Sermon for July 26th, 2015
1After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. 2A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. 3Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. 4Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. 5When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” 6He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. 7Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” 8One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9“There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” 10Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. 11Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” 13So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. 14When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.” 15When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself. 16When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, 17got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. 18The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. 19When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. 20But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” 21Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.
Celtic Christianity: The Goodness of All Creation
Larry Nugent is an Irish farmer, also the owner of the Bed & Breakfast where Amy and I stayed in Northern Ireland last week. Larry bears a striking resemblance to the late comedian Robin Williams, and cracks about as many jokes, although you have to listen very carefully to understand them through his rather thick and fast-paced Irish Brogue.
One morning after breakfast, I was telling Larry how nice it was that in Ireland, we could drive almost anywhere in the country in just two hours. I told him that back home in Texas, it took us almost an entire day to drive to another major city. Larry just patted me on the shoulder and said, "I know how you feel. I once had a car like that, too."
Part of Ireland's enduring charm comes from the fact that it is indeed a small island, tucked away at the North Western edge of the Atlantic ocean, in many ways isolated from the rest of Europe. Christianity came to Ireland in the 5th century, the time of Saint Patrick, and it continued to grow and flourish there even as the rest of Christianity, along with the Roman Empire on the continent fell into a time of chaos and fragmentation that has been called the "dark ages."
Because of this, a different form of Christianity developed in Ireland for several centuries, a separate stream with its own unique emphases and ways of understanding the scriptures. This period and these practices are often referred to as "Celtic Christianity." During our time in Ireland, Amy and I were both privileged to take a course on the subject, offered through the Centre for Celtic Spirituality, taught by the Rev. Grace Cluny, who is an ordained minister in the Church of Ireland and the author of the book, "Sacred Living," which examines practical ways that we can incorporate these ancient Celtic ideals into our own modern faith journeys.
So for the next four weeks, I'll be leaning heavily on Grace's insights from her book and from the class that we took, sharing them with you, and using the stories of Jesus feeding the 5,000 and then walking on water to tie it all together. Four weeks, and four key concepts that were important to Celtic Christians: Creation, Hospitality, Creativity, and Journey. Today we'll talk about Creation.
In just a moment, we'll come back to our scripture passage in John, but first I'd like to take us back all the way to the beginning of the scriptures, to the first chapter of Genesis. You'll recall that in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, the day and the night, the land and the water, the trees, the flowers, the grass and all the plants, the birds and the fish and all the animals, and last of all, humankind. And after each of these things God pronounces that it is good. Some Christians mistakenly believe that after God created humans, he pronounced them alone to be "very good" but that's not the case: After God creates humans, Genesis 1:31 says that he "saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good."
All creation is inherently good--trees, animals, humans--all equally good. This is an important aspect of Celtic Christianity. Later Christian theology (right up to the present time) tends to emphasize the "fall from grace" or humankind's brokenness, sinfulness and "total depravity." But while Celtic Christians were aware of these doctrines, their primary emphasis remained rooted in the goodness of creation. Even when Adam and Eve leave the garden, God never pronounces them (or the garden, or anything in creation) to be bad. And so they (and we) remain inherently good.
There is also an inherent equality in this belief--the rivers and the trees are just as important as the cows and the birds, and the humans. Why? Because God pronounced all of these things to be Good, none more so than any others. Ancient Greek and Roman culture viewed nature as something to struggle against, something to conquer and subdue. And so the Roman and Greek version of Christianity emphasized using nature for one's own benefit. Celtic Christianity, on the other hand, emphasizes the role of humans as partners with and protectors of nature for the benefit of all God's creation.
You can see this reflected in Celtic art, where people and animals of all kinds are intertwined and woven together with twisting vines and branches. In Celtic prayers, you find references to birds, cows, bees, trees, wind, mountains, rivers, and more.
Nature is not itself god, but God is in every aspect of nature, and because of this, in Celtic Christianity you don't find the same sharp dividing lines between the "sacred" and the "secular" that emerge later in Christian thought. For example, today we have "Christian" radio stations and secular/non- Christian radio stations. Christian bookstores, and non-Christian bookstores. Places that are sacred (churches, sanctuaries, cemeteries) and places that are not sacred (homes, offices, parks). But for ancient Celtic peoples, all of these things were sacred, because God was in all of them, God created all of them. There are Celtic prayers to be said while milking the cow, or while sweeping the kitchen, because these activities (as well as the cow, the milk, the kitchen, and even the dust) are all part of God's inherently good creation.