Invasive Species" by Susan Zencka

FRAME MEMORIAL PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH

September 3, 2006 Season of Creation – Planet Earth Sunday 9:30 a.m.

ANNOUNCEMENTS

GATHERING AROUND THE WORD

PRELUDE Passacalia in G minor GORDON YOUNG

INTROIT

*CALL TO WORSHIP

In the name of God, who creates planets,

the name of Christ, born on planet Earth,

and the name of the Spirit, who envelopes our planet. Amen.

Holy! Holy! Holy! Earth is filled with God’s presence.

Christ, we gather in your name to worship in this sanctuary called Earth,

a planet filled with your presence, quivering in the forests, vibrating in the land, pulsating in the wilderness, shimmering in the rivers.

God, reveal yourself to us in this place and show us your face in all creation.

Holy! Holy! Holy! Earth is filled with your presence.

*HYMN Earth and All Stars #458

*PRAYER OF CONFESSION

We remember and confess that we have become alienated from Earth and viewed this planet as disposable, a source of endless resources, a mere stopping place on our way to heaven. We are sorry. We have turned our greed into global warming. We are part of society that loves progress more than the planet. We ask your forgiveness.

God, our Creator, as we reflect on the mystery of our fragile planet, we celebrate the wonders of Earth as our home. Help us to discern how we have polluted our planet and to empathize with the groaning of creation beneath us. Teach us to love Earth as our home. In the name of Christ, the Word of God, who is the creative impulse in all creation. Amen.

 

*WORDS OF ASSURANCE

*RESPONSE (Hymn No. 455, verse 1)

All Creatures of our God and King, Lift up your voice and with us sing, Alleluia! Alleluia! Thou burning sun with golden beam, thou silver moon with softer gleam, Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

*THE PEACE

The peace of Christ be with you all. And also with you.

(You may share Christ’s peace by saying “Peace be with you,” and/or with a handshake or hug.)

MOMENT WITH CHILDREN AND THE YOUNG AT HEART

PROCLAIMING THE WORD

PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION

HEBREW SCRIPTURE LESSON Genesis 1:1-25 (p.1)

The Word of the Lord.

Thanks be to God.

ANTHEM The Kingdom ANDRÉ THOMAS

(Words from Romans 14:17and from an address of Chief Seattle)

Righteousness, peace, joy in the Holy Ghost, that’s the Kingdom of God. Don’t you want to be part of the Kingdom? Some one ev’rybody! Oh yes, there’s joy in the Kingdom! The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof. We are part of the earth, and it is part of us. The perfumed flowers are our sisters; the deer, the horse, the great eagle, these are our brothers. All things are connected. Rivers our brothers, Earth our mother, The earth is the Lord's. Righteousness, peace, joy in the Holy Ghost. That’s the Kingdom of God!

LESSON FROM THE GOSPEL John 1:1-14

The Word of the Lord.

Thanks be to God.

 

SERMON Invasive Species? Rev. Zencka (See below)

RESPONDING TO GOD’S WORD

AFFIRMATION OF FAITH

We believe that God creates all things, renews all things, and celebrates all things. We believe Earth is a sanctuary, a sacred planet filled with God’s presence, a home for us to share with our kin.

We believe that God became flesh and blood, became a part of Earth, a human being called Jesus Christ, who lived and breathed and spoke among us, suffered and died on a cross, for all human beings and for all creation. We believe that the risen Jesus is the Christ at the core of creation reconciling all things to God, renewing all creation, and filling the cosmos.

We believe the Spirit renews life in creation, groans in empathy with a suffering creation, and waits with us for the rebirth of creation.

We believe that with Christ we will rise and with Christ we will celebrate a new creation.

*HYMN Bless the Lord, My Soul and Being #224

OFFERING OF OUR GIFTS AND OUR LIVES

OFFERTORY Pastorelle O. SHELDRUP OBERG

RESPONSE (Hymn #455, verse 6)

All creatures, your Creator bless, and worship God in humbleness. O sing ye! Alleluia! Praise ye Creator, praise the Son, and praise the Spirit, Three in One! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

SHARING OF CELEBRATIONS AND CONCERNS

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE AND PRAYER TO THE CREATOR

Our Creator and Parent, who is as far as the stars and as near as our breath, You are holy. Let all creation worship you and live in harmony with you and each other. Give us today what we need; and forgive us for withdrawing from mutuality with You, as we forgive those who have withdrawn from mutuality with us; let us find our happiness in You. For all that matters is in You, and through You, and of You and for You, forever. Amen.

BEARING THE WORD INTO THE WORLD

*HYMN God, You Spin the Whirling Planets #285

*BENEDICTION

*SUNG RESPONSE Song of Earth

Hail the Earth that first appeared. Alleluia! When a word from God was heard. Alleluia! Let the Earth arise and be. Alleluia! Filled with living mystery. Alleluia!

Hail the planet blue and green. Alleluia! Where the face of God is seen. Alleluia! Glory filling all the Earth. Alleluia! Celebrating every birth. Alleluia! Words: © Norman Habel 1999

POSTLUDE

*Please stand, as able

OUR LITURGY THIS MORNING comes from Dr. Norman Habel, who originated the concept of the Season of Creation.

 

SERMON:  INVASIVE SPECIES? (September 3, 2006)

By Rev. Susan Gilbert Zencka, Frame Memorial Presbyterian Church

 

Genesis 1:1-25;

John 1:1-14

It’s easy to be confused in these fast-moving times. And even easier during an actual chase, as Police Chief Pat Miller of Ventura, CA learned last week. It seems that Chief Miller was on his way to a meeting, in plain clothes as chiefs often are, and came upon a police chase. He joined in, and helped corner the suspect in a garage. Officers then arrived on the scene, released a police dog, who mistook the chief for the suspect, and bit him. Everything got sorted out properly, and the right man was arrested. However, this story shows us two things: first, despite common journalistic wisdom, sometimes “Dog Bites Man” is still a good story, and second, nature sometimes has a hard time sorting out the good guys from the bad guys.

As far as the environment is concerned, unfortunately, Christians have a strong history of being the bad guys. Max Weber argued in a book written at the beginning of the 20th century (The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism) that it was Protestant ethics and ideals which had driven the spirit of capitalism, which he defines as the ideas and habits that favor the rational pursuit of economic gain. Until Protestant Christianity blessed capitalism, the accumulation of wealth was understood to be a faintly bad thing. And until Luther, the idea of vocation was generally limited to thinking about church-related work. That is, secular work was not understood to be a way of serving God. But as the concept of “the priesthood of all believers” took hold, secular work became the vocation of some of that priesthood. Weber’s work is considerably more nuanced than any summary of it I could provide this morning, but all-in-all, his thesis seems reasonable to me.

Additionally, it was largely Christians who drove the Industrial Revolution, which not only greatly magnified the impact that humans could have upon the earth, but also institutionalized a division between work life and family life, a division in which the devotional dimensions of faith became privatized, even as work became somehow sanctified. Small wonder that we end up at this time in history as a people who as one wise person said, “Worship our work, work at our play, and play at religion….” We function as if life can be separated into neat little compartments.

Returning to the issue of Earth, and the relationship of Christians to it: in our era, some fundamentalists have had a belief that the Second Coming of Jesus and subsequent end of the world was imminent and so there was no need to take care of the earth. Yet, last winter, even the National Association of Evangelicals issued a statement calling for efforts to halt global warming. And perhaps most amazing, one month ago, conservative Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson said that this summer’s heat wave has finally convinced him of the reality of global warming, and he called upon his listeners to address the burning of fossil fuels. If Pat Robertson has called for a halt to global warming, ironically, then another result of this summer’s heat wave may be that hell has frozen over. These are, indeed, confusing times.

Many of us have the sense, given what humans have done over the last century-plus, that we are really an invasive species – subtracting more than we add to the world. And yet, apparently, God in God’s wisdom, not only created light and dark and waters and sky and trees, and fish and birds and animals, all of which is indeed very good, but God’s love and creative energy kept bubbling over until finally God had created us. Interesting that our reading stops before we are here…and it all does sound good, but God couldn’t be finished until God created us.

As I try to grapple with the relationship of humans to the earth, it is clearly too much to address satisfactorily in a single sermon. And, of course, we will be spending six weeks now in a season of creation, looking at Scripture through the lens of Earth. The assumption here is that creation, God’s creative activity in the cosmos, in not merely incidental to our faith, or even just an important attribute of or explanation for nature. The assumption is that God’s participation in the world is an ongoing, integral aspect of who we are, how the universe is, and how we are in the universe. So understanding God’s work in the world is an essential underpinning to understanding our own work in the world.

I have to admit, as I begin this sermon, and indeed, this sermon series, that I don’t have a single big idea driving it—one point that needs to be made. Some sermons are like that. This one isn’t, and I don’t have any promises about the next five. I’m in uncharted territory—and so I want to just share some observations today, that occur to me as I begin to think theologically from a creation perspective.

First, talking about creation these days might be misunderstood as making a pitch for some simplistic faith-based approach to teaching science in schools. When I talk about creation, what I am intending to convey is the understanding that God is the author of all life, the source and ground of all being, no more and no less. I do not understand the opening chapters of Genesis to be a definitive guide to the science of the origin of the universe. I do understand it to be an unequivocal statement about the theology of origins. Life begins with God. World begins with God. God creates all of life, and the world as we know and don’t know it. But Genesis is not science, or history, and tells us nothing about the timing or process of the development of the universe. I tend to like the answer given by the fictitious character Matt Santos in the series The West Wing when he was asked whether he believed in intelligent design. He said, “I believe in God. And I like to think [God] is intelligent.” For us to reduce the intelligence of God, the complexity of God, the generosity of God, the energy of God, the love of God, the desire of God, the interrelationship of God, the power of God, the grace of God—need I go on?—to a simple seven-day test is profoundly belittling to both God and humans. So when I am talking about Creation, I am not talking about creationism.

Moving along—as I thought about creation and the relationship of humans to creation, I became aware of our own human tendency to think in dualistic terms. We love to divide things in twos: good/bad, black/white, male/female, light/darkness, reason/emotion, nature/culture, in/out, us/them. “If you aren’t with us, you’re against us…” is a classic dualistic formula. It’s simple, it’s neat, and the only problem with it is that life is rarely simple and neat. There isn’t just light and darkness—there’s dusk, dawn, moonlight, dimmer switches, and candlelight. There isn’t just black and white—shades of grey abound in our world. Most issues are complex. I came across a good, if small example of this three years ago on a mission trip to Kentucky. As we drove around the area, I came to understand that many families had small tobacco plots, and that this tobacco was an important cash crop that often made the difference in economic survival for these families. So out the window went my simplistic thinking about tobacco as bad, and the tobacco industry as evil. What is the answer for these families? I don’t know. It turns out to be complicated. Many issues are complicated.

So too, with our relationship to nature: the classic formula is humans against nature—but we are finally beginning to understand this according to the ancient wisdom: we are not separate from nature, we are connected to nature. It is part of us, we are part of it, or as the Sioux people say: mitakuye oyasin—we are all related. As we have begun to understand our world in this way, we have begun to understand that all of creation has intrinsic value. That is, each species is valuable from a creation perspective—not only the species that humans find useful or beautiful. It’s all good. And so we can’t separate justice from nature, or peace from nature, or religion from nature. It’s all good, and it’s all one. Essentially, we actually can’t separate humans from the rest of the world and to the degree that we have tried to do this, we have harmed both the earth and ourselves.

So if we are connected so integrally to Earth, what is the role of humans? We are having to learn this all over again, much as I find myself relearning theology. We used to think of the role of humans as stewardship, and I think that is still correct, but we have to relearn it. When we speak of stewardship, it is a reminder that everything belongs to God. We are stewards, managing it all as it were, for the benefit of the owner. So that from a stewardship model, it is our job to care for the earth with as much care as if it were our own, but remembering always that it is God’s.

But now, as we realize that we really are potentially interdependent with all species, whether we understand the relationship or not, we have to relearn our approach to Earth, and recognize that even if we only care about humans, we have to care for all of life, because the life we save might be our own….even if for the immediate future, it is the snail darter’s life. The fact is that we are only beginning to understand how little we had understood about the interrelationship of all beings. So we are drawn inevitably to an ethic of life, in which we need to care for all life. And we are learning that our role is not to rule over the earth but to serve the earth. It turns out that the dominion over the earth that we are created to exercise is the servant leadership embodied by Jesus, in whom God became part of the earth. Dominion looks more like domesticity than like domination, in that we care for the earth as we care for those in our household. This is not to be confused with domestication –we are not called to tame this wild earth, instead we are called to appreciate it, and recognize in it the wildness of God. We haven’t traditionally viewed God as wild, but I’m learning that it’s an apt description, carrying within it a certain power, beauty, and freedom. And it is God at God’s most free who decides again and again to love us.

Finally, this new way of thinking is not, in fact, new at all. Creation theology turns out to be very ancient thinking. And we find it recurring again and again in certain wise peoples and individuals. And so we learn that our problem with creation is not, actually, primarily a problem of technology and production, although these new capacities have exacerbated the problem to the point of real crisis; the heart of the problem is the problem of our hearts. In traditional Hebrew understanding, the heart was not merely the home of feelings, but was actually the origin of actions. That is, the heart was where all our motivation lived—motivation which included feelings, desires, hopes, thoughts, ethics, and so on, which taken together would result in action. So what is in the heart is shown by our actions.

And, interestingly, writings dating back to the Hebrew Scriptures tell the same story again and again—we humans are taking advantage of the earth. Listen to the following three quotations, starting with a reading from the prophet Isaiah, who wrote this in about 700 BCE

The earth lies polluted under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse devours the earth, and its inhabitants suffer for their guilt; therefore the inhabitants of the earth dwindled, and few people are left. The wine dries up, the vine languishes, all the merry-hearted sigh…The city of chaos is broken down, every house is shut up so that no one can enter. There is an outcry in the streets for lack of wine; all joy has reached its eventide; the gladness of the earth is banished.

Imagine that! Isaiah is writing about the degradation and pollution about 2700 years ago. And the problem wasn’t belching smokestacks or fossil fuels. The problem was humanity’s relationship to Earth.

About one thousand years later, the Bishop Basil, later known as St. Basil, wrote the prayer on the cover of our bulletin, which also recognizes the way humans abuse the earth.

And finally, one hundred years ago this year a man was born who is thought by many to have been the greatest theologian of the twentieth century. Dietrich Bonhoeffer is known primarily for his resistance to Hitler, and his work within the Confessing Church Movement to articulate a theology of resistance, which was, actually, a theology that recognized the primacy of our commitment to God, a commitment to God that comes ahead of our national loyalties. And it turns out that Bonhoeffer not only had clarity about the problem of empire and its relationship to faith, but he also had a deep understanding of the connection between our relationship to Earth and our relationship to its creator. In a speech in Barcelona in 1928, Bonhoeffer said, “Earth remains our Mother as God remains our Father, and the Mother will not lay in the Father’s arms those who are not true to her. Earth and its distress: this is the Christian’s ‘Song of Songs.’”

The point is, these are not new problems. And the problem lies with us. Even those of us who are typically uncomfortable with language of sin and repentance can surely see that we need to find a new way. And that is what repentance is all about. Let us say together the prayer of St. Basil,

O God, enlarge within us the sense of fellowship with all living things, our brothers and sisters the animals to whom thou gavest the Earth as their home in common with us. We remember with shame that in the past we have exercised the high dominion of humans with ruthless cruelty so that the voice of the Earth, which should have gone up to thee in song, has been a groan of travail. May we realize that they live not for us alone but for themselves and for thee, and that they love the sweetness of life. Amen

 

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