September 13, 2020, Creator of All: Spirituality of the Land, Pastor David Tatgenhorst
Romans 5:12–17 You know the story of how Adam landed us in the dilemma we’re in—first sin, then death, and no one exempt from either sin or death. That sin disturbed relations with God in everything and everyone, but the extent of the disturbance was not clear until God spelled it out in detail to Moses. So death, this huge abyss separating us from God, dominated the landscape from Adam to Moses. Even those who didn’t sin precisely as Adam did by disobeying a specific command of God still had to experience this termination of life, this separation from God. But Adam, who got us into this, also points ahead to the One who will get us out of it.
Yet the rescuing gift is not exactly parallel to the death-dealing sin. If one human’s sin put crowds of people at the dead-end abyss of separation from God, just think what God’s gift poured through one human, Jesus Christ, will do! There’s no comparison between that death-dealing sin and this generous, life-giving gift. The verdict on that one sin was the death sentence; the verdict on the many sins that followed was this wonderful life sentence. If death got the upper hand through one human’s wrongdoing, can you imagine the breathtaking recovery life makes, sovereign life, in those who grasp with both hands this wildly extravagant life-gift, this grand setting-everything-right, that the one human Jesus Christ provides?
Let’s take a moment to take a deep breath of good air, with your feet on the good earth, (maybe take your shoes off) and reflect on the beauty of this day, the hope of living on a land that gives us life and possibility
September 13, 2020 Creator of All: Spirituality of the Land
The Bible invites us to take our shoes off in front of the burning bush, to realize that we are standing on Holy Ground and to feel God’s presence through our feet on the land. This summer I have walked a lot. I try as I walk to notice the presence of the Spirit, to feel the love of Mother Earth in the parks and cemeteries where I wander. I am often distracted and thinking about other things, but the trees pull me back and the beauty of the earth reminds me that I am alive.
Walking on the grass barefoot or on the sand of the beach is a healing thing to do. Having our bodies in touch with the Earth gives us a subtle dose of energy that we mostly don’t notice, but when we do, it’s sweet. One time this summer, I was walking through a woods and I remembered as a child being inspired by stories that Native American Indians in this land could walk silently on the earth, making no sound as they walked even over leaves and twigs.
Of course I had to try it. I can be pretty silent with sneakers on a bare sidewalk, but I am really noisy walking through the woods. I can’t imagine being that attuned to the land. Maybe I sound strange having thoughts like that. I hope I’m not totally alone.
Our passages for today talk about the fear of being separate from God. The Psalm assures us that no matter where we go, no matter how separate we feel from God, God’s Spirit is always with us. So even in our darkest moments, even in times of despair and loss, God is there. “If I ascend to heaven you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.”
The Season of Creation lectionary is suggesting that we use these passages during this month to think about how we connect with the Living God through God’s creation - through forest and trees last week, and this week, through God’s connection with us through the land. The land is holy, the land is sacred. I am always moved when we begin a meeting or a service acknowledging the people who were on this land before we privatized it. We acknowledge the Lenape people who were indeed people of the land and lived in unity with the land.
We who came later have been socialized to think of the land’s value only in terms of private property and of its usefulness in enriching us. This was never how the Bible. The Bible never looks at land as “real estate.” The Bible celebrates land as ‘the mother of life, the abundant sustainer of living beings, as altar for the worship of the Creator, and as the home place.”
I’ll say a word about those wonderful ways that scripture looks at land and earth, but first I want to say something about the consequences of our misconception of looking at land as something to owned and used. We are seeing the problem in a dramatic way this week every night on the evening news.
Every day this week the news has led with the story of wildfires in California and Oregon. These states are having more land burned up each day than they usually see burned in a whole year. Drought and sky high temperatures have made for extremely dangerous conditions and whole neighborhoods are being incinerated. Many local people being interviewed say it’s being caused by climate change. And that is acceptable short hand in my book, but it doesn’t totally make clear how it happens.
One news story I heard this week talked about the problem coming from the pressure for real estate. People can’t afford to live in the cities and they have been building developments further and further out, selling land and stripping land of its forests and farmland. That leads to rising temperatures and no place for flood water to go. It leads to wildfires and flooding, to some of those developments being burned in a moment.
We get there by not respecting God’s creation as holy ground. We get there by not respecting God’s creation as holy ground. What if we listened to our scripture and respected the land as our mother, as the sustainer of the lives of all beings? if we would be respectful of the land as an altar to Creator God? if we would take care of the whole Earth as our home?
Am I saying there can be no private property? Well, that would be pretty hypocritical of me, since I own my own row-house in Philly. But I am calling us to live more simply and live closer to the Earth. Wendell Berry says, that “we all live by robbing nature, but our standard of living demands that the robbery shall continue.”
We need to love the land - not just the Earth as a whole, but specific parts of land - our own places connected to our own communities. You may have heard people worrying about the fires in Oregon and California and wondering if we are in a time of apocalypse. They usually mean by that the end of the world. But as I’ve said before apocalypse actually means “revealing.”
What do the fires - as apocalyptic as the look - reveal about us? That we are small. That we are part of Creation, not separate from it. That we are dependent on the earth and each other for life. That climate change deserves our attention. That nature manages its forests better than we do…
I invite us to pray today for our lives to be disrupted, to pray for a bit of discomfort - so that we do not assume the problem is just out in the western US, but that we are reminded here that we are part of each other’s lives. Let the flames awaken us to the plight of the earth. LEt the flames remind us that we depend on each other. Let the flames open our eyes to those among us who are suffering Let the flames set us on fire for a just way to live on God’s good earth, the land that we are standing on , this holy ground.
This is God’s good news. Let’s sing it “We are Standing on Holy Ground”
Responsive hymn: 2270 We Are Standing on Holy Ground
Sources: Ched Myers, The Season of Creation; Rev. Steve Garnass-Holmes - Thoughts on Apocalypse.