April 15, 2018
Psalm 24: 1-7 and Job 12:7-10
The Rev. Jane Anne Ferguson
1 The earth is the LORD's and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it;
2 for he has founded it on the seas, and established it on the rivers.
3 Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place?
4 Those who have clean hands and pure hearts, who do not lift up their souls to what is false, and do not swear deceitfully.
5 They will receive blessing from the LORD, and vindication from the God of their salvation.
6 Such is the company of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob.
7 Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in. ...
10 Who is this King of glory? The LORD of hosts,
he is the King of glory.
7 "But ask the animals, and they will teach you; the birds of the air, and they will tell you;
8 ask the plants of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you.
9 Who among all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this?
10 In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of every human being.
Let’s begin today with a reminder of the place we live in.
Will you pray with me?
Holy and Creating God, we are grateful to be gathered here in the Big Thompson/Cache le Poudre watershed, which we share with a diversity of plants and creatures. We celebrate our neighbors here on the foothills and the prairies – Barn Owls and Northern Pygmy Owls, Prairie Falcons and Red-tailed Hawks, Red-winged Blackbirds, American Goldfinches, Great Blue Herons and Canada Geese, Single leaf Ash, Western Catalpa and CO Blue Spruce trees, butterflies to numerous to name, crickets, praying mantis, bees, black-footed ferrets, coyotes, fox, prairie dogs, greenback cutthroat trout, bears, soapwort, bittersweet, Indian Rice grass, _______ (name a few species). We acknowledge that this land is the traditional territory of the Ute, Arapahoe and Cheyenne peoples with visitations from the Comanche and Apache. We celebrate our Plymouth ancestors in this valley, the industrious Russian German immigrants. May we nurture our relationship with all our ancestors, all our neighbors, and our shared responsibilities to this watershed where we gather today." Amen.
I want to acknowledge that I am well aware on this Environmental Sabbath day that here at Plymouth I am preaching to the environmental choir. Our congregation is chock-full of environmental scientists and activists. I do not have to convince the majority – maybe any – of you that climate change is real, that we are one with our environment, part of a great web of life, that we have major, perhaps dire, environmental challenges facing us. So this is not a sermon about convincing or consciousness raising. I hope this will be a sermon of inspiration and support for the journey of activism and healing of creation that we are all on together.
“The earth is the LORD's and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it,” sings the psalmist. “In God’s hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of every human being,” Job explains to his doubting friends. The question before us today is how will we live taking these faith affirmations of the psalmist and of Job to heart? Yes, we will recycle, reduce, reuse, etc....but how will we live in the deepest places of our hearts and souls? How can our faith sustain us in the struggle?
The faith confession and affirmation of our scriptures is that everything belongs to God, was created by God, is animated and sustained by the Holy Spirit of God. Perhaps, as people of faith and science, you get stymied by the image of an anthropomorphic Creator God, an image that can be easily reduced to a puppet master of the world. This is not the image of God I claim. Acknowledging the amazing laws of physics, astronomy, chemistry, biology, and geology, etc., that keep the universe in motion my image is that God is the Mystery behind all the laws, rather than an old white guy with a beard in the sky orchestrating everything. Yet this Mystery is not aloof from creation. Mystery does not stand back and merely observe. It is intimately in relationship with the workings of the universe, infusing atoms and neutrons, cells and mitochondria. It is in dark matter, as well as stars, in hurricanes as well as life-giving showers. In the tiniest insects and the largest mammals and all shapes, sizes and species in between. In the smallest of newly planted seeds and the oldest of trees. The Mystery of God is in every human being. The created universe and all its beings are not God...but all are infused with God.
John of Damascus , a 7th and 8th century Eastern Christian theologian and patron saint of icons, wrote, “The whole earth is a living icon of the face of God." Now a religious icon from the Eastern Orthodox tradition is not a painting, it is a prayer writing. Its intent is to be an meditative opening, a window, onto the face of God through the face of a beloved saint, the Virgin Mary and Holy Child, or Jesus the Christ. Think of this for a moment. Because creation is infused with God’s Spirit .....“The whole earth is a living icon of, [a window onto,] the face of God.” “The earth is the LORD's and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it.” “In God’s hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of every human being.”
The confessions of faith made by Job and the psalmist in our texts today can guide and inspire us spiritually as well as in our religious, environmental, and political practices. Confessing that all belongs to God leads us into God’s righteousness, God’s ways of living, and into blessings for all creation, including ourselves. Trusting that all of the universe is animated and infused with the Mystery of God we can affirm that we are One in creation with God. Being one with God we come into God’s presence as the psalmists invites with the blessings of clean hands, hearts and souls, living in the ways of truth. I believe this includes coming into God’s forgiveness as well. Forgiveness for ways we have to lived in that are not accordance with God’s love and justice. Blessed by God as clean, pure and forgiven we work for the goodness, the purity of God’s creation.
It is a circle of oneness...as we seek God and God’s ways we are empowered by the same energy of the animating Mystery that empowers the laws of the universe to find God and to work for God’s creation. We cannot do it all on our own, We can only work for God’s creation in co-creation with the power of God. This is righteousness and blessing. This is living in faith in its largest context. These are affirmations of spirituality and guiding practical principles.
Confessing our faith with the psalmist and Job informs how we live in the Body Politic, within our cities, counties, states, nations. It challenges how we live operationally in the world. Revered Hebrew scripture scholar, James May, wrote, “To whom do we think practically and operationally the world belongs? To a roster of nations? To the state? To corporations? To whoever has money to get title to pieces of it?” No! Ultimately and existentially it does not belong to corporations, to individual nations, to individuals. It is not for the exclusive use of whichever generation of human beings happens to be in power. The world and all that is in it belongs to God, the Creator and the Mystery, behind and within everything.
This is the affirmation of faith that sustains our stewardship of creation and activism for environmental justice. Ask the animals of the earth, the birds of the air, the growing plants of the fields, the fish in the lakes and streams ,rivers and oceans – they will tell you. Ask the red-tailed hawks and great blue heron, the cutthroat trout, the sage brush, the blue spruce, the white-tailed deer and raccoons and coyotes that share even our urban areas with us. “In God’s hand is the life of every living thing!” And is not everything living in some manner of speaking as it is infused with the Mystery – even Horsetooth, its reservoir and its rock formations in our foothills, even the prairie soil where we grow food, even infinitesimal quarks that energize all matter and the deep energy of black holes. “In God’s hand is ... the breath of every human being.”
How will we live?
In fear of all that is happening around us? Or in faith that the empowering Mystery of God behind and within creation will lead us to healing action for the world and all that is within it?
Lift up your heads, O gates
Lift up your doors, O ancient Ones
That the Compassionate One may come in!
Who is this Compassionate One?
The Beloved, Heart of your heart,
Life of your life,
This is the Compassionate One.
 Mays, James L., Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching Psalms, (John Knox Press, Lousiville, KY, 1994, 120.)
 Merrill, Nan, Psalms for Praying, (Continuum Publishing, New York, NY, 1996, 41).
The Rev. Jane Anne Ferguson, Associate, Minister, is a writer, storyteller, and contributor to Feasting on the Word, a popular biblical commentary. She is also the writer of sermon-stories.com, a lectionary-based story-commentary series. Learn more about Jane Ann here.
Hal preaches on Psalm 24:1-6 for Environmental Sunday.
The Rev. Hal Chorpenning has been Plymouth's senior minister since 2002. Before that, he was associate conference minister with the Connecticut Conference of the UCC. A grant from the Lilly Endowment enabled him to study Celtic Christianity in the UK and Ireland. Prior to ordained ministry, Hal had a business in corporate communications. Read more about Hal.