Throughout Lent, we are looking at the big story from creation to resurrection. We started last week by thinking about the wonder of creation and our responsibility for it. I went back and forth on the theme for this second chapter of the story, but ultimately I chose disconnection because it seems to me to be the root of most of the problems we see in scripture and in the world. Conflict, greed, injustice...in every sin or crisis we can name, there is some element of disconnection, of relationship being broken. Whole and healthy relationships would not allow us to hate to the point of violence or to snatch at everything we can without caring what that leaves others or to treat those we should love as siblings as less than us.
In the story that we tell, the first point of disconnection is the fall, when Adam and Eve eat of the forbidden fruit and find themselves cast out of Paradise. I’m not interested for the moment in how literally we should take this story, because I think its truth lies in what it tells us about ourselves and our relationships. The temptation, the betrayal, the cover up, the consequences...these are stories that are played out over and over. Different times, different settings, but the same result. Disconnection.
Adam and Eve’s first act after they have eaten the fruit is to cover their bodies, and in this there is a disconnection from the self, a discomfort with the truth of who we are. And then they hear God in the garden and they hide themselves, and clearly here we see a disconnection from God, a desire to keep parts of ourselves secret from him. When God challenges them they each try to shift the blame, and here we see the beginning of a disconnection from others, a tendency to think as an individual and not as a community. And then they are thrown out of the garden and tilling the land becomes harder, and here we see a disconnection from creation, a sense of being out of step with the natural world and its rhythms.
This sense of disconnection runs throughout Bible. A refrain in the book of Judges is “they did not know the Lord” and the consequence of that is often that “everyone did as they pleased”. This results in the horror of the final chapters, in which a concubine is chased down by the man she has tried to leave, is handed over by him to a gang of wicked men, is raped and abused repeatedly for a night, is left for dead on a doorstep, and is ultimately dismembered and sent to the twelve tribes of Israel so that the man who handed her over can seek vengeance, vengeance which includes the mass murder of the men of one tribe and the mass kidnap of the women of another. The people did not know God and so they did as they pleased, and what pleased them was rape and murder. Broken relationships with God led to broken relationships with others.
Of course that is an extreme example, but it is not isolated. We see the same disconnection in the prophets, as again and again they name the sins of the people as those things break relationships, and again and again they present the restoration of those relationships as the way out of the mess. Because that is what the call to justice is. It is a call to a way of living that recognises and honours our ties and our responsibilities to one another. It is a call to reconnect what has become disconnected.
But disconnection is not just a scriptural problem. It continues and takes on new forms. Social isolation is an increasing problem, as families live further apart and fewer people know their neighbours. Spirituality has become almost vague, with many having a sense of something bigger but no real commitment to a personal relationship with God. People speak of travelling the world to find themselves, as if our way of life causes us to hide or lose who we are. Children are amazed to learn that milk comes from cows, because their lives have become so separate from the land on which they live. And this disconnection is a real issue. Isolation causes loneliness and depression. Loss of faith can lead us into existential crisis. The struggle to live authentically is a source of great pain for many. Lack of understanding of the natural world allows for its abuse and destruction.
And it was disconnection that caused the hate that led a man to walk into two mosques and shoot dead fifty one people last week, including the 71 year old man who greeted him as brother at the door, and a 3 year old worshipping with his family. Disconnection is quite literally killing us.
But between the disconnection we see in scripture and the disconnection we see in the world, something happened. Of course that is where the big story is leading us, but I hope it’s not spoiling things too much to say that Jesus happened. The reading we heard from Isaiah 59 was unflinching in speaking of the sins of the people, but it ended with an assurance of God’s presence, the reconnection that resolves the disconnection, and that presence was most fully realised in Christ.
Clearly Jesus didn’t solve the problem of disconnection - he couldn’t because relationships are two way and connections have to be made at both ends - but he did show us his working out so that we could solve it together. Jesus’ entire ministry was about reconnection, and that’s before we even get to the cross. Wayward sons return home to be embraced by their fathers. Lepers are made clean to be restored to their community. Tax collectors befriend zealots. Enemies heal one another’s wounds. All are loved as children of God.
When a teacher of the law asks Jesus what is the greatest commandment, he tells him love God and love your neighbour as yourself. This is often known as the double love commandment, but really it is the treble love commandment, because loving our neighbours as ourselves means first loving ourselves. So let’s go through it again. The most important thing Jesus had to tell us was love your God, love yourself, love your neighbour. And I think it has to go in that order, because it is as we enter into relationship with God that we learn to see ourselves as his children, and it is in understanding what it means to be a child of God that we learn how to treat our siblings in God. This treble commandment reconnects us to God and to ourselves and to others. Living it out is the answer to our disconnection.
Of course that leaves out our disconnection from the earth, but I don’t think that means Jesus wasn’t interested in it at all. The vast amount of ecological imagery Jesus used was not just the norm for the time, but a deliberate call back to the patterns and rhythms of the earth. We are meant to the think of the kingdom of God as a mustard seed, and as the family of God as a flock of sheep, because we are meant to be in tune with the natural world, inhabiting it fully. Living into these metaphors will reconnect us with creation.
If these solutions were easy we would be sorted by now, but we still have a long way to go, and so we have to be intentional about this reconnection, about spending time with God and with others and with ourselves and with our planet. So I encourage you to take some time now to reflect on what that might look like for you, and I invite you to make some commitments. How might you reconnect with God and with yourself and with others and with creation? What one thing can you do this week?