I want to start out this morning by reading a portion of a wonderful piece of literature. It was published in the 1920s and authored by James Weldon Johnson. Johnson was a civil rights activist, writer, composer, politician, educator and lawyer, as well as one of the leading figures of the Harlem Renaissance. I have chosen to read it as it was written but acknowledge the lack of inclusive language. I am reading from his piece entitled The Creation:
And God stepped out on space,
And he looked around and said:
I’m lonely –
I’ll make me a world.
And far as the eye of God could see
Darkness covered everything,
Blacker than a hundred midnights
Down in a cypress swamp.
Then God smiled,
And the light broke,
And the darkness rolled up on one side,
And the light stood shining on the other,
And God said: That’s good!
Then God reached out and took the light in his hands,
And God rolled the light around in his hands
Until he made the sun;
And he set that sun a-blazing in the heavens.
And the light that was left from making the sun
God gathered it up in a shining ball
And flung it against the darkness,
Spangling the night with the moon and stars.
Then down between
The darkness and the light
He hurled the world;
And God said: That’s good!
Then God himself stepped down –
And the sun was on his right hand,
And the moon was on his left;
The stars were clustered about his head,
And the earth was under his feet.
And God walked, and where he trod
His footsteps hollowed the valleys out
And bulged the mountains up.
Then he stopped and looked and saw
That the earth was hot and barren.
So, God stepped over to the edge of the world
And he spat out the seven seas –
He batted his eyes, and the lightnings flashed –
He clapped his hands, and the thunders rolled –
And the waters above the earth came down,
The cooling waters came down.
Then the green grass sprouted,
And the little red flowers blossomed,
The pine tree pointed his finger to the sky,
And the oak spread out his arms,
The lakes cuddled down in the hollows of the ground,
And the rivers ran down to the sea;
And God smiled again,
And the rainbow appeared,
And curled itself around his shoulder.
Then God raised his arm and he waved his hand
Over the sea and over the land,
And he said: Bring forth! Bring forth!
And quicker than God could drop his hand,
Fishes and fowls
And beasts and birds
Swam the rivers and the seas,
Roamed the forests and the woods,
And split the air with their wings.
And God said: That’s good!
Each Sunday we open our worship service with the words of our Statement of Welcome. What I love about this statement is that it is a living document – that has changed over time and will continue to do so. I appreciate all that it acknowledges but this morning especially, I am struck by this portion of it:
Along with First Nations everywhere, we recognize Earth as our mother upon whose water, air and soil we depend for our lives and our well-being.
In the midst of a climate crisis, we acknowledge that, as a species, we have not acted with respect for our precious planet. We commit to learning and practising better stewardship.
Images abound when we hear the recognition of earth as our mother. Feminine images are quite often used when personifying nature and creation. I remember the earth: our Great Mother, our beautiful, tortured, sacred Mother Earth.
Unfortunately, there are ways in which the image of earth as “mother” has not served us well. Perhaps if we should no longer solely use the masculine “he” for God, we should cease using “she” for nature. We need to think in new ways about God and the earth and about our relationship to both.
On this Remembrance Sunday as we remember and reflect on the ways humanity has waged wars and violence; we also remember the ways we have acted with violence upon creation itself. In all acts of remembrance, we are called to be peacemakers and justice-seekers. With one another; with the earth.
We need to imagine new models for our relationships with each other and with creation. We need to take responsibility and action for this new kind of relationship with the earth and with each other. Maybe we should reverse the images and begin to think of ourselves as caregivers of the earth and skies, as stewards, gardeners, tenders, lovers, trustees and friends of all creation. For the earth is no longer inexhaustibly giving to meet our needs without needs of its own.
Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg is a founding rabbi of EcoSynagogue, working closely with Eco Church and senior faith and environmental leaders across the world, [and he is] passionately engaged with climate justice, global warming and biodiversity. He writes: “The Hebrew Bible sees human beings as guardians of the Earth, entrusted to work it for the benefit of all life. The Bible’s central values are justice and compassion. The Torah repeatedly reminds us of our responsibility to our children. We owe them the legacy of a viable and sustainable planet, rich in life. We are not entitled to commodify, monetise and exploit creation. We are not entitled to follow short-term self-interest only. It’s not a case of ‘Tomorrow we may die’, but ‘Tomorrow they, the world’s children, will die’. The future of all life is in our hands.”
This past week, I have read with interest the news of COP 26 – a world summit on climate change happening in Glasgow, Scotland. “The current global climate crisis, marked by fire, flood, drought and other disasters, is… a policy question for nations. COP 26 has gathered leaders from around the world to focus on slowing global warming. Their meeting is called ‘COP’ because it is a ‘Conference of the Parties’ to a United Nations Climate Convention. They’ve met yearly since signing the Convention in 1992.”
The U.N. said it expected “more than 190 world leaders” at the 12-day conference, “along with tens of thousands of negotiators, government representatives, businesses and citizens.”
As people of faith, this is also a moral and ethical issue. On the summit’s opening day, Oct. 31, Interfaith Scotland gathered the many faith leaders present in Glasgow to pray in the city’s main public square. One of the faith leaders there said: “Communities of faith have long been working on issues that are interconnected with the climate crisis, whether food security, global migration and displacement of people, care for Creation, or any of a myriad of other issues, … We have been on the front lines of care for those who have been made vulnerable in our communities, acting with charity and justice.”
We need to be paying attention to this here at home as well. “Not since the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015 has there been a U.N. climate conference as important as this one…In a world where global inequality is thoroughly enmeshed with a climate crisis, there are a number of key moral questions at stake. Of central importance is whether wealthy countries will stop investing in fossil fuels and start investing in a clean and just transition to renewable energy.”
We are related to the entire community of living things. We need to create a new language, a new understanding of what it means to be human and a lover of the earth. The well being of the earth is primary to the existence of the human being. We must remember that earth does not exist to serve us. In a sense, we must live to serve the earth in a deeply mutual, interconnected relationship of love and justice.
We are being called to leave one era and enter a new one. The biblical tradition speaks about the whole creation groaning, trying to be born. It also speaks about a new heaven and a new earth.
Once before we created a new heaven and a new earth.
At the birth of the scientific-industrial era we set out not only to understand nature by way of experiment and observation, but also to harness it to our desires. Contemplation of the earth gave way to taking charge of the direction of evolution. And this resulted in many wonderful things. The creation of industrial and medical miracles. There is much to celebrate in this era of the emergence of the scientific mind. Every day there are reminders of the grace and goodness of modern medicine, science, and the expanded vision of the world that has exploded with the advent of the computer and the Internet.
I believe we are now being called to develop new kinds of spiritual disciplines for these times: voluntary simplicity, minimum consumption, ecologically sustainable lifestyles, energy independence, reforestation.
How can we be faithful lovers of all creation?
How can we repair the damage being done by humankind?
How can we live lightly and kindly on the earth?
“The time is right for change. Covid has led to a deeper awareness of our interdependence as a society; we’ve learned to value people whose work we took for granted: hospital teams, those who fill the shelves in the shops, keep the buses on the road and collect our [recycling and garbage]. We’ve been vividly presented with the interconnectedness of the fate of humanity across the globe. We’ve experienced more closely than before our interconnectedness and interdependence with nature. These are learnings we cannot afford to squander.”
Called into this time of a new heaven and a new earth, we as people of faith, we as citizens of creation are called to work together, “determined to live by our values and tell truth to power. We are not about to give up.” Let us this day renew our passion and commitment to learn and practice better stewardship for the benefit of all creation.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
Rev. Heather Power
Johnson, James Weldon, “The Creation,” The Heath Anthology of American L