26 April 2015

Organic Living

Psalm 104 & Luke 24:36b-43

Care of Creation Sunday

Fourth Sunday of Easter
26th April 2015

Allow me to be clear here from the start. The sermon title might be a little deceiving.  I’m not making a pitch for buying organic, but for living organically or, simply, organic living. That’s where I wish to go.

But since I brought it up let’s talk for a minute about buying organic. What makes something organic?  “All agricultural products that are sold, labeled or represented as ‘organic’ in any way must not have come in contact with sewage sludge during production and must be produced without the use of: synthetic substances, National Organic Program-prohibited non-synthetic substances, non-organic/non-agricultural and non-organic/agricultural substances used in or on processed products.  Also banned are ionizing radiation and various methods used to modify organisms and/or their growth and development in ways that cannot be achieved under natural conditions.”[1]  I looked all of this up on the Internet. I talk don’t like this.

So, have you joined the organic craze? The jury is still out whether or not organic is really better for us.  I’m not going to get into that debate, because I’m not trying to get you to buy organic. I would say, however, that an organic banana really does taste like a banana.

Did you know that sales of organic food and non-food products in the United States totaled more than $39.1 billion in 2014, up 11.3 percent from the previous year? Organic sales make up a 5 percent share of the total food market.  The organic dairy sector posted an almost 11 percent jump in sales in 2014 to $5.46 billion, the biggest percentage increase for that category in six years. Sales of organic non-food products—accounting for 8 percent of the total organic market—posted the biggest percentage gain in six years, with sales of organic fiber and organic personal care products the standout categories.[2]  I looked this up too. 

There’s a lot of money to be made here.  Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, MOM’s Organic Market seem to be doing well.  Even Giant and Safeway are now selling more organic items. Atwater’s here in Catonsville can’t seem to keep its organic milk in supply.  Perhaps you get your dairy products delivered to your doorstep from a Maryland farm. 

We want local, fresh produce.  Instead of buying blueberries flown in from Chile, we would rather buy them from a farm in Harford County.  We want to reduce our carbon footprint. In this sense, the organic food craze is driven by a real desire to help care for creation.  Farm to table restaurants are everywhere, the most popular being Woodberry Kitchen in Baltimore (one of my favorite restaurants). It’s tough to get a reservation there on a Saturday night.  Farmer’s Markets are growing in popularity. We have two here in Catonsville, one on Wednesdays and one on Sundays.  The largest market in Baltimore, under the Jones Falls Expressway, is open right now; the new season kicks off today.  I’ve never been to it. I’m usually busy on Sunday mornings.  But I hear it’s great.

Most would probably prefer to buy organic food—if most could afford it.  This is not an option for a family on a very tight budget.  And so this becomes a justice issue.  Organic food costs more.  Places such as Whole Foods are ridiculously expensive. I love Whole Foods and don’t shop there on a regular basis.  When I do, I often think of the neighborhoods in Baltimore City without supermarkets of any kind, no Giant or Safeway anywhere to be found, these “food deserts” where folks buy food from over-priced corner convenience stores, without the option to buy fresh fruit and vegetables of any kind. 

No, this sermon is not about buying organic—it really isn’t—but about organic living.   They’re connected, however, linked by a theological vision for the way we live in God’s good creation.  Whether you’re caught up in the organic craze or not, the overall interest is rooted in a desire to care for creation, to heal the soil from the damage caused by pesticides, to help heal the atmosphere, the air that we breath, to help heal our bodies, to remove some of the toxins that contribute to the development of disease, to reconnect with Mother Earth, to return to the earth, to the soil. All of this might appear to be very secular, not necessarily religious or even Christian.  But it is actually very theological and therefore directly relevant to our life as Christians.

To care for the earth is the responsibility of every follower of Jesus Christ.  To care for the creation is part of Christian discipleship.  Several months ago, Pope Francis, who is becoming known as the “green Pope,” said, “a Christian who doesnot protect creation…is a Christian who does not care about the work of God.” It should not be overlooked that the Pope took his name from St. Francis (1181/2-1226), the unofficial patron saint of ecology.  At the beginning of worship today we sang St. Francis’ “Canticle to the Sun,” his hymn to creation written in 1225.  It’s a remarkable poem.  St. Francis’ theological vision calls us to see creation intimately connected to and existing within the Creator. The creation cries out with praise, like the psalmist, with gratitude to the Creator.  All of creation is dependent upon the movement of the Creator, who at the beginning called us into being and who remains Creator, and is still creating us. 

When we say God is Creator we must not limit God’s creative activity only to the first seconds of the Big Bang.  When we say God is Creator, Creator of this creation, we are affirming that God is still creating the world, still sustaining us with and in life.  God is life and in God we’re given life and wherever God is there is life.  God is forever saying, “Let there be…” and there was and is, thus yielding a life giving, dynamic, organic creation pulsating with life. An organic existence celebrates the interconnectivity of all that makes for life.  Living organically means living with the knowledge that as a living-entity we are all connected to everyone and everything and that everyone and every blessed thing are directly connected to God, “in whom we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).

The psalmist said it best, “The earth is the LORD’s and all that is in it, the world and those who dwell in it;…” (Psalm 24:1). Such a simple sentence yet saying so much!  It all belongs to God, life given by God.  There’s no part of creation that doesn’t belong to God.  It’s all part of a whole, a whole that includes you and me. 

In the Hebrew and Christian scriptures we find, again and again, a holistic vision of creation.  This is in contrast to the dualism that we find in other religions and philosophies.  In scripture we don’t find a dualist split between spirit and body or spirit and matter.  One is not privileged over the other.  The spiritual is not superior to the material or the physical. Privileging spirit over matter emerged a long time ago within Greek philosophy, yet its influence is everywhere in our society today, including some theologies that we find in the Church.  Scripture is far more holistic in its outlook.  Spirit and matter are combined. In fact, to counter the over-emphasis on spirit and spiritual things, we find within Judaism and within Christianity the elevation of matter, of the physical, of the flesh, an approach that horrified the average person in the Greco-Roman world.  The Gospel of John makes it very clear:  “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).  The birth of Jesus itself should remind us that matter matters to God, our physical, fleshly existence in this world is sacred and holy, embodiment is important to God, and everything in creation, at all levels, from the micro to the macro, is required for the sustenance of life.  Creation is sacred.  The French, Roman Catholic priest, philosopher, mystic, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955), who was also a geologist and paleontologist, said it beautifully, “By virtue of Creation, and still more the Incarnation, nothing here below is profane for those who know how to see.”[3] 

And with the eyes of faith the creative outpouring of God’s life is seen most brilliantly in the life pouring through Jesus and most profoundly in God’s re-creating life, which brought Jesus back from the dead.  Not as a ghost, says Luke, but in the flesh (Luke 24:37-38).  It’s the resurrected body—not a ghost—that sits at table with the disciples.  The resurrected body sits at table and requires food for sustenance.  Why? Because the resurrected body of the Lord is hungry.

 “What do you have to eat?”  It’s a remarkable scene.  The disciples are “disbelieving for joy” and full of wonder and completely baffled by Jesus’ appearance, but Jesus is hungry and says, almost ignoring them, “Have you anything to eat?”   Several verses prior to this account we saw the resurrected Jesus at a different table, where he became recognizable to his traveling companions on the way to Emmaus only after he took the bread and blessed it and broke it and gave it to them (Luke 24:30).

We can see in these stories how our understanding of the Lord’s Supper developed in the church.  Yes, we think of the Lord’s Supper as the Last Supper before his death.  But these post-resurrection meals are also suppers with the Lord, sacramental meals of presence.  This means that when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper or the Eucharist or Communion we should also view it a post-resurrection meal, a meal with a Resurrected Lord.  These meals of remembrance reconnect us to the Living Christ who connects us, through the Holy Spirit, to the Living God. Early on, the Church viewed the meal as a sharing with and participating in the life of Christ, who is sharing in the life of God.  The meal connects us to Christ who connects us to God in whom all is connected, which makes the Lord’s Supper or Communion or the Eucharist an expression of organic living at its best, as a sharing in the Source of life, sharing with all of life, sharing with one another in the One who makes us one. 

 “Lift up your hearts,” we say when we share Communion.  “We lift them up to the Lord.”  Theologian Ian McFarland, in his remarkable new work, a theology of creation, writes, the “Eucharist draws us upward by drawing us together, binding us not only to one another but also to the bread and wine, which in their organic connection with soil, water, sun, and air implicate the whole web of creaturely relations that makes our life specifically and genuinely human.”[4]  A web of creaturely relations….  It’s as if the entire universe, all of creation, Creator and creation, are all somehow contained in bread and wine and when we eat that bread and drink that cup we, too, share in the abundant life of the Creator.  All of this is true when we have Communion in church, but Communion also reminds us what is true all the time, at every meal, whether we’re conscious of it or not.

Perhaps our approach to the Lord’s Supper can shape how we share every meal and inform our relationship with food and how it’s produced and sold and bought and shared.  And maybe our relationship with the food on our tables will connect us more deeply with the bread and wine served at the Lord’s Table. It’s all organic.

[2] Data from the Organic Trade Association: https://www.ota.com/what-ota-does/market-analysis.
[3] Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Divine Milieu (New York: Harper Torch Books, 1960), 112.
[4] Ian A. McFarland, From Nothing: A Theology of Creation (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), 180.

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