We give you praise: Psalms 148:1-13a; Matthew 6:25-29
We lament: Colossians 1:15-20
A picture, grass and a stone:
Awaken our senses to know that God created
At the end of the spring I took my nieces to DC for the day and we visited the arboretum. As we walked through each area and garden the smells, temperature and humidity were almost overwhelming in their intensity not to mention the beauty and variety that our eyes we were taking in. This morning I wanted to turn the sanctuary into an arboretum to give you that immersion experience. But since I can’t open the roof of the sanctuary, we will have to live into our memories and imaginations as we think of gazing into the sky or having air brush against our cheeks.
I want to take us on a walk over mountains, through forests and deserts. I want us to feel the power and spray of a pounding waterfall and majestic oceans, to drink in the intoxicating perfume of a flower, to notice the rich textures of our land – hallows, rivers, tree-covered mountains and rolling hills. Reach into your memory and find the places you love. Where is the wildest place you’ve ever been, the most remote, the furthest from the developed and built up world?
My memory goes to hugging Redwoods or climbing a Karri tree, one of Australia’s tallest tress. I remember standing on tons of ice on a glacier in New Zealand, floating in the ocean as the waves carried my body, and camping where light pollution and cell reception couldn’t reach us. When have you felt the most in touch with nature – what did that feel like? Close your eyes a minute and hold that memory.
(Showing pictures) Open your eyes and senses to sharp mountain rocks, the extravagant and wasteful beauty of sunrise and sunset, to rushing water, to the silence of solitary places, to moist moss and the smell of evergreen forest, to the fear and shock of weather we can’t control, to bird calls and the smell of rain, to deep jungle green, to the salt of ocean spray and smooth coastal stones, to arid boulders and sand, to the smell of honey suckle in early summer and fresh mowed grass, to laying on your back as the dew gathers and watching the light extravaganza of fireflies dancing against the stars, to crisp leaves, to the crunch of snow and the bite of cold on your skin, and all that is held in God’s good creation.
I imagine God had joy in creating all of this. God wasn’t showing off or making it to impress someone or something. God just created. And God is still creating, creation was not a once and done and over thing. God is sovereign over all that is created.
Do we feel the grass under our feet or see the trees and plants around us? Do we drive by the mountains not even noticing they are there anymore? How much time do we spend outside or are we inside for much of our day in climate controlled buildings. We walk on gravel, cement and bricks – are we mindful of earth, grass, sand between your toes?
God, open our eyes to see, our ears to really hear, our noses to smell and take in air, our awareness of touch – we dull our senses so we don’t go into overload but lets wake up to the natural, created world around us.
Isaiah offers that the touch of God is like water renewing a parched land. May we accept the invitation to see, know, consider and understand that God’s hand has created.
We praise you with all of creation, beyond our worry
When my niece Shawna was a little girl she would sing to the world as it went by. When I say sing she would name it as she saw it. “there’s a tree and some rock, oh I stepped on an ant. There are clouds in the sky”. As I hear this Psalm I hear her little voice yet around it a whole heavenly and earthly choir raise their voices as well. And this is a song of praise. It is a role call of every living thing that is, all that was known of the world. From the highest heavens and celestial beings to the darkest and murkiest depths of the ocean. Humans are there but just part of this list of created creatures.
I hear from so many people that they go into nature to meet with God and to feel close to God. We enter nature and feel in touch with the awe, wonder and mystery of the creator and sustainer. And here all of that creation is called to praise the one who made them. We hear this list and I am touched by both the beauty and the bigness of God.
In the midst of all of this I want us to consider for a moment grass. What is the purpose of grass – it covers the earth, holds in moister and secures the top soil. Each small blade, soft and tender beneath your feet or crunchy in the dry times of August. Ranging in colors from vibrant greens of new growth, deepening to a rich dark green. A flaky edge appearing as green fades to tans and browns as moister drains from its roots. And Oh its roots, those things we don’t see unless we try to rid a garden bed of grass. Small tendrils and webs of lacey roots intertwining, longer fatter roots that seem to go on forever with crabgrass, so strong and yet so fragile when we yank at them. Grass, this thing so common yet complex. Underfoot and everywhere, yet created by God and praising God. We could dive into this complexity with each part of creation.
Throughout the bible we hear of people going up on mountain tops or away into the desert or wilderness to hear from and feel close to God. Where is it that God reveals God self to you? Do we join in with nature as it praises God? Part of how we see the physical earth praising its maker is in it being the very thing God has created it to be. Not to be the best and compete but a call to praise – praise by doing what they were created to do – shine, stand tall, be fixed forever, storm, leave a slimy path behind them, blow, be grass underfoot – all of these praise, exalt and give glory to God.
This litany of praise by creation invites us to think about who this God is. So creative, incredibly detail oriented, not always practical, and wildly imaginative. God as a gardener, planting and tending. God as an architect dreaming, designing and crafting. God as a builder taking sand, rock, water, flesh and getting in to it, getting hands dirty and getting the work done.
If we know this creator God why do we worry? This is a God who takes time to care for the small things underfoot and yet creates craters and the burning ball that is our sun. Each complex and unique. If we stand before this God in praise can some of our worry melt away as awe takes its place?
God sees the beauty in each of us, our needs and concerns. When our lives feel small in this large world know that our creator God holds us close and for this we praise.
We lament the earth’s beauty cut short
We cannot speak of the glorious wonder of the earth without seeing its destruction and hearing the earth cry out in pain. We seem ready to pollute rather than preserve, to abuse the atmosphere rather than believe the air is indeed the breath of God for us. We see the sorrow of land raped, plundered, and cry for the extinction of animals as our biodiversity shrinks. I remember standing on a mountain top and looking down over a valley where bush fires had gone through a year before. The trees had burnt but still stood like a tree graveyard, ashen white, lifeless reminders of the flames.
Yet this Colossians text is another hymn. We are held together in Christ, created through him. In him the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. Through Jesus reconciling and making peace. Everything lives in Christ. Jesus is the starting line, the finish and the glue that is holding it all together. He is the brains of this show. If Jesus knows and is known by creation this intimately, how Jesus must ache and morn with our planet.
Have we become alienated from the earth, viewing this planet as disposable? Have we turned our greed into global warming and loved progress more then the planet that sustains us? In so doing have we cut ourselves off from the creator and Christ the reconciler?
Christ brings heaven and earth together – making cosmic harmony. Have we created dissonant, distracting and destructive chords? No, not completely because Jesus is doing this reconciling work in and through us.
Ralph P. Martin writes that Christ is the image of the invisible – “He is not a copy or likeness of God but the ‘projection’ of God on the canvas of our humanity and the embodiment of the divine in the world.” (Interpretation, Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon, p. 108) Jesus “is the agent in bringing the universe into harmony with the divine purpose, expressed as reconciliation.” (p. 109). God did not create and then abandon us, even though humanity has done its best to push God away. God continues to show up offering us relationship and reconciliation, hope and new work of restoration together as God’s people in the church.
Longing for that work of reconciliation and restoration I close with excerpts from a poem by Robert O’Rourke:
My people took solace in
The silence of rocks and high-soaring eagles.
Today I return to this place where my ancestors
Gathered medicine and herbs.
I stop to listen for the old melodies
Running softly through the trees,
For the beating heart of Mother Earth
The rhythm of sparkling waters.
The sonorous sounds are no more!
What remain are
Lamentations of blasted boulders,
Clanking of chain saws,
Crashing trees, rocks crumbling into dust.
My spirit yearns for the long-ago, lost harmonies
The musing of insects,
Rustle of leaves,
The voice of the hawk.
Stooping down, I choose one tormented rock;
Holding it gently towards the sky;
Together we pray to the God-of-all-things
For the return of earth song,
The murmur of grass,
Butterfly wings and
The gentle silence of rocks
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