April 22, 2018 — Rev. Paula Norbert
“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless voice and darkness covered the face of the deep…then God said, let there be light and God saw the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.” Today, as we revisit the opening lines from Genesis about the creation story, we join with others in celebrating Earth Day. We are invited to recommit ourselves once again to caring for this precious place that we call Home. Let us pray, Through your word and your design, Creator, you call us back to a place of wonder and awe. You call us to remember we are an important part of the abundance of your creation, from tiny molecules to divine light. Each and every being reflects you and reminds us that you continue to create and delight in what you have created. With these gifts, move us from despair to hope; from taking things for granted to a place of deep reverence.
In recent months, the news has covered the launching of rockets by SpaceX the private company founded by Elon Musk, and we have watched as those rockets have returned back to earth. This reminded me of the eventful moon landing when I was just a child. For all of us old enough to remember it, that was a momentous experience; the idea that people could actually step out onto the surface of the moon and look back at the earth so far away. I recall that my parents gathered us around the tv so that we could be part of such a historic moment in time. From that time on, I looked at the moon in a different way and I was fascinated by the vastness of the solar system and the expanding cosmos.
One of the interesting stories of that first moon walk in 1969 comes from Michael Collins, the least famous of the three crew members, who circled the moon alone while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin had the privilege and challenge of landing on the moon. In his book, Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut’s Journey, published in 1974, Collins spoke about his experiences alone on the dark side of the moon. Apparently, NASA Had put him through a rigorous screening to ensure that he had the right temperament to withstand the possible emotions that might arise from being out of touch with his fellow astronauts and the ground crew during the time he would be on the back side of the moon. He wrote, “Far from being lonely or abandoned, I felt very much part of what was taking place on the lunar surface.” Later, he added this important reflection, “I really believe that if the political leaders of the world could see their planet from a distance of 100, 1000 miles, their outlook would be fundamentally changed. That all-important border would be invisible, that noisy argument silenced. The tiny globe would continue to turn, serenely ignoring its subdivisions, presenting a unified façade that would cry out for unified understanding, for homogenous treatment. The earth must become as it appears,” he wrote, “blue and white, not capitalist or communist, blue and white, not rich or poor; blue and white, not envious or envied.” He said that he was truly changed by the experience and honored to have been chosen.
In this opening passage from the book of Genesis, the first book of the Hebrew Scriptures, we are invited to consider several important things for our lives. First, God creates order out of chaos. Out of the chaos, God is the creator of the heavens and the earth, the waters and the land, the growing things and all living creation. Secondly, since we are created in God’s image and likeness, we too are creators of our lives, and our world. Third, as part of all creation, we are good; inherently, we have value and are called to live that out. And, we have a responsibility to be good stewards of this precious planet, this place that is our home.
This creation story is so familiar to us. It comes from the priestly tradition and was written during the Babylonian exile when Hebrew exiles longed to be assured that God would find order out of their chaos. The darkness was illuminated and day would be separated from night, the land from water. The Creator is shown as sweeping over the chaos and disorder and setting everything in its place. We would have seasons, days, and years, to show the passing of time, and God would be pleased with all of creation.
When the people feel that God is too absent from the realities of their suffering, when they find themselves in despair or hopelessness, this story was meant to serve as an assurance that the Creator has created and continues to be active in creation in the face of chaos. God does not make something that is simply there; everything comes alive with God’s word and breaks forth with life.
And we are told that we, as human beings, are created in the likeness and image of God, male and female; thus we too are invested with amazing creative energies and we are invited to share our creativity. We are asked to care for God’s creation and to use our talents and creative energies to bring order to the chaos we meet in our lives. Today, as we observe Earth Day, we are invited to focus our energies once more on the ways in which we have not cared for this planet, the ways in which we have not brought order to the chaos, but in fact, have brought more chaos in terms of pollution and climate change, in terms of exploiting resources and not considering the long-term effects to our children and grandchildren.
Today we have satellites that are launched into the atmosphere and can send us beautiful images of our planet, but they also send us important warnings too. We see the immense body of plastic floating out in our beautiful ocean, causing disruption to all of the creatures that call that ocean home; we see the melting of the polar ice caps which we can compare to earlier times. I don’t know about you, but I become afraid when I see these images. I wonder how we can turn back this tide and bring order back to the chaos that has been done by those who don’t respect the value of this earth, except perhaps for short term gain, for profits. And sadly, many who live in the most impoverished regions of our world suffer the most when the storms hit as we have seen across the islands in the Caribbean last fall. Those who already live in sub-standard housing and are struggling to make ends meet day to day suffer tremendously when the extreme weather arrives.
As created ones, we are assured that we have an inherent worth and dignity in the eyes of our Creator, and we are invited to embrace that in ourselves and in others. We are beloved and part of our responsibility is to live from that place, to nurture the best in ourselves. That may be the most challenging piece, for we know our own chaotic natures; we know our own brokenness and it may be difficult to really respect ourselves and others as we are. Certainly, with respect to our amazing planet, we are responsible for loving this place by doing whatever we can to truly be good stewards, good caretakers of this great gift.
Perhaps part of the reason why people do not fully appreciate what is happening to our planet is that we have become too distant from where and how our food is grown, where our clean water comes from, what pollutants are floating about in our air and water. At the Easter sunrise service, I spoke about Rachel Carson, who many consider the mother of the modern environmental movement. In the 1950’s, she came to appreciate the beauty of nature in a new way as she spent many days exploring the woods and tidal pools near her home in Maine with her young grand-nephew Roger. These reflections were later published in a book entitled The Sense of Wonder.
I’m sure most of you know that she spent much time at her home along the coast of Maine. She understood well the importance of caring for our beautiful earth so that those who come long after us can feel that same sense of wonder. She asked in the final lines of her book, “What is the value of preserving and strengthening this sense of awe and wonder, this recognition of something beyond the boundaries of human existence? Is it just a pleasant way to pass the hours of childhood or something deeper? And she asserts, “I am sure there is something much deeper, something lasting and significant. Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never weary of life. Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature—the assurance that dawn comes after the night, and spring after the winter.”
In July 2009, Michael Collins was interviewed for the 40th anniversary of the moon landing and was asked to share more about his experiences in space. He was asked about whether he still felt the earth was both serene and fragile, and he observed, “Yes, from the moon, but appearances can be deceiving. It’s certainly not serene, but definitely fragile, and growing more so. When we flew to the moon, our population was 3 billion; today it has more than doubled and is headed for 8 billion, some experts say. I do not think this growth is sustainable or healthy. The loss of habitat, the trashing of our oceans, the accumulation of waste products-this is no way to treat a planet.”
This is no way to treat a planet, indeed. We can’t do everything, but we can do something. I know many in our congregation have spent years working on these issues, trying to use their energies and gifts to raise awareness of caring for our earth. We only need to think about the recent storms that affected our coast over the winter to see that things are changing. What used to happen once in a 100 years, the flooding of coastal areas, is now happening several times a season. It has reached our doorsteps and is calling to us, pay attention, wake up, do something now. Can we bring order out of this chaos? It’s a challenge certainly, but it is our collective responsibility to do what we can where we can, for those who will come after us.