Seas & Rivers in the Early Church

A sermon prepared for Bike to Church Sunday, 21 April 2013 at

Acts 16: 9-15

Let us pray.

Startle us, O God, with your truth.  Let your word reign in us.  God of creation, maker of all things, we listen for what you are speaking to us.  Through Jesus Christ. Amen.

From the very beginning of the Bible, God has had something to say about the earth.  The first thing God has to say about the earth is that God made it.  It’s not ours to begin with.  This planet, this earth, this universe, all that is under and the stars and the skies themselves are a gift.  To be treasured, valued, enjoyed.  And also, and therefore, cared for.  The second thing that God has to say about the earth is that it a treasure trove of diversity.  Six days, we hear in the creation story.  Six days of diversity, where animals, plants, sea, sky, moon, stars, sun, humans are included in a planet that itself shows forth God’s creativity at every turn.  This planet, this world, we hear in the Bible, is not an accident, or a mistake, but something made possible from the impossible, brought forth from the void, or the tomos in Hebrew – where there is nothing, not even order, but only chaos – a planet and world brought forth by the creative, and powerful Spirit of the living God.  And so, in this diversity of creation, there is purpose, meaning, divine intention.  And the third thing that God has to say about the earth, is that it is good.  In an age where more people live in the city than in the countryside, sociologists speak of Nature Deficit Disorder.  Where children’s live and psyches are actually for the worse through malnourishment of being in creation.   Being near to a tree.  Feeling grass on their feet or hands.  Smelling a new flower of Spring.  Seeing vast, expansive open spaces.  Touching animals.  There’s something so good – so true – so closely tied to who we are as human beings created by a creative God – something so good about creation.  That it is, quite honestly, something we need to live.

Now for us as Christians in the Christ’s church today, we can’t forget that for the apostle Paul, tied to the development of the early church was a deep connection to creation.  Here is a man, an apostle, a believer, a witness to the resurrected Jesus, who does his amazing work of building up the early churches, outside.  In fact, sometimes Paul is more intimately connected with creation than he might have wanted.  He tells the church in Corinth (2 Cor 11):  Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, …. danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters;in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked.

In today’s passage, we find Paul by up in the region of Macedonia in the city of Troas, on the coast of the Aegean sea.  And whether you’ve been there or just seen the pictures, the waters of the Aegean and Mediterranean are magical.  That bright clear turquoise colour, with the mild Mediterranean climate to match.  Not a bad place to build a church!!

But, Paul travels from there by ship, as he often does, on those beautiful waters of the Aegean sea, across to the town of Phillipi.  And there, he meets a woman called Lydia, soon to become a believer in Jesus, by the river.  The Krenides. Which wasn’t very big, and likely in that time, not too clean; but a journey by a sea, then to a river, nonetheless.

The picture behind me is a picture of the earth taken not from the usual angle, for us, with the Americas in the middle.  This one is the other way around, and shows, for the purposes of our story, the Aegean Sea, where Paul sailed, up at the top right.

You see we have to remember, that so much of what God is doing in the Bible and in the book of Acts, is not only outside in creation, under the open sky, by seas, rivers, streams, mountains, desert and pathways, but also closely tied to the earth itself and to this planet that God has made.

The large sweeping story of the Bible is from creation, to cross, to church, to eternity, all tied up in creation.   So much so that Paul, later in his life, will write, “for the creation waits with eager longing….in hope that [it] will be set free from its bondage to decay…”  That is, for Paul, even creation at this moment waits on God, to be renewed by God, to be caught up in resurrection.

In the meantime, as Christians, we’re invited to remember this.  That creation matters.  We’re invited to remember that Jesus, the son of God, became part of this planet, the word or logos of creation, made flesh.

And that because of all this – that God has something to say, that creation is tied up in God’s story, and that God isn’t done with the world yet – because of this we’re invited to be a people who care for the world that God has made.

At this time we are bombarded with bad news about the earth, global warming, glaciers melting so fast they soon won’t feed important rivers and communities, algae blooms, plastic garbage flotillas in the Pacific; and lots more.  And so I don’t really need to repeat all that here.  We hear it often.   Maybe too often.

Some of us, even as Christians, have become cynical when it comes to things like this.  We’ve come to think, that what we do doesn’t really matter, or we might be fed up, and think that we can’t really make a change.  But we are left then, with something pretty important:  how to be in relationship with a God we believe is the cause behind the beauty and wonder we see, and we are left then, with how to be in relationship with a Jesus who walked among us, became flesh, right up there on that earth behind me; and we are left then, with how to be a faithful citizen of earth, too.

The handout you have today in your bulletins gives all kinds of suggestions, most of which you’ve heard before.  But today, as a group, we are enjoying trying one – biking, carpooling, bussing, walking to church, as that’s been possible.  And today is an invitation to each us to consider some of these actions and our own lives, and how we might respond to God the maker of heaven and earth.

If you’re looking to dig deeper, let me know and I will refer you to a report received by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church through its International Affairs Committee, in 2010, called Caring for God’s Creation.

But as we consider our care for God’s earth more personally, I wonder how many of us can remember times recent, or long ago, where we knew the presence of Jesus, the word made flesh, powerfully but gently, in creation.  Maybe you’ve been met by this Jesus under the starlight sky, maybe you’ve climbed a mountain only to look out on the vista below and beyond and been touched by God’s grandeur, perhaps you’ve simply sat on a park bench on a summer’s night, feeling the warm breeze and been reminded of the gentleness and power of the Spirit.

However we put it, for most of us, being in creation does something to our souls, connects with something within us.  And I believe that connection is between Creator and creature.  Between the God above us and within us by the Holy Spirit, sustaining all creation, and us.

Caring for creation, then, can be part of our spiritual life and action.

As one theologian puts it.  “When we know [Jesus] and love him, when we follow him, the very image of God shines in us.”

Presbyterian pastor John Buchanan speaks about his grand-daughter.  He says, “A perfect illustration of what I have [writing about] was hand delivered at the end of a service by Eleanor, age eight. El draws somewhere between Impressionism and Modernism, with a hint of Picasso as well. Eleanor created a perfect illustration of Genesis 1: blue waters, a bird-spirit hovering, blue sky and clouds, sun shining. I’m in there, she says, dressed in a black robe. Eleanor, in a green dress, is looking up into the sky and is saying, “Hi, God.”

She got it all right.

Another Christian put it this way:

Christ is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  (Colossians 1: 15-17)

Or in the words of song we all remember.

He’s got the whole world…..

In the name of the F, S, and HS.


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