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Earth Wisdom

Easter 5, Common Lectionary Year A

Proverbs 30: 18-19 and 24-28, Matthew 25:40

©2020 Rev. Dr. Elisabeth R. Jones

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Time and again in Scripture
we are reminded
that we are not God’s only creatures,
nor are we the only ones considered to be wise.
Our opening prayer, lifted from the 19th Psalm,
has this beautiful image of the silent splendour of space,
the skies, the heavens… …
all somehow declaring God’s glory.
Who hasn’t sat on a starlit night
and been transported
to the human experience of awe, wonder, praise?
Perhaps you’ve found yourself silenced
by the cacophony of the dawn birdsong;
watched in wonder,
with that lift of hope to the wintered spirit,
as a chevron of geese make their way northward overhead.

Perhaps it’s the swallow, or the monarch butterfly’s
trans-global migration that leaves you speechless
at a knowledge beyond your knowing.
Are you mesmerized by the running of the river,
the airborne wave of a flock of starlings,
the flicker of fireflies on a summer night?

Nature’s capacity to school the human
psyche and soul into moments of awe,
humility, insight, adoration even,
is a wisdom to which,
time and again the writers of Scripture,
writing over a period of nearly 2000 years,
and the writers of other deeply spiritual writing ever since,
have exhorted us to turn.
And that is what we will do now. (go to slide#41)
As we weave together word, song, image, ancient and modern.
I suggest that if you can,
sit where you can hear/watch the screen,
but also where you can see the world beyond your home.

And let us begin with awe:

VU 229 v.1 God of the Sparrow

Scripture: Proverbs 30:18-19

The Book of Proverbs is a compilation of very earthy wisdom,
designed not to make its reader pious and holy or good at singing hymns,
but worldly wise, capable of resilience in a complicated world,
by pondering mystery, and discerning the handiwork of God
in the most seemingly mundane of things.
Towards the end of this compilation of proverbs, aphorisms,
and crone wisdom,
is a series of riddles that at first simply confound and confuse,
but if we pause to ponder, head to one side, to think
“Huh… who knew… yes!”
The first riddle is like a children’s game
“what do these four things have in common?

Three things, no, four things I just don’t understand:
an eagle flying in the sky
a snake making her way along a rock
a ship navigating the open sea
aahh…. and the ways of love!!

As we discovered in our Midrash study of this odd riddle….
the wisdom possibilities are many..
What hidden path marks their way across the sky,
the land, the sea, the heart?
What wisdom is at play?
Who created such inner compulsion, such diversity?

Philosopher Holmes Rolston writes:

Wilderness is a bizarre place where our conventional values get roughed up.
Wild nature doesn’t know my frames of reference,
and doesn’t care in the slightest about my deepest cultural norms.
In wildness there is no time of day;
it is not 10:00 am Eastern Daylight Time,
nor is it Sunday, nor May.
Lines of latitude, longitude, elevation do not really exist.
In wildness there is neither capitalism nor socialism,
neither democracy nor monarchy,
neither science nor religion.

So what is there?
There is light and dark, life and death,
a genetic language two billion years old.
There is energy and evolution inventing fertility and prowess,
adaptation and improvisation,
contest and compliance,
display and camouflage.
There is muscle and fat, nerve and sweat,
beauty and cleverness, tragedy and glory.

Speaking of tragedy, we shall sing

V.2 God of the earthquake….

How does the creature cry woe?
How do we understand that when one creature cries,
it echoes within every creature, including us?

Again, from Scripture,
and from a contemporary scientist and imagineer,
we are encouraged to see that we are all connected…
and what we do
to one another, and the earth, has profound consequences.

Jesus said: “I tell you most truly, whatever you do to the least of these,
you did it to me.”

One picture that I very much wanted, one we were finally able to take – a picture of Earth from the outskirts of our Solar system. And there it was; a single pixel, a pale blue dot. That’s where we live. That’s where everyone we know, everyone we love, every human being who has ever lived, every hopeful child, every couple in love, every corrupt politician, ever humble person…. every single creature… we all live on that one blue dot.
It underscores our responsibility, because you look at that dot and you think how fragile and vulnerable it is. Our central responsibility is to cherish and care for the environment on the only home we have, we along with all other beings with whom we are so profoundly connected. Carl Sagan

Jesus said: I tell you most truly, whatever you do to the least of these, you did it to me.”

V. 3. God of the rainbow

We see birth, life, dying and rising
written into the pages of a Gospel in the life of Jesus,
but we see it also in the ebb and flow of a mighty river,
the seasons of a tree,
and in the smallest of God’s creatures,
who “though small, are exceedingly wise” as the Proverbialist reminds us.

Scripture: Pr 30:24-28
Four things on earth are small, yet exceedingly wise:
the ants are tiny, and weak in comparison to many,
yet store their food in summer, ready for the winter.
Rock badgers (marmots) are not strong either,
but they make rock-solid homes.
Locusts are leaderless, yet they can strip a field
like an army on the march.
Lizards are easily caught in the hand,
yet they elude the security of a palace guard.

And then there are those creatures who do not move, have no vocal capability, and yet can move us with their teaching:

Joyce Rupp, a nun, and founder of the Institute for Compassionate Presence,
leads her reader to the foot of a tree, to find there
the rhythms of beginnings, endings, grace and resurrection pulsing
in creation and in us.

Whenever I spend time with a tree, there’s always a teaching to help me with whatever is calling me to grow:
I’ve learned how not to be broken from life’s unwanted things by watching a willow in the wild wind tossing and bending rather than pushing back against the storm.
Paper birches have taught me to surrender as their bark peeled off to aid new growth.
Old dead trees persuaded me that life can come through death, as they decaying bodies nurture soil and seeds.
New shoots growing from a maple stump assured me that new life can come despite my woundedness.
And the mighty redwoods have advised me that aging can be graceful, with an inherent dignity.

V. 5. God of Neighbour,

When we get too caught up in our human-centredness,
we fail to learn the earth wisdom of interconnectedness,
we forget we were born with curiosity and innocence
and humility, and commonality.

The ancient literary masterpiece hiding in plain sight in the Bible,
the book of Job, tells the saga of a man of substance whose life
is upended, ruined by every conceivable calamity. He is “comforted”
by four interlocutors, snidely called “comforters” who smother his suffering
with a series of religious platitudes and moral certitudes
that melt like May snow in the face of the wisdom to which Job
is drawn by the natural world around him.
He silences his doubts and his friends with this:

“But ask the animals and they will teach you;
the birds of the air, and they will tell you;
ask the plants of the earth, and they will teach you;
and the fish of the sea will declare to you.
Who among all these does not know
that the hand of the HOLY ONE has done this?
In God’s hand is the life of every living thing,
and the breath of every human being.”

Similar wisdom, forged in the crucible of trouble,
of late 19th century Russia
and with the hindsight of years,
is shared by the wise Father Zosima in Dostoyevsky’s
Brothers Karamazov.

Love all God’s creation,
the whole world and every grain of sand in it.
Love every leaf,
every ray of God’s light.
Love the animals,
love the plants,
love everything.
If you love everything,
you will perceive
the divine
mystery in things.
Once you perceive it, to slides Karamazov quote in view
you will begin to comprehend it better every day.
And you will come at last to love the whole world
with an all embracing love.

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