To gain inspiration for this homily, I spent time looking at the iconic image of the earth, taken from Apollo 17 in 1972, the famous Blue Marble. It really is a stunning photo. NASA says it’s the most widely distributed image in human history. It was taken right after the first Earth Day in 1970.
I came across another image of the earth-a cutaway illustration of its four layers. You know – the inner solid iron core, the outer core with hot swirling lava that sends out magnetic waves outward through the mantel, and wrapped up in the outer crust.
These two angles on the earth – the one from 28,000 miles away, and the other, and the other, its iron core – help us on Earth Day to frame two important perspectives.
First, if we imagine pulling up and away from our every day lives, taking an astronaut’s view of our lives, the exhausting minutiae, the details that trip us up or bog us down, can fade away from sight. When we view life from that grander view, we can ask larger questions, What really matters in this life? What are the decisions I make that will endure and outlast me/us? (This goes for us as a community-not just at a personal level.)
Second, when we consider the image of the earth’s core, we might ask ourselves, What lies at the core of my life? Again, What really matters? Who matters most to me? Does my life reflect what I say are my core values?
I want to offer three theological lenses given to us from our religious tradition and from Scripture through which we might reflect on these earth-y questions.
First, at our core we have been created to worship and give thanks to our Creator. The psalms of praise are songs of unbounded love. They sing out a humble conviction that all of life is a gift to be received from God with a gracious “Thank You.” For people of faith-not just Christians by any means-the essence of Earth Day is an opportunity to give praise to the One who generously created all things. For Presbyterians, John Calvin taught that Everything that exists is a gift of God’s grace. Our Westminster Catechism begins with the profession: “The chief end of man [and woman] is to glorify God and to enjoy God forever.” The Psalmist says, “The Earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” Giving thanks for creation is the starting point in enjoying God.
Lately, I have been trying to be intentional about practicing saying thank you specifically for creation. I’ve been listening to the birds at dawn singing to one another. It’s as if they are celebrating with one another that God has said YES to creation for one more day!
Our son is taking astronomy. He has been showing us new star constellations. He made me realize that I hadn’t looked up into the night sky for far too long. I rush from place to place with my eyes downward anxious about the next thing on my TO DO list. Car to house. House to car. Church to car. Car to church. Nothing can put one’s narcissistic self into perspective than an expansive universe. So I’ve been trying to pause and be still to take in the night sky and say, Thank You.
Second, at our core we have been created to HOPE and to TRUST in our Creator. Hope is a gift that comes to us from God as an antidote to despair. Hope is not something we muster ourselves. Hope is a seed already planted deep inside us. That’s why we often find ourselves hoping even in the midst of such bleakness.
In the face of melting polar ice caps, carbon monoxide levels rising, ginormous oil spills in our beautiful oceans, depleting natural resources… the world continues to celebrate Earth Day. I think the human family is expressing our trust that all is not lost. We have the power to make a change in the course toward destruction. As Dr. Seuss so wisely put it: “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.”
God has given us imagination as a guide. When we hope, we are actually imagining the world in a new way whether it’s the planet or our own lives. I love that Cleveland has a new image of itself becoming a “Green City on Blue Lake.” Why not?! We imagined that rivers could stop burning. That the waters could return to health. We plant gardens and trees in vacant lots because at our Core we hope that one day our grandchildren will enjoy those trees and will eat healthy food. That oxygen released will help children breathe more easily. It might sound sentimental to some, and naïve to others, but people of faith trust that we can use our creative genius for Goodness.
Third, at our core we are created to ACT, to participate with God in the care and repair of our world.
In Judaism the rabbis use the expression Tikkun Olam, which in Hebrew means “repair the world.” The rabbis teach that the work of humans is to repair or heal broken places in creation: in the environment and in relationships. Performing acts of goodness (mitzvot) gives God glory and keeps our part of the covenant God. As people of faith, we are not allowed to wring our hands in apathy. We are not allowed to become cynical. The Holy Spirit nudges us, even sometimes shoves us, toward responsible action. God gave us an extraordinary responsibility and power to care for all creation-all six days worth-all creation that God pronounced “very good.”
What really matters as creatures of God?
Whether we take a view from outer space or go deep into our core, we find that we are created to be people of gratitude;
to be people who hope;
to be partners with God in repairing the world–for the love of God.
“The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims God’s handiwork.”
Let us join in the chorus.