Creation Care Sunday
October 1, 2017
Genesis 2:18-25, Psalm 148:7-14, Revelation 5:11-14, Matthew 6: 25-33
I grew up at 1661 Mt. Paran Road, in northwest Atlanta. Our simple house had three bedrooms and a half finished basement. In the front yard we’d play football and in the woods in back we’d explore fallen trees and the small pond with its crawfish and frogs. We saw the woods as part of our lives. It could be dark and scary but mostly it was fun and fascinating. Young children are content to be part of creation. They see trees and chipmunks, steams and birds, as great mysteries to be explored and enjoyed. As we grow up, we call it “nature” and it becomes something separate from ourselves and over which we have power. We learn that adults can be the Lord of nature. They can make it into whatever suits them. It doesn’t occur to kids to destroy the woods and build a subdivision, but it occurs to developers who made it happen, while we are at college learning other ways to control nature to improve our lives. Many wonderful things like air conditioning and vaccines come from this. But sometimes our lordship runs amok and we make Agent Orange to defoliate the forests of Vietnam and in the process destroy ourselves.
As lords of nature we should know better, because didn’t we learn as kids that everything is interconnected: when three little kids are jumping on a bed we learn that when I bounce on this spot it throws my brother off that spot and sends him into the table and then to the doctor’s for a few stitches.
I no longer like the word “nature”, because it plays into the story that the world is an inanimate object, a thing, which we can treat however we wish—even flooding the atmosphere with gases that heat the planet. I prefer the word “creation”–for two reasons: First, creation points to the truth that we are also creation ourselves. We are part of the ecosystem of earth, not separate from it. We can name the animals and even domesticate them, but we must not forget that we too are animals who are part of the herd.
Remember Alan Watts’ parable: Imagine there is a tree in the garden and every year the tree “apples”. Likewise, in exactly the same way as the apple tree apples, the earth peoples. We do not come into the world, but rather we come out of it just like apples on a tree.
Say, a billion years ago a flying saucer visits the earth and they say, “Just a bunch of rocks.” And they go away. Then a billion years later they come back and they say, “We were wrong, the rocks have done something intelligent. The thing is peopling”. Where there are rocks, watch out, watch out!!! From his CD series: “A Case of Mistaken Identity”. Watts is brilliant, provocative, and very funny.
Second, the word Creation reminds us that there is a creator and the creator is not US! We are creatures who have a role to play, but it must never be the role of Lord, but only that of steward.
So how do we explain our insistent, self-destructive desire to be Masters of the Universe?
When we are 6 to 18 months old a great and terrible thing happens: the great thing is that a little girl becomes aware that she is a separate from her mother and father, an individual in the world. The terrible thing is that this separation creates a sense of an inner gap or loss, a hole in the soul that scares the child, filling her with an abiding anxiety. Now her job as an individual is to be constantly on the lookout for ways to bridge the gap, to fill the hole, to calm the anxiety.
For the rest of her life the child will pack her world with unneeded stuff in order to fill this emptiness and thus calm the existential anxiety of being separate and alone.
It’s why I feel so good every summer—for about an hour—after I visit the Krispy Kreme on Ponce De Leon, in Atlanta, with its Hot Light on, and eat to my heart’s content.
This is the anxiety that Jesus warns us about in the gospel because it drives us to turn creation into a natural world we can use to fill the hole in our soul and calm ourselves. All our strategies to cope with this hole lead not to happiness but to more anxiety, and more desires, which lead to violence because while there is enough in the world for everyone to have what they really need, there is never enough for everyone to have what they think they need to fill the hole because it simply can’t be filled—mainly because it doesn’t really exist!
Jesus knows it is not enough to point to this anxiety and tell us not to worry, because we are prisoners who can’t escape on our own. So first he shows us how happy and content he is living with the grain of the universe, letting the birds and the flowers teach him to trust the Creator to support him from the inside out instead of from the outside in.
Then, he gives us something positive to do: Seek first the kingdom of God, its beauty, justice, and love above everything else. Of course we have to work hard to produce food and to make clothes, but we don’t have to make food and clothes into false gods that we imagine will take away that feeling of emptiness. Rather, we make food and clothes to share in the beauty, justice, and love of the creator.
But here’s the shocking thing: Jesus doesn’t fill the hole in the soul. He refuses to turn God into one more object the ego uses to calm its anxiety and worry. Rather, he calls the 12 disciples to follow him into a life of more insecurity than they’ve ever known: they give up their jobs, their homes, and families to live a life of utter uncertainty. See this in Peter Rollins stunning book, The Idolatry of God: Breaking Our Addiction to Certainty and Satisfaction
Jesus calls them into this anxiety so they can see how that empty feeling has made them into slaves to wealth and self-protection. He teaches them how to welcome the feeling of emptiness, to embrace the hole in the soul, not as a problem to be solved but as a mystery to be explored in the presence of God who creates us with limits, so we might find our rest in the One with no limits.
Karl Barth, brilliant as always, says: “All evil begins with the fact that we will not thankfully accept the limitations of our existence.” Church Dogmatics, IV, 2, 468
So many idols promise to overcome the limitations of our existence: patriotism, the flag, wealth, prestige, adoration, education, sex, drugs, and belonging to the correct political party. All these become idols when we ask them to save us from the emptiness and to protect us from that bright line in the sand that is the day of our death.
Jesus likes to eat and drink at parties and seems to be joyful most of the time. He sees creation not through the ego’s lens of scarcity but through the Creator’s lens of abundance. He gladly contributes to the abundance of wine at a wedding and bread on a hillside, just as he gladly shares the abundance of God’s mercy and grace with EVERYONE–ALL THE TIME.
He knows what is coming around the bend outside Jerusalem on Friday, but that won’t ruin a last supper on Thursday night with his strange and interesting people. He says this broken bread and shared wine are stronger than our fear and worry.
Even on the cross Jesus reveals that the Creator holds us all, even as we fall into the emptiness of death.
Jesus invites his disciples to become like children who see creation as part of our lives. It can be dark and scary, to be sure, but it can also be fun and fascinating, when we learn we share the luminous web of creation with all–and the Creator!