Happy summertime! And it is about time! The other day I heard people complaining about the heat (and I don’t mean the Miami Heat!) Are you kidding me? After March, April and May – to hear the birds sing and to feel the heat of the sun, and to have windows open to the breeze – it’s heaven! Go jump in the pool! Just please don’t complain!
Along with the psalmist, I and probably most of you experience the presence, majesty and mystery of God in the most powerful way as we move into the outdoors. Truly nature declares the glory of the Divine Creative power. One walks into the woods, or sits at the shore, or climbs the hills, or relaxes on the back porch and sees the hummingbird – even the most cynical person, becomes aware of space and beauty, color and sound. As the Psalmist writes: “O Lord, how manifold are your works!” and in another place “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers… what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?” (Psalm 8:3-4)
What is it about being in nature that at one and the same time makes you feel small AND expansive? I believe that is a gift of the spirit to hold opposites in creative tension – like the joy and sadness of graduation, thanksgiving and grief at a funeral. God in all things, Christ present, the Spirit involved – majesty and intimacy.
Our scriptures open in Genesis with a hymn of praise to the abundance of created goodness in a garden. Jesus looked at the sparrows and saw the kingdom. The prophets envisioned a time when the lion would lie down with the lamb on a holy mountain, and a child could play in the outdoors and not fear the bite of the poisonous snake and every person could live in peace under an olive tree.
Walking in Forest Hill Park the other day, I saw the coyote AND a bald eagle. Earlier this year as I was getting the morning paper three deer in my front yard, were eating my tulips. They looked up at me completely undisturbed as if I were the intruder, or a mere squirrel running across the lawn in search of acorns.
The other night, driving home from Long Island – we passed through a storm of such fury that I really feared for our safety – lightening so close, rain so fierce, wind so strong.
It brought to my mind Joplin, Mo. and Tuscaloosa Alabama, Springfield, Mass. and all those communities ravaged by tornados, and towns inundated by rising waters of flooded rivers. It made me remember the tsunami in Japan – the frightening power of nature.
We as humans are so small, the powers of nature so huge – we are at her mercy. It reminds us that we are not in control.
And yet, you and I hold such power for destruction, such potential for domination which can bring this magnificent creation to ruin and force nature’s hand in reclaiming the rightful perspective – reclaiming the balance.
And for too long the church has been silent. For too many generations the church’s teaching was a grotesque misunderstanding of God’s command in Genesis to go forth and multiply and subdue the earth. Since the Industrial revolution we have done just that and pillaged the lands and the seas, shaped our identities by economies of exploitation, and formed our alliances by our addiction to oil. And vast sections of our oceans are now dead zones and the ice caps are melting. For too many generations the church has taught that it is all about the individual – about personal salvation, and personal blessing, and personal protection – and yet we are seeing how connected we really are – and how correct St. Paul was to say that we are a body and when one part suffers we all suffer, and we are responsible for the larger community; how we are connected in the web of life to every other living creature.
Our modern scientists are our prophets – pointing to the connection between human disobedience, and human hubris, and human exploitation, and human greed the inevitable re-balancing of the system. It is not God who will punish, it will be us falling into the pit of our own making or covered in the ooze of the next spill. And who will we cry to then?
The great prophet of the 8th century B.C.E. Hosea warning the northern kingdom of Israel that their choices were bringing about the inevitable end of their identity and his words sound just as relevant today: “Therefore the land mourns, and all who live in it languish; together with the wild animals and the birds of the air, even the fish of the sea are perishing.” (Hosea 4:3)
And half our politicians deny there is any problem at all. We choose new oil fields instead of investing in creative solutions. As Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said: “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts.”
The science is there but we deny it. The warnings are everywhere sounded but many of us are like the inhabitants who ignored Noah until it was too late. As Hosea wrote so long ago; “For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.”
But the scriptures are so plain, it seems, with a pattern of sustainability that if we would just follow it, just do it – we could and would restore the balance of our lives and of the life of the earth.
God’s whole plan of creation is not wasteful – the beauty of our Christian faith is that the entire created order and you and I return from whence we came – “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” St. Paul is certain that nothing and nobody is wasted – “In Adam, all sinned, In Christ Jesus ALL are made alive.” The entire created order is groaning to return, and awaiting redemption and God’s plan is to restore that balance – restore the relationship.
I have always loved Psalm 139 and this morning as we have baptized Patrick, it is particularly beautiful: “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb, I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made… My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth, Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your books were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed… How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! I try to count them – they are more than the sand; I come to the end – I am still with you.”
God invents the principal of sustainability – knowing from whence all things come, and knowing where all things are going – and there is no waste; redeeming, restoring, recycling, sustaining.
It is in nature – no new water is created in our ecosystem – but a cycle of rain and evaporation. No new dirt – but decomposition and re-composition.
And that is a redemptive thought, that God does not waste – to trust that somehow it is all being used. That gives me great comfort to view my life through that biblical truth – that even my mistakes are not wasted – my personal trash can be re-cycled, that all come together for some whole purpose. And if gives me freedom from feeling too judged and too guilty – because nothing is good or bad until God gets through with it – and there is endless possibility.
And even in the knowledge of the reality of decay and destruction, of human choice that is killing the seas and debasing the land, and polluting the skies – there is always hope of change, always the step of movement towards another reality, not of domination but of sharing, not of hording but of freely giving, not an attitude of entitlement but a attitude of gratitude, not a using up, but a spirit of replenishing and returning and restoring; that we walk for a time upon this earth, that we are connected with it, and responsible for it – that our greatest pleasures are in keeping the promise and giving the gift of life to our children and their children’s children.
And I am so glad that Forest Hill has a green team and that Diana Johannessen and Dave Neff and so many others care about our energy consumption, and our recycling and that soon we will have a bike rack (although these things take Presbyterian time!); and we have our Abundance Acres – little things but faithful things.
I was on a tour of the Cuyahoga valley last year with Paul Alsenas, director of the Cuyahoga Planning Commission and he was describing that the best and most creative and lucrative new designs of everything from showerheads to chairs are all based on bio-mimicry – looking to nature for how things work. Holly Harlan, the brilliant founder of Entrepreneurs for Sustainability, talking about the day that is coming when most of the products made will not have to be thrown away but that almost all will have 100% reusable lives – The Sustainability project in the Heights – Mark Chupp and others in the lead.
And in Germany, it is now law that manufacturers must be responsible for the disposal and reuse of whatever is sold. And in part of Scandinavia the commitment to wind and solar are giving them a global competitive advantage – and they are not as encumbered with strange alliances.
And this mindset calls me to think of every child in the inner city, and every person in the suburbs and myself and you as interconnected, and of incomparable value – nothing is to be wasted. We are called to be active, faithful, and responsible participation in restoring the balance, in sharing abundantly.
But as Vaclav Havel, the Czech playwright, essayist, poet, dissident and politician wrote: “We still don’t know how to put morality ahead of politics, science and economics. We are still incapable of understanding that the only genuine backbone of all our actions – if they are to be moral – is responsibility. Responsibility to something higher than my family, my country, my company, my success. Responsibility to the order of Being, where all our actions are indelibly recorded and where, and only where, they will be properly judged.”
That is the challenge before you and me, before our country and our leaders – I think the time is now to move along the path of reconciliation with the God of abundance, and restoration of our environment, and creativity, seeing ourselves as part of the whole, walking gently upon the earth, appreciating and protecting all of God’s creatures, investing in human capital, and community – moving from waste to sustainability, living faithfully and well in the beauty of the earth – as we move towards becoming the Beloved Community.