For the Beauty of the Earth — a summer sermon series
Inspired by the hymn text written by 19th century English poet Folliott Sandford Pierpoint, we will look at various scriptural references to the natural world, and consider our place in the universe as stewards of God’s precious creation.
We are using The Green Bible as a study resource, as well as examining portions of the draft of the revised United Methodist Social Principles (currently up for public comment in advance of the 2020 General Conference).
A sampling of Pastor Laurie’s sermons are found on this website. Contact the church office if you’d like a copy of a specific message not found here.
At the beginning of the great Story and at the end, we find the Tree of Life — and there are countless other stories in between in which trees stand as sentinels and even as the means through which God brings rescue and transformation to God’s people. Our scriptures extol the virtue of trees as signs of God’s sustenance. What are we planting for future generations? Are we listening to the ancient wisdom, taking the long view, and passing that on?
Then there is the ocean — vast, unfathomable, beyond what we can comprehend, so much going on below the surface that we cannot see. And the crowning symbol of that vast unknowing is the Leviathan — a giant sea creature that is shrouded in mystery. The Leviathan is mentioned just five times in the Old Testament and twice in one of the deuterocanonical books (2 Esdras). The descriptions are really vague, and some imagine Leviathan to be a sea serpent, giant eel or giant squid, while Herman Melville’s classic Moby Dick forever cemented in many minds the image of a giant white whale. Whatever its form, the Leviathan is unconquerable by human beings — and yet, the Psalmist describes it as a sort of plaything for God, something so small compared to God’s power. Its presence in this poem casts a sort of shadow, a word of caution, lest we ever grow too big for our britches in our pursuit of “dominion” over this earth of the Lord’s.
Perhaps more than any other natural element, air is one of those things we most particularly share, the pollution of which affects everyone. When we read the Bible, and find passages that talk about breath or wind, we might also, often, substitute the word Spirit — and see a link between the air and breath that gives us physical life, and God’s breath that gives us both physical life and spiritual life. Our purpose, the reason for the breath that is in us, is healing and justice. Our breath, our life, is not just for ourselves, but for others. We are in this together.
The idea that everything is connected to every other thing — that what impacts one thing, for good or ill, impacts the whole — is woven throughout the scriptures, and, indeed, is woven throughout life. And, it seems to me, whenever we try to deny that reality, and whenever we try to live as if we were separate, independent, from everything else, that’s when we get into trouble.
God’s original intent from creation was that all of it would “be fruitful” — and sometimes we experience this in spades. But God’s original intent was also that human beings would be faithful — both to God, and in godly, just relationships with one another. And when those relationships are broken, our very relationship with the earth, and our ability to coax life and sustenance out of it, is also strained.
“Kindred” comes close to the intent of the original language in the verse, which is literally “brothers” (and we would add “sisters”); it means not just people who members of a nuclear family, but “family” in a broader sense: extended family, yes; those of the same tribe or race, as well; or even, as we draw the circle wider, the family of faith, or the human family.
We had moved onto another topic this week, but I’m always picking up some of the sweetest bits of wisdom from the seniors at Brookdale. One of the things that really touched me this week was the dear little lady who went on about how all the other residents are her “brothers and sisters.” “We’re all living together under the same roof,” she reasoned, so in moving to this place, she had acquired a whole new family. That is a really lovely image, you know?
The real measure of Christianity should be love — and not just the kind of love that accepts everyone, tolerates difference, and doesn’t stir up trouble. Love, in a world that is filled with fear and hatred and injustice, in order to overcome evil, must be, as John says in this passage, love in truth and action — love that opens the circle instead of closing it.
How can we be imperfect and yet “walk in the light?” By owning up to the reality of sin, the reality of our humanness. Otherwise “we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us,” and in our attempt to deceive others, we become hypocrites.
Jesus Christ faced evil and death, and made an opening in the circle for us, a passage to a way to a life that is rich and deep and bold (and that not a description of coffee, or wine, or chocolate — although lots of people might try those things as a substitute!). We don’t have to plow our way through, like the “Red Rover” game. We are called to come on over, and step right on through, and join the team.