“God’s Mindfulness” – April 21, 2013 “Earth Day Sunday”
“God’s Mindfulness” Sermon April 21st “Earth Day Sunday”
“Let the words of my mouth . . . “
One of the joys of being able to go back to seminary, beyond learning all those good seminary things, was being back on a school calendar. You would have all this busyness with lectures, papers and exams and then just when you thought that your brain could not hold another piece of information. . . the semester would end and you get a break. And, fortunately for me, on a couple of these breaks, I was able to accompany Tracie on one of her out of town consulting assignments. One of these that really stood out for me, was a trip to Utah.
Tracie’s assignment was with a hospital in Salt Lake City. Having never been before, it was fun soaking in all the sites and sounds of a new city. And while it was all pretty impressive, what I remember most from that trip, was not the Salt Lake Temple of the Morman Church but rather the hiking adventure we had in Moab in Arch’s National Park.
For those of you who have been to Arches or to other similar destinations in the Southwestern United States, the first thing that hits you, especially if you come from a place like Central Virginia or St. Croix, where things are generally green, is that everything there is RED. All the rocks are red; the dirt is red; even the people are red from the dust. It is like there was a 50% off sale on red paint at Home Depot when God created the world, and God decided to just put it all there. Red, red, and more red.
Yet, what was interesting, the longer you stayed; the longer you allowed yourself to be captivated by the scenery; the more you began to pick up the subtle differences in color. Just like our taste buds learn to pick out the various flavors in foods, our eyes began to discern the subtle shades of Red in the limestone rocks. Rust, Burnt Sienna, Terra Cotta . . . all blending into a palette that creates a feast for the eyes.
And as we stood there among these arches, spires, and monoliths . . . massive structures that look like they have been carved out; chiseled; and stacked together by a master stone mason; I was totally awestruck by God’s creation. And I became even more blown away when a park ranger began explaining that these arches were somewhere around 300 million years old! What once was an ancient sea had ebbed and flowed leaving these salt deposits that eventually (eventually as in millions of years!) crumbled away leaving these massive structures!
Honestly, it is hard to wrap my mind around so much time. And I must say, looking up at these enormous structures, I started to feel very small and insignificant. I could TOTALLY resonate with our psalmist today. While sitting on a hillside, looking up into the vastness of the night sky, it is clear that he too felt insignificant when he wondered aloud to God . . . “what are human beings that you are mindful of them”. Or as Eugene Peterson translates in the Message, “then I look at my micro-self and wonder. Why do you bother with us? Why take a second look our way?”
I’m sure many of you have probably had some similar experiences where you pondered the meaning of life. Maybe it was on a sailing trip out in the vast ocean away from land and civilization. Or maybe it was while walking in the heart of a big city amongst the hundreds and hundreds of people. Or maybe it is just from watching all the news stories about such tragedies as earthquakes, explosions, or senseless acts of violence.
It makes me ask “Do I matter”? “Am I significant at all on this HUGE planet that we call Earth”? Today’s psalm answers these questions with a resounding “YES”. Verse 5 and 6 of this morning’s scripture says, “You made humanity a little lower than God and crowned them with glory and honor. You have given them dominion over the works of your hands.” When we listen to that, we can here parallels from the creation story in Genesis where we are told that humanity is made “in the image of God” and “given dominion over every living thing”. But what does this really mean, especially this idea of dominion?
Today, one might argue that interpretation of these passages of scripture has allowed some people to see dominion as, “the God given right to rule and control the world and all that it contains”. In other words, all of the planet’s resources, be they plant, mineral, or animal, become a resource for me as I exercise that God given right to rule.
We can see this played out today as we the largest and more powerful nations consuming a much larger share of the world’s resources. Little worry is given to the long range impact on plants, animals, and other human-beings, as our economic engines churn ahead, satisfying our short-term needs and desires. Dominion has become DOM-ination. But we must ask . . . “Is this a faithful interpretation”?
Obviously, the psalmist had no idea that the resources on this planet would be limited. There were no hillside discussions about carbon emissions, deforestation, or the science behind climate change. What is shown though is the awareness that in making us in the image of God AND in giving us the gift of dominion, God was charging us with managing the resources of this world in the same way that God would manage them.
The psalmist realized that our dominion over the planet is in fact not dom-ination . . . but stewardship. A steward is . . . “one who acts as the agent for another”. We, as Gods stewards, should echo the love, care, and responsibility that God has toward the created world. In the vision of the psalmist, civilization is meant to be one vast project of stewardship.
Psalm 72, gives us some insight when we read that effective ruling or stewardship is about “defending the cause of the poor”; “bringing abundance for all”; “striving for righteousness”; and “working for peace”. Stewardship is about exercising responsibility for ALL aspects of God’s creation. God’s dominion is founded on love and justice; not exploitation and abuse. And, God’s concern for the poor, the immigrant, the widow and orphan extends also to other vulnerable members of creation . . . the plants, the birds, and the animals.
Not too long ago, Tracie and I were faced with a difficult decision to euthanize our dog and long time companion Casey. Fifteen years earlier, Casey “found” Tracie at a retreat center in the woods, and “adopted” us to be her family. Years of running, jumping, and playing eventually took their toll and it reached the point where she would just cry out in pain at the slightest touch. Rather than have her continue to suffer, we made the decision to let her go in peace. For any of you who have been there, even though it is the right decision, it is one that is not made without difficultly.
Dominion is not easy. But it is OUR responsibility; not just with our pets, but with how we treat all the animals of this world, each with their distinctive roles in the complex web of life.
Ecological writer and minister Peter Sawtell notes, “We distort reality, and we develop misleading ethics, when we pretend that humans are qualitatively different from all other creatures. When we think that our kind is especially blessed, especially gifted, and totally unlike any other animal, it becomes all too easy to exploit and exterminate the other. It is important to remember that after the flood, God made a covenant both with humanity and with the animals”. Our role as steward is to be responsible for the welfare of ALL creation.
And with our responsibility comes accountability. When difficult issues or problems arise, it is easy for us to point fingers of responsibility at the government, the Republicans, the Democrats . . . but what about our own stake in these issues? A wise person once said, “When you point one finger out, you have three pointing back at you”.
We have to ask ourselves “Am I mindful that the lifestyle decisions that I make have an impact on the world and those who live in it”? How are the decisions that I am making for myself and my family impacting the “common good”?
Buddhist monk and author Thich Nhat Hanh offers us an exercise in mindfulness that can help us make these connections between our lifestyle decisions and their larger impact. He suggests that we meditate on a simple everyday item that we might take for granted . . . like a juicy orange. What do you see when you focus on this orange? What did it take for this orange to come to be? Do you see the leaves of the orange tree that brown and decay? They will become the nutrients for the soil that will continue to nourish the tree. How about the rain that fed the soil and the sunlight that provided the energy for photosynthesis.
Looking even closer, we can see the migrant worker who picked the orange in order to support his family; the truck driver who transported this orange across the country; the cargo ship that transported it here; the grocer who stocks the oranges for us to meet our “year round demand for fruit”; even the teenage check out girl at the Plaza Extra who rings up our purchase’s . . . simply put, “the orange IS because all other these other things ARE”.
And what about this (hold up water bottle). Water is an important commodity cause without it, we will die. One gets used to just turning on the tap and thinking that there is an endless supply;
that it until you move to an island and start learning of droughts and cisterns and you suddenly realize that there is NOT this endless supply and that you have to conserve.
And then there is the plastic bottle that the water comes in. It’s been estimated that we American’s use about 30 BILLION of these a year. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 17 MILLION barrels of oil are used to produce them all. And, unfortunately, since only about 20% are ever recycled, some 24 BILLION end up in our landfills, our oceans, and along the sides of our roads.
Yet, it’s true that for many, getting water in a plastic bottle is the only way they can get it. But for many of us, we have other choices. This is challenge of stewardship.
The psalmist sat on top of that hillside and wondered “why am I here”. Why does God give me a second look? The answer from God was that “you are the steward of this planet. You have a job to do” . . . and so do we. But it is not easy.
God did not just hand over the keys to the planet and say “enjoy yourself”. We have to be responsible AND accountable. God was mindful in giving us dominion, we too have to be mindful in our decisions, realizing that what we do has an impact on others.
Each of us, created in the image of God, has been given wonderful and amazing gifts. Our role as stewards is to use these gifts in our own unique and individual way that honors the Creator and ALL of creation by “striving for righteousness, defending the cause of the poor, working for peace and abundance for all” as well as taking care of “all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas”. O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
Thanks Be to God!
Let us pray:
God, you call us to be faithful stewards of your world. Help us to hear your word and to respond in ways that honor you and all of your creation. Amen.