Finding God in Creation
Scripture: Psalm 19:1-14
[Following is the transcript of a homily delivered by Amy Norton on July 30, 2017. No audio is available.]
Many of us are familiar with the idea that we can commune with God by being in nature. That walking through a beautiful garden we are in awe of god’s creation, etcetera etcetera…and that’s true! We see God in the circle of life, in the ecosystem, how every animal has adapted over the millennia and how every living thing has a role to play in this giant intricate web.
Yet the psalmist, the poet and musician who we heard from in the Scripture reading this morning, goes deeper than this. Yes, he opens his song by exclaiming in joy how “the heavens are telling the glory of god; and the very sky proclaims God’s handiwork,” but, then he continues, “day to day pours fourth speech, and night to night declares knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world”
…he continues, “the law of the lord is perfect, reviving the soul, the decrees of the lord are sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the lord are right, rejoicing the heart”
Creation is witness to God and God’s glory, and it also is the vessel for knowledge, according to the psalmist. Knowledge of what, though? I think it’s more than just knowledge OF God and of God’s glory, as magnificent as our natural world is. The psalmist is touching on something deeper than that.
Every single living organism has a function, a purpose in the larger system, how can we see that phenomenon at work and not begin to grasp God’s love for us? Every single living organism has the capacity to adapt to its surroundings, to even the most adverse conditions. To paraphrase Jurassic Park, life finds a way.
How can we look at plants deep in the ocean that have evolved to grow without sunlight, how can we look at bacteria that feeds off of electricity, how can we look at our own opposable thumbs and NOT be struck with the depth of God’s care for creation? Life isn’t always easy, but all of these seemingly miraculous adaptations happened because of adversity, because of hardships and struggles and challenging situations that exerted evolutionary pressure and revealed just how strong a force is life.
Nature’s remarkable capacity for adaptation and evolution reminds us that while unspeakable tragedies do happen, while we all face incredible and seemingly devastating adversity at times, and wonder where could God possibly be in our lives, we need only look at creation to be reassured that God always gives us a way through. That by turning to God and trusting in our God-given resilience, incredible good can be worked out of unspeakable tragedy. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge.
Another piece of knowledge that we learn from creation is how to be stewards; how to live into this divine responsibility. See, the story of the creation of Adam reminds us that a crucial part of the ‘dominion’, or the power that we have over the natural world, is the God-given responsibility to care for the earth and it’s inhabitants.
And we do have power over the natural world- we have knowledge of how to grow plants and cultivate the species that we want, we have technology that enables us to kill the types of plants we don’t want, we have learned how to hunt animals, we’ve domesticated animals for companionship, food, and work, and our human civilization as a whole uses so much carbon that we’ve fundamentally changed the planet itself.
The story of the Garden of Eden tells us how god placed man in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it. The Hebrew word in this story that is usually translated as ‘keep’ more accurately means to guard, watch, and protect, and the word translated as ‘work’ also means ‘serve’. We learn from this story that one of man’s essential functions, one of our God-given responsibilities is to serve, guard, and protect the earth and its inhabitants.
This responsibility can be found in many of the commandments; remember the sabbath and keep it holy- your animals and the land deserve a day of rest.
Honor your father and mother: cherish the natural legacy that our foreparents have left us, take time to learn the wisdom they have collected about how to live with the land.
Do not murder: don’t kill needlessly-if you’re hunting, eat what you kill and don’t be wasteful.
Do not steal: cultivate and harvest only what you need, remember that we are but part of a larger ecosystem, and taking more than we need can throw off the balance of the web of life.
In his last couple stanzas, the psalmist reminds us that in keeping the commandments there is great reward. In living out our call to be stewards, we grow closer to God.
We are made in God’s image- we are creative, we are drawn towards life, and through our relationship with creation we can participate in the miracle of resurrection. It’s no secret that the stability of our ecosystem is approaching the point of no-return, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that humanity has played the primary role in pushing it to that point. Like Judas, Peter, and the angry crowd before Pontius Pilate, our sins have betrayed the natural world, we’ve denied our allegiance to the ecosystem too many times, and our fear and greed has condemned the innocent.
But our tradition is a hopeful tradition. We know the transformative power of a love so deep and so strong that even death cannot dampen it. We are a resurrection people. We can use the knowledge that God has given us through creation, knowledge of the natural world, knowledge of the resiliency of life, knowledge of how deeply we are loved, knowledge of our own sacred responsibility- we can use this knowledge to participate in the resurrection of our ecosystem, of God’s holy Creation.
I was watching a video the other day that explained that “when wolves were brought back to the yellowstone, they not only killed elk and brought the population back under control, but also changed their prey’s behavior patterns. The herbivores started to avoid areas like valleys and gorges where they could be easily hunted by predators. As a result, those areas began to regenerate, and species such as birds, beavers, mice and bears returned.
Plant life began to thrive again along the riverbanks, significantly decreasing erosion, and the stabilization of the riverbanks actually made the rivers and streams change course. With the reintroduction of just a small population of wolves, the landscape of the whole park transformed.”
Something so small as reintroducing a pack of wolves to a national park can re-stabilize an entire ecosystem and change the natural landscape for the better. When we engage in acts of ecological resurrection, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, we are participating in the miracle shown to us in the Gospels; we are channeling the transformative power of love, and we are drawn closer in our relationship with God as we serve and protect creation so that the next generation may find the same meaning in the Psalmists words as we have.
I wrote in my pastor’s blog this week about gardening with my mother. Over a few vegetable plants and 8 cubic feet of soil, a relationship was deepened, knowledge was honored and passed on, and abundant love was shared. A new psalm:
The tomatoes are telling the glory of God;
and the fertilizer proclaims God’s handiwork.
2 parent to child pours forth love,
and sunshine to leaf declares knowledge.
3 There is no speech, nor are there words;
their voice is not heard;
4 yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
7 The law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the decrees of the Lord are sure,
making wise the simple;
8 the precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is clear,
enlightening the eyes;
14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to you,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.