This sermon series includes all the sermons preached in September with themes related to our care for and relationship with creation.
Sky Watching by Rev. June Fothergill
Several years ago I went on a silent retreat at Mt Angel with my mom. It was interesting for me to be in silence, especially during meal times. Fortunately the dining room of the retreat center had picture windows looking out on the grounds and the sky above. I remember spending much time eating my meal and “ sky watching” Just taking the time to contemplate the sky and how it slowly changed before me. It was restful watching the sky that week. Like Ann of Green Gables said, I let my sky watching become my prayer.
The Psalmist also has this understanding that looking up at the sky allows one to encounter the Holy One. The sky speaks of the glory of God in a way different than human words and speech. Sky watching invites us to let God’s creation reveal God’s presence to us. This is captured in this poetic paraphrase of our passage:
“ Sky watchers”
Slowly, slowly the sun began to rise.
The light from the sun filled the whole sky and turned the sky color to blue.
The sky glowed and shone with the light of the sun.
Tiny white clouds began to gather in the sky.
One by one… two by two..
Until there were whole groups of clouds running and spinning across the sky!
They played tag and danced in and out of the light from the sun.
The sky tippled and flowed with all the clouds
The sky seemed to shout, “ Look up! Look up! What can you see?”
Then slowly ,, slowly the clouds slipped away.
The sun began to set. The day was over
The sky grew darker and darker. Soon there was no light form the sun.
Soon a glow began to spread across the dark sky.
Slowly, slowly the moon began to rise
The light from the moon filled the whole sky.
The sky glowed and shone with the light of the moon.
Tiny twinkling stars began to gather in the sky.
One by one, two by two, until there were whole groups of stars winking
And twinkling across the sky.
The sky glittered with all the stars.
The sky seemed to shout, “ Look up! Look up! What can you see?”
Then slowly, slowly the stars slipped away.
The moon began to set. The night was over
And the sky got ready to start another day.
( Seasons of the Spirit Pentecost 2 2015. Woodlake publishing Inc. 2014 )
At the Food for Lane County event Judy and I went to on Friday, pastor Aaron Taylor from Crossfire church talked about how when we serve people in need we also need to pay attention to our own lives. To be sure we take time to live! I admit lately I struggled with this as I chose to both go to that event and to the Hispanic Council meeting in Portland yesterday and write a sermon for today! How do I find time to “live”, to stay connected to myself in the midst of such a busy time? I admit it sometimes I just go on “automatic pilot”. But, I have found there is also another way. I can take those moment of “ sky watching” that are given to me. I don’t have to go away to a retreat to find them. In fact on Friday as I waited to ride with Judy to the event in Eugene, I simply stood in our parking lot and engaged in “ sky watching”. I let the sky speak to me, I let the moment relax me into my own skin.
One of the thoughts that came to me that morning while watching the sky was about change. I noticed that just in the few moments I watched the clouds changed their shape and colors. The sky is changing all around us all the time. We joke in Oregon that if you don’t like the weather, just wait a bit. I can remember many times driving along and having the rain coming down on the windshield and the sun shining through as well. I’m still not sure how that happens! The sky is a teacher of change. To the ancient world they learned to count on the regular changes on the sun’s rise and set. They learned to look at the sky and read the changes coming in the weather that would affect their lives. So too, we still watch the weather, pay attention to the sky , especially here in the temperate zone. The sky reminds us that things change.
Could it be that this simple wisdom from the sky can help is in our world today? We seek to be agents of Jesus compassion and love in a world filled with violence and hatred. To live well and fully in such a world we need to both have the flexibility to change and the anchor to stay centered on what truly matters. The sky reminds us that all is in flux all the time, yet there is a live giving rhythm to it all. The heartbeat of God continues to speak to us through the creation. It is this heartbeat of love of all of us which keeps our own hearts anchored. This is the heartbeat which was Jesus walking with us and dying and rising for us. This is the heartbeat that gives us the passion to serve, to love even when it’s hard. This is the heartbeat that tells us that each person as made in the image of God! This is the heartbeat that reminds us that people can change, that hearts can break and be mended, that people with addictions can walk in recovery, that forgiveness can be offered and received, that each person matters to God- including us!
One time Jim, David, Joe and I went down to the S Umpqua River near Myrtle Creek. We went to play and try to make a raft. It was a foolish activity which was great fun but ultimately just got us all very wet on a fall afternoon. As the sun began to grow lower in the sky, we started to get chilly in our wet clothes. When we turned toward home, we discovered a man camped under the bridge. He had a fire. We were about to pass by him when he beckoned to us to come a dry off by his fire. I will never forget his kindness to let us come into his meager home. He was one of many people who have helped me learn the wisdom of the sky- people change and are more than they sometimes seem- they are always more than my little boxes. They are part of the heartbeat of God!
Sky watching invites you and I, to take time to center ourselves and to be open to changes in ourselves and others, and also Sky watching opens our hearts to wonder.
I remember one night when I was in high school driving from Lebanon to Albany to go to the movies or something. I was alone in the car and almost couldn’t keep driving the sky was so amazing to me: The many shades of light, grey and black with the moonlight shining through it all. I was enraptured! Surely this is the glory of God! Those moments when the sky takes our breath away! I think we need wonder in our lives. Wonder allows us for just a moment to get outside ourselves- to touch the reality of a Presence greater than us. God, a Higher Power, Allah, the Holy One, The Lord- whatever name you want to give. Wonder opens a space in us for God. Sky watching invites us to let God’s creation reveal God’s presence to us.
As we continue together to learn how to feed folks in body and spirit- let’s ourselves be fed in Spirit by the message of the heavens, by the simple act of “ sky watching”
I close with a poem prayer by Ted Loder:
“O God, your gracious Spirit
Moves over the mysteries of living and dying
And is strangely present to me
In the falling leaves
The call of the wild geese
A child’s birth
The light in a friends eyes
The sudden lifting of the heart
And the deep longing which brings me to you now.
Make me aware of your presence
That wonder may have its way with me
My passion be released
My confidence renewed in the depth of your holiness
Until for a moment
My longing for you be fulfilled
And I know I am really free
To share bread and intimacy,
To laugh and exchange mercy
To be at ease in my struggles
Bold in my loving
Brave in facing down my terror
Hopeful in the rising music of your kingdom
Joyful in my living
And graceful in my life becoming
A song of praise ever sung to you.”
( p. 85 Guerrillas of Grace: Prayers for the Battle by Ted Loder. Lura Media. 1984)
Genesis 1: 26-31 “ Just Love Em” Humanity Sunday. By Rev. June Fothergill
I’ll make a new suit for you, agreed an overworked tailor “but it won’t be ready for six weeks” “Six weeks!” protested the costumer, “Why the Lord created the entire world in 6 days.”
“True” said the tailor “And have you taken a good look at it lately?” (p. 213 Encyclopedia of Humor ed. Lowell Streiker)
It’s true, it’s not hard to look around and see the terrible shape the world is in- No wonder I find parts of this passage in “Genesis one disturbing. Yet, there are parts that amaze and inspire me. Can you guess which ones?
The part that disturbs me is the part about human beings having dominion, subduing and “filling the earth.” So I wonder: Does God really want us to dominate and subdue/ control his creation? What did the idea of subdue and dominion mean to the ancient Israelites? This passage was written down during a time in the life of Israel when they were in exile- strangers in a strange land without a land to call their own. IN the midst of this crisis the poet/ inspired writer proclaims that all of humanity has a role and responsibility in the scheme of creation. Human beings have the capacity to change their environment! When one feels powerless and landless, just perhaps this is good news. Yet, today these words need to be re interpreted for a different time in history. We have gone full force with the idea of controlling and dominating for our own ends, the resources of this earth. We have already “filled the earth and subdued it” There are very few places on the planet that have not been touched by our presence! And those are places like the deep oceans or the very high mountains where we cannot survive for long. So what do these words about dominion mean today?
Although the Hebrew word “rada” has been translated into English with words like rule and dominion, some scholars think is has more the connotation of care giving or nurturing not exploitation. This fits more with the idea in the second creation story in Genesis 2 where the human being is put in the garden to till and keep it. The passage in Philippians today also suggests another way to look at this. It gives us the example of Jesus- he knew himself to be even equal to God yet he emptied himself and became a servant! Last week I suggested that we need to listen to the earth. This week, I wonder- what would it mean for us to not just listen to the needs of the planet but to then choose to follow Jesus and look for ways to serve the planet?
In the fall the past few years we have planted a tree here on the Ebbert grounds. What a wonderful way to serve the planet, to care for it- to plant and tend trees. This year we have opportunity to do so again- not today, but sometime soon we need to replace a tree that has died along our 6th street side.
Are there other ways we can serve our planet rather than exploit it? Could it be that the movement to use less carbon based resources isn’t just about climate change but about service? For we are finding out that the heating up of the oceans and atmosphere will not only affect our lives but those of the plants and animals we see and many we do not. Is trying to get every last drop of oil and gas from the ground and the ocean floor the best way for us to serve this earth? Is it serving the earth to use up all the space and not provide space for other species to flourish too? How do we balance our human needs with those of other live forms on this planet? I don’t pretend to have the answers- I drive a car and heat my home like most of us here. Yet, I think that our passages this morning invite us to reflection upon the questions.
So this passage is disturbing. It reminds us of how we have interpreted dominion to sometimes mean rule or control or even exploitation. We have tended to think of ourselves as the top of a hierarchy of creatures rather than part of a web of life. Yet, as we reinterpret it for today, it invites us to ask new questions: what if we thought of our responsibility to other creatures and creation as partnership or service instead of rule and control? Of course this question still disturbs! What are we to do?
Yet, this passage doesn’t only disturb. It also amazes and inspires. The word that does this for me is that God made humanity in God’s own image! This is amazing for two reasons. One- it’s talking about all of humanity, not just the ruling classes. IN the ancient near east it was common for people to think of their human rulers as like gods- think of the Pharaohs of Egypt. So this passage may be just a bit revolutionary to say that all humanity- male and female! are made in God’s image. So that means you and I and everyone we meet!
It’s also awesome to me to think of that reality for me personally. Really? I have God’s spark, God’s image in me! I have pretty good self esteem but still, that idea is just amazing. To really believe that my value is not in all the great things I do but inherent in my creation- the image of God!
Recently I listened to someone who has experienced much trauma in her life. She told me that this word is really hard for her to accept. Most people haven’t treated me that way- how can I really trust that “nice word”? Could it be that to accept this amazing word for our lives we need to let go of all the other words- both praise and putdown that we have believed or heard about ourselves? And, isn’t that what becoming a disciple a follower of Jesus is all about? Our encounter with Christ allows us to discover the true image of God inside. It may be tattered and tarnished by the abuse or the unwarranted praise we’ve received. It may be hidden so deep some of us can’t quite believe it’s there. But Christ Jesus is God walking with us, helping find that God- image we were created with and washing it clean, restoring us to wholeness. Surrendering our lives and ourselves to Christ, we find our true selves. Christine Valter Painter put it this way, “The dark night journey essentially is about stripping away all of our false idols and securities so that we might come to a more profound realization of the love that already dwells within us.” (p. 27 “Embracing a Midwinter God,” Weavings XXX: 3)
In other words- let go of your “good” self image and your “bad” self image and embrace the “image of God” inside yourself!
I think this idea is important because it gives us another way to look at our responsibilities to the earth- our call to “dominion” in Genesis 1 reminds us that our relationship with the rest of creation is rooted in the ways we can e like God- what did God do in Genesis 1? God crated, God saw the goodness, And in Jesus God cared and served.
Yet I wonder when I see the destruction and violence in the world. We have troubles caring for people much less other species. It seems like everything is a mess. But then I stop and look at the people I know. Then I remember how even people living the trauma of homelessness will help make sure there is food served on Monday mornings. Then I remember the brave people who get up every day and decide not to use alcohol or other drugs and stay in recovery. Then I remember the persons who get up with pain in their bodies and still go to help out at the church. Then I remember how just a few minutes of my time really listening can help someone find hope. You see, the image of God is all around us and in us. That’s the amazing truth of Genesis 1.
I think it’s OK to recognize the problems we face. It’s important . But to deal with them as Christ’s followers, we need to focus on the truth of god’s image in all people even ourselves. For when we do, God will inspire our hearts. We will be given the insights and the energy to do our part to serve this earth, to care for this planet that God has given us. The direction this image of God inside of each of us moves toward is toward wholeness, toward love, toward God’s will for this planet and ourselves. Then just perhaps sharing resources more and using less- will be easier. Then just perhaps we will learn to see that “image of God” in everyone we encounter and treat them accordingly. Then just perhaps we will be inspired to create more and worry less, to dance more and mope less. Then just perhaps we will find ways to support another in suffering and rejoice with one another in blessings. Then just perhaps we will plant trees and care for other creatures with new abandon and joy. What do you see? What are the just perhaps’s you desire in your life? I pray that this passage will inspire you to seek them out. Let, the image of God inside of you guide your way! Amen.
Sermon September 6, 2015 Planet Earth Day by Rev. June Fothergill
We like to take out our rubber raft from time to time. One year in Middleton we drove down to a put in site along the Boise River and planned to float back to Middleton at a bridge near our home. We started out in the late afternoon, not realizing how long the journey would take. At first we just relaxed and enjoyed the nature all around. That’s one of the great things about floating a river, often one is far away from cars and other human made things. It’s fun to just enjoy , delight in what God has made. The only trouble that day is that we didn’t realize how long and winder God had made the Boise River. It was a nice warm day so the water was warm but as night approached, we also noticed clouds on the horizon that could mean a thunder storm. Around every bend we started to look anxiously for our bridge! Finally, about 9:00 at night, the storm just starting to come over us, we made it to the bridge. We left the river filled with relief and gratitude.
What an amazing earth we live upon! Nature is so full of beauty and wonder! I imagine most of us here today, living where we do have had moments of awe and wonder in nature. I have heard over and over people say how being outside soothes their souls. This planet is wonderful, this web of life its weaves provides us with life itself, as well as soul nurturing beauty. Yet, this planet is more than us- its storms, its mysterious depths, its intricate processes still hold mysteries for us layperson and even scientists. A storm is wonderful to watch from a distance but when you’re on the river in a little raft- you look for shelter! Genesis 1 reflects this experience of the wonder and majesty of our world. We listen and watch in our imaginations as God speaks our planet into reality. The poet/ inspired writer includes as the details then known about the world- the flat earth and the domed sky, all the known kinds of animals and even the possible sea monsters. Yet, it is the theological affirmation that rings most loudly in the passage. God made it and said, “ It is good.”
Today we have a very different picture of the reality of our planet. We have pictures from space, we have studies of the rocks and fossils, we know that planet goes around the sun and the earth is not flat but a sphere in the vastness of space. We know that there are plant and animal life that we cannot see, in fact so many of them we cannot count them all. We know many things that the poet/ inspired writer could not , yet, the theological affirmation of this poem of creation still ring true in our hearts, “ God made it all and said, “ it is good.”
I do not look to this passage for the scientific “ how” of creation. In fact, I think that if I truly affirm that God made the whole world, then what ever we find out about it through our scientific observations and investigations is only revealing what God has made! How exciting is that!
Also I have notices something else. We human beings, despite our love of nature, our dependence upon it, have also become a source of trouble for it. I remember when I first became a pastor there was a letter from our Council of Bishops called, In Defense of Creation. It wasn’t trying to defend the idea that God created the world, rather it was a call for us to turn away from the things that WE have made that could destroy the earth as we know it: nuclear weapons! Now a days, we don’t talk about nuclear weapons as much, but they are still there! Today we talk more about climate change and the need to find more sustainable sources of energy. I remember taking an Environmental Science class in college almost 40 years ago in which we talked about needing to use less oil and be careful about the arctic ice that contributes to our climate patterns. I also notice that because we wanted irrigation water and cheap energy we build dams on our rivers in the NW. What also happened? The supply of salmon running on those rivers went down. So we have had to study the salmon carefully to understand their migration and their needs, so we can help restore the runs, that we may very well have threatened.
In my life I am trying to learn to listen ( a life long project) and I have recently learned the importance of listening for needs. I wonder? Could it me that at this time in history it is time for us to listen to God’s creation? Listen to our planet earth? Genesis suggests to me that when we listen to creation we will hear God. For didn’t God speak it into being? Surely God continues to speak through this world God made. And isn’t the word still ringing, “ It is good. I delight in it. I love it!”
In fact God loved it so much that he gave his only Son so that it might be saved! Christ has come to save the world. Save in Greek also means to heal. When we come to communion, do we not come to be connected to Christ Jesus our savior? And when we are connected to Christ we are also connected to the whole earth that he loves.
This salvation is for us as individuals. Surely we come to communion excepting the healing and grace of Christ for our lives. We pray that when we take communion that Christ will come in to our hearts again to bless and refresh us or to forgive us of sins that dismay and obstruct our true love and service. We trust that in this act of faith and being feed, we open our lives to deeper relationship with Christ. That is why we get up from our seats, if we are able and come forward, we bring our very bodies, our very selves to this table to this relationship with God our savior.
This relationship allows us to listen to God, it enables us to hear and respond to what God is doing in our world. It frees us to delight with God in all of creation and to use the skills and gifts God gives us for its benefit not its harm. The grace we receive from Christ opens us to love what God loves.
This is the personal level at which communion has meaning for our lives. Yet, there is also a deeper and wider meaning to our communion table. This table is set, audaciously, for the healing of the planet. For each time we connect with Christ, we connect with his mission to save the world. Each time we deepen our relationship with Christ we are invited to deepen our relationship with all that God loves. This means the people and all the life on this precious, precarious planet.
So what does is mean for our day to day lives to be part of this connection to Christ?
What we do with our small life matters to the planet. We never know which person’s decision to care and live differently will turn the tide. So what does it mean to you to love this planet? Could it be that taking time to listen to the needs of this earth can guide us?
I read recently of a project of the Nature Conservancy that I find hopeful. In a preserve of forest land in Washington State they are trying something new. They are logging a second growth forest with the intention of allowing it to become old growth over time. This means understanding how the forest changes over time and logging in ways that enhances those changes. It is one way humans are attempting to listen to the needs of nature. It is a way to attend to the long term needs of our human and natural community.
When we choose to plant a tree, to recycle something , to use fewer resources , to help preserve some wildness, to take time to appreciate this earth. Maybe we can capture a bit of the wonder and sacredness that Genesis 1 teaches us about creation. God made it and it is good!