John Shuck
April 19, 2015
Earth Day

       Song of Solomon 2:8-13

     The voice of my beloved!

            Look, he comes,

     leaping upon the mountains,

            bounding over the hills.

     My beloved is like a gazelle

            or a young stag.

     Look, there he stands

            behind our wall,

     gazing in at the windows,

            looking through the lattice.

     My beloved speaks and says to me:

     ‘Arise, my love, my fair one,

          and come away;

     for now the winter is past,

            the rain is over and gone.

     The flowers appear on the earth;

            the time of singing has come,

     and the voice of the turtle-dove

            is heard in our land.

     The fig tree puts forth its figs,

            and the vines are in blossom;

            they give forth fragrance.

     Arise, my love, my fair one,

                                    and come away.                                 

                                                                                   

        Sallie McFague, Models of God:  Theology for An Ecological, Nuclear Age
(Philadelphia:  Fortgress, 1988), p. 77

     It is obvious, then, what sin is in this metaphor of the world as God’s body:  it is refusal to   be part of the body, the special part we are as imago dei.  In contrast to the king-realm model, where sin is against God, here it is against the world.  To sin is not to refuse loyalty to the Liege Lord but to refuse to take responsibility for nurturing, loving, and befriending the body and all its parts.  Sin is the refusal to realize one’s radical interdependence with all that lives:  it is the desire to set oneself apart from all others as not needing them or being needed by them.  Sin is the refusal to be the eyes, the consciousness, of the cosmos….

     The world is a body that must be carefully tended, that must be nurtured, protected, guided, loved, and befriended both as valuable in itself—for like us, it is an expression of God—and as necessary to the continuation of life.  We meet the world as a Thou, as the body of God where God is present to us always in all times and in all places.  In the metaphor of the world as the body of God, the resurrection becomes a worldly, present, inclusive reality, for this body is offered to all:  “This is my body.”  As is true of all bodies,       however, this body, in its beauty and preciousness, is vulnerable and at risk:  it will delight the eye only if we care for it; it will nourish us only if we nurture it.  Needless to say, then, were this metaphor to enter our consciousness as thoroughly as the royal, triumphalist one has entered, it would result in a different way of being in the world.  There would be no way that we could any longer see God as worldless or the world as Godless. Nor could we expect God to take care of everything, either through domination or through benevolence.

 

     Romans 8:22-2

Dewey, Hoover, McGaughy, and Schmidt, The Authentic Letters of Paul: A New Reading of Paul’s Rhetoric and Meaning (Salem, OR:  Polebridge, 2010), p. 229

     I regard the sufferings of the present pregnant moment as nothing compared with the future splendor to be revealed to us.  For the whole creation eagerly anticipates the dis- closure of who God’s children really are.  For the purpose of the creation was suppressed through no fault of its own, but by the One who subjugated it in the hope that the creation itself would be liberated from its subjection to degeneration and participate in the splendid freedom of the children of God.  We know that the whole creation has been moaning with birth pangs until now; and not only the creation, but we who have savored the first taste of God’s power also sigh within ourselves while we await our adoption, the release and transformation of our bodies from their earthly limitations and fate.    


 

I could start with the bad news regarding our perilous state of affairs.    Earth 2015:  A Planet in A Pickle.   I could talk about how the fossil fuel party is over.  We have picked the low hanging fruit to satisfy the needs and desires of a world population that has increased four-fold since my father was born.    The rate of conventional oil production, that’s the sweet stuff that gushes out of the oil wells, peaked worldwide  several years ago and we are on the downslope of Hubbert’s curve.   Fancy technologies have emerged to reach the harder, dirtier, more sour oil and shale.   It doesn’t take a chemical engineering degree to see that there is no long-term future there.

On the other end, burning fossil fuels has resulted in filling our atmosphere with greenhouse gases.  The CO2 concentration in the atmosphere as of March 2015 as recorded by the Mauna Loa Observatory is 401.52 ppm.    We broke the 400 ppm barrier this year. Scientists warn us that the upper safety limit is 350 ppm.   You are all familiar with Bill McKibben’s famous organization, 350.org.  We passed 350 in 1988.    We have just started to feel the effects of climate change in terms of extreme weather conditions, rising sea levels, and so forth.  If we have any hope of slowing the rate of global warming we will have to keep the remaining fossil fuels in the ground rather than dreaming up ways to extract them and burn them faster.

I could detail the “sufferings of this present pregnant moment” as the Apostle Paul phrased it.   I could go on and discuss our predicament in detail.  I am no scientist.  I am no expert.  I am just a simple country preacher.   But even I know enough to put you in a stupor.  But you know enough already.   Do we need another book or workshop or lecture on the acidity of the oceans or the melting glaciers or species extinction or Peak Oil?   Maybe we do.    Maybe we need to be reminded of our subjugated creation daily not just on Earth Day.

It is possible yet at this late hour that we could reach an awakening, a tipping point, where the human species begins to function as an organism, rises up, and acts collectively for its own salvation, its own wholeness, its own healing and in so doing acts on behalf of life for humankind and all of the creeping, flying, jumping, swimming, running things with whom we share life.   Because I think that is what it will take.    It will take a collective rising.

It will take the act of a body, of Earth as a body, of humankind as a body to produce antibodies to neutralize the pathogens of ignorance, greed, and bad habits so we may be nurtured back to wholeness and balance.

Yes, we do need to be reminded of the reality of our situation.  We need to buck up and face it.   It is no use crying about it that it seems all so overwhelming.  Of course it does and it is.  But that gives us no excuse to live in denial.    We need good science.  We need to listen to our scientists.  We need to share what they are telling us.    We need to be tireless and fearless in countering all the denial and lies and misinformation that bombards us.    We need good science.

We also need good religion.    Some may prefer the word, spirituality, and I don’t insist. Whatever you call it, we need it.   The task of religion or spirituality is to get us to wake up and to fall in love.   That is the job.  That’s what I think my job is, get people to wake up and fall in love.    Love is a sacred text.

There was debate whether or not the Song of Solomon should be in the Bible.   Rabbis had rules about it as to who could read it.  You had to be of a certain age.   Both Jewish and Christian interpreters tried to theologize it.  They tried to say it was about God’s love for Israel or Christ’s love for the church.    They wanted to cover this PG13 text with a holy veneer.

But it is really just a sexy story.  It is erotic poetry that found its way into the Bible.   Of course it should be there.  In fact, there should be more of it.   Life isn’t about theology.  It is about falling in love.

     My beloved speaks and says to me:

     ‘Arise, my love, my fair one,

          and come away;

     for now the winter is past,

            the rain is over and gone.

     The flowers appear on the earth;

            the time of singing has come,

     and the voice of the turtle-dove

            is heard in our land.

Wake up.  Fall in love.

One of my favorite quotes is from Gary Snyder in his book, The Practice of the Wild:

If we are here for any good purpose at all… I suspect it is to entertain the rest of nature. A gang of sexy primate clowns. All the little critters creep in close when human beings are in a good mood and willing to play some tunes.

Religion as with everything forgets what it is supposed to do.  At times instead of waking people up and inspiring them to fall in love, it gets crabby, judgmental and pedantic.

Sometimes we have to wake religion up, so it can in turn wake us up.    Walter Wink, one of my favorite biblical scholars, wrote about our need to wake up God.  In his magnificent book, Engaging the Powers, he wrote this about prayer:

Prayer is rattling God’s cage and waking God up and setting God free and giving this famished God water and this starved God food and cutting the ropes off God’s hands and the manacles off God’s feet and washing the caked sweat from God’s eyes and then watching God swell with life and vitality and energy and following God wherever God goes.

When we pray, we are not sending a letter to a celestial White House, where it is sorted among piles of others.  We are engaged, rather, in an act of co-creation in which one little sector of the universe rises up and becomes translucent, incandescent, a vibratory center of power that radiates the power of the universe.

Wake up.  Fall in love.

Love what?  Fyodor Dostoevsky tells us:

Love all God’s creation, both the whole and every grain of sand. Love every leaf, every ray of light. Love the animals, love the plants, love each separate thing. If thou love each thing thou wilt perceive the mystery of God in all; and when once thou perceive this, thou wilt thenceforward grow every day to a fuller understanding of it: until thou come at last to love the whole world with a love that will then be all-embracing and universal.

Wake up.  Fall in love.

Fall in love with Earth. Fall in love with God.  Fall in love with Earth as the body of God.    If God is the symbol of our ultimate concern, a commitment of our heart, then how do we fall in love with God?  Some theologians suggest that we fall in love with God by loving God’s body which is Earth itself.

This is a step that theology is taking that is helping us regard Earth as holy and sacred.   To get an idea of where we are now from where we have been, it is helpful to look at a figure of the past and see how they saw their purpose.

I like to talk about Christopher Columbus to get a sense of where Christian theology once was.    An excellent book about Columbus is Carol Delaney’s Columbus and the Quest for Jerusalem.

In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue.    Why?

He wanted to find a fast route to China so that he could get gold.  With this gold he wanted to fund a crusade to take Jerusalem back from the Muslims so that Christ would come again.

Columbus lived in a universe in which Earth was the center.    Circling Earth was the moon and the planets and the sun and finally in the outer reaches the stars.    God’s home was beyond the stars where Christ sat at the Father’s right hand.   Columbus regarded the Bible as providing the complete history of the heavens and the earth from beginning to end.  He did his own calculation as to the beginning of creation by adding up the genealogies in the Bible.  He also found a way to calculate when the end would come, about 150 years after his own time, he thought.

He thought that he lived in a pregnant time and that he would be an instrument for salvation, helping to bring in Christ’s second coming and the transformation of the new creation.    All the redeemed, living and dead, would be resurrected and live forever with God in this new heaven and new earth.

He even saw the Bible as helpful for navigation.  This is 2 Esdras 6:42:

Upon the third day thou didst command that the waters should be gathered in the seventh part of the earth: six parts hast thou dried up, and kept them, to the intent that of these some being planted of God and tilled might serve thee.

Since this was the Word of God, it was true.   Columbus took from this that Earth was six parts land and one part water.   Columbus of course knew that Earth was a sphere.   He knew how far it was from Spain to China by land.  It would be a short trip the other way by water.   He couldn’t figure out why he wasn’t landing in China when he landed in what became the New World.

I offer this little bit about Columbus to show not only how far we have come since 1500 in regards to our understanding of the universe, but to show also what we have lost and what we need to find again.   Columbus for all the weirdness of this theory had a purpose.  He knew who he was and what he needed to do to get to where he thought he was going.

He lived on a planet that was the center of the universe.  It had a beginning and an end. Human beings were the apex of creation, fallen and sinful, yet redeemed by Christ and would one day live with him in a new heaven and a new earth.    It all worked out.    The holy book, the holy church, and all the divine agents all fit into this system.    Everyone had his or her place and purpose.  Columbus loved God by helping to usher in Christ’s literal second coming.

The Apostle Paul also lived in a geo-centric universe like Columbus.  Paul is much closer to Columbus than we are to Columbus in this way of thinking.  Paul, like Columbus, thought that we are to wait for the “transformation of our bodies from their earthly limitations and fate.”

The goal was to find God beyond Earth.    Many people today resonate with that goal.    As far as I am concerned, it is great to be in different places in this journey.   I have no desire to take anything away from anyone.  I would like to add some things.

Now we live on a pale blue dot in the suburbs of the Milky Way, one of billions of galaxies in the universe.   Earth will spin long after the last human being has breathed her last.   We have the interesting task of rediscovering who we are as human beings in this uncharted territory.   We have the task not of taking care of our individual immortal souls, but of leaving an Earth that is habitable for our descendants.

Human beings are still special in a way.  As far as we know we are the eyes, ears, and consciousness of the universe.  We are the universe itself being able to tell its story.   It is amazing to be alive.   We live in a far more interesting universe than the one Columbus thought he inhabited.

The challenge for us, I think, is not to be overwhelmed by this adventure.   No, it may not be a literal second coming of Christ, and a new heaven and a new earth, or personal immortality, or God sitting above the stars.

Instead we must ask:  How do we imagine God and fall in love with God?   What is our purpose?   In this emerging theological vision, Earth is our home. our only home. Earth is where we belong.  On Earth and in God, we live and move and have our being.

Can we wake up and embrace this new challenge?   Can we fall in love with God’s body?  If we could have the same passion for Earth as our ancestors once had for heaven, perhaps as a body, we could rise up and be instruments of salvation.

Amen.