Pregnancy an Birth: Creation and Incarnation (Christmas Eve: Luke 2:1-20)

Luke’s gospel chapter 1 is about pregnancies: 1) the pregnancy of Elizabeth in her old age, who carries in her womb the future John the Baptist. 2) the pregnancy of young 13 old Miriam, who carries Jesus in her womb.
I would like to share some reflections this evening: My first is that pregnancy results in birth and life. All women reflect a deep mystery of Creation in pregnancy. I am actually speaking about gestation in the womb and do recognize that it usually takes a male and female to bring about pregnancy. Now I am speaking as a male, and I think a mother who could describe pregnancy better than myself from first-hand experience.

For me, creation is a stunningly amazing act of God’s generativity that is directed towards life. Years ago, I read a German theologian who wrote about creation. He imagines before the Big Bang, all space in the universe and beyond was God’s space; it was filled by God alone. Just before the Big Bang, God withdrew from God’s space to make room for creation. God creates by letting be, by making room, and by withdrawing God’s self to allow the infinite space of matter expanding into galaxies and beyond. This has been traditionally interpreted as God creating the universe from nothing. But this is more richly understood as maternal gestation in preparation of the birth of the universe. Like pregnancy, God’s womb is an act of hospitality, a welcoming into being. Several feminist theologians have strongly suggested this is analogous to pregnancy:

And it is clearly the parent as mother that is the stronger candidate for an understanding of creation as bodied forth from divine being, for it is imagery of gestation, giving birth, and lactation that creates an imaginative picture of creation as profoundly dependent on and cared for by divine life. There simply no other imagery available to us that has power for expressing the interdependence and interrelatedness of all life with is ground. All of us, female and male, have the womb as our first home, all of us born from the bodies of our mothers, all of us are fed by our mothers. (McFague)

All life-giving activities result in birthing. Women during their gestation period reflect God’s creative process of making room in God’s self for the birth of creation. This metaphor portrays how we live in the womb of God’s universe that has given life to us and an infinite multitude of life. As we born into the universe, perhaps the Holy Spirit might be understood as the umbilical cord that continues to link us to our divine parent. This means creation is till in the womb becoming what God intended.

Let me shift to Mary’s pregnancy. Mary becomes pregnant without Joseph as father. Being pregnant without a finalized marriage left Mary and Joseph in a socially awkward and religious predicament. The gospel of Matthew pictures the dilemma that imposes upon Joseph a difficult decision whether to divorce the pregnant Mary, denounce her, or finalize the marriage until God came to him in a dream and revealed that this was God’s birthing a child. English author Nick Page writes, “The story of Jesus’ birth is not one of exclusion, but inclusion…Joseph’s relatives made a place for Jesus in their heart of their household. They did not shun Mary, even though her status would have been suspect and even shameful (carrying an illegitimate child) they brought her inside. They made room for Jesus in the heart of a peasant’s home.” Joseph and his family made room for pregnant and unwed Mary in their family. Making room or hospitality is really inclusion; it reflects the reality of God creating the universe and us. God is about radical inclusive love, making space within God’s self for creation and birthing life. This making room is manifested in Joseph’s inclusion of Mary and Jesus into his own family. Hospitality is a sort welcoming into the womb of the house and family, for it is what church is.

Mary travels with Joseph to Bethlehem. The physical ordeal of riding on a donkey during pregnancy for several days is hard for me as a male to physically comprehend, and I suspect that the ride to Bethlehem induces labor pains and the birth of Jesus. The couple cannot find any room in Bethlehem and search out shelter in a canvasserie (cave-like shelter for travelers) that house domestic animals outside of Bethlehem.

“Is there room in our inn (or church) for Jesus?” In this time of fear, undocumented folks in the US fear that there is no room for themselves in our country. They remain publicly unwelcomed. Many folks of good faith are asking themselves: “How can we — and our world, our state, our church — make room for the politically unwelcomed who are undocumented?” A 83 year old Jewish atheist whom I met at a wedding that I officiated here, asked me, “how can I make my house a sanctuary.” Another non-Christian friend has told me that he has a secret underground room with electricity and water and that he plans to hide undocumented folks threatened with deportation. These and others realize that hospitality, making room for those at risk and emotionally traumatized by the political election, has become too real in reflecting the story of the birth of Jesus and the later need to flee as refugees from Bethlehem as Herod seeks out to kill Jesus and his family.

Now Mary gives birth to Jesus and lays him in a manger, a feeding trough. The feeding trough is the least of all social places to lay a newly born infant. But the Christ child shares space with domesticated animals. We often take that as poetic convention that adds a warm familiarity or sentimentality to our Nativity crèches. The manger reminds that non-human animals are considered by humans as lower than the least human and just barely above slavery, a prominent institution of burden and oppression that kept the Roman Empire working. But I take the birth of God’s incarnate child in the canvasserie with non-human life and laid in a manger a evelation: it points out that we human animals share space with non-human animals from God’s perspective. Listing the creatures together, which occurs frequently in Hebrew scriptures, suggests the importance and the belovedness that God has for non-human animals. “God so loved the world that God sent God’s only begotten child….” (Jn. 3:16) The manger reminds that God is not born just for humanity, but for all non-human life and the Earth. God became flesh dependent on the eco-systems for nourishment and protection. Christ’s birth calls us to recommit to protect the Earth and all life: the trees and life in the rainforest, the whales, the oceans and the lands. These share earthliness as the new Adam, the divine earth-creature is born.

The marginal location of the birth of Jesus makes it accessible to the marginalized shepherds outside of the town of Bethlehem. Angels appear to the shepherds, announcing “Today in the city of David, is born a savior, who is Christ the Lord.” The shepherds are told to search for a sign—a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. This, of course, is an unusual sign for a Savior and Lord, born in a cave with non-human animals. And in Luke, shepherds, outsiders and despised Jews, came to venerate him in a feeding trough as Savior and God’s Child. They did not leave their flocks behind but brought them along. The shepherds too found inspiration and hope for then and the future, for an innocent child in a feeding trough illuminated by a star and the arrival of expectant shepherds who experience wonder. This child born in a cave is good news for marginalized and despised shepherds, but this good news for all who are poor and oppressed. And the shepherds returned praising God for what they had experienced.

One of the strong and clear messages from the Nativity of Jesus is that we Christians cannot truly love the infant Jesus without loving nature, other life, and the marginalized. But there are some important words that we often overlook: “Mary treasured these words and pondered them in her heart.” Treasuring the words of the shepherds and their coming to see the birth of her child and pondering this in her heart are important part of the Christmas story. We are called to treasure this story and ponder its meaning for ourselves.

Treasuring and pondering are the essential skills for meditatively comprehending God’s incarnation. Mary gives an example of how to become pregnant with the living Christ and birth Christ into the world. Christ becomes a part of our fleshly and metaphoric wombs, and that means men as well as women. By saying “yes” to God’s offer of grace and unconditional love to the Angel Gabriel, Mary becomes pregnant with the divine Word, the Christ. Through faith, Mary comes to ponder and keeping in heart the finding Jesus in the Temple, his ministry and death on the cross, and his resurrection. By paying attention to the gospel story tonight and other gospel stories, we carry mindfully the incarnation of God’s compassion in the world within ourselves.

We are called in this story to pay attention to God’s enfleshment as a newborn baby. The birth of any baby elicits an emotional response for care. This becomes ironic for us. We are called to care for the well-being and nourishment in the infant in the manger. Our invitation to use our instinctual desire to care for the well-being of the God become child. Heart and mind become mindfully focused on this child before us tonight, everything else in our lives becomes secondary to paying attention and caring for the Christ child. This same attention of heart and mind to the infant Christ becomes an invitation to pay as close attention to the poor and suffering in the world, human and non-human life and the Earth herself.

One author writes,

On Christmas Day, we are invited to the humble place where God is new and needing. We are to practice thinking and caring for what is not me, or even us, to rethink how we are in the world, how our doing affects the welfare of a world inhabited by God who at this moment needs for us to pay attention (like Mary) and out of that that attention to create the conditions of health and security at the manager (which is everything in the world). (Kristin Swenson)

My colleague and clergy friend, Tom Bohache, writes something complementary:
…incarnation is an acceptance that we bear Christ within us—the part of God that is instilled in us to bring forth from ourselves the offspring of Christ-ness: self-empowerment, creativity, awareness of creation, joy, love, peace and justice-making to name a few.

Tom Bohache acknowledges when we follow Mary’s example of treasuring the moment and keeping it ever mindful, the mystery of the Nativity lives on in us—we become pregnant with Christ and we too give birth to Christ.

…the Nativity is the realization that Christ will be born, no matter what the circumstances. No matter how hard it is, no matter how perilous the journey, no matter that folks might not receive us, once we agreed to give birth to Christ; most will go about their business and oppressing others. Some, like King Herod, …will seek to destroy what we have birthed; they will seek to take our Christ presence away from us.

God’s blending of the human and the divine in the birth of Christ is God’s greatest work, Christ is the blueprint of what is happening to us tonight. The reality is that during Advent the gestation of Christ within ourselves leads to Christ’s birth in us. The scandal of God’s birth in human flesh is that it is not once and for all; it is promiscuous. It happens hundreds of millions, if not billions of time, that God is born in us. We become Christ living in the world, manifesting God’s forgiveness, love, peace, compassion. We are infused with Christ, thus like Christ we become God’s eyes; God’s arms and legs, we become God’s compassionate incarnation. That is truly a radical mystery because God is willing to be ultimately inclusive by emptying God’s self in a network of humanity, all life, and creation alive. Creation and Christ’s incarnation continues to happen, and there is no stopping this flow of radical inclusive love. Love conquers not only death but all obstacles to life-giving and birthing the abundant, unconquerable compassion of God in creation, in the reality that we know. Merry Christmas, for you have birthed tonight as the Christ child. And we sing with the angels: “Glory to God in the highest heaven and on the lowest margins of the Earth…”

God is Green: An Eco-Spirituality of Incarnate Compassion

New Title From Robert E. Shore-Goss
God is Green
An Eco-Spirituality of Incarnate Compassion

At this time of climate crisis, here is a practical Christian ecospirituality. It emerges from the pastoral and theological experience of Reverend Robert Shore-Goss, who worked with his congregation by making the earth a member of the church, by greening worship, and by helping the church building and operations attain a carbon neutral footprint.

Shore-Goss explores an ecospirituality grounded in incarnational compassion. Practicing incarnational compassion means following the lived praxis of Jesus and the commission of the risen Christ as Gardener. Jesus becomes the “green face of God.” Restrictive Christian spiritualities that exclude the earth as an original blessing of God must expand. This expansion leads to the realization that the incarnation of Christ has deep roots in the earth and the fleshly or biological tissue of life.

This book aims to foster ecological conversation in churches and outlines the following practices for congregations: meditating on nature, inviting sermons on green topics, covenanting with the earth, and retrieving the natural elements of the sacraments. These practices help us recover ourselves as fleshly members of the earth and the network of life. If we fall in love with God’s creation, says Shore-Goss, we will fight against climate change.

Robert E. Shore-Goss has been Senior Pastor and Theologian of MCC United Church of Christ in the Valley (North Hollywood, California) since June 2004. He has made his church a green church with a carbon neutral footprint. The church received a Green Oscar from California Interfaith Power & Light. Shore-Goss’s website, which includes a publication list, can be found at www.mischievousspiritandtheology.com/.

Why did you write this book?
I wrote this book because I showed Al Gore’s documentary, Inconvenient Truth, at church. And we began a process of reflecting on our responsibilities to care for the Earth, and we made the earth a member of the church to indicate our pastoral responsibilities to care for the Earth and all life. We started a process of greening our lives and the church over a decade with reducing our energy usage, installing solar panels, retrofitting church toilets and urinals to save some 4,000 gallons of water per year in a drought in Southern California, and harvesting rain and condensation from our air conditioning, and creating an urban garden. We attained a carbon neutral footprint as a church after a decade of commitment to Earthcare.

When I watched ABC’s graphic novel, Earth 2100 (now on youtube), I was so dismayed by the future ravages of the Earth and the community of life. My grandniece was born, I had to do more for her and for my university students. They deserved to live in a world not trashed by humanity.

As I started writing the book, I was afflicted with a blood disorder. My blood production plummeted and hemoglobin was 6 with normal being 14. I received blood transfusions every two weeks to stay alive. After five months, I was placed on daily large oral dosages of chemo-therapy, I had suffered cognitive impairment and attempted to write the book, I wasn’t sure that I would live to finish the book without a bone marrow transplant, and there was only a 50% possibility of a match with my two sibling sisters. But after a year, the chemo-therapy worked and began to restore my blood production in the bone marrow, I finished the book. At one point, I approached a colleague about finishing the book if I died. The issue is the most serious crisis that humanity and the Earth faces.

What do you hope from this book?
I began speaking to churches, conferences, facilitated workshops, incorporated climate change and religion into courses taught at university, and groups on climate change and the need to respond. I found resistance and denial of climate change at all levels of society.

I want to change hearts of Christians and people who do not identify with a religion and millennials but consider themselves as spiritual. I want to harness the energy of religious folks, the disaffiliated but spiritual folks, in a greening movement that cares enough to encounter nature and discover the presence of the risen Christ and the Spirit. I found so many students who practiced some form of mindfulness in their encounters with nature, read conservationists who already paid attention to the natural world and fell in love with nature, and environmentalists who actively fought for various environmental issues and sought out meditation centers to deepen their connections to nature. I have practiced Christian and Buddhist meditation/contemplative practices and rituals to find God whether in the church garden, deserts, the redwood forest of Russian River, or in the dog park with my companion dog. I realized that if Christians were to commit to environmental justice, they first need to fall in love with nature if they were to change their lifestyles to co-live with Earth and the web of life. For five hundred years, Christianity had maintained there were two sources of revelation: The Bible and the Bible of Nature. (I also believe that revelation is found in the scriptures and traditions of the world religions).

I hope to assist in the eco-conversion of Christians. God is Green attempts to highlight sources and ritual media for attaining such a conversion on an individual and communal level.
Who are trying to reach?
There are estimates that there is between one to two million organizations globally committed to environmental care and fighting the ravages of climate change. I want to reach Christians and help them to green their communities. If they become spiritually connected to the incarnate Christ whose roots extend into the cosmological processes and the very tissue of biological life, they understand the Earth-centeredness of God’s incarnation.

I grew up as a religious activist during the Vietnam War. I was inspired the Jesuit priest and poet Dan Berrigan, the Christian war resisters and pacifists. We fought the immorality of the war and eventually forced the government to abandon the war. Now I want to harness the energies of progressive and conservative Christians to fight against climate change. We all can find a common cause because we all love our children, grandchildren, and our nieces and nephews. They will inherit a world full of climate change, the death of all life in the oceans, droughts, water and food shortages. Here watch this youtube I used for a sermon on the Earth. Watch Prince Ea’s video, “Dear Future Generations, Sorry.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eRLJscAlk1M

What are you asking Christians to do?
I am asking them to first connect with God’s Earth and all life in a non-anthropocentric fashion. Anthropocentrism is about the religious viewpoint that creation was for the purpose of humanity. Human beings are above all created things. All life is at the disposal of human beings, to serve as property and under their control. We are exceptional and above all things. This translates into exploitative and reckless attitudes of using the Earth as our warehouse for whatever are needs and no matter what harm is committed against other species. It is about our self-centeredness.

Eco-conversion is the realization that humanity is part of the community of the Earth. As St. Francis of Assisi understood, all life and the Earth are kin. He envisioned a democratic of biotic life. Science and the deepest religious insights understands that everything is interconnected to everything us. Individualism, setting us apart from nature, is an allusion. Eco-conversion is turning away from human self-centeredness to understanding ourselves as part of a network of life, and that everything is interrelated.

Once we let go of ego-centeredness and view ourselves an interdependent with the Earth and the web of life, we become a part of that interdependent network. It opens us a new relational understanding with the natural world and that God interrelated with the Earth and all life. Eco-conversion is viewing all life as God views life.

I am asking Christians to develop an “ecological literacy” as eco-theologian Sallie McFague invites us to live responsibly with the house rules of the Earth: “1) Take only your share; 2) Clean up after yourselves, 3) Keep the Earth in good repair for those who will use it later.”

Finally, many environmental activists and professors in Earth studies are despairing over the prognosis for the future this century. Maybe one of the gifts that we might share with them is hope.

How do you intend to work for Earthcare and environmental justice?
Matthew Fox in his book The Cosmic Christ, says, “…the killing of Mother Earth in our time is the number one ethical, spiritual, and human issue of our planet.” I accept this as I witness it in climate change and human greed and reckless exploitation of the Earth. All social justice issues are also interrelated to ecojustice.

I believe that we can build bridges between conservative and progressive Christians to fight for life and for the Earth. When I presented a workshop at the Parliament of World Religions (2016): “How Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Buddhists Can Speak Together about Climate Change?” The workshop was well received. At the end, I gave thanks to God and walked out of the room where Tibetan Buddhist monks were creating a sand mandala for the welfare of the Earth and all life. There were indigenous peoples as well as representatives and organizations of the world’s religions there. All compassionately caring for the Earth and committed to fight climate change.

In this book, I join my voice to the saints of the Earth: conservationists, environmental activists martyred in the Amazon, theologians, and people of all faith communities fighting to preserve this wonderful creation.

I intend to add my voice as a “green prophet,” coaxing, inviting, and pushing faith communities to consider Earthcare. I have designed an online course for “Greening Your Faith Community,” for training religious communities how to green themselves and their spiritualities. I have participated in interfaith panels, facilitated workshops, taught in the classroom university students, and lectured on climate change and a spirituality to deal with climate change.

Is it too late to stop climate change?
This is the most difficult question to answer. Climate change is taking place. From what scientists are saying, the rising of the Earth’s atmosphere by 4 degrees Celsus or more will result in a catastrophe for life on the planet. I expect that I will be dead before the worst consequences will happen. Yes, we have moved beyond the tipping point, but my hope is that if we create ecological communities of faith and organizations committed to fight for life, we can form a global network “an Alliance of Life” as E. O Wilson, Harvard Professor Emeritus in Biology, has called. He has issued a call for religion and science, two powerful forces on the planet, to join together to save life.

I believe that if we act now, we can lessen the temperature rise. So this book is one of many calls that the Spirit has issued across the planet.

Will you follow up this book?
Eco-theologian Mark Wallace describes Jesus as “the Green face of God.” I want to deepen the exploration of the ecology off Jesus that I began in God is Green. There are some untapped themes in Jesus’ theology and praxis of the Companionship of Empowerment and the notion of the risen Christ as Gardener for Christian eco-praxis of compassionate action in the world.

As we mindfully engage nature, we meet God. We intuit a connectedness with everything, and we no longer experience separateness as individuals, for at the heart of the universe, nothing exists in itself but exists interrelated to something else and through the infinite reaches of the universe. Prayer and contemplation allows us to enter the heart of the universe and experience the Spirit, the incarnated Christ and Creator interrelated within nature. This book attempts to spark “an environmental imaginary” of liberative eco-spirituality that re-contextualizes and re-envisions the sources of Christianity as interrelated with the Earth and the web of life. My ecological imaginary has re-shaped my spirituality by expanding my prayer to become an eco-contemplative in compassion for the Earth. I am part of the Earth and interelated community of life.

The greening of our Christian imaginations deepens our relationship with God, the risen Christ as Gardner, and provides the foundation of Christian ecological practice. There are many Christians and churches turning to Earthcare in the form of ecojustice movements and committed to Earthcare My hope is to awaken our Christian awareness of our injuring the Earth and our failure to hear God voice, saying “These are my beloved children.” The late Thomas Berry called for an “ecologically sensitive spirituality.” Berry devoted much of life’s work, writings, and mentoring scholars, Christians, and non-Christians to promote a “life-enhancing” spiritualities with “wonder-filled intimacy with the planet.” Brian Swimme writes,

The great mystery is that we are intersted in anything whatsover. Think of your friends, how you met them, how interresting they appeared to you. Why should anyone in the whole world interest us at all? Why don’t we experience everyone as utter, unendurable bores? Why isn’t the cosmos made that way? Why don’t we suffer intolerable burden with every person, forest, symphony, and sea-shore in exitence? The great surprise is that something or someone is interesting. Love begins there. Love begins when we discover interst. To be interested is to fall in love. To become fascinated is to step into a wild love affair on any level of life.

If we fall in love with God’s Earth, then we will fight to preserve what God loves and we love.

Endorsements:

“If I had to recommend a single recently published text as a must-read for a course on Christianity and ecology, especially climate change, it would be Robert Shore-Goss’s wide-ranging and clearly written God Is Green: An Eco-Spirituality of Incarnate Compassion. Not only does he include almost all important books from his preferred ‘kenotic theology,’ to rituals for embodiment and practice, but he also delivers a one-volume analysis and critique of the ‘field.’ We are all in his debt for a useful and passionate call for a theological ‘conversion’ with accompanying radical action to help save our planet.”
—Sallie McFague, Professor of Theology Emerita, Vanderbilt University Divinity School; Distinguished Theologian in Residence, the Vancouver School of Theology, British Columbia; author of Blessed Are the Consumers

“Robert Shore-Goss has written a beautiful meditative overview of greening in Christianity. [It is] not simply a fact-following-fact landscape but a weaving of the reader and author as participants in contemporary Christian ecological locations. Like a Compostela pilgrimage, the journey of reading here is challenging, communal, and playful all the way.”
—John Grim, Codirector, Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale

“The Reverend Dr. Shore-Goss has pulled together a much-needed and beautifully compiled message for Christians on ecological theology. God is Green will give the reader a true understanding of what the human role and relationship is with Earth. He points out Jesus’ call for protection and love for Creation. This is a direct and honest look at God’s intention for the human purpose supported by many theologians and including Francis of Assisi. He argues that we are the gardeners.”
—Sally G. Bingham, President, The Regeneration Project, Interfaith Power & Light

“An author known for his queer theology expands his horizons to find what spirituality can do to entice people of faith to free the Earth. God Is Green traces the roots of human contact with the sacred all the way to our mythological roots from the soil, and fashioned by God’s all-purposing hands, we embody the sacred’s commitment to a life connected with all living things. Ignoring this rootedness, this connectedness, is a dangerous game played by industrial cultures. Robert calls us all back to the Earth and our interrelatedness to all living things as essential to a healthy, whole, and full life.”
—John C. Dorhauer, General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ

“There is a way of pushing the needed panic button with mere panic, and there is a way of pushing it with wisdom, scholarship, and compassion. We are blessed to have an excellent example of the latter here! Robert Shore-Goss is not preaching to the choir here but to anyone with a head, concern for the future, and even a bit of soul!”
—Richard Rohr, Center for Action and Contemplation, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Sky Sunday: Season of Creation (Mt.16:2-3

This sermon is by Rev. Joe Shore-Goss, my husband.

This is the air I breathe

Welcome, Sulfur Dioxide

This is the air I breathe

Hello, Carbon Monoxide

Your Holy presence

The air, the air

Living in me is everywhere.

This is my daily bread

Breathe Deep

This is my daily Bread

While I sleep

Your very word

Breathe deep

Is spoken to me.

And I am desperate for you,

And I am lost without you.

This is the air I breathe

Bless you, alcohol blood stream

This is the air I breathe

Save me nicotine lung steam

Your Holy Presence

Incense, Incense

Living in me, is in the air

 

This is my daily bread

Breathe Deep

This is my daily Bread

While I sleep

Your very word

Breathe deep

Is spoken to me.

And I’m cataclysmic ectoplasm

And I’m fallout atomic orgasm

Desperate for you

And I’m vapor and fume

I’m lost at the stone of my tomb without you

 

And I breathing like a sullen perfume

Desperate for you

Eating at the stone of my tomb

I’m lost without you,

Looking rather attractive

I’m lost without you,

Now that I’m radio active

I’m desperate for you,

Just watch me spark

Cry out to live

I glow in the dark

I am desperate for you

Breathe deep

I’m lost

While I sleep

I’m Lost

Breathe deep

I’m lost without you
h up of this is the air I breathe by Michael W. Smith and Air from Hair by James Rado, Gerome Ragni. It is actually the first thing I thought of when I knew I had sky Sunday. The imagery that these two images bring about can be, and I hope it was, disturbing.

When I used to drive into Los Angeles from Palm Springs it would strike me as I came over the one hill and looking into the basin of Los Angeles there was a yellow/brownish haze just hanging over the city. The air is everywhere and this is the air we breathe.

The original Gospel assigned for today speaks of the sky turning dark for 3 hours as Christ hung on the cross. I choose instead the reading where Christ actually says red sky at night sailors delight red sky in morning sailors take warning…well more or less.

The other readings one is from Jeremiah and it says;
Jeremiah 4:23-28 Common English Bible (CEB)

23 I looked at the earth,
And it was without shape or form;
At the heavens
And there was no light.
24 I looked at the mountains
And they were quaking;
All the hills were rocking back and forth.
25 I looked and there was no one left;
Every bird in the sky had taken flight.
26 I looked and the fertile land was a desert;
All its towns were in ruins
Before the Lord,
Before his fury.
27 The Lord proclaims:
The whole earth will become a desolation,
But I will not destroy it completely.
28 Therefore, the earth will grieve
And the heavens grow dark

And still a 3rd reading form the psalms says;
Psalm 19
For the music leader. A psalm of David.

19 Heaven is declaring God’s glory;
The sky is proclaiming his handiwork.
2 One day gushes the news to the next,
And one night informs another what needs to be known.
3 Of course, there’s no speech, no words—
Their voices can’t be heard—
4 but their sound[a] extends throughout the world;
Their words reach the ends of the earth.
God has made a tent in heaven for the sun.
5 The sun is like a groom
Coming out of his honeymoon suite;
Like a warrior, it thrills at running its course.
6 It rises in one end of the sky;
Its circuit is complete at the other.
Nothing escapes its heat.

There is a theme here which is the voice of creation, or more specifically the way which the sky not only announces and celebrates God’s presence, but also sympathizes with Creation when it suffers.

Have you ever watched the skies when a storm was brewing, black clouds rolling? In like wall after wall of waves? Have you ever had a sense of God’s presence in?

The storm or God’s voice in the thunder as many ancient peoples did? (Note
Psalm 29!) Have you ever sensed that eerie feeling that comes during an eclipse? When all the animals are spooked?

Why is the sky so important to us? Our moods seem to change with the weather—When the sun shines we are likely to be happier than when darkness covers the sky. Why? What does the sky mean to us? Is our faith influenced by the sky or related to The sky in some way?

It is interesting to note that in general when the Old Testament refers to heavens the original Hebrew could be translated as sky or skies, and really that often works better, for me anyway for then the air around us, above us and beyond us. All of this space is where God dwells. God is living, according to the Old Testament, here between us.

We take God in…This is the air I breathe. We exhale God…This is the air I breathe. We harm and foul God with pollutants form cigarette smoke to exhaust from Coal mines and power plants. We made the Earth a member of our congregation and yet we walk in God daily.

In Jeremiahs vision he sees an enemy about to destroy all that God has created. As a matter of fact the season of creation author describes it this way;
“The Disaster he sees coming is so destructive he depicts the event as if it were a reversal of the original acts of creation. To understand this vision we need to return to the events of Genesis One.

Consider the following:
Compare v. 23 with Gen. 1.1: Return to pre-creation – all is ‘waste and void’
Compare v. 23 with Day One: No light in the sky
Compare v. 25 with Day Five: No birds in the sky
Compare v. 26 with Day Three: No vegetation comes from the land/Earth
Jeremiah’s vision turns the whole of the original creation process upside down. This Portrait, moreover, is more than a metaphor.”

If we look around us we can see this destruction happening around us every day. Fires are wiping out acres of vegetation. Drought is devastating our state. In other parts floods and mudslides are wiping out villages where glaciers are disappearing, and ocean tides are rising. Jeremiah ends his vision by predicting the earth will mourn the sky will turn black.

I have seen the sky turn black and the sun disappear due to the big fires in Oakland. I have seen the sky turn from a haze to a dark orange to fill with soot due to nearby fires. Jeremiah has laments where he speaks further of the earth mourning and the land crying aloud to God. I believe in many cases this is happening today. The land is crying out and some are listening.

The author of the Seasons of creation sky Sunday bible study tells us; “We have created a hole in the ozone layer. By excessive use of various sprays and chemicals we have released chlorofluorocarbon molecules into the atmosphere. In the stratosphere chlorine atoms escape from these molecules and attack the ozone molecules. The resulting ‘hole’ first appeared over the South Pole, but the ozone layer is thinning over other continents. Because of this thinning, UV rays from the sun have now increased and so have skin cancer rates. (though , due to changes we have made,, in a study released this summer if we stay the path the ozone may heal by 2070)

There are many ways in which we have polluted our skies. The combustion of fossil fuels in factories and cars produces a host of noxious materials that fill our skies. One of the common effects is smog. Air pollution is no longer a crisis we can avoid.”

I must say we are getting better but our dependency on fossil fuels is still way too high. We are still in the very early stages of switching from more hybrid and fuel cell cars but I believe we are getting there. We, as you know, have most of our electricity generated from the sun.

People have shrugged at solar energy claiming it is a flash in the pan or not viable. But I still wonder what would happen if we required every new structure to have solar panels, or at least every government building. “In full sun, you can safely assume about 100 watts of solar energy per square foot. If you assume 12 hours of sun per day, this equates to 438,000 watt-hours per square foot per year. Based on 27,878,400 square feet per square mile, sunlight bestows a whopping 12.2 trillion watt-hours per square mile per year.” We have yet to begin to access all the energy around us.

Of course, the biggest problem with this is someone will lose money. Someone else will make money. The energy companies, the way many stand, are losing money as solar becomes more popular. The gas companies are losing money as responsible organizations and people are divesting form them. They try to block advances that will better our environment at every turn. It really is a shame. Yet, in spite of all that, the LAPD announced today they have just bought 137 electric cars!
Finally the author I have been sharing with you form seasons of creation goes on to remind us Many of us have been conditioned to think that only humans communicate the mysteries of God. We do not expect other parts of creation to have a voice like that of humans. Butterflies do not talk. Trees do not sing the way we do. Skies do not communicate.

Psalm 19 indicates just the opposite. Many Psalms, like Ps. 148, celebrate the way trees sing, fields rejoice and the rest of creation praises God. This Psalmist invites all creation—including sea monsters and storms—to praise the Creator!

Sometimes we think this kind of talk is but poetic language, giving human voice to non-human reality. Psalm 19 suggests that the voice of creation is more than a poetic way of praising God. All creation is here communicating about—and with—the Creator.

In this Psalm the sky proclaims good news in its own way, not a human way. The sky is the mediator of God’s word. The sky announces two things—the vibrant presence of God and the creative work of God.

Unfortunately over the city of angels the sky often mourns and warns of the troubled air. The sky becomes distressful for those with conditions and young people on certain days as the particle count is just unsafe. We must listen to God in heaven, God around us, God in us, between us and remember. This is the air I breathe. This is the air we breathe. Amen.

Third Rock from the Sun: A Living Gift (Genesis 1:1-28)

I start this four week Season of Creation when as we explore themes on God’s Creation. We insert this into our church calendar of ordinary time and will end on Sunday October 4th with the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi and the blessing of animals. Today we will celebrate the Planet Earth.

James Lovelock, a NASA scientist, proposed the Gaia hypothesis, a compelling new way of understanding the Earth. It argues that we are far more than just the “Third Rock from the Sun,” situated precariously between freezing and burning up. His theory asserts that living organisms and their inorganic surroundings have evolved together as a single living system that greatly affects the chemistry and conditions of Earth’s surface. Lovelock proposes that living and non-living parts of the Earth form an interacting and complex system and that the Earth could be considered as single whole organism. He takes the name for Earth from the Greek goddess of the Earth, Gaia.

Earth’s living system appears to keep conditions on our planet just right for life to persist! Many other scientists are skeptical of Lovelock’s Gaia theory and dismiss it as religion, but many environmentalists take the Gaia hypothesis seriously, for his model appears ecologically sound because he sees that every Earth process and life are intimately interconnected. Over the years, Lovelock has written a number of books, making conflicting claims on the rates of climate change.

For Lovelock, Gaia, the Earth, is a single living system. Earth is alive in some sense, and we are part of the Earth. Ecologists favor Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis because it has the individual interrelated with larger bio-systems and, in turn, related to even greater biosphere, the Earth. The Gaia theory provides a metaphorical model or a deeper ecological understanding what is happening to the Earth from the perspective of biodiversity and bio-systems. There is an interaction between inanimate processes with animate aspects of nature. And they are mutually interdependent producing a stable climate and environment for life to flourish.

The Earth is viewed as life-forming and life-sustaining system, and humanity is dependent upon this complex system of processes and animate life. What is meant by inanimate process is such elements as weather systems of the Earth, the ocean currents, the atmosphere, soil, water, mountains, and sky.

Some evangelical Christians are uncomfortable with the Gaia hypothesis and quickly charge it as form of “scientific paganism.” That indicates how far some Christians are scared of environmentalists. They are pagans, worshiping the Earth as a god. But the sad fact is that these Christians have created an apartheid with nature and the Earth. And this is a major deficit in their spirituality when an incarnate God directs our attention to what God loves. I often wonder how these Christians can so often quote John 3:16: For God so loved the world that “God sent God’s only begotten child…” God loves and values all creatures, human and other life, and the Earth herself.

Just because we envision the Earth as a living entity, we do not comprehend the Earth as divine. It mediates God’s presence, and we can discover God within nature. The Earth, all of its processes, and bio-diversity can be sacramental means for connecting to God. I have claimed consistently that God incarnates Godself in human flesh, and that means God is communicated in and through the planet Earth. The words from the Book of Job ring so true me,

But ask the animals, and they will teach you, the birds of the air, and they will tell you, ask the plants of the earth, and they will teach you, and the fish of the sea, will declare to you. (Job 12:7-8)

We experience God in and through all of nature and the Earth.
Whether the Gaia theory is hypothesis, science, or metaphor, it gives us, nonetheless, a model to comprehend the processes of the Earth and how they impact our environment, ourselves, and other life. It points out that there is one Earth in which all life originates from her processes and in which all life is interdependent. All life, including ourselves, is interconnected with each other and the planet Earth. Earth is our home and mother.

A second point, the Gaia theory insists that they we belong to a larger whole. It becomes clear that our lives are dependent upon what we do to the Earth. The poet and former President of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel writes,

What could change the direction today’s civilization? It is my deep conviction that the only option is a change in spirit, in the sphere of human conscience.… We must develop a new understanding of the true purpose of our existence on this Earth. Only by making such a fundamental shift will we be able to create new models of behavior and a new set of values for the planet.

Havel calls for a fundamental shift in our relationship, it is a conversion from the way we view and relate to Earth and other life.

Rachel Carson, one of my heroines–a great ecologist and fighter for the environment and life– described the ancient world of the Eastern Atlantic shore as “the intricate fabric of life by which one creature is linked with another, and ach with its surroundings.” Carson witnessed such a marvelous vision of the interconnections lie within the Earth. She was a great spiritual prophet. Listen to her words: “But I believe that the more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the world around us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.”

Spirituality begins in wonder as we become attentive to the complex processes of the Earth: the winds, weather, mountains and trees, the oceans, so much more. The gift of the Earth is also the gift of God. Some Christian ecologists consider the Earth as “God’s House.” We are living in God’s House.

But humanity is trashing God’s House. Some ecologists are saying, because of our reckless behaviors to the Earth, we are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction. 30% of other life species may become extinct by 2050. They point to the human assault on the Earth and other life, and they point to HIPPO, anagram for: Habitat destruction, Invasive species, Pollution, over Population, Overconsumption of resources. (Dyck and Ehrman) We recklessly pursue these actions without much restraint of government regulation.

When humanity separates itself from nature spiritually, we lose our capacity for wonder and being part of a larger biotic community. Our connection to the Earth expands our spiritual awareness of our connectedness to the community of life; it fosters listening, interrelatedness, and compassion. When we lose our sense of interrelatedness with nature and life, we make ourselves lords of the Earth. We harm the Earth without compassion and care for God’s creation. The prophet Jeremiah describes what happens when we separate ourselves from the Earth:

I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void, and to the heavens, and they had no light. I looked on the mountains, and lo, they were quaking, and all the hills moved to and fro. I looked, and lo, there was no one at all, and all the birds of the air had fled, I looked, and lo, the fruitful

land was a desert, and all its cities were laid in ruins (Jer. 4:23-26)
This seems to be a prophetic warning of coming devastation of climate change, perhaps the sixth massive extinction.

The Gaia theory is not dissimilar to what we have done to comprehend the Earth as a whole, a living organism, and we made the living Earth, a member of our congregation. Why make the Earth a member of the Valley Church? It keeps our awareness how we are part of the web of life of the Earth. It encourages to live differently with the Earth. We see the Earth as intimately interwoven in our lives and our church. We cannot love God if we ignore our neighbor and fellow congregant the Earth. We owe the same care and pastoral attentiveness to a congregant who is suffering, oppressed, and vulnerable.

Here is a description by the by the African American pastor and human rights activist in the 20th century—Howard Thurman,

The earth beneath my feet is the great womb of which the life upon which my body depends comes in utter abundance. There is at work in the soil a mystery by which the death of one seed is reborn a thousand fold in newness in life… (It) is order, and more than order—there is brooding tenderness out of which all comes. In the contemplation of the earth I am surrounded by the love of God.

For Thurman, Earth is place we discover God’s tenderness and love as we connect t the earthiness of bodies and become re-connected to the Earth. Let me remind you that in Genesis, the poet writes “Then YHWH formed an earth creature from clods of the soil and breathed into its nostrils the breadth of the life, and the earthling became a living being.” We are metaphorically born from the Earth, and there is as Thurman so beautifully describes as a “brooding tenderness” from all life comes. As we contemplate the Earth, we are “surrounded by the love of God.”
The Earth is full of creatures, and it is important to remind ourselves that other life forms are our siblings. As I said earlier, we cannot claim to love God and ignore God’s Earth. As humans we do not own the resources of the Earth, we ideally share them responsibly and sustainably.

There is an image that I like described by Brazilian theologian Leonardo Boff. Let me read part of his Advent meditation:

Each human being is a homo viator, a walker through the paths of life. As Argentinean Native poet and singer Atahualpa Yupanqui says: “the human being is the Earth who walks.” We do not receive our existence ready-made. We must build it. And to that end, we must open the path, starting with and going beyond the paths that preceded ours, and have already been walked. Even so, our personal path is never completely given. It must be built with creativity and without fear. As the Spanish poet Antonio Machado says: “walker, there is no path; the path is made by walking.”

The poet Atahualpa Yupanqui describes us as the human being as the Earth walking. It connects to our origins as an earthling, from the soil of the Earth, and we are given life by God’s breadth of life. As the Earth walking, we have responsibilities to the Earth and the community of life.

Boff claims our real nature born from the earth as the Earth Walking enlarges our vision of the Earth and all life. It moves beyond our human tendency towards individualism, replacing it with a new vision that we live on the Earth interrelated and interrelated to a bio-diverse world and interrelated to God triune community of love. We recognize our survival and the survival of species are dependent on living responsibly and with ecological care for the entire world.
Boff’s description of us the Earth Walking recognizes that we humans are not own. We are so interconnected to Earth in our bodies and our interconnectedness to other life and the Earth. Nothing is alone, everything is part of interconnected community. Humanity apartheid from this interconnected community leads to violence, disrespect, and reckless polices of exploitation.
Through prayer we discover our compassion is rooted in the heart of God, and it becomes rooted simultaneously in meditating on the presence of God in the world. Where do we find the presence of God? It is within us and surrounds us: in our brothers and sisters and all other life, and even with the Earth. Prayer ultimately leads us to make connections with God and life. We realize that the mystery how much our incarnate God loves the Earth.
The famous astronomer Carl Sagan and Nobel Laureate in physics, Hans Bethe, wrote together to religious leaders in the 1990s:
As scientists, many of us have had profound experiences of awe and reverence before the universe. We understand what is sacred is more likely to be treated with care and respect. Our planetary home should be so treated. Efforts to safeguard and cherish the environment need to be infused with a sense of the sacred.
Scientists felt the need to remind religious folks around the sacredness of the Earth and care and reverence for the universe. We had separated ourselves into an apartheid relationship with the Earth community.

Remember: “God so loved the Earth that God sent God’s only begotten Child…”

Eco-Theology Powerpoint

Educational resource in developing basic eco-theologies for Christian communities. It was part of training program for developing an Environmental Justice Team in congregations and in UCC Conferences.

Eco-theology Powerpoint

Eco-Actions: Resources for Building an Earth-centered Church