“…and God saw that it was good.”
What a beautiful, daily affirmation that even God sees goodness of this planet, perhaps even detecting a note of pride in it . Throughout the first creation narrative in Genesis, is this refrain, confirming the common goodness of all the earth and seas and sky, an interconnection through the Divine life force that dwells in all of it. In this context, how can we fail to treat the natural world with love and respect, and how can we not be heartbroken when it is harmed?
One’s take on these first chapters of Genesis is, in some quarters, a battleground of Biblical literalism well avoided. But rather than getting caught up in that negative energy, I’m going to quote Fr. Richard Rohr, who perceives a new convergence of religion and science. He writes, “Fortunately, like never before in history, this generation has at its disposal new and wonderful evidence from science, confirming the presence and power of what many of us would call God or A Very Insistent and Persistent Love at the heart of all creation….After centuries of dualistic dismissal, religion is finally ready to befriend the wisdom of science. And science is regaining the humility to recognize that the intuitions and metaphors of religion are not entirely naïve. They are both in their own way trying to honestly name our human experience, and they are actually quite attuned to each other.”
From that space of convergence, then, let us return to this wonderful presentation of the origins of all that is, allowing the story to speak its truth without insisting on the details being factual. In so doing, in this spring season of 2020, some interesting learnings emerge.
Three weeks ago, the annual Festival of Homiletics was held – not in Atlanta, its intended host, but from the offices and sanctuaries and back yards of the presenters, at home due to pandemic protocols. The theme, chosen a year ago, was “Preaching a New Earth: Climate and Creation.” Pastor Raquel Lettsome of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Warwick, NY, chose to engage the 1st chapter of Genesis for her sermon/presentation, entitling it, “We Must Rest,” wonderfully weaving together the pastoral needs of a world dealing with COVID-19, the survival needs of the planet, and the presence of a loving God who is deeply invested in life.
She begins by revealing a pattern woven in to the Genesis narrative: God creates a space, and then God fills a space. God takes chaos and reshapes that turmoil into spaciousness; and once that process is complete, God populates and blesses the space with something new.
This creating a space then filling a space goes like so: in day 1 God creates day and night, and in day 4 gives the sun, moon and stars to populate day and night. In day 2 God separates the sea and sky, and in day 5 populates them with fish and birds. In day 3 God forms the earth, and in day 6 populates it with animals, including us humans. And while this is cool from a structural standpoint, think of what this says about the way God walks with us through life: chaos identified, spaciousness created, new life introduced. God makes room, and into that roominess creates something new, and energetic, and filled with potential. God engages the chaos that overwhelms me and, at times, all of us, and from that chaos makes room for life.
After those six creative days – or eons or periods of glacial activity or evolutionary change, however you view these metaphoric “days” – was a time of rest. Or as Raquel dramatically puts it, “after God’s meticulous and methodical creative work was complete, after chaos was ordered, God consecrated the seventh day for rest.” Now, this is not to say that the only time we get to rest is at the end of things, because the same God who established the gift of Sabbath rest is present to all manner of turbulent times. As she says, “God promotes rest that nurtures, peace amidst the storm, calms in the midst of confusion, an attitude of worship while we are working and when we are temped to just stress out.”
And again we wonder, what does that mean for us right now? In our present situation, many of us have one foot out the door, one foot still inside, wondering if it’s really safe to step over the threshold… our hearts are eager to hug and laugh and sing and break bread together but our heads call us back to caution… and, quite separate from COVID, we recognize that in those weeks when global commuting, highway driving, and airplane travel dropped by at least half, the earth finally had a chance to breathe. Murky waters are clearer, smoggy skies are cleaner, animals are ranging far more freely. The chaos that tracks around behind us human beings, especially industrialized ones, has started to clear out, and the new spaciousness has been repopulated with the early indications of health Please, friends, let us learn from this!
There is one more point by Pastor Raquel to share this morning. In the rhythm of creation, the account of each day closes with the words, “and there was evening, and there was morning.” Not morning, then daytime, then evening in the way we humans shape our lives; no, the other way around. And the reason for this alternate shaping, she proposes, is that much of God’s work is done when we are resting. Once we put down our tools, once we turn off the laptop and the iPad and the smartphone, once we cease the persistent worry about re-opening regulations that change by the minute, God takes care of things. God loves the earth back to fullness…God heals us, restores us, refreshes us… God tidies the chaos, re-sets our bearings, makes room for life renewed. As poet and Unitarian Universalist Pastor Lynn Ungar mused at the beginning of the pandemic, “What if you thought of it as the Jews consider the Sabbath—the most sacred of times? Cease from travel. Cease from buying and selling. Give up, just for now, on trying to make the world different than it is…Center down.” To re-ask Lynn Ungar’s question, what if the “new normal” were to have less of that frantic activity, more contemplation, more thoughtful interaction?
On this day, considering this ancient story in which each day and each aspect of creation is declared to be “good,” we celebrate this place where we live. Looking out our windows, stepping out our doors, we experience the glories of creation and it is not difficult for us to imagine that we are enjoying the handiwork of a loving God. Many of us have chosen to live here, intending to balance our gas-vehicle use with time spent on hiking boots and cross-country skis and mountain bikes. And the amount of involvement by local folks on behalf of the needs of wildlife, articulates a respect for “all my relations” – the earth and waters and sky and all our siblings-in-God who live there. Yet even here there are learnings, as we review what we missed in being isolated from our old routines, what we gained by resting, as we consider what really matters. Now is a time of de-cluttering our lives so that God can replace our unhealthy ways with new ways of new life, adding in only those projects and practices that forward God’s agenda of justice for all people, and a thoughtfulness toward creation that re-integrates our lives into the amazing, universal, loving life-force of God.
The final word, this morning, goes to Pastor Raquel: “We can rest, and we must rest, ‘cause creation needs a break too…. Perhaps it’s time for us to rest from the fretting and the worrying and the stressing about all we feel we cannot do and all that we feel that we need to do… Let us rest our minds and our spirits and our bodies, for the greatest stewardship we can offer creation, right now, is to rest.” May we be able to do so, Amen.
Lettsome, Raquel S. Recorded sermon, “We Must Rest” cf. https://www.festivalofhomiletics.com/speakers/raquel-s-lettsome-2/
Rohr, Richard. “A Very Insistent Love” – posted Nov 3, 2019. https://cac.org/a-very-insistent-love-2019-11-03/#gsc.tab=0
Ungar, Lynn. “Pandemic” – accessed at https://stevenpressfield.com/2020/03/pandemic-a-poem-by-lynn-ungar/
© 2020 Rev Greg Wooley, Ralph Connor Memorial United Church