Sermon for the Last Sunday of the Church Year
(Proper 29)

A day of repentance and prayer in the face of ongoing drought

Text: Romans 8:22,23
For we know that up to the present time all of creation groans with pain, like the pain of childbirth. But it is not just creation alone which groans; we who have the Spirit as the first of God's gifts also groan within ourselves as we wait for God to make us his children and set our whole being free.

Hearing the groans of our land

A missionary from Papua New Guinea recollects the time he was called to a local village to sit down and talk with the old men of the village. You see, a drought had fallen on the area and they were trying to work out why this had happened. They asked questions like,
"What is going on?" 
"Why has the rain stopped?"  
"What must we do to make it rain again because if we donít do something we will all face hard times?" They slowly came to the conclusion that someone in the village must have done something very wrong and the drought was a consequence of that wrong-doing.

They called the villagers together and quizzed the people. Eventually they came to the wise conclusion that a small boy was the culprit.  Apparently, on his way to school one morning, he stopped and did what little boys do when they have to go. He used one of the swamps as his toilet. 

Unfortunately, that water hole was also the home of a local spirit and it was the spiritís anger which stopped the rain.  They agreed that something had to be done to make the water hole spirit happy again. They decided to pay some compensation, make some offerings and offer prayers that the spirit would stop being angry and send the rain again.  

As we come together today in this time of drought, is that what weíre doing? Are we offering our humble prayers of repentance and making prayer requests so that God will no longer be angry with us and so look kindly on us by sending us rain to fill our dams. Is that what we are doing today?  Trying to make an angry God happy again? 
I hardly think so.

If it was up to us to make God smile on us then we would be in serious trouble. Our sin is enough to make God frown and wince at the stupid things that we do. Especially when there can be little excuse because he has outlined in the Bible exactly what he created us to be Ė people who go out of their way to show love in meaningful ways and to work together with our fellow humans to make the world a better place, instead we do the opposite. If God waited for us to do the right thing before he sent rain, then Iím afraid we shall never see it rain again. In fact, if God's goodness depends on our goodness then we can expect all kinds of disasters and tragedies to be sent our way because of God's anger and disappointment with the way the world is going.

We know that tragedies and natural disasters were never a part of God's plan for the world. Remember what the writer of Genesis said at every stage of the creation, "And God saw that it was good". He only wanted people to live in harmony with each other, with nature and with him. As soon as sin came into the world, the whole of creation has been affected and so we have tsunamis, floods, bushfires and droughts.

Paul talks about how the whole of creation is waiting to be redeemed from its present trouble and strife and to be freed from its present bondage to decay. The apostles talks about the whole of creation groaning in labour pains (Rom 8:18-21). Creation is groaning because of what we have done to it Ė
we have cut down trees that were thought to be ugly and useless. They were in the way of producing crops and developing housing estates and it was forgotten (or it was simply unknown) that those trees were the homes of millions of species of birds, insects and animals that formed a unique world within the world,
we pump all kinds of gases into the atmosphere,
we pollute the waterways,
we destroy the land through over use
we use all kinds of harmful chemicals
and all this adds to the trouble that we have now with global warming, drought, unseasonable weather, icebergs floating around in places where they are rarely seen, failure of crops and flocks and herds. All this is happening because in our greed and selfishness we have shown little care and concern for the world and its resources that God has so generously given. Itís not God's fault that we are experiencing the things we are today. The blame lies fairly and squarely on people who have taken the worldís resources so much for granted.

Letís get to the question of Ďwhy are we here todayí? We are here because we want to acknowledge our part and the role that all humanity has had in the degradation of the place God has given us. We come in humility and repentance owning up to the lack of respect and regard that we have given to God and his plans for this world. In our own way we have contributed to the "groaning that we see in nature" and its longing to be rid of the pain and to be new and whole again. There are some things that we might say that we had no direct involvement like the depletion on the ozone layer. That may be so but we share the guilt of all people as we see what they and we have done together to make our present situation so critical. Not only that, we readily acknowledge that in some way we have all contributed to the pain the world is suffering.

We know this will continue until Jesus comes again and makes all things new. The earth will no longer experience the abuse and the suffering and the dying that it does now. Of course that doesnít mean that we donít have a responsibility to use wisely what God has given to us. Who knows how many generations will come after us and have to endure the mess that former generations have caused to the earth. On the other hand, Jesus may come next week Ė only God knows exactly when that will be. But as we wait we need to be aware that we have contributed to the problems that our world has in this generation.

Let us come before God in humble repentance for what we and all people have done to our world.

(Confession of sin)

We have come here today to be reminded that there is hope for even the worst sinner. Even though we have made a mess of the things of this world, God doesnít give up on us. He loves us and even sent his Son to die for us to remind us of his constant care. He tells us every time we are sorry for what we have done that he is still our heavenly Father who cares for us and provides for us in every way. He says over and over again, Sunday after Sunday, day after day, "Your sins are forgiven. Your guilt for your sin has been dealt with by Jesusí on the cross. Be at peace."

Jesus came not just to rescue us from evil and damnation; he came to rescue his creation - the world - from ill-treatment and neglect. God had his own cleanup campaign and desires that those who have been made clean might clean up our world.

He uses some of the things that he had created to convey this clean up to each of us Ė water was sprinkled on us at holy baptism and combined with his word of promise and forgiveness made us new creatures. Every Sunday he uses the fruit of the earth in bread and wine as he gives us Jesusí body and blood Ė the same body and blood that were given for us on the cross. Just as the wheat and the grapes had to die to become food for us, so Jesus died and has become for us the Bread of Life. After death there is life. He said, "I am the bread of life. Those who come to me will never be hungry; those who believe in me will never be thirsty". Ö For what my Father wants is that all who see the Son and believe in him should have eternal life" (John 6:35, 40). We celebrate today that Jesus is God's solution to the pollution (of sin) in our lives.

Finally we have come here to pray. As we face the uncertainty of significant rain, or the insecurity that global warming has on life on this planet, or the anxiety that changes in climate bring, especially as we experience storms, bushfires, cyclones, hailstorms and so on, there is one thing we can be certain about - God is creator and ruler of this world and all things are under his control.

We are weak and limited and the drought makes us aware of that.  We canít do a single thing to make the rains come.  No scientist has been able to bring rain.  No politician has been able to end the drought, though they talk about it a lot.  No business man has been able to find enough money to buy rain, or create rain.  We are at the limits of our ability to manage our situation, and it is in acknowledging our limitations that open ourselves up to the power and mercy of God.

We place our life, our needs, and our future into the hands of God through prayer. I am reminded of Jesus on the cross when he spoke his last words as recorded in Lukeís Gospel. What were his final words? He didnít pray asking to be taken down from the cross, or that he had been obedient to the point of being nailed to the cross so could he now be saved from death.

This might have been a tempting thought but his prayer was far simpler, "Father! In your hands I place my spirit!" (Luke 23:46). At that moment of greatest need, he handed his life over to his father, knowing that in Godís hands, all would be well. And they were. The Father raised the Son from the tomb. And that is where we are today in our prayers.  In our drought, we place the future in Godís hands, confident that our future is secure whatever may happen.

This is why we are here. Letís pray.

(Prayer for our land, for rain and for wisdom to use the resources of the earth wisely.)

Let us move into the rest of our celebration.  In spite of our desperate need, let us sing with joy, celebrate the goodness and generosity of our God, reach out in love to those who are suffering under the present circumstances and give witness to the world that whether the earth is able to recover from its present groaning under the weight of all the wrong that it has endured or not, we know that we can be confident and contented knowing that our futures are safe in the loving hands of our God.

We pray that God will bless this earth with rain.  As the rain falls and blesses the earth, let us sing his praises and be a blessing to others that they may come to know, love and serve him as their Saviour and Lord.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
26th November, 2006

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