Gospel: Matthew 28:16-20
1st Reading: Genesis 1:1-2:4a
2nd Reading: 2 Corinthians 13:11-13
Look around you. What a beautiful setting we have to worship God! I think those who designed this church were so wise to put in windows so we could see the marvelous works of God all around us. We’ve got a view of Mt. Hood if we want. We can see so many trees. Birds and squirrels make their home on this property. Listen to the birds singing. Just last week at coffee hour a deer walked across the churchyard. I hope you paid attention to the beauty of this place that we live as you made your way here this morning. I love the smell of the morning air and when I drive up here, I am greeted by flowers and trees and green and wildlife. I would agree this is good. God’s good creation is all around us revealing to us who God is and what God wants for us.
Over the years some pastors and theologians have put a barrier between believers and God’s good creation because they feared we would practice pagan religion and start worshipping the trees and deer and birds and sun. And I am not that fond of the idea of “Spiritual but not Religious” as if all that matters is me out in a forest or near a stream. I think that community matters a lot, to provide checks and balances, to show that it isn’t all about me, and to provide support when life is difficult. But I do believe that we can find God in Creation and know God through our experiences with Creation, including the other humans God made. Creation is one of God’s primary revelations to us, God’s way of showing us how much God loves us, God’s way of showing us what it means to have responsibility and care for one another.
Creation shows us just how big and majestic God is. When we see that mountain, with snow lit by the sun, we stand in awe of God who made this universe, who stood watch as the plates of the earth shifted and a volcano was born and grew into this mountain. When we drive along the Columbia River Gorge, we stand in awe of God who brings this water down from the mountains, all this melted snow and rain gathering to flow so wide and deep through our land, giving life to salmon and sea lions and people and mosquitoes. It is amazing and huge to behold. What a system of flowing life! What a way of distributing water to all who need it without prejudice!
Creation shows us how God pays attention to the smallest detail and forms each and every creature with love and care. At Synod Assembly this year, I was feeling all cooped up. So when we had a break, I took a walk around the hotel. As I walked along, I saw a little caterpillar going along the pavement in the parking lot. I stopped and picked up a leaf, put it in front of the caterpillar and eventually got it to crawl up on the leaf. Then I transferred the caterpillar to the relative safety and comfort of the bushes. Here we were gathered at the Assembly, listening to reports, having discussions, eating together, making decision, and yet all the while, here was this caterpillar living its life, trying to survive, to make it to safer ground. It was something small, but I could see the hand of God in it. Its legs all moved together. It was covered in orange hairs. It’s markings were as beautiful as any of the quilts or artwork displayed in the assembly. The Bible tells us that God knows the number of hairs on our heads and not only our heads, but this caterpillar’s body as well.
Each part of God’s creation is noticed by God and called “good.” Each part has intrinsic value on its own, before it ever had use for humans. The light on its own was good. The balance of night and day is good for our planet, for our growing cycles, for creatures who need times of activity as well as rest. The water and the dry land were both good. The balance between them was important for the development of life, for the diversity of creatures that God had in mind. The distribution of the water was good for the flourishing of all living things. The plants of all kinds were good. Some produced fruit, others shade, others homes for little creatures. The sun and the moon were good to give light and seasons and the pull of the tides and cycles of fertility. The balance of the two kinds of light offered some guidance and safety during the night, but the ability to rest, while giving us the full benefits of the sun to give warmth and energy, to give us vitamins, to evaporate water and melt snow. And all the kinds of creatures were called good. We’re still discovering new species. Each has a purpose and a job to do. Bees pollinate, birds carry seeds, predators keep rodent populations under control. And all these animals were given the actual first commandment, to be fruitful and multiply. And finally God created humankind.
Now some say that humans are the pinnacle of God’s creation, that all before was made for us. But each thing is called good on its own, before humans came on the scene. I would say that we are the most recent addition and as relative latecomers we should be respectful of all which came before. God blessed the birds and sea creatures, just as God did humankind. They have their own blessing from God apart from us.
Some say that we, as humans, can do what we want with plants and animals because God gave us dominion in the Bible and because we are bigger and stronger and smarter than they are. Yet, the kind of dominion God gives is not domination, but a caretaker roll of the good creation God made, to keep the balance and the good system that God put into place.
When I look at creation, I think of an artists’ masterpiece. It can tell you to a certain extent about the artist who made it—what is important to the artist, what is the message he or she wants to convey, what is his or her nature.
This account of Creation tells us that God has made this world and it belongs to God. It tells us that it is good in its own right. It tells us that God made balance and order for the good of us all. It tells us that God is concerned with the big picture as well as the smallest detail. It tells us that we have responsibility to help God keep it in balance. It reveals to us what we know from scripture and experience, that God is love and life. And if we received the gift of a fine work of art, we would want to put it in a place of respect in our home, display it and care for it and appreciate it. We wouldn’t want the artist to come looking for it one day and find it in tatters and ruined because we hadn’t managed it well. And finally, let us remember that we are but one part of God’s good creation, that our well-being is tied to the earth’s well being. We are part of the balance that God created and when we take more than our share of resources or think of ourselves first and foremost others suffer and humankind, future generations, vulnerable populations will suffer more and we may even end up destroying ourselves.
How incredible that God made all this beauty and balance! How incredible that God can be revealed in every mountain and tree, in every person, in every caterpillar or flea, in the sound of the rushing wind or the stillness of a meadow! How incredible that this amazing God came to take on our flesh and live a human life, fully in tune with God’s wondrous creation, without prejudice or preference, showing us how to let go of our selfishness to be bearers of God’s love to all God’s creation from the greatest to the smallest! How incredible that he died as we all must, but through that death he brings us to eternal life and connection and the ultimate purpose of God, to restore us all to right relationship and balance, give the fullness of life to all creatures, and to draw all Creation to God’s self.