trade policies. It will mean being the advocates for those who have no voice or whose voice is unheard; the silent animals and plants, and the farm workers from whose labor we live.

After our baptisms, the one act that we do that constitutes us as a Christian community is gathering around a table at which we share bread together. Let that action symbolize our embrace of our Lord’s will, that everyone be fed with clean, healthy food from a blessed and bountiful earth.

 

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