September 16, 2018

Series: September 2018

Category: Faith

Speaker: Rob McClellan

Psalm 19:1-4

1The heavens are telling the glory of God;

and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.

2Day to day pours forth speech,

and night to night declares knowledge.

3There is no speech, nor are there words;

their voice is not heard;

4yet their voice goes out through all the earth,

and their words to the end of the world.



         We gathered at our bedroom window. It was only some time that our young son spotted the second baby dear nestled in the brush its markings rendering it barely visible.  They were clearly born that morning, for when they tried to stand, their legs wobbled and with each attempted step they lost more ground on the steep embankment than they gained.  Remembering that does often leave their young in a safe place to go scavenge for food, we trusted she’d be back.  Sure enough, hours later, mother returned, the fawns nursed, and they were off not to be seen again for weeks.

          Consider the wisdom of nature, fawns near perfect camouflage, the mother spreading out her two young to avoid predation for both of them if one were taken, leaving them in safe hiding while going for food, and then moving them so no predators would catch onto their whereabouts.  There’s even more, while distasteful sounding to you and me.  Fawns otherwise have almost no scent, and they…how do I say delicately “hold it” while mother is away no smell might alert predators to their presence.  When the mother returns, they feely eliminate waste…and then their mother consumes it, to maintain their secrecy.  Now that’s committed parenting.  The instinct and ability for survival is brilliantly creative and resourceful, the culmination of eons of evolution by one language system, the indelible imprint of God by another, and there it was outside our window.

          There are so many examples of nature holding remarkable knowledge:  the relationship between cricket chirps and the temperature, crows working together in teams, symbiotic relationships between species, and animals using tools.  Our family went on a ranger led walk at Bear Valley, the visitors’ center to Pt. Reyes, and while learning about the flora and fauna of the area we were told how certain animals have been known to consume the bark of a particular tree to alleviate pain.  The derivative of that bark is what we call aspirin. 

          People who grasp the wisdom of the created world can partner with it for their own good.  One of the more well-known examples is “three sisters planting.”  As opposed to the monocultures that dominate factory farms, which rely on often harmful chemicals, three sisters planting involves growing corn, beans, and squash together in a way that is mutually supportive.  The corn gives beans a place to attach itself and grown.  The beans pull nitrogen from the air and put it in the soil, and coil in such a way as to keep the three plants close together.  The large squash leaves, in turn, provide shade, keeping the soil cool and therefore moist, prevent weeds, and with their prickly surface keep away animals such as racoons who might otherwise eat them. 

          “The heavens are telling the glory of God,” says the Psalmist, but it’s not just about stargazing, “and the firmament proclaims God’s handiwork.”  The created world is trying to teach us about God.  “[D]ay to day” it “pours forth speech” (Ps. 19:1).  When we cut ourselves off from creation, from nature, we are cutting ourselves off from divine wisdom and even God God’s self.  The church got it wrong when it decided it was to be the exclusive arbiter of divine speech, caretakers yes, sole proprietors certainly not.  When you try to possess something, you show you’ve not gotten it. 

          Rather than recognizing the sacred origin and sacred wisdom inherited in nature, we have been indoctrinated into a mythology that reduces everything, and one might argue everyone, into a commodity, things you can get and things you can sell.  The market is the organizing force of our society, that around which all things orbit, the object of our worship you could even say.  There is no nature; there are natural resources, which are to be used.  There is “the environment,” cold, objective, rather than as St. Francis spoke about, “Mother Earth,” “Sister Water,” “Brothers Wind and Air” in addition to “Brother Sun,” “Sister Moon.”  Part of the modern attraction to indigenous peoples and traditions is the notion that they do not commodify the world, and yet the best manifestations of our tradition do not either.  In fact, look at the spiritual parents of our tradition, Judaism, our indigenous ancestors.  Their festivals are intimately tied to the cycles of the earth and cosmos. 

          The irony is that in commodifying all things, we have refused to pay full price, instead each generation passes it down to the next, and now we are standing in a moment in history when the bill is coming due.  This doesn’t even account for the cost of this consumptive way of living to other beings and to the human soul. 

          Both Psalms and Proverbs give voice to a divine frustration with people who choose not to listen.  The Psalmist writes that God’s voice, pouring forth all around us, “is not heard” (19:3).  Proverbs, likewise, describes Lady Wisdom as “crying out in the street” yet says that people not only scoff in response, but “delight in their scoffing” (Prov. 1:22).  “Fools hate knowledge” says Proverbs (1:22), presumably because it exposes who they are and the choices they have made.  I suspect this is why Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, a powerful Christian voice for justice in North Carolina, prayed this week for the vulnerable in the path of Florence and at the same time for leaders who continue to deny climate science.  The obvious critique is politicizing tragedy, but as someone asked helpfully this week, is it politicizing to talk about it, or is it politicizing it to refuse to talk about it, to eschew knowledge when it could have saved life, land, and property not even to mention money? 

           Then, Proverbs offers a warning that on the surface is astonishing, not likely what you and I have been taught to expect.

 24Because I have called and you refused,

have stretched out my hand and no one heeded,

25and because you have ignored all my counsel

and would have none of my reproof,

26I also will laugh at your calamity;

I will mock when panic strikes you,

27when panic strikes you like a storm,

and your calamity comes like a whirlwind,

when distress and anguish come upon you.

28Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer;

they will seek me diligently, but will not find me (Prov. 1:24-28).

           When the storm comes, don’t come running to me.  Wait, is this saying God will not answer our prayers!?  God is going to mock our panic?!  Slow down.  Always slow down.  That’s not what the text says.  The text is speaking of wisdom, or rather Wisdom is speaking.  This is not a threat.  It’s stating a natural conclusion.  When wisdom is placed alongside foolish behavior, the contrast is so stark that it appears as mockery. 

          What does Wisdom say to us?  The same thing every prophet has ever said to us, in fact every great teacher from every religious and spiritual tradition has ever said to us, and it can be summarized in two words.  Two words.  I’ll give you a hint.  It’s not, “Love God.”  It’s not “Love neighbor” or “Love self,” though all those things are important.  It’s more fundamental than that.  The two words at the heart of it all are, “Wake up.”  Wake up.  Wake up to what is going on.  That’s the invitation of wisdom in every time and place.  Wake up your senses, so you see and hear what’s going on, even taste.  Did you hear what the beauty pageant contestant from Michigan said the other day when she introduced herself?  She said she was “from the state with 84% of the United States’ fresh water, but none for its residents to drink.”  She let her taste buds, along with eyes and ears to tell her about the injustice still occurring in Flint, where the people still do not have safe water.  Allow your senses wake you up to what is going on.  The other choice is to insulate yourself more and more from what’s happening, and some can afford to do that more than others, but it eventually catches up to us all.  If you want the most concise description of Jesus Christ it is of someone who is totally awake, totally able to sense what is going on in every moment and completely tapped into the source of life and healing.

          Wake up.  “God is perfectly hidden and perfectly revealed in every moment,” says Franciscan Richard Rohr, “It’s all a matter of learning how to see.”[1]  Once you see clearly, what to do becomes readily apparent, and therein lies the good news.  Last weekend, my family took the ferry into the city, and it just so happened our arrival coincided with the departure of the Ocean Cleanup vessel.  I have been reading about this project for years, an attempt to set up booms in the middle of the Pacific Ocean gyre where an area three times the size of France is covered in plastic.  Whereas simply sending boats to skim the surface would take something absurd like 70,000 years to remove all the debris, this project, which hopes to deploy 60 of these booms it calls “arrays,” if successful, purports to be able to get most of it in 5 years, removing it and recycling it.  In a moment of wakefulness, the designer dreamt this when he was a teenager and he has brought it into being though he is still only 24.  How could someone so young have such wisdom?  Because it’s all around.  He looked.  He listened.  He recognized, and he took action.

          That boat launch was part of the events leading up to the Global Climate Summit of this past week.  As part of it, I attended an interfaith worship service at Grace Cathedral on Wednesday.  Members from many traditions around the world were there.  Though long, the service was really quite simple.  It began with indigenous people calling on the four directions and welcoming us to their land—welcoming us in Grace Cathedral.  Then the Episcopal hosts with staff in hand, called a verge, escorted each faith delegation in—Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, Jains…and then came the trees, green costumed figures on stilts ushering all the religions around, and why not?  The trees don’t care about our religious divisions or other human disputes, and they need protection from us all if they are going to be able to give us air.  Then each group over the course of the next hours made pledges for how they would live more sustainably as institutions and as people.

There it was, not outside the window, not on the other side of even the finest stained-glass windows, but finally inside coming together not different traditions blurring into one, but out of difference offering mutual blessing and seeking wisdom together. The instinct and ability for survival is brilliantly creative and resourceful and in that we may find hope.  Amen.    

[1] Richard Rohr in The Sermon on the Mount. Audiobook.