Our Cosmic Marble Matters
a sermon based on Genesis 9:8-17
given at Mount Vernon, OH April 26, 2015 *
by Rev. Scott Elliott
The 45th anniversary of Earth Day was this week on the 22nd. So it seems right to talk about and celebrate the earth this morning.
Most of us hear the word “earth” and think something along the lines of a majestic blue, brown and green sphere with wisps of cloud white streaks spinning in the darkness of the cosmos. Earth, that gorgeous planet we have seen in pictures from space, like the one on the flag up here. It’s a breathtakingly lovely looking home.
The opportunity for humans to see actual pictures of our planet from space is something new humans. Out there dangling in the universe earth is no longer just a ground-level-bigger-than-our-eyes-can-take-in-enormous-seemingly-endless-expanse.
The pictures of earth from space certainly confirm it is a beautiful planet, but they have also added a new dimension to our visual sense of the planet’s relative smallness and fragility. When viewed from the cosmos the earth is a tiny marble floating in space and does not seem enormous at all. Yet, the earth it is not insignificant. To say it matters much is an understatement! This cosmic marbles matters. We experience the earth as very significant. We need this green and blue sphere with streaks of clouds spinning in the darkness of space. Not just any sphere in space can do the things earth does for us. Spinning about, this ball of life we spend our lives on, provides all the things we need to survive– all of them. We do not need to leave home to get what we require. Its Creator– OUR CREATOR– has put it all here. As the beginning of the Bible notes, God created light and dark, atmosphere, water, land, plants and animals.
While the Bible was not written as a science book, it does not take a scientist to figure out the basic components of this planet. In all its glory there is at one level a remarkable simplicity to it. Light. Dark. Atmosphere. Water. Land. Plants. Animals. And the author of Genesis –without the benefit of modern science– gets that it is all virtually self-contained, generated and regenerated from what is already here.
I say virtually self-contained because there is a component that has transcendent otherworldly existence, that component we call God. But for all God’s presumed otherworldliness God is also unmistakably in the world soaking it like so much Holy Water saturating a sponge.
Genesis points out that while we are created from the earth, it is God’s very own breath that animates us– GOD’S VERY OWN BREATH!
We are both a part of the earth and a part of God’s breath. And God is in all the earth and so as living beings we are at least doubly blessed, part Sacred earth, part Scared life.
We tend to focus on our Sacredness that stems from being alive; that second blessing given by Divine breath of life. We like knowing that we are made in God’s image and have God’s breath flowing through our being. But it would do us well to remember our first blessing, being made from the hallowed holy earth. God soaks this planet so that there is nowhere – nowhere– to avoid the Sacred.
God is everywhere on earth. This is poetically observed in Psalm 139 (7-10) a passage we hear often in this church.
Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.
The New Testament makes a similar observation which we also hear a lot that it is in God “we live and move and have our being.”
So this little ball of light, dark, atmosphere, water, land, plants and animals can be Biblically understood as filled, as soaked with God, and that we’re part and parcel of both the earth– being made of it; and God– who’s in all of creation and whose very breath flows through us, giving us life.
There is no mistaking the Bible is rich with images that have humanity and earth intertwined with God. So while the earth is not all there is of God, it is nonetheless a part of God, and God is a part of all that is in it.
We like to think of God in terms of being in relationship with humans, but God is also unmistakably in relationship with the rest of creation.
God is not just lying dormant in earth but dancing dynamically in it. This is why when we take time to look at things on the earth we can get all choked up at beauty in the large and the small of it. God is resonating, dancing in it all.
And all things in the world are related not just to God but to us. Barbra Brown Taylor observes:
Chemically speaking, the only difference between us and trees or rocks or chickens is the way our elements are arranged. During World War I, when blood was in short supply, wounded soldiers were sometimes transfused with sea water– and it worked! We are all made out of the same stuff. We are children of the universe.
All that Godness vibrates even in our photos of earth. The Sacred beauty touches our connections with God that sit in the seat of our being.
We don’t have to go to space, or see a picture of our earthly planet in space, to make the connection. It happens when we mindfully focus on almost anything in creation. Looking at a butterfly. Hearing a babbling book. Petting the soft fur of a rabbit. Walking down a wooded path. Sitting on the beach. Standing in the waves. Gazing at a sunset. Watching children play. Holding our loved ones. Stopping to see the miracle of a rainbow.
God is in it all. The list goes on and on. When we are mindful of things on earth there is an instant connection and positive resonating response, that’s God in earthly things connecting with God in us and visa versa.
It may sound tree-huggy that there can be relationship with things, but if God is in things and we relate to God, then we can relate to God in those things– which is exactly what happens when we are mindful of them. Moreover, if we are all formed from the earth, and all other things of this world are too, then we ARE all cosmically related as Rev. Taylor Brown notes.
This idea that God is in the earth and we are related to things on the earth is not a new thing for Christians to think about or observe. This is not stuff that all of a sudden started appearing in 1960s and 70s with the growth of modern environmentalism and Earth Day. This stuff goes way back. I mean waaaaay back.
Irenaeus (eye-ren-EE-S), a 2nd century Christian theologian, noted that “The initial step for a soul to come to knowledge of God is contemplation of nature.” (The Green Bible, p. I-98) .
Augustine, in the 4th century likened nature to a second set of scripture:
Some people, in order to discover God, [he wrote,] read books. But there is a great book: the very appearance of created things. Look above you! Look below you! 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? (The Green Bible, I-100).
Augustine’s contemporary nemesis Pelagius agreed with Augustine in this regard, he wrote:
Look at the animals roaming the forest: God’s spirit dwells within them. Look at the birds flying across the sky: God’s spirit dwells within them. Look at the tiny insect crawling in the grass: God’s spirit dwells within them. There is no creature on earth in whom God is absent.
Saint Francis of Assisi likened our relationship with earth to family:
We praise You, Lord, for all Your creatures, especially for Brother Sun, who is the day through whom You give us light. And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendor, of You Most High, he bears your likeness.
We praise You, Lord, for Sister Moon and the stars, in the heavens you have made them bright, precious and fair.
We praise You, Lord, for Brothers Wind and Air, fair and stormy, all weather’s moods, by which You cherish all that You have made.
We praise You, Lord, for Sister Water, so useful, humble, precious and pure.
We praise You, Lord, for Brother Fire, through whom You light the night. He is beautiful, playful, robust, and strong.
We praise You, Lord, for Sister Earth, who sustains us with her fruits, colored flowers, and herbs.
Meister E Eckhart in the 14th century wrote:
If I spend enough time with the tiniest creature – even a caterpillar– I would never have to prepare for a sermon. So full of God is every creature.
You don’t have to be a modern environmentalist to feel connected or related to creation. Theologians have done it for hundreds and hundreds of years.
The theologians I mentioned (and there are more) understood we are connected to earth and God relates to all God has created.
We can find this is scripture too. We just heard a wonderful reading of a text that you may recall we discussed earlier this year. I chose this text again because we tend to think God’ covenants are with humanity, but this one isn’t. God said
“I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark.
I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.
When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.
When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.” (Gen 9:8-17 NRS)
Five times God mentions the covenant is for humans and animals, and in the very middle of those promises God states that it is also a promise to the earth: “I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth?”
God made a promise to the earth, to never destroy it. So regardless of what we might hear about a world destroying apocalypse . . . God’s not bringing any such thing about. God loves the earth and relates to the earth and has promised us – and earth itself– that there will be no Divine destruction of earth.
This cosmic marble matters much to God.
The trick, of course, is to make it matter much to humans, to keep humanity from destroying it. And we can find at least two Biblical obligations that require humans to work hard for our breathtakingly lovely home, earth.
In the Old Testament we are told that we are partners with God. Over God’s dominion – earth– we are meant to be stewards, caretakers.
Most of us have an inkling of this Old Testament duty to be God’s partner caring for the earth as God does, but we rarely consider that the New Testament command by Jesus who expressly tells us to “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.”
Our proclamation of the good news is not just by words, but by our acts. Boiled down the good news is that God loves us and the earth.
And we are to love God. And that includes God in one another and in creation.
See we are after all related to the earth. Which is why St Francis wrote,“We praise You, Lord, for Sister Earth, who sustains us with her fruits, colored flowers, and herbs.”
God bless our Sister Earth and may we bless it also with our words and our deeds proclaiming the good news, not just to humans but to the whole of creation. AMEN.
* based on a sermon I wrote in 2010
1. Taylor, Barbara Brown, The Luminous Web, 28.
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