April 21, 2013  — EASTER 4

Rev. David Boyd


If ever there was a psalm that pointed to abundance, it would be Psalm 23. We have many images of abundance: as God is our shepherd, we have no need for want; the pastures are green and the waters are still and life-giving; the right paths lead to peace; God's presence is with us in the darkest places of our lives; there is a banquet and an abundance of oil for anointing; our cups overflow; goodness and mercy follow us all the days of our lives. Almost every line speaks of God's abundant and steadfast love.

For me, this sense of abundance is the link to Earth Day, which is tomorrow. Earth Day began in 1970 in the Vietnam War protest movement along with quest for racial equality. It was felt by those first organizers in the US that to capitalize on the protest movements of the 60's and early 70's was a positive step in saving the earth from further harm and degradation. Over the 43 years that Earth Day has been observed and in the many countries where it is how celebrated, Earth Day has come be seen as just that, a celebration. Yes, there is lots of good information at Earth Day events about the way in which we have degraded the earth and the things we can do to stop the degradation, but today the day is full of positive images about the power of the Earth, the beauty of the Earth, our connection to the Earth and our place in God's creation.

There has always been a strong current in Christianity of the beauty and wholeness of the Earth and creation. In the last 1000 years, unfortunately, that message of the goodness of creation, which is proclaimed in beautifully poetic verses in the first chapter of Genesis, was subverted by the fall-redemption theme that took hold in the Roman Catholic Church after Anselm. It became the dominant view of how we interpreted Jesus and his death and resurrection. Because Creation fell, a perfect human needed to be sacrificed in order for creation to be restored to wholeness. And since human beings are not perfect, having been born in sin and being part of the fallen creation, the only way a human being could be perfect was if he or she came from God and was part of God. This was the view that came to be dominant. There has never only been one view, however, and this vies of redemption that became dominant is not a biblical view nor faithful to the God who created the wonder and mystery of this universe and who became incarnate in the beauty of this world to heal and assure us that are created in love.

The Eastern Orthodox Church never bought into the theological view of the fallen nature of Creation. St. Francis of Assisi and the so-called Green mystics of the medieval church didn't proclaim the fallen nature of creation. The Reformation changed the course of this fall-redemption theological view point. And recently, with the likes of Matthew Fox, Sally McFague, and other modern theologians we have come to accept that creation is not fallen by nature and that in fact, to reclaim the words of Genesis, "behold, it is very good!" We are good, not born in sin and depravity. And thus life is good and to be celebrated.

Which brings us back to abundance and Psalm 23. And this sense of abundance gives us hope that we can turn things around and reverse some of the damage that we have caused to the earth, that we can develop green energy sources and leave behind the likes of the Tar Sands development in Alberta and other environmentally degrading oil extraction techniques, that we reduce the carbon particulate in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million, that we can begin to see ourselves as part of creation not separate from. Abundance leads us to see the goodness of creation and the wonder of working together to create green communities and hopeful attitudes in our children and children's children about the future of the Earth. A sense of abundance leads us to seek out partners in finding solutions to our environmental problems. A sense of abundance leads us to a renewed sense of awe.

Abundance leads us to this, a poem by Wendell Berry called The Peace of Wild Things:

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.

We rest in the grace of the world and are free! And that's where we turn, just like Psalm 23. We turn to poetry to remind us of our place in creation and the beauty of the world around us and our responsibility to each other and to the creation God has made. That's what Jesus emphasized over and over, our responsibility to each other and by extension, our responsibility to God's creation. It is hard to be responsible to each other when we come out of a place of pessimism or scarcity. If we are competing against each other for the essentials of life, why should we cooperate and work together? The early resurrection communities that are recorded in Acts and in Paul's letter speak of our mutual responsibility to each other and to creation. We work with each other and share out of our sense of abundance and hope.

And so, I leave you with another poem, this time a poem by Mary Oliver, another green poet: When I am Among the Trees.

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness,
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, "Stay awhile."
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, "It's simple," they say,
"and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine."