2 Cor 5:6-17
by The Rev. Dr. Bradley Hauff, Indigenous Missioner, The Episcopal Church, Minneapolis (USA)
I am a member of the Lakota Sioux, who are Indigenous tribal people from South Dakota. We have a saying: mitakuye oyasin. It means “all my relatives.” Like other Indigenous people of the Western Hemisphere, we believe that all things are related – people, animals, plants, rocks, mountains, clouds, and the stars and planets of the Universe. Everything is connected to one another inextricably. We also believe that the objective of all that exists is relational harmony and balance. Living together and supporting one another to exist. The trees support me, the animals support me, the rocks support me, the mountains support me, the stars support me. And my role is to support them back, through courtesy, kindness, cooperation, understanding, and love. Love in the sense of agape, unconditional love shown not necessarily through emotion but action; acting in the best interests of one another.
Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer is a professor of botany and a member of the Citizen Potawatomi tribe. In her book Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants she explains this process of mutual support for the lifegiving of all as The Honorable Harvest. This is a tradition, a teaching, having to do with how all of creation cooperates with one another, in particular, when it comes to helping one another to survive. The Honorable Harvest provides guiding principles regarding our relationship with the plants and animals, our relatives, who are willing to help us survive. It is not about domination; it is about honor and relational harmony. When it comes to harvesting, hunting or gathering, the Honorable Harvest teaches us this:
“Know the ways of the ones who take care of you, so that you may take care of them. Introduce yourself to your relatives. Be accountable as the one who comes to them asking for life. Ask permission before taking from them, and abide by their answer. Never take the first or the last of anything. Take only what you need. Take only that which is given. Never take more than half. Leave some for others. Harvest in a way that minimizes harm. Use what you take respectfully. Never waste what you have taken. Share. Give thanks for what you have been given. Give a gift, in reciprocity, for what you have taken. Sustain the ones who sustain you, and the Earth will last forever” (Braiding Sweetgrass, p. 183).
Whether it’s the life of a plant, or the life of an animal, or the life of a person, when a life is given so that others may live, a sacrifice is given so that others may benefit. It is a sacred thing. It’s a love story. An agape love story. We know this as the story of Jesus. It’s the story of all of us who follow the example of Jesus. And it’s the story of all life on this planet. We are taught this by our relatives – the people in our lives, the plants and the animals and the natural resources of the Earth, and the stars in the sky. We are all related. We are the family of God.
The Readings and Sermon Notes
The sprig of a cedar, the mountain height of Israel, the birds and all the winged creatures, and the trees, whether they are high or low, green or dry, all live in harmony. God is the source of this harmony. When this is displayed and enjoyed, it is the work of God, who has set all things in order. This is Ezekiel’s vision – that Israel will be a part of this harmony. In spite of Israel’s disharmonious history, it will be accomplished because God will accomplish it, the One through Whom all things are possible. This is the promise for all people as well. In spite of our selfishness, our lack of concern for the Earth, and our exploitation and abuse of the natural resources that lovingly support us, harmony can be restored. It is possible. But we have to be participants in the process, not the controllers of it. God must be restored to the control panel of all that is. When this happens, everything is exactly as it should be.
Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15
The biblical understanding of righteousness has to do with both God and humankind. The specific word used in the Hebrew Scriptures is tzedek, which is understood as an attribute of God. Those who are righteous are displaying in their words and actions godly characteristics. In the New Testament, the Greek word dikaiosunē, is understood as “being righteous before others,” and it is also used by Paul to describe the human condition once Christ atoned for our sins on the cross – at that point we are justified and made righteous by God, not by our own actions. In both understandings it is clear that God is the source of righteousness. In the Indigenous view, righteousness is experienced as relational harmony with all of creation, which was set in place before all things by God. Living in this type of balance with nature would be seen as righteousness. And when it happens, the other creatures of the Earth respond. The palm trees and the cedars, the early dawn and the middle of the night, all join together in harmony like beautiful song and music. Fruit, good fruit, succulent and green, will come forth from this righteousness for all time.
2 Corinthians 5:6-10, (11-13), 14-17
From the Pauline understanding of dikaiosunē (righteousness) as the state of humanity once the sin of humankind has been atoned for through Christ, a profound change has occurred. A shift from sinner to righteous person, accomplished by God through Christ, now characterizes the person. As a result, humankind has become a new creation. In the Indigenous worldview we do not see humankind as basically sinful in the sense of being rooted in original sin from the time of the Garden of Eden. We recognize good and bad behavior, and we have laws and principles by which to live. But we do not see humankind as inherently evil and in need of an atoning sacrifice. We do have an understanding of sacrifice, however, and it has to do with providing our people with an example of how best to live. In the book The Four Vision Quests of Jesus Bishop Steven Charleston explains that, from the understanding of Jesus as the Native (Indigenous) Messiah, the sacrifice of Jesus did not have to do with the shedding of his blood to atone for sin but to give the people the most excellent example of generosity, by giving not just what he had but by giving his very self. In this way generosity is upheld as the greatest of human attributes and the best way to live. In turn, when we become generous we are living in a different way from self-centeredness, and we become a new creation as a result. As a result we do not understand Christ as we would understand a person, but as The Way.
The Great Spirit is in charge. God makes all things happen in a way that can only make our heads spin if we try to figure it out. So why waste our time trying to do it? When we realize that we are not in control of life but rather are participants in it, a wonderful feeling of joyful surrender results. We see ourselves as a part of creation, not the architects of it. We see ourselves as sharing an experience with the Earth and the Universe rather than dominating them. Observing the natural order of things, established by God, and not interfering with it, shows us where our place in the Cosmos is. And that place is not at the top. Jesus taught many parables having to do with nature and the natural order of ecosystems, and it is obvious that he had a keen knowledge of, and respect for it. He undoubtedly saw the natural order as God’s way – it is inherently spiritual in nature. We can learn spiritual truths from nature. The plants, the animals, the landscape, the weather, all that is provide us with lessons about ourselves. As Bishop Charleston once said, “Some of my best teachers have not been human.”
Robin Wall Kimmerer writes about how sweetgrass flourishes wherever it is harvested regularly. But if it is not harvested, it dies off. One might think it would be the other way around, but it’s not. When sweetgrass is not wanted, it leaves. This is strikingly similar to the tendencies of people. If you’re not loved, you go to where you are loved. She says that plant life is no different than any other life on the face of the Earth. If you love your plants, and love your garden, they will love you back, and give to you their fruits and wonderful aromas that will give you life. This is relational harmony. This is balance. This is love. But if we do the opposite, if we see ourselves as the dominant masters of the Earth and the Cosmos and exploit and abuse them according to our self-centeredness, they will leave us to a stark existence of impending doom. And we will have no one to blame but ourselves. These readings for Proper 6, the Third Sunday After Pentecost, show us how important it is for us to take ourselves out of the place of God, let God be God, and participate in life as we were meant to do – as siblings of everything else that is.
by The Rev. Dr. Bradley Hauff, Minneapolis (USA)
The Bible. New Revised Standard Version.
Charleston, Steven. The Four Vision Quests of Jesus. New York: Morehouse Publishing. 2015.
Kimmerer, Robin. Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants. Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions. 2013.
Righteousness. Wikipedia found at: Righteousness – Wikipedia