Sermon May 22, 2016
Psalm 8, Romans 5:1-5
I know a child who would say one word emphatically over and over: “MINE!!” We often hear small children say this. I find it a bit jarring, but it is more jarring when the child grows and continues to say it. It’s really hard to take when it’s an adult who may not use the word “MINE”, but finds a more sophisticated way to say the same thing. Where do we get the idea that we should possess things? Our Native American brothers and sisters have tried to teach us that this incredible planet does not belong to us, but we persist in acting as if it does.
Chet Raymo invites us to turn this thinking around when he says, “All my life has been a relearning to pray—a letting go of incantational magic, petition, and the vain repetition “Me Lord, me,” instead watching attentively for the light that burns at the center of every star, every cell, every living creature, every human heart.” (Natural Prayers)
Have you had moments in your life when something grabbed your attention and caused you to lose yourself, even if only for a moment? Perhaps it was the color of the Sandias at sunset that stopped you in your tracks. Maybe the full moon took your breath away. How about the sound of the sand hill cranes coming in the evening or the first crocus bloom in the spring? Creation is full of surprises. Over and over it shows us that we are all related. In our digital society, we have so many forms of distraction that we can easily miss the gift right in front of us. Mary Oliver says, “every day I see or hear something that more or less kills me with delight.” I used that as my spiritual practice for a while…looking and listening daily for something to “kill me with delight”. This time of year the smell of the honeysuckle blooms take me back to my childhood. We had a big bush on the side of the house I grew up in and I loved to smell and taste the honey. It was a treasure every time.
If we aren’t tripping all over ourselves each day in wonder and awe, this Psalm may be a wake up call for us. There’s a whole world out there…don’t miss it!
Annie Dillard says that, “beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.” (Pilgrim at Tinker Creek)
My big awakening occurred when I was in college. I grew up in the city. My cousins lived on farms and they played in creeks and rode dirt bikes and horses. I always thought they had a sweet deal. I was intrigued by their world, but I felt more like someone from another planet when I visited them briefly each year. My freshman year in college, I took a class on Christian Education in the Outdoors. For three weeks in January, we backpacked, biked, canoed, and camped. Something in me woke up and I have never been able to put the genie back in the bottle. I had no idea that there were so many colors of green. I experienced a profound connection to creation and I was blown away by how alive I felt. I remember the last night of that trip. We had formed deep bonds as a group and we were lamenting the end of this amazing experience. Someone said they were sad to go back to the real world the next day. Another person replied, “what if THIS is the real world?” That question stopped me up short and it lingers thirty years later.
What is the real world? It is easy to believe that the real world is television shows, emails, Facebook, traffic, and bills to pay. While we are consumed with those things, the earth continues, but it cries out for our attention. Elizabeth Kolbert wrote a Pulitzer Prize winning book called The Sixth Extinction. In it, she describes previous mass extinctions and goes on to say that the earth is in the midst of the sixth extinction, but this one is made by human beings. She describes the species we have obliterated and the destruction we are causing our planet.
While we tend to ignore the horrific news about the devastation of our planet, the damage continues. Kolbert estimates the flora and fauna loss by the end of the 21st century to be 20-50% of all living species on earth. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Sixth_Extinction:_An_Unnatural_History)
These statistics cannot be ignored no matter how much we have on our plate. Our scriptures call us to engage the world around us, to wake up and look around and take action. The call to engage comes from a God who will not disregard the cosmos and us. Our God will not disappear into distraction.
Listen to part of Psalm 8 as paraphrased by Jim Cotter:
When I look at the heavens, even the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars majestic in their courses – the eagle riding in the air, the dolphin ploughing the sea, the gazelle leaping the wind, the sheep grazing the fells – who are we humans that you keep us in mind, children, women, and men that you care so much for us?
Yet still you bring us to life, creating us after your image, stewards of the planet you give as our home.
How awesome a task you entrust to our hands.
How fragile and beautiful is the good earth.”
Cotter goes on to pray:
“Creator God, amid the immensities of the universe you seek us out and call us to be partners in your work of creating. May we not fail you.”
(Psalms for a Pilgrim People, by Jim Cotter)
Barbara Kingsolver could have been reflecting on Psalm 8 when she said, “Looking out on a clean plank of planet earth, we can get shaken right down to the bone by the bronze-eyed possibility of lives that are not our own.” (Small Wonder, p. 40) There is a message in the text today that we belong to something much greater than ourselves and our life task is to live in a way that is faithful to the God who breathed life into us which means caring for this earth God carefully placed in our hands.
Psalm 8 is the first Biblical text to reach the moon. Apollo 11 took a disc with messages from 73 countries. The Vatican sent Psalm 8, a perfect choice. Listen again to the words: “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?” (NRSV)
This Psalm that begins in awe of the creator and creation, shifts to the role humans play in the wondrous cosmos. I love the way Jim Cotter describes it “stewards of the planet you give us as our home”.
From the very beginning, the story of creation is about relationship. God’s intent was a vast interconnectedness. I wonder if our biggest sin is acting as if we do not need one another or the world around us. The Psalm calls us into relationship with the Creator, creation, and one another. God does not create the world and walk away, but “God works to maintain the created world. Psalm 8 asserts that God calls humans to participate with God and bear their responsibility toward the world around them. We cannot gaze upon God’s magnificent creation without listening to its groaning. We’re compelled to join in, to work with God and with others in the ministry of reconciliation.” (Safwat Marzouk, Christian Century May 11, 2016, p. 22)
At our Annual Meeting today we have the opportunity to call ourselves a Green Justice Congregation. The decision to do so is a direct reflection of our faith in the Creator. Voting yes is our way of saying that we belong to God and we take seriously the call to care for our planet. It will mean acknowledging the suffering around us. The Romans text says that suffering leads to endurance which produces character and the fruit of that is hope. Hope is not born in a vacuum but comes out of the fullness of life. Hope is what happens when we recognize our place in the world and begin to act in ways that reflect our interconnectedness. Creation is waiting for signs of hope. We have the opportunity to be hope incarnate for the earth. It’s not too late to fall in love with the earth God has entrusted to us and to care for it as if we belong to each other.