Called In: World 1 | June 10

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Romans 8:18-25

“The heavens are telling the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims God’s handiwork.  Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge.  There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.”

This is how Psalm 19 begins, with a grand declaration of the ways that the natural world reveals God’s glory and God’s handiwork.  And this happens not just in secret messages here and there for those with the right knowledge or skills to be able to decipher them, but day to day and night to night creation uses “words” in a language all its own to reveal God.

Another common passage of scripture that is called upon when thinking about creation revealing God to humanity is Psalm 148 where all of creation is invited to praise God together.

“Praise God, sun and moon; praise God, all you shining stars!
Praise God, you highest heavens, and  you waters above the heavens!
Let them praise the name of the Lord, for God commanded and they were created.
God established them forever and ever; God fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.
Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps,
fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling God’s command.
Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!
Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!”

The psalmist paints a picture of all of creation, both living things and non-living alike effusively praising God the Creator, calling out our admiration and worship with words, with deep bellows, with rustling wings and cackling chirps, with booming thunder and blooming silences.  This psalm is called up to help us realize that while all Creation praises God in its many, myriad ways, we can learn of God by listening deeply and appreciating the grace we find beyond our human experience.

When I found out that our first week of digging into our summer theme was going to be the outdoor service, it seemed to fit perfectly into the framework of the theme.  For those of you who might need a reminder, in conjunction with Pastor Joel’s sabbatical theme, we will be focusing on the idea of being “Called In” as we think, pray, and discern the ways that the world around us is inviting us to respond to it.  We will do this by thinking in concentric circles that begin very broadly and move inward.  We begin this week and the next few weeks thinking about being called in by the world, and then we will move inward through focusing on our calling to our city, our congregation, and, finally, our self.

So when I realized that this first week focusing on being called in by the “world” was going to coincide with the outdoor service, it seemed appropriate to think of “world” in the broadest sense.  And so we ask ourselves this morning: How are we being called in by the natural world to enter relationships of justice and peace with all of God’s creation?

And scripture passages like Psalm 19 or Psalm 148 can be great reminders to listen to Creation and the ways it sings praises to God and the ways we can experience God through the overwhelming beauty of things like sunsets and mountain vistas and starry nights.  It is not uncommon that when you ask people about their experiences of God, the first things that come to mind are these moments of the grandeur of Creation as a revelation of the Divine.  Perhaps many of you can relate.

These revelations are good and holy and can surely call us in to deeper relationships of peace and justice with the world around us, and I’m not here to try to take those away from anyone.  But when I thought about being “called in” by Creation, I realized that it can be easy to feel this call when the heavens are telling the glory of God.  When all creation from the sea monsters to the cedar trees seems to be resounding with praise for the Creator, it is easy to add our voice to that mix.  Yet the grace we find in sunset and mountain vistas can too easily become a cheap grace that doesn’t ask anything more of us, that doesn’t call us any further in.

But in the passage from Paul’s letter to the Romans that was read earlier, we are reminded that it is not just in beauty that Creation calls out to us.  Rather, according to Paul, Creation shares in our suffering, crying out in longing for a day when all will be set free, a day when rivers will run clear, when mountains will no longer be leveled to sate our reliance on fossil fuels, when no species will be endangered but all will live in freedom.

“For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves…”

I think what Paul is trying to remind us here is that we worship a God who does not just show up when things are good and right and beautiful but a God who is revealed through the solidarity with the world’s suffering.

As much as Creation might be calling to us from the beauty of the sunset over the mountains, it also calls to us, albeit in a different way, from the devastation of rainforests, the smog, and the changing climates.  Are we willing to hear this call?  If we use the framework for understanding calling that Joel built during the last few weeks, are we willing to search ourselves enough to find the place where Creation’s deep hunger and our deep gladness meet and walk boldly into those spaces no matter how impossible or scary they seem?

Now it would be easy enough for me or anyone else to get up here and be prescriptive and give you a list of things we should be doing to heed this call from Creation.  And believe me, if you’ve ever seen the video of the plastic straw being pulled out of the sea turtle’s nostril, you probably also have a strong desire to convince everyone to think twice about the necessity of straws.

But I think this type of prescriptive list-giving can stray too closely to the culture of “calling out” rather than “calling in” by building shame in other people for all the things we should be doing if we just didn’t hate the earth so much.

But calling in requires more listening, more searching, more digging to the heart of the matter to find where our deep gladness meets the world’s deep hunger.

So instead of offering us all a list of things we should do, I want to offer us a challenge to think deeply about how the ecological crises facing us today cannot be changed by lists alone but require a radical change in attitudes and paradigms in order to call us in toward a future ever more liberated from bondage to decay.  

Theologian Daniel Migliore asserts that the ecological crisis we face today is not just a physical or technical crisis but is deeply related to a theological and spiritual crisis.  In order to listen deeply and allow ourselves to be called in by Creation, we must first reexamine some deep-seated beliefs and attitudes toward Creation, and Migliore suggests five theological beliefs that must be reexamined and challenged.

First, is our tendency toward anthropocentrism, the belief that humanity is the epitome and center of all that is, all that has been, and all that will be.  It is the belief that Creation is meant to serve us.  Instead of allowing God to be the center of Creation, we too often place ourselves there, treating the rest of the created order as stage props for us to do whatever we want with as if they have no value outside of their relation to us.

Next week when we are back in the sanctuary, I invite you to spend some time meditating on the beautiful banner that Ginny Nussbaum has created to visualize our theme of being called in to the world.  I haven’t had a chance to ask Ginny about this yet, but my hunch is that there is a good reason why the central image of the banner is slightly off-center.  This is my own interpretation, but when I first looked at the visual representation of the off-center earth, I found myself feeling de-centered, wanting to look more deeply at the whole banner to see what I might be missing.

We need more of this decentering in our lives, pulling us out of center stage to allow ourselves to listen to what the rest of Creation has to say.

The second paradigm shift that Migliore suggests needs examining is the idea that power equals domination.  While this surely has ramifications beyond our relationship to Creation, we must be critical about the way we yield our enormous power over the natural world.  Scientific and technological advances have allowed us to do amazing things, but too often the goal is more about the subjection and domination of nature rather than a collaboration that advances flourishing for all.  In Genesis, humanity’s creation “in the image of God” is directly tied to our responsibility to exercise dominion over Creation, and our abuses in the enactment of this dominion perhaps say as much about our view of God as it does about us.

The power of God is always exercised in love, and until we challenge our notion of power as unchecked domination, we will continue to decimate not just our relationship with Creation but all our relationships.

Third, Migliore points out that we have a tendency to deny the interconnectedness of all life.  Related to our anthropocentrism, we often fail to see ourselves as part of an ecological system.  Instead, we treat life as a zero-sum game where the non-human world only has value insomuch as it can be used for human progress.

But in this delicate web of life, we must learn to recognize the intrinsic value within the non-human world and see the flourishing of one as intimately tied to the flourishing of all.

Fourth, is humanity’s assumption of limitless resources.  Even where we are beginning to see the error in this way of thinking, Migliore suggests that we have an ingrained sense of trust that science and technology will be able to overcome the loss of any resource, and thus we continue as if we don’t really believe we can inflict any damage that will have lasting effects.  Not only does this show disdain for future generations, we are already beginning to understand how the ecological crisis tends to most adversely affect the poor and others around the world who have never had equal access to the world’s resources.

Lastly, Migliore names unchecked consumerism as one the ways we must deal with our spiritual crisis in order to change our ecological crisis.  One doesn’t have to look too far to see the symptoms of this reality at play in the world around us.  The question, “How much is enough?” is one that can never be fully and finally answered, but it is one that we must never stop asking ourselves and each other.  We worship a God of abundance, but we must constantly be working out together what it means to live abundantly.

In the end, I did offer you a list, but it is not a neat list with boxes we can check to say we’ve mastered our call to care for Creation.  Instead, I hope to have offered you a list of things to continue to ponder as you consider how you are being called into the world.  But truly, all of the ways we are being called in, whether it’s to the world, to the city, to the congregation or to ourselves, all of these are about being called to tend to relationships.  And relationships take time and care and require a back and forth dance that can’t ever be summed up by a to-do list.

And so, my wish for us, my friends, is:
– That we would find the time and space we need to listen deeply to the language of Creation that surrounds us, even when the groans of its labor seems unbearable.
– That we would know a God who stands in solidarity not just with our suffering but with the suffering of all Creation.
– And finally, that whatever kind of relationships we are being called in to, that we would know God’s grace and hope not just on the sun-kissed mountaintops but in the smog-filled valleys as well.