Sunday, October 22, 2006

Job 38: 1-7, 34-41
Psalm 104

You might have picked up on this from some of my other sermons—my favorite sanctuary is the outdoors. I don’t think I am that uncommon when it comes to this. I have spoken to many people who have a keen sense of God’s presence and power when they are attentive to nature. St. Augustine, one of the most influential Christians on our religion in all of history, wrote, “Some people, in order to discover god, read books. But there is a great book: the very appearance of created things. Look above you! Look below you! Note it. Read it. God, whom you want to discover, never wrote that book with ink. Instead he set before your eyes the things that he had made. Can you ask for a louder voice than that?”
I have had many great encounters with God in nature. My experiences have led me to a great interest and activity in the bridge between theology and ecology. When I was in seminary, I received a grant that allowed me to study and experience faith communities around the country that were involved in some kind of ethic or worship practice that incorporated the natural world around them.
I used some of the grant to travel to central Wyoming for a two week workshop retreat in the Wind River Range of mountains along a glacial lake called “Ring Lake Ranch.” The two weeks were spent horseback riding at 7 and 8 thousand feet, hiking, exploring petraglyphs, and attending lessons by a man named Belden Lane who wrote a book called Landscapes of the Sacred and The Solace of Fierce Landscapes.
On one occasion, I remember sitting in a little cleft in the rock that I had found that overlooked the glacial lake. The glacial lake had been formed thousands of years ago as the glacier had cut through the valley and left deposits of water sitting along its path. All of the lakes were connected by little streams, and the locals called them “string of pearls” lakes because of their beauty. My vantage point overlooked the lake and up the valley to the remains of the glacier that still covered the tops of some 10,000 foot mountains a mile or two up the valley.
As I took in the scene, I started to notice that the water would ripple in front of me, and then I would feel the cool breeze of the wind coming down the valley. As I focused closer, I began to notice that the lodgepole pines on the sides of the mountains in front of me also whistled and sang as the wind passed through their needles, and then when I turned to look further down the valley I could see the wind passing further and further along the valley.
In the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit is called Ruach, and it means “breath,” or “wind.” In today’s Psalm, the songwriter says of God, “You ride on the wings of the wind, you make the winds your messengers.” On this day, that scripture was burning on my heart. I felt God’s presence and power. The message that God gave me was, “I created all of this—all of this worships in its own way. The trees, the water respond to my breath—Do you?”
How do we respond? As a youth minister in Bartlesville, I planned and led two “environmental mission trips,” and while I was in seminary I created a student group called “Community of Faith for Healing the Earth.” The Psalmist also observes the breath of God animating all of life on Earth. The psalmist writes, “when you send forth your breath, they are created…when you take away your breath, they die and return to their dust.” Our scriptures tell us that what gives us life is the spirit, the breath of God. When I hear this, it causes me to want to do so much more with my life. It makes me want to live my life as praise to God. As the Psalmist says, “I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being.”
The authors of the Bible are certainly attuned to God’s presence in and through the world around us. The Psalmist this morning paints imagery of God entwined with creation. We are told that the wind is God’s wings, that the sunlight is God’s garment. The world around us is infused with God.
I imagine that many of you who hunt and enjoy recreation in the outdoors have witnessed moments of great peace and inspiration as the Psalmist records. Many of the hunters I know are interested in the process of being outdoors and observing the world around us as much or more so than the actual felling of an animal.
An appropriate response to God’s grandeur which is observable in the overwhelming expanse of the world and universe around us is humility. Haven’t you ever looked up at the stars with the understanding that the light you observe now was actually emitted thousands and even millions of years ago and simply been overwhelmed, humbled?
God responds to Job’s interrogation with a lesson in humility. Particularly offensive to God is no doubt Job’s curse of his own day of creation in the third chapter. Job is so carried away with his own misery that he curses the day of his own conception. He utters seven curses in a symbolic attempt to undo the creation of the whole universe which is also symbolized by the number seven.
God says to Job, “were you there when…?” God’s intention is to remind Job that there is a large, full world, and that God’s design and vision are utterly transcendent and mysterious. We may question God’s fairness when we suffer, but when we do we must also remember the vast size of God’s intentions. We typically behave and live in the world as if we are God’s only creation. Our depletion of natural resources and our short-sighted pursuit of material goods and gratification are indicative of our arrogance as members of Creation. If the scriptures proclaim that God can be perceived by us through the majesty of the world around us—what does it mean when we damage our environment for our own short-term gain?
While I was in Wyoming, I also took this picture…. In this picture, you may notice that the bare tree and the cloud in the sky give each other a sense of completion. When I saw this sight, it inspired in me the notion that God’s creation is interconnected in strange and mysterious ways. Ecosystems that have carefully entwined processes and delicate balance remind us of this truth.
While the vastness of God’s grandeur apparent in the night sky or Grand Canyon or the sheer power of the Pacific Ocean may easily inspire us to feel small and humble, God asks us to also be humbled by the intricacy of life. In God’s response to Job, not only does he mention the sky and mountains and leviathan, God also draws Job’s attention to the composition of mud, to the appetite of the lion cub, and his own provision for the common raven. God intends for us to respect the balance of Creation and to live as a harmonious member of creation.
Because we do worship a God who is attentive to all of His creation, and we do worship a God who charges us with the responsibility to be stewards of the Earth—I would ask us a faith community to come up with some creative ways that we can celebrate this covenant in our own community.
I have noticed that we do not have a recycling facility either in this town or in Okmulgee. Why not? Is that a need that can be addressed by the faith community, or a partnership between communities? We might also ask ourselves if the ease of use of Styrofoam is really worth the impact that these materials have on our environment. Our town is next to the Okmulgee landfill. Do we want the longest remaining evidence of our community here to be our coffee cups and plates? Our trash? In my own private estimation of easily addressable steps we could take to be better stewards of the earth—this is one that I see.
We live in a community that is easily traversed by bike or by foot. I would encourage everyone who is able to walk or bike when weather permits to church or on your daily errands or to work. I have found that you see a lot more of your community when we view it from this vantage point.
We worship God through our attention to our personal lives, our morality, our love for neighbor and those in need. We worship God through our celebration of Jesus Christ. We also worship our Creator by living as faithful stewards of the Creation. God has blessed us with unique power—the faculties of reason and skill. With these faculties and without the inspiration of God we have developed a way of life that is not sustainable because it is destructive to the world around us—destructive to our human and non-human neighbors. God gives us gifts of reason and skill, God creates us in his image with these tools—but we must be attentive to God’s word as we use these gifts. We are asked to be caretakers of the earth—our lives and the delicate balance of God’s creation depends on it! In Costa Rica, wildlife preserves contain human communities as well as wildlife because the government realizes that humans are part of the ecosystem and can be a benefit to it if they live within their niche.
How can you live as a steward of creation? How does God communicate with you through the world around you? How do we, as children of God, share our faith in God by our engagement with the ecosystem in which we live? Throughout the scriptures, we are reminded of God’s power and majesty in the beauty and intricacy of Creation. Furthermore, We are blessed with the ability to share in God’s act of creation. Let us use this ability with humility and with celebration of God’s presence in our lives. Amen!

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