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What is sin? Is it doing something naughty? Or, is it greater than that – is it anything that separates us from God?

If sin is an act of hurt, an attitude of selfishness, or a community of thoughtlessness, then sin is great indeed.

If that then, is the enormity of sin, how much greater must be the grace of God, to cover it all…

And all the wickedness in the world that man might work or think is no more to the mercy of God than a live coal in the sea”

– William Langland

Kim Cornford, in a recent talk, considers the nature of sin, the amazing grace of God, the gift of salvation, and what we can do in response to God. It is a thought-provoking story about her own journey in understanding climate change, as well as an insightful discussion on these Christian themes.

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A message by Kim Cornford at Footscray Church of Christ, August 2010


Ephesians 2:1-10

This passage is yet another one of those brilliant passages of Paul’s which expresses beautifully, almost poetically, and grippingly the power of the God we follow:

…because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ…

…God raises us up with Christ… that he might show the incomparable riches of his grace…… it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God…

We’re going to think about salvation: being made alive in Christ, being released from our transgressions and being freed from our sins.

For many of us who have been following the Christian faith or attending church for a while, these words can sound tired to us.  They sound old.  We can think,

“Salvation, yeah, yeah, been there, done that, let’s move on shall we?”

“Jesus died for my sins, yeah, yeah, now I’m saved, I’m going to heaven. Yep, got that.”

These ‘church’ words – that some of us have heard over and over since we were children, teenagers, or young adults – get a bit tired, or we get a bit desensitized to them.

Maybe that’s how you’re feeling at the moment, or maybe you’ve been feeling like that for a while.  I want to especially invite you today to enter into this passage.  The truth of our salvation in Christ needs to be as real to us today, as it was the first time we felt God’s hand upon us.  If this is not how we are knowing and experiencing God, then we need to come back to Him and be made alive again.

Read for yourself Ephesians 2: 1-10.

We’re going to take a look at sin, God’s gift of grace, and our response to that gift – good works.

Sin

What is sin?  What are the first things that come to mind?  What things are you thinking about right now?  Are you thinking about yourself?  Are you thinking about others?

Sin is often a bigger concept than what we allow ourselves to understand.  I want to suggest that sin is anything that separates us from God. That’s pretty broad isn’t it?

To illustrate sin, imagine that sin is like taking a step away from God, or turning around to face away from God.

Faith is a journey, an interactive relationship with movement. Perhaps I’ve sinned, or know I’m living in a way that I’m distanced from God (standing away from God), but I’m facing God and I’m moving in His direction. Or perhaps I’m very close to God, and I just need to turn around and face God. Or, perhaps I’m facing God, but moving away.

Not long ago, I was talking with a friend, and she said to me, the church doesn’t talk about sin in a very helpful way.  When I asked her what she meant, she said:we often understand sin as acts of naughtiness or acts of hurt. How many of us, in a time of confession, start trying to rack our brains at all the naughty or mean things we’ve done in the past week?  And we get through that list, say sorry, and receive God’s forgiveness.  Actually, if we all did go through a process of confessing our sins on a regular basis, like this, we would probably be all the better for it.  But this conversation with my friend, took us to another place.  Are our acts of naughtiness and hurt where our sins finish?

Sin is not simple.  It is not black and white.

For example, let’s consider our acts of hurt.  If I confess my act of using angry words but still have an attitude of anger, am I freed from my sin?  If I confess my lustful thoughts but still have an attitude of sexual desire, am I freed from my sin?  If I confess self-indulgence in material objects, but maintain a budget and an income which can support it, am I freed from my sin?

Sin involves acts of hurt, but it also involves the bigger questions of our attitude.  Sin isn’t so straightforward is it?  No surprise that this is what Jesus talks about a lot.  He asks us where our heart is.  Do not murder says the Law, and Jesus says, if you have anger towards your brother, you will be subject to judgment. Don’t do your acts of righteousness before others to be seen by them, instead, Jesus says: your giving should be done before God. The law says do not commit adultery, but Jesus says looking at another lustfully commits adultery in their heart.

Let’s expand on the idea of attitude and sin. One of the striking things of our faith (and indeed, the book of Ephesians focuses on this directly) is its communal nature. Community and attitude have an important role to play, not only in how we live Godly lives, but how we understand sin.  Let’s consider the idea of communal sin.  I’m meaning here: the attitude of the people around us as a whole.  Ask yourself, what is the attitude of the people around me to faithful relationships?  What is the attitude of people around me to poverty and marginalized people?  What is the attitude of people around me to caring for creation?  The way we live is so intricately bound into the people we hang out with, sometimes, we don’t even know our attitude to things is sinful.

Well! This Christianity thing asks a lot of us, doesn’t it?!

I’ll give you an example of ignorance of my own.  I come from a pretty well off middle class family.  My school and university peers own their homes, work in professional vocations, and enjoy very comfortable lifestyles.  In some contrast, my husband and I rent a small home around the corner from our church, we work part-time, grow some veggies, mostly stay at home, and enjoy life with our kids.  My attitude to life is very different from the people I knew as a young adult, but I am surrounded by others who have a similar attitude and therefore seek similar hopes in life and in God together.  A while back at bible study one night I remember the group leader make a joke about our hotchpotch lounge room furniture and living simply.  I did laugh, but truth be known, I did feel a tinge of embarrassment.  A few days later we had a visit from some new friends, a Burmese refugee family recently arrived in Footscray.  When they came into our house, their eyes opened in amazement.  It was like they had entered a palace.  And with no social etiquette whatsoever, they walked through every room in our house, ogling everything and saying things like, “whoa, so many rooms” and “this is such a beautiful home” and “thank you for having us in your home.”  This was very confronting.  I felt more than embarrassed.  For some reason, I somehow felt sinful.

This same family showed me more of my sin and the sin of our society in the coming months after this.  I have strong feelings and opinions on the issue of global warming.  This wasn’t always the case.

In a period of revelation about climate change a couple of years ago, it was these same friends who helped frame my understanding of how we are impacting our earth.  They were one step in a series of events which God set before me.  (I had been learning about what the world might look like as the temperature rises globally, and how our lifestyle releases gases into the atmosphere which are causing it to heat up, and is changing the weather patterns here in Australia, and around the world.)  One afternoon my girls and I went around to visit Sung (in their tiny one bedroom flat) and with her stilted English Sung asked me to watch a DVD from Burma…  Can people remember Cyclone Nargis in 2008?  It was a massive, devastating cyclone affecting millions of people.  The DVD was a Burmese Christian music video raising awareness and funds for people affected by Cyclone Nargis in Burma.  The images on the DVD were graphic and distressing.  It was very confronting.  It was very confronting for me because pieces started connecting for me, like puzzle pieces falling into place… my comfortable lifestyle, my emissions, changing weather patterns, floods and cyclones, people dying, children crying.  I was looking straight at it.  And sitting on the floor with me were Sung’s 3 yr old daughter who sat with her hands over her eyes, and my daughter, who asked me “Mummy, why are those people floating in the water?”

And the words of the church’s Eucharist liturgy are running through my head,

Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us. Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us. Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.

Sin separates us from God, and sin separates our world from God.  It is our individual acts of hurt, it is our attitude to life, it is our communal attitude.

And we, as followers of Christ, need to be asking ourselves, where we are.  Where am I heading?  What is moving me away from God, what is moving me towards God?

And what, in the midst of all this, does God offer us?

While we were still dead, while we are engulfed by a world of sin – God offers life.

Grace

Why do we need to understand the depth of our sin? Because only then can we understand God’s amazing grace and the power of salvation.

When we begin to get a glimpse of the enormity of this salvation, we see God.  And it should cause us to fall on our knees with thanksgiving.

…because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ…

God raises us up with Christ… that he might show the incomparable riches of his grace…

…it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God…

And, we are inspired to respond to God with acts of love.  Love for God, and for all that he offers us in this life.  A life of good works, for which he has a plan.

Good works

A life of good works.  And this is an important idea to capture.  Our works are a response to the gift of grace from God.

Sometimes we hear preached a dissonance between faith and works.  It’s like a clanging disconnection.  It is the idea that salvation, or freedom in Christ (as Paul also calls it), comes either by faith OR works.

For example, for some reason, people have read the letter of James and interpreted it as a salvation of works.

It is the idea that we have to do good things to earn our way to heaven.  Some examples might be: “if I put in some hours at the local homeless shelter at Christmas,” “if I attend enough working bees at church” or, “if I cook enough meals for others”…

Who’s ever felt like this?  Are we responding in joy to God’s gift of grace?

The flip side of the faith OR works, is equally unhelpful.  It’s the idea that I’ve been saved by grace, and now I’ve got my ticket to heaven!  You beauty!  Thank you God, now let’s get on with my life.  Gee, other people should get onto this God thing, what a relief, I’ve got everything sorted now.  I don’t have to do anything.  Do you know the attitude I’m trying to convey?

But let’s hear what James actually says:

James 2:14-16: What good is it brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?  Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?

In James 2:26: As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

It is clearly NOT a case of faith or works, they are inextricably linked.

If we are able to truly glimpse the grace and freedom which God offers to us, our good works are an inevitable response.

If we understand salvation as grace only, we will miss the point of living out our life for God.

If we understand salvation as works only, we will miss the point of God’s amazing love for us.

In conclusion, let’s ask again:  Where are you with God?  Which way are you facing?  Which way are you moving?  Who are the people of God surrounding you?

Is the truth of your salvation in Christ as real today, as it was the first time you felt God’s hand you?  Do you need to come back to Him and be made alive again?

Finish with a prayer using the words of Paul in Ephesians 1:17-21.

Amen.

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hippo_hiding

When we think of “Hippo” and “Christianity”, what comes to mind?

One answer might be that Augustine (354-430) was Bishop of a place called Hippo (from 395-430).

Another might be that God loves hippos.

Hard to believe? They are very bad tempered, not very cuddly or good looking and in the eyes of most humans they are not very useful either.

Yet, God really does love hippos, and greenFish has adapted the work of Calvin DeWitt to show young people why (See: God loves hippos).

About hippos God said things like…

….what power in the muscles of his belly!”

And

“…it is confident though Jordan rushes against its mouth.”

Even though this resource focuses on hippos as an example (and what a great example!) greenFish put together this resource explain God’s love for, and celebration of, all creation.

It includes some fun activities in response to the material as well at 11 fascinating facts about hippos.

For example, did you know that hippos produce their own sunscreen?

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Check out this Bible study by ChristopBrooks based on the story of Noah’s Arc.

See here: “Without the rain there would be no rainbow.”

To Christop’s list of engaging questions, I would add one question inspired by Michael Northcott and others (such as Robert Murray):

What does it mean for us, that the covenant that God establishes after the flood is between not only God and humans, but also includes every living thing on the planet?

God explains his creature-loving covenant at least three times in the passage.

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A note:

This resource is based on God’s praise of the behemoth in Job (40:15-24) and is rephrased and adapted from the chapter “Can We Afford to Keep the Lord’s Behemoth? in Calvin DeWitts book “Caring for Creation” 1998, Baker Books.

greenFish used this as the basis for a presentation to students in grade 3 and 4 in a Catholic School in Melbourne – and they thought it was great. Bible references are for background reading, and not intended to be read out to the audience.

Please leave a comment below or email greenFish (see contact section) if you use this resource.

1) God made hippos in the same way, God made the rest of created things [Psalm 24:1]

Q What do you know about hippos?

!! 10 interesting facts about hippos: see below

!! Other interesting things about hippos – what else can you find out about hippos to share with your audience?

2) God loves and cares for hippos, even if they’re ugly or not useful to humans

In Job, God praises the unlovely and un-cuddled, not-very-cared-for creatures. God specifically talks about hippos. In the same way, God loves and upholds all created things [Colossians 1:15-20, Genesis 1:10, 12, 18, 25, 31]

Q What animals do we find useful? (For example: chickens for their eggs, cows for their milk.)

Q What animals do we find easy to love and care for because they‘re cute or cuddly, or fun to play with? (For example: dogs and cats, koalas)

In Job God says, “Look at Behemoth, which I made just as I made you; it eats grass like an ox.”

God loves all creatures the same because He made them. Each is unique. God is proud of them all.

Each creature God made is like a musical instrument, the hippo could be the drum, and the honey-eater the flute. When each animal is doing being the best of that type it can be, it is praising God. Together, when each animal does its thing, it is like hearing a good piece of music, beautiful because of how all the instruments contribute into a beautiful harmony.

So, God loves all things, regardless of if they are “useful to God” or “useful” for humans [Genesis 9:9-17]

3) God celebrates hippos and delights in how it has been made, its features and characteristics like its strength and power

God says, What strength he has in his loins, what power in the muscles of his belly!

God says of the hippo: “His tail sways like a cedar; the sinews of his thighs are close-knit.”

This passage is saying: people may not want to admire the perfect design and wonder of the body parts of the hippo, but God, the Creator, is proud of these things He provides.

“Its bones are tubes of bronze, its limbs like bars of iron.”…This passage is saying: What a work of art, this beast has been made to be tough! Made with strong, powerful limbs to hold this massive creature up.

4) God reckons that this creature is pretty good

In Job it says that “It is the first of the great acts of God…” – that’s not to say that people aren’t important but God wants people to know and remember how important hippos are to God. God hopes we also think hippos are important.

So, God made and loves and celebrates hippos, even when they may not be “useful” to humans.

5) The text continues to say, “…only its Maker can approach it with the sword.”

Only God has the authority to kill this creature, even though God has no desire to do that! God doesn’t want us to wield or demonstrate our power over this animal by killing or harming it.

God loves all things, even though the world has been broken by sin.

Sin means that humans wield their power over other people and over creation.

Q What are some of the ways that human power can be damaging for the hippo?

6) God also wants people to celebrate and enjoy creation its not all about work [1 Kings 4:29-34, Psalm 104, Job 38-41]!!

The text says, “The hills bring him their produce, and all the wild animals play nearby.”

This creature is in its proper place/habitat, finding food from the local area and relating to all the other animals around.

Together in their habitat, their home, all these creatures bring praise to God by being the best creature they can be.

The text says: “Under the lotus plants it lies, in the covert [under the cover] of the reeds and in the marsh. The lotus trees cover it for shade; the willows of the wadi [stream] surround it. Even if the river is turbulent, it is not frightened; it is confident though Jordan rushes against its mouth.”

It may not be a habitat suited to people but it is perfect for the hippo and the hippo feels right at home living there.

Even though the hippo is so big and majestic, it is so at home in his surroundings that it can be invisible under the leaves of the water. The hippo fits into its home, the place God made for it, very well!

This passage says that God enjoys/celebrates creation. So why shouldn’t we?

And Jesus wants us to enjoy and celebrate creation, just like He does.

Q How can or do we enjoy hippos? (One way we can enjoy hippos is we can learn about them and better appreciate/value them.)

7) The text continues, Can one take it [capture it] with hooks or pierce its nose with a snare?”

This creature can’t be controlled or made to obey people, if we called out to it to come to us, it wouldn’t obey us. And even if we tried to capture and control it we would have a hard or impossible task.

8) This hippo is God’s creatures and praises God in its being.

Psalm 150 says: “Let everything that has breath praise the LORD.”

God reckons this creature is good, and thinks the same about the whole of creation.

9) Humans are very special because we are created in the image of God, in Gods likeness [Genesis 1:27]

And, when we image God, when we try to be like God, when we copy God’s love for creation, that means these creatures should be beautiful to us too.

Like God, we should want to care for hippos.

Because we were made to be like God, we have a responsibility to rule over and care for creation.

And, Jesus wants us to partner with Him and care for what he has created in the same way God care for us. When Jesus was in the world, he was a humble servant, not a power-wielding ruler. So we also are to love the world through humble service.

The service and sacrifice of Jesus provides a good standard/example for us to follow [Philippians 2:7].

Through our actions, we can try to be like God – through our actions and relationships with creation and with other humans.

God asks us to take care of creation in the same way God takes care of us [Genesis 2:15, Numbers 6:24, Psalm 121:7].

So, God wants us to partner with God and enjoy, and care for the hippo and all of creation, even when things may not be useful to us.

11 Fascinating Facts about Hippos

1. Their skin secretes a natural sunscreen substance which is red-colored.

2. Hippos can choose to give birth under the water. This makes them one of only a few mammels able to do so.

3. Hippos can’t breath under the water. Adults have to come to the surface every three to five minutes and the young hippos, every two to three. It is very natural for them and even when sleeping will rise to the surface to breath, without waking up!

4. Even though they’re so big, hippos can run faster than people on land. They may be able to run as fast as 30 to 50 kilometres per hour. Hippos are good ‘sprinters’, they can only run really fast for a few hundred meters.

5. The main food of the hippo is grass. At dusk hippos will leave the river and graze on grass, for four to five hours and up to eight kilometers away from the river. They can eat up to 68 kilograms of food a night.

6. Are hippos good looking?  Like other water-loving mammals, they have very little hair – they have some bristles around their mouth and on the tip of their tail. And, hippos have very thick skin, especially around their back and rump.

7. Hippos are one of the most aggressive creatures in the world, and are often seen as the most ferocious animal in Africa.

8. Their special gravity means that hippos can sink to the river floor and run along the bottom.

9. Hippopotamus comes from the Greek, “river horse” because they spend so much time in the river. But, the hippo has pigs as closer relations when compared with horses.

10. Of all the land mammels, only the white rhinoceros (1.5-3.5 tonnes) and the elephant (3-9 tonnes) are heavier than the hippo (1.5-3 tonnes). That is roughly the equivalent of one hippo to 26 people!

11. Hippos are between 2.8 and 4.8 meters long and the tallest are 1.66 meters tall. The height of the average woman in Australia is 1.64 meters: that’s 2 cm shorter than the height of a hippo (the average male is 1.78 meters tall).

There are lots of other things to learn about hippos – including the countries they live in, who their predators are (and why they are hunted), and why they get aggressive…why don’t you do more research yourself?

Interactive Activities:

With a tape measure, measure out the size of a hippo at the front of the class. A big hippo and a small hippo. (See fact # 11)

In holding their breath, have the children put a hand in the air and keep it in the air until they have to take a new breath…Even the person who holds their breath for the longest will struggle to match a hippos breath! …of course take note of health and safety guidlines and common sense. (See fact #3)

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