Eco-Justice Ministries
Home Page: www.eco-justice.org     *     E-mail: ministry@eco-justice.org

New Dimensions, New Directions

Scripture text: Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
This text was one of the lectionary readings for the Sunday for which this sermon was prepared.
Other, or additional, texts could also be related to this sermon.

A sermon should be a personal statement from the preacher. It is most genuine and appropriate when it draws on the speaker's own convictions, and when it is in the preacher's own words.

What is offered here is a possible text for a sermon. We invite you to work from these ideas, and to make them your own. Feel free to change wording, illustrations, or any sections that don't feel genuine to who you are. There are some sections that you will probably want to expand upon out of your own knowledge and experience.

Please give yourself adequate time to prepare!

Introduction

What a silly thing it would be if the church didn't speak to our needs, and to the situations of our times! What an odd thing it would be if our faith did not connect to the joys and struggles, the questions and problems, that we encounter in our lives.

We proclaim our faith in a God who acts in history, who relates to people and nations and to all of creation. Surely, such a God must offer the church fresh meaning and new content to be pertinent to each age and time.

When we read through the Bible, it becomes obvious that it does not talk about automobiles and presidents and universities. Those things were not part of the world when the Bible was written. The fact that our modern things are not mentioned does not mean that we should get rid of them and live like the people in the Bible. It does not mean that we should live with donkeys and kings and home schooling.

What the difference between biblical times and our times does mean, is that we have to work hard to make some of the connections. We have to be aware of the differences, and look for the timeless themes, and then listen carefully for the new message that God speaks for our day.

New Directions

The Bible is the starting place for our faith journey. It is the sourcebook, the record of shared experiences and core convictions for the whole church. It is the set of stories and writings through which the church has found God to be uniquely revealed. It is an important book!

But, while the Bible is our starting place, it is not our ending place. The circumstances of our birth have placed us into an entirely different society than existed in the Mediterranean world of several thousand years ago.

Our experiences and our science are very different from biblical times. When God speaks to our world, to our society, to our church, will the message be just the same as the biblical message? Or could it be that God's directions for today might be very different from what we read in the Bible?

I've been using words about faith journeys and God's directions. Let me play with an illustration about travel.

Imagine that you have friends who lived in San Francisco, good friends, who came to visit. And so (being the helpful host that you are) you sent them direction for how to drive to your house. You didn't just tell them how to get from the highway to your house. Your instructions started off from close to their house: "Get on the Interstate and go east 600 miles." Then, once you got them into Utah, your directions worked them through some other roads, until, finally, they got to your house. The directions worked great!

A few years later, your friends wanted to come visit again. But, in the meantime, they had moved to Boston. Does it make sense to tell them to use the same driving directions? "Go east 600 miles" doesn't seem to work so well from Boston. It would make for a very long, wet trip.

God's directions for our lives pay attention to where we're located. If we're in a completely different place than the biblical folk, then God won't give us the same directions that they had. God won't send us the wrong way, just because the directions once worked for somebody else.

God frequently calls to us to the center -- the center of faith, and relationship, and justice. That centering point is where God wants us to be, and God's call to the center is constant for all people. That part does not change. But where we're coming from does change. But there's a lot in the particular directions given to us that must be particular to our situation if the call of faith is to be meaningful for where we live, and how we live, today.

Proverbs

Today's reading was from Proverbs. In this book, God's wisdom is given personal form. Wisdom is portrayed as a woman, who preaches to the youth. This Wisdom has been around from the beginning of creation. She was a part of God's forming of the world, and she delights in all that God has made. She takes special delight in the human race -- in that part of creation that will seek out order and righteousness.

Wisdom is an eternal part of God's work. The notions of what is at the center of goodness and righteousness don't change with our passing fancy or with any fickleness on the part of God. But, as we know from the familiar short sayings in Proverbs, wisdom also includes the practical, the detailed, the contextual. The way that we come to the consistent center is tied into the details of life.

"New Dimensions"

A popular hymn is titled, "In the Midst of New Dimensions." The song suggests that, in the "new dimensions" of modern life, we are "pilgrims" who are trying to find our way. We look to God for guidance in our journey of faith, to give us direction in the changing landscape of human history.

Our world seems to be changing quickly and constantly. Of course we're all aware of places in our lives that seem very different from what the Bible talks about. But there are many places in our lives that are remarkably different from what we knew as normal just a few years ago.

This morning, let's look briefly at a couple of those new dimensions to faithful life in the modern age, and see if we can see a few of the ways that God is leading us. We'll see what's new and challenging, what we need to remember out of our tradition (the center that God always calls us to), and look for some of the new directions that God is leading us today.

A Global Society

One of the new dimensions of modern life is the way we are connected with the entire world. We live in a global, and globalized, society.

We get news almost instantly from around the world. With the Internet, we're in touch with people and information from all around the planet.

Then, too, some of the ways we used to think of our place in the world, and of other locales, have changed. Corporations seem to have as much influence as national governments, but without really being located anywhere, or accountable to a population. The products we buy could have been made anywhere, and by anyone.

Food and clothes used to have a regional character, but now we see the same burger stands and the same fashion everywhere.

Living in a globalized world puts us in a very different place than the biblical story. It changes the way that we think of ourselves and our neighbors. It changes our relationships. So many of our contacts are anonymous -- whether with the unknown worker in the store, or the invisible farm worker who harvests the food.

There is much in our faith tradition that is still appropriate. We're still called to the same center. We know that the whole world is important to God. We know that faithfulness applies to our economic and social life, and not only to personal morality. We know that God calls us to live justly.

But we also need new directions for these new dimensions of life. How do we get to the center of economic justice when we're not just talking about workers and bosses, but we're dealing with a world-wide system that trades in stocks and investments? How do we come to "love our neighbor" when the neighbor works in a sweatshop in Mexico or Indonesia? What directions can we have that help us deal with institutions and corporations as well as individuals?

Thankfully, we can hear some of those new directions. The church has been richly blessed with liberation theologies that stretch our ethics. The church is deeply involved in examining what globalization really means for people of faith. In rural villages and urban protests and corporate annual meetings and the halls of Congress, the voice of God can be heard, speaking to us with new directions for how to live in this world.

Environmental Impacts

Another profoundly new dimension to our modern life is in the environmental realm.

2000 years ago, humans were relatively powerless in their relationship with nature. Now, human impacts are shaping not only local environments, but the whole planetary system.

The enormous human population is now mixed with powerful new technologies and unimagined wealth and consumption. That combination of numbers and impacts has changed the ethical map.

Humans are using thousands of new chemicals that disrupt life and cause cancers. We spew out gasses that warm the planet and break down the protective ozone layer. We're exhausting the soil and the oceans, cutting down the forests, and forcing thousands of species into extinction.

In the words of one recent writer, "For the first time, our power to destroy outstrips the earth's power to restore."

The global environmental crisis puts us in a wildly different place than the biblical story. The directions given by God more than 3,000 years ago -- to have dominion, and to subdue the earth -- now point us away from the center, not toward it.

But the center point remains constant: "The earth is the Lord's." It is not ours to possess and exploit and destroy. We are called to be caring "stewards" of what God has made.

And so the new directions for this new dimension must be radically different than what we find in much of the Bible. The new directions must pay attention to where we are now, with our immense power.

As God calls us back to the center, the directions will call on us to do many things differently. But, more importantly, God calls us to think of ourselves differently, too. We need to rethink our understandings of humanity's place and purpose in creation, because the idea of "dominion" does not make sense in this new place. We need to be far better attuned to the way that we are part of environmental relationships. We need to acknowledge that we're part of the web of life, not somehow outside of it. The new directions from God call us to work for sustainability, not more rampaging growth.

Thankfully, we can hear some of God's new directions for this strange and remarkable time. In the warnings of scientists, and the new insights of environmental biology, we are being led to see our situation more clearly. In faithful spirituality and movements toward simpler living, we are being invited toward a more centered and less destructive life. In the heartfelt love of so many for the wonders of the natural world, we are rediscovering the holy qualities of gratitude and humility and awe.

In scientific laboratories and mountain meadows and the chambers of the United Nations, the voice of God can be heard, speaking to us with new directions for how to live in this world.

Conclusion

God invites each one of us to listen for new directions, new insights. God's message to the faithful didn't stop thousands of years ago! And God's message to the faithful always gives good guidance in how to get from where they happen to be right now, to the loving, grace-filled center.

Thanks be to God for continuing to break into our lives.

Amen!


This sermon was prepared by the Rev. Peter S. Sawtell, Executive Director of Eco-Justice Ministries, for the Rocky Mountain Conference of the United Church of Christ. It was distributed to all of the churches of the Conference for use on the weekend of the Conference Annual Meeting, June 10, 2001, when many of the clergy of the Conference would be attending the meeting.

The sermon may be distributed without restriction, but may not be published without permission from Eco-Justice Ministries.


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Home Page: www.eco-justice.org   *   E-mail: ministry@eco-justice.org