Grace Presbyterian Church
April 24, 2016, (Earth Day Sunday)
Psalm 148; Genesis 1:1-2:3; Luke 12:22-31
All Creation Sings
It seemed like such a good and simple idea at the time.
When the suggestion came up in session several weeks ago to have a day out at Montgomery Presbyterian Center (what many folks still call “Camp Montgomery”), and this day (April 24) was suggested for its proximity to Earth Day, it seemed like such a good idea. One thing I believe after a bit more than a year in this church is that, while we do a lot of things well, we could stand to spend more time together. You’ll never catch me claiming that Sunday worship is somehow insufficient for a church, but there is more to being a congregation than worshiping. We engage in acts of mission, true (one of those is coming up this Wednesday, remember), and we, in smaller groups, do engage in times of fellowship, but getting all of us (or as many of us as can) together for nothing more complicated than fellowship (and even fun) is still an awfully good idea.
And then, of course, came the logical follow-up; if we’re going to spend the afternoon out-of-doors, in a place that provides excellent opportunity to engage with God’s good creation, then it also makes sense to engage with that creation in worship, and to engage with creation as a theological and faithful reality in a sermon on this day.
After all, it’s hard to argue that the church has done particularly well in engaging with creation and developing a thoughtful and faithful theology on the subject, outside of a few specialized circles. We haven’t stepped up to the task described by Anglican minister and professor Akintunde Akinade as “develop(ing) a comvincing account of nature as a compelling epiphany of God,” or “a revelation of God’s abundant love for the world.”
It’s also hard to look at the church as a whole and see, for example, where we have done particularly well at being good stewards of the resources of creation. The facilities churches build, for example, don’t always operate with great energy efficiency. (This building is actually better than many sanctuaries, but while these wonderful open windows are pretty good for letting the sun warm us well during the less-hot months of January or February, keeping things cool in July and August can be a challenge.) Our use of our financial resources is sometimes not mindful of creation and its care. I mean, seriously, how is my retirement funding still tangled up in the same oil and gas companies that have now spent more than four decades spreading disinformation about how burning their products have damaged this planet? So no, these and other examples don’t suggest that the church has been all that great a witness to the goodness of God’s creation.
It’s not as if the scriptural witness isn’t there. From the very beginning of our scriptures – right where it says “In the beginning” – we encounter God as Creator. We get the initial recitation of the six ‘days’ of creation; all the creation – light and dark; land and waters and sky; beasts of every kind – in glorious and vivid detail. And of course, God resting on the seventh day.
And the one thing we hear, over and over again, was “…and God saw that it was good.” And the last time, looking over the whole of creation, “it was very good.”
Our gospel reading, a pretty familiar passage itself, points to the ravens and the lilies and Jesus’s admiration for their beauty – “even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.” It’s not at all a stretch, I think, to consider that if we took Jesus’s admonition here more seriously, we might well do less harm to God’s creation. We might even understand that God cares for us in much the same way God cares for those ravens and lilies, if only we’d stop getting in the way.
But it’s the psalm for the day that is particularly compelling. This – the psalm that provided the inspiration for both of the hymns we’ve sung so far – is one of those exuberant psalms of praise that concludes the psalter, and here the psalmist’s exuberance opens up to hear the song of praise of all creation – “Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars!” in verse 3, and that’s just a starting point. Before it’s over the psalmist invokes sea monsters “and all the deeps,”
Fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command! Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars! Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth! Young men and women alike, old and young together!
It’s crazy and reckless and totally unscientific and beautiful, and thoroughly theological and doxological. It’s the song of a psalmist who has grasped something we modern Christians don’t do very well at remembering: we are not separate from creation – we are part of creation; we are creation.
All of those creatures and all of creation join in praise of the one who created all of them. There’s no exclusion, no pretense that any of them are outside of God’s creating care and unbounded love. All creation sings.
This is all the kind of good stuff that ran through my mind when thinking about a sermon reflecting on the theme of creation, a sermon on a Sunday just a couple of days after Earth Day.
Then, just about the time I’d be starting to think about the specifics of such a sermon, a major earthquake struck in the south of Japan. An even bigger one struck near the same spot little more than a day later. Then a yet bigger earthquake struck along the coast of Ecuador, with a death toll of over 500 so far. Closer to home, the city of Houston had a month’s worth of rain drop on it in a day, leading to incredible flash flooding.
It gets hard to talk about the goodness of creation when things like that happen.
And yet we still need to do so. Creation doesn’t stop being God’s good creation, even in the face of calamity.
We have too often and too easily slipped into a view of creation as something to be subdued, something to be opposed and conquered and subjected and exploited. We’ve taken that awful translation Genesis 1:26 and run with it to the detriment of the earth and of ourselves. You don’t have to go very far to see such exercise of “dominion” if you live in Florida; just keep heading south or east and it will become clear just how much we’ve departed from God’s call for us to exercise stewardship over creation, to care for it and protect it (as the call is framed in Genesis 2), and instead chosen to exploit it and rearrange nature unnaturally to suit our purposes. It becomes all to clear that we’ve forgotten, or ignored, the plain statement of Psalm 24:1 – “The earth is the Lord’s, and all that is in it…”
What is it that we as modern Christians, as Presbyterians, as Grace Presbyterian Church need to do in the face of what scripture tells about God and creation and goodness?
There are the simple things that you don’t even have to be a person of faith to do; cut down on how much energy we use in our homes or work spaces, maybe don’t be so quick to turn on the lights or the air conditioning. There are highly ambitious things that might fall right now in the category of dreams – like this great big south-facing roof face that cries out for solar panels. And there are the in-between things, like how we use the beautiful green space that surrounds this sanctuary on this piece of property – is there space for a community garden, for example, or some other natural space to tend or care for or protect?
Underlying any of these is the basic truth that we need to think on these things, to remember God as our Creator and the creator of all that surrounds us and all that we love in and among – not merely think casually about them, or recite them in our prayers, but meditate on them, make them a part of our visioning and our praying for our church and the whole church. And we shouldn’t need an apocalyptic threat like climate change to cause us to do so; it’s something we should do because we are children of God, called by God according to the purpose of God, and created by God to live in and with God’s creation, to see creation as revelation of God’s undying love for us. We need to do it because God loves us, and because we love God and all that God has made.
For all creation, singing praise, Thanks be to God. Amen.
Hymns (from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal): “All Creatures of Our God and King” (15), “Sing Praise to God, You Heavens!” (17), “Touch the Earth Lightly” (713), “Because You Live, O Christ” (249)
...even this guy...