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Touching Earth Lightly

Easter 6, Common Lectionary Year A
Psalm 8

©2020 Rev. Dr. Elisabeth R. Jones

Sermon audio

“ If God loves the world, then how might any person of faith
be excused for not loving it or be justified in destroying it?”

Wendell Berry. [1]

A fellow preacher living in the US
recently asked me how on earth I could devote
not just one Sunday to worship and preaching
centered on “Resurrection and the life of Earth,”
but an entire season, seven weeks.
I’m both horrified and not surprised all at the same time.
I’ve had moments in every week of this Easter season
when I’ve wanted to jettison the plan;

the Spring has been so tentative, slow!
I wondered if it was trying to tell me something.

the persistence of the pandemic in Montreal,
the recurring nightmare of infection in Seniors’ homes
and our local hospital feel like
a viral counter-argument against all my
proclamations of resurrection.
But what has kept me on course this season is
something Rev. Wendy said on Easter 2:
that we’re in the thick of two global crises;
the climate crisis, and the pandemic crisis.
She also asked how attitude might shape
our response to both:
do we treat both as ‘battles’ to be won, or ‘fires to put out’?
(that tends to be the dominant vocabulary doesn’t it?)
But what happens if we see both crises
as opportunities to relearn what it means to love?
To fall in love with the earth,

to fall in love with humanity, and each one within our species
sufficiently that we together chart a
“path to safety with compassion and inclusion for all.” [2]
This is where this psalm comes into its own.
Its deliberate echoing of the grand story of creation
in Genesis 1, reminds us that Creation itself
is a cosmic, divine love story! **
God breathing over, shaping the “dark confused heap” [3]
of primordial matter into things of such beauty, and grandeur,
-“sky jewelry, moon and stars mounted in their settings” [4]
and “the freshness of deep down things” [5]
that God falls in love with the work of her breath and hands,
and declares it all good!
This is the framework, the beginning and end of the psalm,
the loving splendour of God’s handiwork.
But at its heart, its literal pivot point, at the centre,
is the ultimate existential question
that we humans ask,
when we watch the arcing night sky,
hear the mighty rolling thunder,
and when we watch the statistics of human death
climb so alarmingly high:
“What is human life that God even notices us?”
“I look at my micro-self and wonder, why does God bother,
take a second look our way?” (v.4. MSG)
Now, it’s proven damnably dangerous for us mortal humans
to put ourselves at the centre of things.
I should leave well alone when the psalmist dares to declare
we’re made “little lower than gods, divine beings”!
Hasn’t that gotten us to the mess we’re in?monoculture farms, dependent on pesticidal destruction,

erasure of ancient forests, wetlands, estuaries,

overfishing, dumping of waste into oceans,

spewing pollutants into the air,

the searing of all with trade, bleared and smeared” [6]
all in service of a “better” life for humans.
We do all of that when we lose sight
of the all-important frame of reference
of this psalm: the significantly placed first and last verse.
“God, Brilliant One, how glorious is your name in all the earth.”
IF HOWEVER, we understand ourselves within a creation
that is framed/embraced by God (the cover picture)….
we stand a chance of being able to answer
our existential, pivotal question right.
It goes like this:
“God, you made us,
imprinted us with your image, your divine DNA.
You, God, who are is madly, wildly,
eternally, covenantally in love
with every atom of your creation! (look at her hand)
Delighted at earth’s (and presumably space’s too) diversity,
complexity, interconnectivity and inherent abundance.
You, God, who somehow manage
to make beauty out of chaos,
butterflies out of bugs,
rose blooms from cow dung,
you, who can feather a scrawny pink chick into a beautiful snowy owl,
you, who laugh at the antics of a berry-drunk squirrel,
you made us like you(!),
to CARE for the creation from which you have fashioned
we star-dust, earth-soil creatures.”

If as this psalm urges us to,
we begin to understand our micro-selves
as creatures of a loving Creator
imbued with similar capacity for compassion, care,
creativity, delight, love,
hold my beer, world: we’ve got this!
Not that it’s going to be easy.
I won’t romanticize this image of God in love with creation. **
(This is where Psalm 8 converses with the story
of The Biggest Little Farm).
We have to re-school and re-tool ourselves
to see, and then accept that
“[creation] is energized entirely by the impermanence of life,” [7]
including our own,
and that creation’s blessings are not always or even often benign.
This super-abundant, biodiversity
that fosters and nourishes life,
is fuelled not only by the warmth of sun,
but by the destruction of drought.
God’s creation unleashes the power of
hurricane, flood, wildfire, volcanoes;
there’s the mosquito, and elm-ravaging beetles,
and there are deadly, species-threatening viruses.
It’s messy, it’s frightening,
and it involves us in a longer unlearning
and relearning than we’re used to.
It takes a God-like patience, endurance,
and covenantal commitment
to touching earth lightly, to using earth gently,

and nourishing the life of the world in our care.
On the farm, their commitment was to find the eco-balance
not by “eradicating pests”, but learning their habits
to discover their place within a biodiverse ecosystem
(echoing v.7 in their care for all creatures, domestic and wild):too many snails in the orchard, let the ducks eat them!
Coyotes killing chickens, let them go for the gophers instead!
What both the psalm, and this moving midrash on it
show in poetry and stunning videography (do watch it!),
is that this diverse impermanence, this beautiful complexity
is alive with infinite possibility, [8]
it is shot through with resilience, resurrection.
And, that we have a God-given place and vocation within it.
To be brave and love it,
unreservedly, passionately, protectively,
just like God does.
A vocation to learn how to be within creation as care-takers,
not parasites.
A vocation to, as Mary Oliver has said,
“pay attention, to be astonished and to tell about it…
to listen to the crazy roots in the drenched earth,
laughing and growing.” [9]
….which is essentially the nub of the psalm, the film,
and our resilient wild, beautiful life
as impermanent, beloved creatures
of a God whose glory is worth telling.
We’ve got this. We can do this.
Right? Amen.

[1] What are People For? (North Point Press, 1990), 98. Cited in Sam Hamilton Poore, Earth Gospel p.22.
[2] Rev. Wendy Evans Sewall, “Resurrection and the Earth.” Sermon for Easter 2A, 2020 CPU

[3] Henry Howard of Surrey(1516-1547). Psalm 8 paraphrase.
[4] Eugene Peterson, The Message Psalm 8.
[5] Gerard Manley Hopkins S.J. 1844-1889, God’s Grandeur.
[6] ibid.
[7] John Chester, The Biggest Little Farm (Year 7).
[8] ibid.
[9]Mary Oliver, “Sometimes” in Red Bird, (Beacon Press, 2008).

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