Easter 6C -Rev. Craig Foster
Today is Rogation Sunday. We have been discussing the importance of celebrating this day as a time to not only celebrate the “parish bounds” or who we are and where we sit as the St. Alban’s congregation but also to ask God to bless and provide for a fruitful growing season. As you may know, we will have special prayers in our gardens today both during the Jubilee service and after the 10:30 service.
As you may also know, my call as a deacon centers mostly around the care of creation, both with you and within the wider diocese. It is exciting for me to be able to preach on Rogation Sunday and have a chance to share with you again the need to be good stewards for the creation God has asked us to care for.
Traditionally, this was a day associated with the blessing of the fields, with the members of the parish processing through the fields praying and singing. It was even a time for the parish priest to confirm no new fences were put up restricting the movement of the less fortunate who lived near the fields.
Times change and for many of us our fruitful labors include efforts in commerce and industry. And yes, if we tried to process through the fields or yards of Bexley, Fr. Devin would have his hands full trying to deal with preventing all of the fences we would encounter. As times have changed so has our celebration. If you look in the Book of Common Prayer today in the collects for Rogation Days you will find three different collects:
- One for a fruitful growing season
- One for commerce and industry
- And one for stewardship of creation,
As we look at stewardship of creation, there is much hope. At St. Alban’s we started a Creation Care Ministry this year with seven faithful members
(let me know if you want to join in)
We are starting out with some small successes and look forward to bigger results as time progresses.
Two weeks ago at the BREAD annual interfaith Nehemiah Action meeting, we heard of the efforts to keep the city of Columbus accountable to enact it’s stated tree cover plan. We learned or were reminded of the benefits of trees including
- Clearing the air of toxic pollutants
- Reducing childhood asthma
- Reducing the heat island effect by providing shading
- And even a proven reduction in crime in areas with trees
And finally, if you follow business news, many, many major corporations and their CEOs are embracing care of our environment as part of normal business practices. They are specifically pledging to have a net zero impact on climate change over time. This is encouraging because these companies have the courage and motivation to move in this positive direction because their customers, you and I, and their employees, and their stockholders are insisting on this work. There is much we as a society understand about caring for God’s creation. We can celebrate this awareness and we should!!
This is positive stuff, I feel good about it and I hope you do to.
But I have to tell you, last Saturday, as I was beginning to pray and think about this sermon and celebrating Rogation Day, the national news came on the TV. I heard the horrifying story of another young white man committing a mass shooting in Buffalo; and that he specifically targeted Black people. The ten people killed were black and this boy with a sick heart is sitting in jail. Frankly, it depressed me. We are facing strange times in the 2020s.
- Military grade weaponry is readily available
- The war in the Ukraine and wars in Yemen and Africa are in the news daily
- We are dealing with the emotional aftermath of pandemic lockdowns and do not know what will be next on the health front
- The list goes on and we are looking for answers.
Fortunately, I was able to go back to today’s readings and find that hope. In the reading from the end of the Revelation of John, we hear of the promise for a new Jerusalem. It is an image of heaven after the second coming of Christ.
Revelation can be a daunting book in the Bible. John is sent an angel who gives him a series of visions, or one continuous vision. It seems quite bizarre, words about swords coming out of mouths, lions with bear feet, the book is filled with strange creatures, descriptions and happenings. There are monsters and catastrophes that are quite scary. It is difficult for most of us to make much sense of it.
But dreams and visions are not all that unusual in our sacred text, the Bible. We heard of a vison Paul had in the first reading today. A few weeks ago we heard of a vision from the Apostle Peter. And, the Old Testament has many stories of dreams and visions , from Joseph as he served Pharoah, to Ezekiel, to Daniel and to many others. We must acknowledge the mystical side of our faith and that God speaks to some through these dreams and visions.
I will say, I am fortunate that I found a great book about Revelations many years ago. It is Breaking the Code by Bruce Metzger who is a highly regarded theological scholar. Many of the symbols in Revelation are explained as code referring to images of the Roman Empire and many are references to stories and images from the Old Testament. Many of the images are not explained. While it has been good for me to logically look at The Revelation to John, I also enjoy dwelling within the wild imagery of God’s promises to us. So I recommend this short one hundred page book to you, but don’t lose sight of the beauty of this scripture.
In Metzger’s opinion, John’s vision “provided pastoral encouragement for Christians who were confronted with persecution and cruelty”. While most of us at St. Alban’s are not subject to persecution and cruelty, this promise in the reading can still bring us comfort.
Today’s reading is after Satan is destroyed once and for all by Christ who has returned to earth to reign. The dead have risen and been judged from the book of life. By God’s grace and mercy most all are brought to the new city of Jerusalem. The city is different in many ways, especially, in that there is no temple. Jerusalem is the temple. God is no longer hidden in the holy of holies. The throne for God and the Lamb is in the city, and all the servants (that means us) worship God and see God’s face. Seeing God’s is not catching a glimpse of the King and the King rides by. It is being face to face with God in a place where nothing is accursed anymore. Heaven, the new city of Jerusalem is where we are in direct relationship with God in all of God’s glory. It is good, it is very, very good.
We can of lose sight of this promise. Some days are harder than others to hold onto this promise for the future. However, It is our story and the story of Jesus. We are promised a new heaven and a new earth. We must remember that.
Remember the promise and live on today. The Gospel we just heard is how to live on today. Jesus reminds us of God’s love and that as we love God, we will be able to keep God’s word. Most importantly, we are reminded that we are not alone. We are about to celebrate Ascension Day in the church, the remembrance of Jesus rising to heaven. Jesus left us and Advocate, the Holy Spirit and said “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not let them be afraid”.
I say seek out the Holy Spirit and be encouraged.
Earlier on I said the there is a collect in the prayer book for stewardship of creation. It is about creation care, about satisfying the needs of every living creature and being faithful stewards of God’s good gifts.
I think this Rogation Sunday we need to turn that around. Today is a day when we can acknowledge our relationship with God and God’s creation and seek to have creation care for us. We can take a break from worrying about what we can do next for creation and
- take a walk outside to smell the blooming flowers
- walk up to a tree and touch the bark with your hand. Feel the life surging underneath
- go where there are many trees and walk in the shade. Did you know there is scientific evidence that trees in a forest emit a chemical that is calming, that we respond to it positively
- find that spot in nature, in God’s creation, where you can be cared for, where creation can be there for you and spend some time in that environment. Look for the river of life and hear the babbling waters. Look for the fruits of the tree of life, you may be surprised in what you find.
I know it can be easy to lose sight of God’s promise of heaven and the new city. That is why it is important to allow creature to care for us as we care for creation. The new city of Jerusalem is not far off.
I want to remind of the first few lines of the most spoken prayer in Christianity.
“Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be your name, your kingdom come,
Your will be done,
On earth as in heaven”
When you pray the Lord’s Prayer, recognize you are asking that God’s will be done
“on earth as in heaven”
We just read today what John’s Revelation revealed about God’s will for heaven. God answers our prayers. It is up to us to look for heaven on this earth.
Take some time to allow creation to care for you, then we can get back to the work of love calls us to.
In the name of God, Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier