Friday, July 25, 2014

Give A...

Sermon preached July 20, 2014 (Creation Care Sunday for our church)

Texts: Romans 8:12-25

            Listen again to some of the words of Paul from Romans 8, this time rendered by Eugene Peterson in his translation/paraphrase The MessageThe created world itself can hardly wait for what’s coming next.  Everything in creation is being more or less held back.  God reins it in until both creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead.  Meanwhile, the joyful anticipation deepens.  All around us we observe a pregnant creation.  The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs.  But it’s not only around us; it’s within us.  The Spirit of God is arousing us within.  We’re also feeling birth pangs.
            I am not an expert on birth pangs.  Nor is Eugene Peterson, nor was Paul, for that matter.  What I appreciate about Paul’s writing here in this part of the Bible is Paul’s affirmation that God’s redemptive work involves all of creation.  We, as human beings, are part of creation.  Some of the readings today have been chosen to emphasize that point.  We human beings are unique in creation, to be sure, but God’s love and care extends to all creation.  It is a new heaven and a new earth that God continues to bring into being, not only a new humanity.  On this Sunday where we are celebrating God’s good creation, a Sunday that is also Lake Superior Sunday, we want to remind ourselves that we are part of creation and that God’s redemptive work includes all of creation.
            Another thing I appreciate about these verses of Paul’s is that he is inviting us to pay attention to the created world.  There are voices to be heard here, voices that speak wisely.
            I am going to be very brief this morning.  It has already been a rich morning with readings and music and there is more to come.  Let me say simply and quickly three things, rooted in these verses from Romans 8.
            Listen to the voices of creation.  In creation we hear whispers of beauty and truth.  We come to understand that importance of the body and that we belong to the moon.  Listening to the voices of creation, we can come into the peace of wild things.  We can rest in the grace of the world.  Listening to the voices of creation can help clear the fog from our spirits sometimes.
            The voices of creation are not only voices of beauty and truth, there are sometimes cries of anguish.  Yes, these can be birth pangs, pains that lead to new life, but we have a role to play in that.  When we hear the anguished cries of a bruised world, will we work with the Spirit of God to repair the world.  It is true that every living thing has some impact on the world around.  Animals eat other living things – plants and animals – to survive.  We humans eat other living things – plants and animals – to survive.  We cut trees to build homes or make paper for books.  We use water to drink and to grow foods and flowers.  We will not live without destroying some other life, but can we find sensible limits to our destruction, for in the end, if we don’t, we jeopardize the very life of the planet.  The anguished cries of creation can be birth pangs or death sobs, and we have something to do with that.  God’s redemptive work is toward sustainability.
            When we listen to the voices of creation, we can also hear the voice of the Spirit. The voice of beauty and truth is always the voice of God.  That voice speaks within us, as well.  The Spirit “groans” within us.  God moves within us, inviting us to newness of life, inviting us to share in God’s redemptive work.  God’s Spirit is both a soothing voice and a restless force.  In Romans 8, Paul writes that God’s Spirit bears witness “with our spirit that we are children of God.”  He also writes that we “groan inwardly.”  One of the paradoxical elements of the Christian life is that there is this deep inner peace in knowing that we are loved by God and this inner restlessness which continually reminds us that God’s redemptive work is not yet finished.  Look at the world.  There is work to be done.  Listen to the cries of creation and know there is work to be done.  The voice of God’s Spirit is not only an invitation to action, but also, and as importantly, an invitation to dream, to imagine, to think.  If we cannot think about, dream about, and imagine a different world, we cannot act as wisely as we might, we cannot live into it.
            Listen to the voices of creation.  Listen to the voice of God’s Spirit in creation and within.  The third thing I want to say is give a….  When I was young one of the advertised reminders that we had a role in caring for the world around us was a simple slogan, “Give a hoot, don’t pollute.”  Give a hoot, care and act on that feeling of caring.  If you need some stronger language, give a… and put a word beginning with a “d” there. That’s a song, by the way.  Paul Stookey, the writer and singer of the beautiful “Wedding Song,” a song Julie and I had at our wedding thirty-two years ago this week, on that same album had a simple song called “Give a Damn.”  It was an encouragement to care and it remains good advice.
            So care, and act on that caring.  Give a…  Do something to make the world a little better to care for creation a little more deeply, then do the next thing.  The naturalist Loren Eisley wrote: Man is not totally compounded of the nature we profess to understand.  Man is always partly of the future, and the future he possesses the power to shape. (The Star Thrower, 296)  There is a restlessness within us, a groaning of God’s Spirit, that longs for a better world, a world we have the power, with the grace of God, to help shape.  Think, dream, imagine, do.  And be.  As we shall hear in a moment, “what we ultimately need most are human beings who love the world” (Gary Snyder, Back on the Fire, 70).
            Think, dream, imagine, do, love.  Give a….. Amen.

Paul Stookey’s “Give a Damn” (cover version):
Spanky and Our Gang, “Give a Damn”

Quotes and Questions for Reflection

Psalm 136:1-9, Inclusive Language Version

O give thanks to God, for God is good,
for God’s steadfast love endures forever.

O give thanks to the God of gods,
whose steadfast love endures forever.

O give thanks to the Sovereign of sovereigns,
whose steadfast love endures forever;

who alone does great wonders,
for God’s steadfast love endures forever;

who by understanding made the heavens,
for God’s steadfast love endures forever;

who spread out the earth on the waters,
for God’s steadfast love endures forever;

who made the great lights,
for God’s steadfast love endures forever;

the sun to rule over the day,
for God’s steadfast love endures forever;

and the moon and stars to rule over the night,
for God’s steadfast love endures forever;

“Blossom”   Mary Oliver, from New and Selected Poems, volume 1
In April
   the ponds
         like black blossoms,
the moon
   swims in every one;
      there’s fire
         everywhere: frogs shouting,
their desire,
   their satisfaction.  What
      we know:  that time
         chops at us all like an iron
hoe, that death
   is a state of paralysis.  What
      we long for: joy
         before death, nights
in the swale – everything else
   can wait but not
      this thrust
         from the root
of the body.  What
   we know: we are more
      than blood – we are more
         than our hunger and yet
we belong
   to the moon and when the ponds
      open, when the burning
         begins the most
thoughtful among us dreams
   of hurrying down
      into the black petals,
         into the fire,
into the night where time lies shattered,
into the body of another.

“The Peace of Wild Things”   Wendell Berry, from Collected Poems
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

“A Reward”   Denise Levertov, from The Life Around Us, Selected Poems on Nature
Tired and hungry, late in the day, impelled
to leave the house and search for what
might lift me back to what I had fallen away from,
I stood by the shore waiting.
I had walked in the silent woods:
the trees withdrew into their secrets.
Dusk was smoothing breadths of silk
over the lake, watery amethyst fading to gray.
Ducks were clustered in sleeping companies
afloat on their element as I was not
on mine.  I turned homeward, unsatisfied.
But after a few steps, I paused, impelled again
to linger, to look North before nightfall – the expanse
of calm, of calming water, last wafts
of rose in the few high clouds.
And was rewarded:
the heron, unseen for weeks, came flying
just offshore on his post,
too up his vigil.
                             If you ask,
why this cleared a fog from my spirit,
I have no answer.

from “Writers and the War Against Nature” Gary Snyder, from Back on the Fire: Essays
One can ask what might it take to have an agriculture that does not degrade the soils, a fishery that does not deplete the ocean, a forestry that keeps watersheds and ecosystems intact, population policies that respect human sexuality and personality while holding numbers down, and energy policies that do not set off fierce little wars.  These are the key questions worth our lifetimes and more….  What would it take?  We know that science and the arts can be allies.  We need far more women in politics. We need a religious view that embraces nature and does not fear science; business leaders who know and accept ecological and spiritual limits; political leaders who have spent time working in schools, factories, or farms, and maybe a few who still write poems. We need intellectual and academic leaders who have studied both history and ecology and who like to dance and cook.  We need poets and novelists who pay no attention to literary critics.  But what we ultimately need most are human beings who love the world.

Human beings are both part of nature and unique in nature.  How might we discuss that theologically?  How might we discuss that in ways that are helpful?

What are some of the ways we can be “human beings who love the world?”

What do you think are some of the “easy ways” we can better care for creation?  What are some of the “hard choices” we face?

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