Sermon Preached on September 22, 2019 – Creation II
By The Rev. Dr. Nina R. Pooley
St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church, Yarmouth, ME
Genesis 3: 1-13
Gen 3: 14-24
Luke 16:1-13 (assigned for this Sunday)
Faithful and Generous Tending
In his article in the Portland Press Herald on Friday,¹ Bill Nemitz wrote:
Driving by [Farmington’s] fire station Wednesday afternoon, you might think it was just another late summer day in central Maine. An engine and a ladder truck sat at the ready in the large driveway, while firefighters in dark slacks and navy blue T-shirts came and went through the open bays of the cavernous station.
But the ladder truck was from Augusta. And the T-shirts sported logos from all over. And the occasional bear hugs between grown men signified that these are far from normal times. Just after 8 a.m. Monday, six local firefighters, including most of the department’s command staff, responded to reports of a gas smell at the newly renovated (LEAP) building on Farmington Falls Road.
Minutes later, as the firefighters and the site’s maintenance manager investigated the odor, the building exploded violently enough to be heard 30 miles away.
Killed instantly was Capt. Michael Bell, 68, a department veteran of 30 years. His brother, Fire Rescue Chief Terry Bell, 62, suffered critical injuries, as did Capt. Scott Baxter, 37; his father, firefighter Theodore “Ted” Baxter, 64; and Larry Lord, 60, the maintenance manager. Also hospitalized were Capt. Tim Hardy, 40; and firefighter Joseph Hastings, 24.
In other words, almost a quarter of Farmington’s 27-member fire department went down in the blast. Even as the insulation drifted down like snow onto lawns and sidewalks hundreds of yards from the obliterated LEAP building, it became all too clear to the rest of Maine’s firefighting community that this was a town in need of help. Immediately.
As Nemitz observed, Farmington’s fire department is, until further notice, the largest fire department in Maine.
“Scarborough, Portland, Gardiner, Freeport, Yarmouth, Wales … Waterville’s here, too,” Gerry Pineau, a firefighter and paramedic from Westbrook, said amid the hubbub inside the Farmington Fire Department. “Augusta, Rangeley, Lewiston, Auburn … all those towns, off the top of my head, have already been here or are scheduled to be here.” They routinely refer to themselves as family. They call each other brother or sister, even if meeting for the first time. And when tragedy strikes, as it did Monday morning less than a mile from Farmington’s fire station, they line up to lend a hand.²
Similarly, our texts this morning are about responsibility and accountability, about our call to faithful and generous tending of one another and all of Creation. About our relationship with God, and each other.
The God we meet in Genesis chapters 2 and 3 is a God who is up close and interactive. A God in responsive relationship with Creation. We pick up the story as God walks in the garden and asks Adam: “Where are you?” God is surprised when Adam answers, that he’s hiding because he is naked. God questions him further, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”
The correct answer is: YES, I have. But instead Adam says, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” Implying none too subtly, that it’s definitely her fault, and probably God’s as well.
God then questions the woman, “What is this that you have done?” Which requires a more complicated answer. Perhaps, “I gave him the fruit and he chose to eat it on his own…” or even, “I’m sorry, but you told Adam not to eat of the tree before you created me, but it sounds like he knew and that didn’t stop him.”
But instead of admitting she bears some responsibility though not all, the woman says, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.” Neither Adam nor Eve take any responsibility for their own part in this mess, preferring to pass the buck and blame someone else.
God is not impressed – and holds everyone to account: man, woman and snake – each of them will suffer. And the humans can no longer stay in the garden, for they now have just enough knowledge to think they are like God. And humans who think they are equal to God are unpredictable and dangerous. They can’t stay in the Garden of Eden, they have to go. But before God sends them forth, God makes them clothes to cover themselves – as a gift, an act of mercy. Even as they are being punished and cast
out of the garden – God shows them they are cared for, and models how we are to care for each other – with grace and mercy.
From the beginning, they were meant to tend the Garden of Delight (“Eden” likely means delight), so that this garden – teaming with life, might flourish.³ Cast out from the garden, they are meant to till the earth and use it for the well-being of God’s people. The story of humanity’s fall away from God, then, is also the story of our fall away from our original vocation as Creation’s gardeners. Our first sin was to fail God, Creation and one another – by failing to take responsibility for ourselves and our effect on one another and Creation. Redemption then is a return to our tending of God’s Creation and one another.⁴
As strange as the Gospel parable sounds on first read, it echoes some of these themes – our commitment to care for the earth and all that are in it, and our willingness to act with justice and generosity. In this parable the dishonest manager is commended for acting shrewdly – forgiving a portion of the debts owed by others to his master. Jesus says, “the children of this age” (that is, the “dishonest managers” who run the world of wealth) “are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.”⁵ In this respect, Jesus says, his followers could learn a thing or two from even the
unrighteous ways of the world about how to be savvy and wise.⁶
Which raises a few questions! Aren’t those “dishonest managers” crassly self-serving? That doesn’t sound like something commended by Jesus.
Yet here Jesus takes the view that self-interest isn’t the problem; rather, the problem is understanding what’s actually in your genuine self-interest, and what isn’t. Genuine self-interest is served through generosity and justice, sharing resources and taking care of one another. Tight-fisted greed, as it turns out, isn’t truly self-serving at all – it’s corrosive and destructive. So, go ahead, Jesus says, act in your “self-interest” – only make sure you really do! Love and fairness bestow true riches upon us, while clinging to possessions distorts our hearts and our communities.⁷ Jesus concludes this episode with the most familiar part of this parable: “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much.”⁸
When we are overwhelmed by all that ails Creation – climate change, endangered species, pollution, plastics, pick your issues – it’s helpful to remember that being faithful in all the little ways we can matters more than we may realize. “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much” Being accountable and trustworthy, responsive to the earth and one another, expanding our perspective – that was the point of the climate march, to highlight the need to shift our mindset from being all about ourselves and
our immediate needs, to thinking about what we are doing to each other, and those who come after us. Knowing that the care and tending of Creation is in our self-interest, because it is what is best for the well-being of all.
Which brings us back to Farmington, where our firefighters are showing us how it’s done – being accountable to one another and responding for the well-being of others in need.
As Bill Nemitz wrote:
Time will tell why Monday’s call … ended so badly. All that matters to these firefighters now is the void that needs filling – and if that means putting yourself in harm’s way to serve a community far away from your own, so be it. “My town, their town, it doesn’t matter. We do it,” said Dan Masselli, deputy chief of the Yarmouth Fire Department, [now serving as] Farmington’s operations officer.
They’re getting the job done. When calls came in Wednesday… the makeshift crews rolled and did as they’re trained to do … The round-the-clock rotations – eight firefighters and one chief officer per 12-hour shift – will continue at least through the end of the month.
Windham Fire Chief Brent Libby, has taken on the task of scheduling the volunteer crews…. The goal, he said, is to protect the community while Farmington’s firefighters mourn the loss of Capt. Bell, support their injured comrades and keep an eye on their families.
With time, Farmington’s first responders will get back on their feet. But until then, however long it takes, they will not bear this burden alone.⁹
My friends, may we too, be trustworthy in little things and in great; may we understand how intimately we are connected to one another – that our own well-being is tied up with that of others and all Creation. May we be people of justice and mercy. Amen.
1 Bill Nemitz, “Responding to tragedy as if they were family – because they are”, Portland Press Herald, Posted 4:00 AM Updated at 7:25 AM 9.20/19 pressherald.com.
2 Bill Nemitz, “Responding to tragedy as if they were family – because they are”, Portland Press Herald, Posted 4:00 AM Updated at 7:25 AM 9.20/19 pressherald.com.
3 SALT’s Climate Crisis and the Bible, September 18, 2019, Saltproject.org
4 SALT’s Climate Crisis and the Bible, September 18, 2019, Saltproject.org
5 Luke 16:8
6 SALT What is money for? SALT’s Lectionary Commentary for 15th week after Pentecost, September 17, 2019, saltproject.org
7 SALT What is money for? SALT’s Lectionary Commentary for 15th week after Pentecost, September 17, 2019, saltproject.org
8 Luke 16:10
9 Bill Nemitz, “Responding to tragedy as if they were family – because they are”, Portland Press Herald, Posted 4:00 AM Updated at 7:25 AM 9.20/19 pressherald.com.