Sermon – Romans 8:19-21
Morning Prayer at the Lutheran World Federation Pre-Assembly
February 2nd, 2017, Höör, Sweden
For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
Last week, to be precise, on January 26th, world media reported that “The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist” has decided to move the minute-hand of so called “Doomsday Clock” half a minute closer to midnight. “The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist” has used the symbol of the “Doomsday Clock” since 1947 and this year with the clock showing seven minutes before midnight, it is seventy years since the clock was first set. The hands of the clock are moved forward as well as back depending on decisions made regarding the continuation of the world. The first time that the “End of the World” was moved from the original position to four minutes to midnight was two years after the beginning of the running of the clock in 1949 when the Soviet Union conducted its first nuclear test. The closest that “The End of the World” had come, that is, when the minute-hand showed two minutes before midnight, was in 1953 the United States of America became a nuclear nation alongside the Soviet Union. The furthest away from “The End of the World”, that is 17 minutes before midnight, was in 1991 when the Unites States of America and Soviet Union signed the first “START-treaty” which decreased significantly the number of nuclear arms and ended the “Cold War”. Last week, a few days after the inauguration of Donald Trump as the President of the United States of America, the minute-hand of the clock was moved a half-minute closer to midnight and as such the symbolic clock stands today at two and a half minutes to “The End of the World”. The last time, according to the “Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist”, that this happened since the Second World War was 64 years ago - at that time we were in the same kind of critical situation such as we are today.
The Apostle Paul writes: “For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.” (Romans 8:19). This verse from the Bible has been selected as the theme for Morning Prayer today. These words of the apostle help reflect on the general theme of the Twelfth Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation: “Liberated by God’s Grace” as well as the third subtheme “Creation – Not for Sale.”
The Lutheran World Federation has produced a booklet which analyses the theme “Creation – Not for Sale” by various authors who discuss the theme from the point of view - as the Apostle Paul writes in Romans 8:21 - “the bondage to decay”. They write about God’s creation and how human activity influences the whole of creation with pollution causing climate change, use of controversial genetic technology, senseless use of fossil fuels and the results of many other human activities.
Creation has been subjected to humankind, more precisely, placed under the responsibility of humankind from the moment that God finished the work of creating. Humankind was given the task: Subdue the fauna and have dominion over it (Genesis 1:28); but the flora was to be tilled and kept. (Genesis 2:15). Today on this subject we are all of one mind: Over time humankind has misunderstood these words and has taken this to be a license to mercilessly exploit creation. Today, however, we all think that the task given to humankind is the type of responsibility which Jesus describes in the parable of faithful slave who is in service while the master is away from home (Luke 12:35-48). To till and to hold means to be the faithful slave in service, a good steward of the household.
Humankind who in the Garden of Eden, at the serpent’s allurement, out of free will, stretched out a hand reaching for and eating the forbidden fruit, did not take into count that the decision to disobey God’s command would bring death not only to themselves but to all creation they had been entrusted to govern – to till and to keep. The curse of “Original Sin” laid heavily on humankind as well as on creation. “Cursed is the ground because of you!” (Genesis 3:17) said God to “Adam”. With the punishment that followed, as well as the mortality that came along with this punishment, the responsibility that humankind had for nature did not disappear. The task of governing, tilling and keeping, was not repealed by God.
In carrying this responsibility today we worry about the warming of the climate as well as the natural disasters caused by the pollution, genetically mutated organisms having long term effects on the rest of creation, and the unrestrained use of natural resources. On top of this, the unjust use of resources has brought hunger to millions of people and put their very lives at risk.
When we talk about the resources that are necessary for life, which all people and creation have a right to, we usually mean the resources known from ancient times on as the four basic elements of life: Air, water, earth and fire. Fire can be translated as meaning: Light, warmth and energy. All of living creation, that is, the fauna and the flora, are dependent on the use of these resources and the continual supply of these resources.
It is only in the last century that we have begun to understand that one cannot play with these resources nor consider them free of charge because they are available without cost. They are priceless. Thus one cannot buy or sell them. One cannot bargain with them because one is not the owner of these resources; but God is the owner. Humankind is the slave in service to whom the master has entrusted the care of the household – its tilling and keeping. Creation is not for sale!
I would like to add one more thought for reflection today which is linked with the news of the “Doomsday Clock” that I spoke about at the beginning of this sermon. We began to follow this clock and began to “play God” with time, moving the hands forth and back only since 1947. In fact, humankind made this clock to tick from the moment that the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was eaten and humankind was punished with mortality. From that moment began time. Before that was eternity. Eternity cannot be measured, however, time can. For God there is no need for time nor units of time. For God “one day is like a thousand years” and the reverse (2 Peter 3:8). Time is needed for humankind and the rest of creation in order for once all to be saved from the “bondage to decay” (Romans 8:21) as Paul describes our present situation. Before “the Fall into Sin” there was no unit to measure the end of time, because humanity was immortal, just as all of living creation over which humankind had dominion was immortal. From the moment that humankind had become mortal, sin activated the “Doomsday Clock” for all of creation.
I speak about this, so that we understand, that along with these ancient resources which we are used to calling air, water, earth and fire/light, there is also a temporary fifth resource, which is time. Time, which started ticking by humankind activating it, still needs to be looked upon as a gift from God to a mortal humankind. Therefore we sometimes speak of this as a “time of grace”. Time is a gift, which keeps alive the hope that Paul speaks of when he writes “For the creation was subjected to frustration – in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:20ff). God’s gift of time feeds hope, which is given to all God’s children – those redeemed in Jesus Christ. Just like humankind is saved through faith in Christ, through God’s grace, along with humankind, all creation will be saved. Therefore we are not only responsible for tilling and keeping creation; we are through our faith responsible for a creation that, along with us, can be saved!
The clock is ticking not counting down the seconds and minutes but the God-given resource of time! Creation suffers as well as strains as a result of human activity and time is wasted as a result of human inactivity. So, while we have time, as long as we have sand in the upper container of our time-glass, - sand which trickles down - then we have time to change our attitude towards creation. The longer we exploit the Earth and procrastinate in fulfilling the terms of climate treaties, delay conversion to environment-friendly agriculture practices and the use of renewable energy, refrain from the just as well as responsible use of natural resources such as pure drinking water, clean air and productive land, the closer toward the symbolic midnight we set the minute-hand of the “Doomsday Clock”.
The owner of time is actually God. We have no right to sell time to polluting and creation-exploiting nations nor to business corporations at the expense of the rest of creation. Creation is not for sale! Along with this, time is not for sale! Our task is to use time as a faithful steward to cultivate love, seek justice and keep alive the hope for the eternal life to come – the hope for the freedom and glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:21).