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    The Green Spruce is our Neighbour

    July 10, 2016
    Filed Under:
    Pr. David

    For many different reasons, these days, I’ve been thinking about oceans, and deep waters ….

     

    …. not least of which are these wonderful underwater, oceanic decorations filling this chancel and sanctuary, in preparation for this upcoming week’s Vacation Bible School….

     

    … also because this August my wife and I and two daughters will be heading out to the shores and beaches of the Atlantic Ocean in the Maritime provinces for some vacation time…

     

    … also be because just recently I saw the movie “Finding Dory” – have you seen it? – which is an animated film taking place in the underwater depths of an ocean, and is about a cute fish named “Dory.”

     

    Now, since the beginning of time, poets and philosophers have considered the ocean as a mystifying, even dangerous place.

     

    It’s long been the subject of scary mythological fantasies, in which dragons and Leviathan creatures lurk.

    Even in the Old and New Testaments, oceans and bodies of water are depicted as places of storms, awesome power, and evil underwater creatures.

     

    The dread and fear oceans evoke is partly because what you see on the surface doesn’t necessarily indicate what might be lurking beneath in the watery depths, thereby leaving much to the imagination.

     

    The award-winning 1975 film “Jaws” brought to the fore this terror and fear about the unknown dangers lurking beneath the surface, and encouraged this nightmarish idea that the ocean depths are necessarily populated by terrifying, human-eating sharks the likes of “Jaws.”

     

    One of the reasons why I appreciated the film “Finding Dory” is because the film completely upended this assumption we have of the ocean as a necessarily “bad”, dangerous and scary place.

     

    What I saw in the movie was an underwater world of breathtaking beauty…. an expansive world filled with colour and an amazing variety of fish and plant life, an amazing inter-dependent world where sea creatures and marine life co-exist in a harmonious way.

     

    As in Genesis 1 when God says of God’s creation: “It is good”, so I thought to myself: the underwater ocean world is so very good and beautiful.

     

    One of the main characters in the film, a shark (a supposedly scary shark) turns out instead to be cute, harmless, and delightful, and extremely helpful to Dory.

     

    The impression left with me after watching the film, was that the ocean is a friendly place, a good, beautiful place…. sort of like a safe neighbourhood, where neighbourliness and care between creatures indeed happens.

     

    “Who is my neighbour”? the lawyer asks Jesus in today’s Gospel text.

    Jesus had just told the lawyer what the greatest commandment was: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart…soul…strength…and mind…… and your neighbour as yourself…”

     

    And so, who is our neighbour?

     

    Isn’t the first thing that comes to our mind when we think of the word `neighbour’, as someone who is just like us – similar ethnic background, religion or economic status.

    And we think of a `neighbourhood’ as an area that houses similar people, and this similarity provides a measure of psychological comfort and identity support.

     

    A `neighbour’ is just like us.

     

    But what the Parable of the Good Samaritan does is completely upend this assumption, and proposes that the neighbour whom Jesus is thinking of, is precisely someone who is very different from us.

     

    Jesus holds up a Samaritan, as the laudable example to follow; a Samaritan who in his day was considered very different; Samaritans were despised, mocked and cast aside as inferior, socially, religiously and otherwise.

     

    But in the parable, it’s precisely this Samaritan who demonstrates the greatest neighbourliness in being the only one who steps aside on the road to care for and assist the person who was beaten and robbed.

     

    According to Jesus, our neighbour is someone different from us, who needs our care.

     

    Recently, churches and theologians around the world have been expanding this notion of neighbour, to include not only human beings, but also the non-human realm of creation: plants and animals, earth, sky, and ocean.

     

    Have you ever considered spruce trees and dogs, lake trout and mourning doves – and all of God’s creation – as “our neighbour” for whom we are called to care and love?

    At our recent Synod Assembly in June, delegates passed a motion “to commit ourselves anew to such care and to eco-friendly practices, according to local circumstances.”

     

    We try to follow the greatest commandment to love God, self and neighbour by caring for God’s creation, while at the same time acknowledging and confessing when we’ve done the exact opposite: when we’ve harmed `our neighbour’ around us, and have not been a very good neighbour at all.

     

    And we know what we’ve been doing...

     

    … dumping our garbage in places we shouldn’t …

    … excessive and reckless use of carbon polluting products, industries and activities…

     

    …over the decades contributing to a steady rise in global temperatures, and the warming of the oceans’ waters.

     

    In turn, this warming has caused a number of problems:

     

    …. as oceans absorb the increased carbon dioxide, the waters become more acidic, causing some marine life either to die or migrate to other, cooler waters…

     

    …. the warmer waters in and of themselves lead to the death of certain plants and coral reefs, and of course the much publicized melting of the polar ice caps…..

     

    … which in turn result in higher water levels, threatening plant and human habitation along the coastlines of the world.

     

    … not to mention the increased frequency of severe storms,

     tornadoes, and hurricanes we’ve been experiencing…

     

    We’re all-too-familiar with our lack of care toward our neighbour – creation - around us.

     

    It’s interesting – from the Old Testament reading today – who does God choose to be a prophet to go and confront the idolatry and greed of the King of Israel, but Amos, “a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees…”

     

    God chooses someone who worked closely with the ground and the earth and the plants that grow from it.

    God chooses someone who regularly “got his hands dirty” with the soil and mud of the earth, and helped grow trees.

    God chooses Amos, who already knew and appreciated first-hand the richness and value of caring for God’s good creation.

     

    We confess our failure to care for our good neighbour, God’s creation.

     

    At the same time, we try to get out of the way …

    … to let go and let God,

    ... and allow ourselves to become instruments of God’s healing, reconciling and renewing work in the world….

    …. and in so doing, continue the work that Jesus set out in his ministry, becoming the hands and feet and minds of Jesus, today.

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