Monday, May 1, 2017

The Earth Will Be Saved by Beauty
A Sermon on Genesis 1
by Griff Martin
For Earth Day and the Third Sunday of Eastertide
April 30, 2017
For the Beloveds of First Austin: a baptist community of faith

Incarnate God, we ask that you once again take the Word and transform it into a living and breathing Resurrected reality we can all together experience. Be present here in this space and in these words God for if you are present here then nothing else will matter, but if you are not present here then nothing else will matter. In the name of the Creator, the Risen Christ and the Comforter.  

National Geographic, which I would think is just about as non-partisan as it gets these days (I mean the average reader age is me and then your great grandparents who have saved all their copies in the attic, it’s literally the official publication of the national geographic society which to my knowledge has never swung an election- maybe ever even influenced an election) they recently published facts about climate change and our world:

The world is getting hotter. 2016 was hotter than 2015 which was hotter than 2014 and so on. There is no natural cause that can explain a half century warming trend.

9 out of 10 climate scientists now agree that carbon emission cause global warming. 

The ice is melting fast and this is a major problem that will eventually cause the flooding of some of our major cities. In  1979 we had 2.78 million square miles of Artic ice, in 2016 we have 1.82 (and just to know your part, most of us as average Americans melt 525 square feet a year bc of our lifestyles). 

Although climate change does not cause drought and storms it does make them more likely and it does intensify them, especially with heat waves. The increase of heat waves, if this continues to go unchecked, then those who live in the Persian Gulf will soon experience temperatures so high they will not be able to go outside for days at a time.

Rising temperatures are depressing some plant and animal populations. Climate change is eradicating some populations and causing others to change their migration patterns and behaviors. In 2016 of almost 1,000 species surveyed 47% have vanished from areas they previously occupied. In 2016 the Great Barrier Reef experiences the largest on record coral die off.

Scientist agree that 1 in 6 species risk global extinction if climate warns by 8 degrees, which will likely happen by 2100 if we don’t cut carbon emission… that is 70 years from now.

All to say science now agrees that there is something going on and we have something to do with it, some will go as far as to say that in the last century we have largely undone what it took 4 billon years to do. These are facts. However a funny thing happens when it comes to Genesis and facts and myths, we tend to get really confused. I mean look at recent baptist history and how much has centered on taking what obviously appears as a myth and making it a literal fact and now we are taking literal facts and making them a myth. 

So let’s try this way, the way of Jesus, story and metaphor: Imagine for me that you are about to get to go on a wonderful summer vacation to Ashville, North Carolina where you can have the best of the coast and the mountains, great weather, great food. You have a wonderful place rented for a few weeks and you are getting to rest. You get a house sitter to take care of your place here: the usual things- bring in the mail, water the plants, take care of your two dogs, feed the kid’s fish, don’t have a huge house party.

And you have a great vacation and you fly back home, rested and restored. And the minute you drive up you know it’s bad. All the windows of the house are frosted over because the ac is cranked so low. Half of the plants on the front porch are dead because they were not watered.  The back gate is open and you can tell somehow the sprinkler system got messed up and the backyard is flooded and the front yard is completely dead, but that is the least of the problems because since the gate was open one of the dogs has run away. A few of the fish are floating. It’s not what you want to come home to, it’s not welcome home.

You would not be happy.

Things would be chaotic. There is a lot of mess to deal with it. And you would probably think that house sitter did not do such a good job caring for your house, they did not tend to it and care for it like you asked them to and they did not love it like you do. And I think that must be exactly how our creator feels this day…. Because the truth is our world is in chaos, there is a lot of mess to clean up and we have not done such a stellar job caring for things.

And maybe we have forgotten the fundamental truth: this is not ours, it’s God’s world. Always has and always will be…

So maybe it’s time for us to reconsider the first poem in our Scripture, Genesis 1 which I just read over us. And maybe it’s time as we read it that we focus on Mary Oliver’s rule of poetry, she being the most beloved living poet of our times. In her book, A Poetry Handbook, one of the rules she uses to help us write and read poetry is to follow the verbs. One of her rules of poetry is that every adverb and adjective is worth five cents whereas the verbs are worth fifty cents. 

This text is full of some very interesting verbs, verbs that are worth paying attention to because from these verbs all things come to life, through the verbs God expresses all of God, these are the very verbs of our being. 

Let’s start with God’s verbs: “In the beginning God created…” there is verb one. “Then God said…” verb two. “And God saw…” verb three. “And God separated (which is about bringing order into chaos)…. Verb four. “And God called….” Verb five…. And then these verbs began to repeat…. We get a rhythm here God said, God creates, and God sees. Day five we add a verb (a rich one): “God blessed them…” There is our sixth verb.  And then you know the seventh, “God rested.” 

Seven days of creation in the poem and seven verbs…. Create, said, saw, separated, called, blessed, rested. And these verbs give us the picture of an active God, a God who has power to create using just words- a God who is a poet, a God who created this world, a God who calls forth, a God who sees and sees it all as good, a God who wants to bless, a God who is source of all. A God with really good verbs. 

And then this God invites us into the story… the creator asks us to be part of the creation process…. And God gives us some verbs, four to be exact…. Prosper. Reproduce. Fill the Earth. Take charge.

We are invited into the story and we are given our verbs. This is your part- our part- and it’s an important part, after all we are made in the image of God. 

And those verbs served us well until we found some other verbs… dominate, control, use, manipulate just to name a few… even steal, kill and destroy (which are verbs that belongs to someone else in our book). Taking charge went from a position of hospitality to a place of domination, possession and control. And when we added all of these verbs, well suddenly we thought we had more verbs than God and we started acting like God because that is what verbs allow us to do, verbs let you own the story, even if it’s not your story to own. 

And the more verbs we collected, the further we got from that essential truth: this is not ours, it’s God’s world. 

In a beautiful essay Barbara Brown Taylor mentions human superiority and despotism as “one of the historical ways that people of faith have interpreted their divine right to dominion over the earth. In this view,” she says, “you do not have to ask a tree before you bulldoze it for a subdivision. You just knock it down, push it into a pile with the corpses of other trees, and set it on fire. Then you are free to scrape the clear-cut earth free of green moss, tiny wild iris, unsuspecting toads, and a couple of thousand years’ worth of topsoil before calling the pavers to come cover your artwork with steaming asphalt. Oh, and if the mountain laurel block your view of the river, just turn the dozer on them, too. The next time the river floods, the banks will collapse without those living roots. The river will silt up eventually, until you can push a sharp stick three feet straight down in the sandy bottom without ever hitting what used to be the riverbed. But what the heck, if the trout die, you can still buy some at the grocery store already cleaned and boned for just a few dollars a pound. You are Lord over this playground, after all – and God said so, right? It is all for you.” 

You see we took the wrong verbs and then we just started acting like it was our home when the truth is at the very best we are just house sitters, although that metaphor is far from the fullness of our reality of God… The truth is we are called to be creators with the Creator and instead of creation we have more often chosen the path of destruction. 
Look at us today and the shape of our earth at present, where we have destroyed so much of God’s creation, where we have taken so many verbs that don’t belong to us and where we have forgotten the simple truth: it’s not ours, it’s God’s world.

And actually if you think about verbs and the verbs we have taken it explains so much of the troubles in our world… just think about dominate, posses and control, steal, kill and destroy. It sure did not take long from us using those words on the land until we started using them on one another. It’s why I believe that if we could learn to use our first four verbs, we really could change the world. If we could take care of the world and then take care of one another as we treat the world. 

Our verbs do matter. And maybe the justice movement today should be us reclaiming our verbs, literally if we just started choosing some better verbs we could change the world. Verbs like love, share, give, pray, sacrifice, calm, care, forgive… all verbs of Jesus by the way, all verbs we are invited to share later on in Scripture, once we reach the New Testament. 

But it takes a while to get there and maybe the time it takes is time to learn the first four: Prosper. Reproduce. Fill the Earth. Take charge. Maybe we don’t get to claim the verbs of Jesus until we claim those, maybe we learn our way into the verbs of Jesus by starting with the verbs the Creator gave us.

One of my life heroes and wisdom teachers is a woman named Paula D’Arcy, who is in Austin quite a bit… an incredible woman. Her life story is truly tragic, she was six months pregnant with her second child when a terrible car accident took the life of her husband and first child. She was not sure she could live, much less mother this second child. She writes of the experience of having her second child and she writes of holding her new born daughter in the midst of all the grief that was still so very present, knowing how fragile life is and she said at the moment she knew the greatest truth: “she is mine to hold, not to posses.”

And that truth changes everything. What if we could adopt that attitude towards our world? It might be almost as beautiful as creation itself. 

In the same essay, Barbara Brown Taylor calls creation The Dominion of Love. She says, “For Francis (of Assisi), being human meant being in communion with all creation. Cows? Sure! Sparrows? Of course! Clouds? Why not?” She continues, “I do not think Francis got the distinction between “animate” and “inanimate” any better than he got the distinction between princes and lepers. Life was life for him, and God was love. To be made in God’s image meant to be made in the image of love.” 
And maybe lovers is the best metaphor we have… after all you don’t dominate, abuse or destroy the one you love … instead you tend to them, you care for them, you help them become more.
You don’t posses them, you hold them. 
Our world deserves no less and our creator invited us to do just that… to tend, to care for, to help our world become more, to co-create, to hold, to enjoy, to love.
You see our story, the story of faith, the story of humanity begins with the creator asking us to be creators as well, to be lovers of this earth… and every truth emerges from that truth, so until we learn it, we can’t learn anything else.
May the earth be saved by beauty and love, which will in turn show us that all things- including ourselves- will be saved by beauty and love.
All people, all people, all people. All places, all places, all places.
Amen and amen.
First this: God created the Heavens and Earth—all you see, all you don’t see. Earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness. God’s Spirit brooded like a bird above the watery abyss.
God spoke: “Light!”
        And light appeared.
    God saw that light was good
        and separated light from dark.
    God named the light Day,
        he named the dark Night.
    It was evening, it was morning—
    Day One.
God spoke: “Sky! In the middle of the waters;
        separate water from water!”
    God made sky.
    He separated the water under sky
        from the water above sky.
    And there it was:
        he named sky the Heavens;
    It was evening, it was morning—
    Day Two.

God spoke: “Separate!
        Water-beneath-Heaven, gather into one place;
    Land, appear!”
        And there it was.
    God named the land Earth.
        He named the pooled water Ocean.
    God saw that it was good.
God spoke: “Earth, green up! Grow all varieties
        of seed-bearing plants,
    Every sort of fruit-bearing tree.”
        And there it was.
    Earth produced green seed-bearing plants,
        all varieties,
    And fruit-bearing trees of all sorts.
        God saw that it was good.
    It was evening, it was morning—
    Day Three.
God spoke: “Lights! Come out!
        Shine in Heaven’s sky!
    Separate Day from Night.
        Mark seasons and days and years,
    Lights in Heaven’s sky to give light to Earth.”
        And there it was.
God made two big lights, the larger
        to take charge of Day,
    The smaller to be in charge of Night;
        and he made the stars.
    God placed them in the heavenly sky
        to light up Earth
    And oversee Day and Night,
        to separate light and dark.
    God saw that it was good.
    It was evening, it was morning—
    Day Four.
God spoke: “Swarm, Ocean, with fish and all sea life!
        Birds, fly through the sky over Earth!”
    God created the huge whales,
        all the swarm of life in the waters,
    And every kind and species of flying birds.
        God saw that it was good.
    God blessed them: “Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Ocean!
        Birds, reproduce on Earth!”
    It was evening, it was morning—
    Day Five.
God spoke: “Earth, generate life! Every sort and kind:
        cattle and reptiles and wild animals—all kinds.”
    And there it was:
        wild animals of every kind,
    Cattle of all kinds, every sort of reptile and bug.
        God saw that it was good.
God spoke: “Let us make human beings in our image, make them
        reflecting our nature
    So they can be responsible for the fish in the sea,
        the birds in the air, the cattle,
    And, yes, Earth itself,
        and every animal that moves on the face of Earth.”
    God created human beings;
        he created them godlike,
    Reflecting God’s nature.
        He created them male and female.
    God blessed them:
        “Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge!
    Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air,
        for every living thing that moves on the face of Earth.”
Then God said, “I’ve given you
        every sort of seed-bearing plant on Earth
    And every kind of fruit-bearing tree,
        given them to you for food.
    To all animals and all birds,
        everything that moves and breathes,
    I give whatever grows out of the ground for food.”
        And there it was.
God looked over everything he had made;
        it was so good, so very good!
    It was evening, it was morning—
    Day Six.
Heaven and Earth were finished,
    down to the last detail.
By the seventh day
        God had finished his work.
    On the seventh day
        he rested from all his work.
    God blessed the seventh day.
        He made it a Holy Day
    Because on that day he rested from his work,
        all the creating God had done.
This is the story of how it all started,
    of Heaven and Earth when they were created.

*art work: Jeweled Hills, Oil on Canvas by Erin Hanson,


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