October 4, 2015 Psalm 104
Beautiful, isn’t it - this world we live in! How many times have you experienced one of those magical, awesome moments in nature, a sunset over the ocean, a rainbow after a storm - or, an approaching tornado, when all you can utter is “Oh my God!” It seems to slip out of our mouths, whether we claim to believe in God or not. It’s at those moments that we reach out, in thanksgiving - or fear, to something beyond ourselves.
Bruce Sanquin writes in his study guide to Painting the Stars: “Much of modern life is lived in a state of what sociologist Max Weber called ‘disenchantment.’ By this he meant that over the course of the modern period — roughly the last 500 years— the cosmos has systematically been voided of Spirit. A distinctive feature of the modern period is that if somebody were to walk into your home and find you on your knees praying, or catch you with your arms flung open in a gesture of thanksgiving to the cosmos you would be embarrassed. This is the first period in the history of humanity in which this was true.”
It certainly wasn’t true for the person writing this beautiful psalm of praise and thanksgiving. He - or she wrote this prayer thousands of years before smog, acid rain and global warming threatened our planet. It was written before the expression ‘the butterfly effect”, an awareness that a butterfly flapping it’s wings has at least some tiny physical impact on the other side of the planet.” Wow, that’s a hard concept to get your brain around!
Chief Seattle echoed the psalmists words when he said “The earth does not belong to us, we belong to the earth. All things are connected like the blood which unites one family. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons and daughters of the earth. We did not weave the web of life, we are merely a strand in it. Whatever we do to the earth, we do to ourselves.” Chief Seattle was an environmentalist at heart.
The psalmist was an environmentalist too, long before the word was invented. He, or she, understood the intricate interconnectedness and subtle interdependence of air, soil, water, plants, animals and humans, that humankind's origin and destiny is inextricably linked to that of the earth’s. This psalmist knew nothing of physical sciences like botany, zoology, geology, hydrology and meteorology. No, his, or her awareness was grounded in theology, in a belief that everything is derived from God. Nature is not divine, but it is sacred. It does not exist apart from God, so everything we do has an effect on God’s world and thus on God. Ecology and theology are inseparable.
You brought harmony to all the earth,
that life might spring forth
Today that harmony has been disrupted.
O, that we might receive your gifts,
taking only what is needed
with grateful hearts…
How much do we really need? And how grateful are we - really?
In his commentary on this passage, ___ points out that “much of our concern for the future of the earth is motivated by our desire to maintain our current standard of living without trashing things so terribly or depleting natural resources so severely that we cannot pass the same style of life on to our children. In other words, our primary concern is ourselves, our major motivation is fear.” I’m guilty. I’ve said those things.
Fear tends to overwhelm and immobilize. Maintaining our current life style, which is quite high compared to a large portion of the world, focuses more on consumption. Will either solve the environmental catastrophe we are headed towards?
What if we changed our focus, as the psalmist demonstrates here, and begin by praising God - seeing God’s handiwork in the wonders and complexity and interconnectedness of this magnificent universe we live in?
What if we focused outward, instead of inward, to see how our lives and life style impact, not only our environment, but those we share the planet with? Could this change the way we see the world and act in it?
I needed a good dose of Spirit before entering into this month of Creation Care, so I took myself to the Cape, to walk the beach, inviting God to walk along with me, and there I was filled with the interconnectedness of those elements we celebrated in our call to worship this morning.
I wrote in my journal:
Here I have it all - the ocean seeming to stretch into infinity -
the steady sound of waves lapping up on the shore -
the gentle breeze, the breath of God blowing across my body -
the warmth of the sun, it’s light reflecting off the sand and water,
the plants blowing gracefully in the wind -
the squish of the sand under my feet -
the graceful glide of the birds overhead -
a dog approaching me as if asking why I’m not throwing the drift wood stick I am carrying for him to go fetch -
an excited child showing me a tiny jelly fish he had found resting in a shell - a caterpillar crawling up the sand embankment and perching on my shoe -
As I sat on the beach, where I had stopped to meditate and give thanks, a woman’s voice interrupted my prayers, “Isn’t it beautiful?!!” “Yes!!” I had to agree. We are all interconnected, part of the web of life, and we need each part to survive. Thank you God for showing me this.
But that still small voice that I like to call God didn’t stop there. It doesn’t end with praise. God’s pain came through loud and clear in an email from 350.org when I got home, reminding me of the devastating fires in my home state of California.
When we are in harmony with You,
the earth provides;
yes, a bountiful harvest to be
shared with all.
When we misuse what You have created
we blame You for the famine and
destruction that ensues,
and feel alienated from You.
Over 2,000 years and many are still blaming God. After my day at the Cape God was feeling pretty close, and California was moving closer. “All things are connected. What we do to the web, we do to ourselves.”
As I wrote this sermon, the Valley Wildfire in northern California was 97% contained, so it’s fallen off the news cycle, but not for the families of the four who lost their lives, not for the four firefighters who were injured, or the 1,200 families who lost their homes.
From January to August this year a total of 4,201 fires have consumed roughly 100,000 acres in California alone, a 43% increase in the number of fires, and a 14% increase in the acreage from last year - some of the worst fires these seasoned fire fighters have ever seen, as a result of one of the worst droughts the west has ever experienced.
The Sierra’s snowpack - the frozen well that feeds California’s reservoirs and supplies a third of its water - was just eight percent of its yearly average. That’s a historic low for a state that’s accustomed to breaking drought records.
And still, there are there are those denying what most of the best scientific minds are telling us about climate change and our participation in it. Why? Maybe it hasn’t touched their lives enough to make them stand up and take notice. But it will. Maybe they’re holding on for dear life to that life style they want to pass on to their children and grandchildren. It’s just easier to live in denial of what lies ahead.
What most don’t understand is that it’s not just a California drought problem, its a problem with our whole food system. California farmers produce more than a third of the nations vegetables and two thirds of its fruits and nuts. To do that, they use nearly 80% of all the water consumed in the state… To fundamentally alter how much water the state uses, all Americans may have to give something up.
The average American - that’s us - consumes more than 300 gallons of California water each week by eating food that was produced there. It takes 4.1 gallons of water to produce a sliver of avocado, 86 gallons to produce 1.75 ounces of beef.
In 2014 500,000 acres of farmland lay fallow in California. That figure may double this year. It’s got people thinking, where is our food going to come from? another state? abroad?
We are a wealthy country, so we will find a way to put food in our stomachs. But what about those living on the margins, especially in countries even more drastically affected by climate change. They can’t afford to import their food. Pope Francis said in his encyclical “Both everyday experience and scientific research show that the gravest effects of all attacks on the environment are suffered by the poorest.”
“Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons and daughters of the earth. .. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.”
It gives us pause for thought on this world communion Sunday. What will we do?