9-29-13 Sharing the Blessing

Today is the fourth and last week in our Welcome of Creation series. We have praised Creator God each week with music of praise that recognizes God’s blessing of the oceans, God’s presence in the middle of the storm, both in the magnificence of the storm and in the healing from the storms of our lives, and last week we even celebrated God who is beyond our understanding, God of the cosmos, God who created and creates far-flung galaxies and minute building blocks of life that we are only beginning to understand. Today, in contrast, the welcome of Creation finds us in the most accessible form, the blessing of animals and plants. This is the part of creation which most obviously blesses us every day of our lives.

Psalm 104:14–23 Oh yes, God brings grain from the land, wine to make people happy, Their faces glowing with health, a people well-fed and hearty. God’s trees are well-watered— the Lebanon cedars God planted. Birds build their nests in those trees; look—the stork at home in the treetop. Mountain goats climb about the cliffs; badgers burrow among the rocks. The moon keeps track of the seasons, the sun is in charge of each day. When it’s dark and night takes over, all the forest creatures come out. The young lions roar for their prey, clamoring to God for their supper. When the sun comes up, they vanish, lazily stretched out in their dens. Meanwhile, men and women go out to work, busy at their jobs until evening.

September 29, 2013

Welcome of Creation: Sharing the Blessing

This is the second year we have celebrated this special month-long season of Creation – celebrating sky and sea, animals and plants, mountains and the creation of humanity itself. (I thought it was the third year, but next year is when we complete the three year cycle.) We have this month to honor God as Creator and also to encourage a new understanding of our relation to God’s creation.
When we bless the animals and plants around us, when we recognize what a blessing they are to us, we not just trying to be cute and popular, like those cute kitten videos on YouTube that provide hours of entertainment for so many people. Our goal is to renew and to deepen a reverence and respect for God’s creation, the magnificence of God’s gifts to us every day.
As you know, we have rarely been very good at a reverent, respectful relationship to God’s creation. For centuries in this country, we have “experienced the universe as a collection of objects to be exploited rather than as subjects with which to commune.” [Thomas Berry, Earth and Spriti, p. 12] Even in church, we have supported that kind of attitude toward the earth by interpreting Genesis as a ticket to dominate and control earth’s resources rather than as a mandate to be good stewards and caretakers and lovers of the environment.
Thomas Berry, the contemporary theologian of the environmental movement puts it this way, “The universe about us, desacralized, without inherent dignity, with no rights, no voice, no freedom to be itself, its spirit presence denied, became the victim of relentless assault in its every aspect.”
We confess that we have come to treat everything on earth as being there for human convenience, to be used and thrown away. As the numbers of human beings have grown exponentially, this attitude is putting great stress on the environment and threatens our health as well as the health of the earth, which is all intertwined.
It’s easy to idealize indigenous people who lived on this land before European people came here with this attitude which so easily allowed us to exploit the environment. Part of their ability to live in greater harmony with the environment was simply their smaller numbers in a vast land. We don’t need to idealize the American Indian however, to recognize that they had a different attitude toward the land, a different kind of respect and connection.
I’ve mentioned briefly that this summer, Cathy and I stumbled upon a beautiful festival in Beacon, New York on the Hudson River. The Two Row Wampum Festival, it was called. Native Indian people arrived at the festival the day we were there on horseback.  They had been riding on horseback all the way from Manitoba, Canada, over 2,000 miles. Others arrived by canoe, having rowed from Albany, New York. The rowers consisted of both Indians and European Americans. The symbol of the festival was the wampum bracelet with two rows, symbolizing two peoples walking, rowing, and riding side by side.
They met that day to travel on together to the United Nations to plead for a new recognition of the 400 year old treaty on its anniversary this year, a treaty made between the Haudenesee coalition of tribes and the Europeans, a treaty they say is still in effect and calls for the two peoples to work together.
European folks were baffled over those 400 years about why the indigenous people did not readily accept the ways of the Europeans – their ways of thinking about land and animals and religion. In our time, as I say, there is a new recognition that the ways of the indigenous people actually had a spiritual understanding of connection to the land and animals. Sometimes those spiritual understandings are idealized and you might think that I am doing that by talking about it this morning.
Those feelings that we have, that wish for a time when people had a deep spiritual connection with land, plants, and animals – whether they be Indians or farmers or hunters or whoever – those feelings have some validity. We know on some level that we have lost something by living with more relationship to concrete, plastic, and gasoline than we have with dirt, fertilizer, wild animals, and forests. On some level, we know that we are poorer spiritually for the loss of those relationships.
We long for wilderness, for a relationship with God’s creation that is not mediated by electronics, that relates to the forest by through the voices of the trees rather than by thoughts of the board feet we can extract. We long for wilderness and connection with God’s creation. Our pets give us a bit of connection. Wild animals have their own stronger, undomesticated voices. When we hear God’s voice in the voices of the wilderness, we gain a different understanding of our relationship to God’s creation – that the Earth is primary and humans are derivative, that we are here to be stewards of the Earth. The Earth is primary and humans are part of the whole, not even the most important part, part of God’s creation, helping to make the whole work. If we could come to that kind of understanding, how would we live differently in the world?

Responsive Hymn:  3035 Bless Christ Through Whom all Things are Made