The Season of Creation
Working for the Oikos of God
a sermon on James 2:1-17
The Rev’d Rhonda Waters
Today is the first Sunday of the season of Creation – 5 weeks in which we join churches around the world in attending to the beauty of the world around us and our identity as members and stewards of that creation. It is, perhaps, a sign of the problem that we need to set aside 5 weeks for this work; that it isn’t simply integrated into every day of our lives and every aspect of our community. But it is also a sign of hope – a step in the right direction towards not only deeper awareness but also meaningful action.
Because, as James reminds us, faith, without works, is dead. A living faith gives breath to actions that express it; that bring our lives into line with our relationship with God. And faith needs to be enacted in order to breath and grow – faith without outward expression will stagnate and, eventually, suffocate.
This is the danger for works, too, mind you. The hard work of justice-building and peace-making needs a healthy, life-giving source to be sustainable, reasons bigger than should and more meaningful than vanity. Faith explains and sustains actions in the face of opposition, complacency, or overwhelm, strengthening our commitment and deepening our engagement.
Faith and works are not separate – which is why both are needed for life. Borrowing an image from the liturgical scholar, Ruth Meyer’s discussion of mission and liturgy, faith and works are like a mobius strip. If you take a strip of paper and write faith on one side and works on the other, you have these two separate things which never touch. But, with just a little twist, you reveal that they are actually inseparable, blending one into the other in an infinite loop.
Bring that mobius strip to worship each week, whether literally or just in your mind, as we seek to bring faith to bear fruit in our work and use work to help us understand our faith.
This year, the theme for the Season of Creation is “A home for all: renewing the oikos of God”
Oikos is the Greek word for household or home and is where we get our eco root – as in ecology or economics. It’s a powerful word – just home is a powerful word. We all have the desire for a home – a safe place where we belong; where we know and are known by others; where we have a part to play in the well-being of the whole. The dangers and loneliness of homelessness – which can occur even inside a house – are heartbreaking.
Oikos invites us to take home and stretch beyond our own domestic situations, beyond our own desires for “home”. It asks us to imagine not “our” home but God’s home – a home which includes us but is not, actually, just for us. Ecology is the study of home – the home of all creation in which each creature is beloved and each creature has a part to play. It’s the home where all my relations live, to draw on the language of another tradition.
And oikos invites us to understand the work of homemaking in a particular way as well, with an eye to the economics of it all. Households are complicated, filled with different needs and priorities, equipped with resources and faced with challenges. As humans, we have a particular role to play in the distribution of those resources and the ordering of those challenges. Remembering that we are working in God’s home and not just our home calls on us to bring a broader view to bear on the decisions we make.
So back to James: “My siblings, do you with your acts of favouritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ?”
James is calling out favouritism towards those who are rich and powerful at the expense of those who are poor and vulnerable, reminding his hearers that God has made God’s priorities perfectly clear: love your neighbour. All of them. And not in word only – do the work to actually provide the care they need. Make literal room at the metaphorical table.
Jesus learned (re-learned, probably) this lesson in his encounter with the Syrophoenician woman. When he tried to send her away on the grounds that she wasn’t part of the household, she pushed back. She expanded the household beyond those he saw at the table and, his view broadened, he saw there was indeed room for her. And not only for her but for everyone who would come – from her to the man in the Decapolis and onward to all the Gentiles – until there was room even for us. For there was no longer room for favouritism in the oikos.
There is no room for favouritism in the oikos. Loving our neighbours means all of them – and not just the human ones, as we are slowly learning. The household of God includes all of creation, each part equally deserving of honour and care. All of us – humans of every culture and situation; animals great and small; plants and earth and water and air – all of us belong and all of us are needed and all of us are beloved.
Filled with faith that this is so, we have work to do.
We have work to do in our own practices – how we, personally, use resources and treat our neighbours.
We have work to do in our politics – how we vote and advocate and organize (how convenient that an election is just around the corner)
The Story at Home and the Ascension newsletter include resources to help you do that work and there are many, many more resources out there – and in our midst. We are a rich resource for one another – talk with one another about this work, supporting and encouraging one another as members of the household.
For this work is urgent – just a glance at the weather channel reveals the urgency – but don’t let the urgency distract you from the way in which it is also a gift.
It is an opportunity to grow in faith, to discover new dimensions of God’s love and our own place in God’s household.
It is an opportunity to follow Jesus, making room at the table and discovering there is more spaciousness, more healing, more good news than we had imagined.
It is an opportunity to make our faith live.