Pastoral Letter, April 30, 2023
Today we celebrate Earth Day; the earth and the fullness thereof. Even though Earth Day officially was last Saturday. The weather has cooperated this week and given us a foretaste of summer; the whole town was grateful.
We have read what I think is the obvious Old Testament choice for earth day, the account of creation in the Book of Genesis. The most important part of the story is the phrase, repeated today thrice, “And God saw that it – the creation, the earth and the fullness thereof - was good.” The whole story of creation in the Bible tells us that this whole world we live in, including us, is good.
But it does not mean that we and the creation are completely good or good all the time. The created world is good but not perfect. It is still in process and it is a mixture of light and dark, a mixture of elements and processes we find both good and bad.
William Blake expressed this mixture in his most famous lines:
Tyger Tyger burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?
It is a good world, but it is not a world without change; it is not a world without inconvenience; it is not a world without suffering.
Likewise, we human beings are good creatures, but not wholly good. We are not created to function perfectly and never wear out. We obviously don’t work that way. We at least occasionally hurt others, get hurt in turn; eventually we grow old and die.
Thus it is time to complete the Old Testament lesson with the new, for we are both natural and supernatural creatures. Saint Paul says that
“God has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
Paul thus promises us that though we are creatures of this earth – from dust we came and to dust we shall return – we will enjoy life everlasting. He goes on to say:
“He (Christ, the Son) is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities -- all things were created through him and for him.”
He’s referring back to Genesis – the spirit of God moving over the face of the waters - saying that at the beginning the Holy Trinity, Father, Son Holy Spirit were all there in the act of creating. He’s saying that the material and spiritual universe was created at the same time and that there is more to the universe than meets the eye. Most of us get that.
Moreover, when he says “all things were created through him and for him,” he is saying that the whole creation bears the mark of the Creator. We earthly creatures bear the indelible sign of the heavenly creator. Let me show you an example, beginning with a math question. What sort of numerals do we use? They are not Roman numerals they are . . . Arabic numerals.
All of us bear the mark of the creator upon the palms of our hands, according to an Arabic tradition.
In Arabic tradition there are 99 names for God in the Bible. In the world of Islam, most prayers begin “In name of God the compassionate, the merciful,” “Bismalla erachmann arahim.” Those are two of the names for God.
Now look at the palms of your hands. Do you see an upside-down Von each hand?
In the old way of writing Arabic numerals, in Arabic, the number 8 is an upside down V. And do you see a single vertical stroke next to it - to the right on your left hand and to the left on your right hand? ^I I^ Good. Now you have an 81 on your left hand and an 18 on your right. 81 + 18 = 99: the 99 names for God on the palms of your hands.
Thus we have the marks of the divine on us, literally on the palms of our hands. God has the whole world in His hands. We have the number of God's attributes on our hands. In Christian terms we understand that heaven and earth came together in Jesus Christ and continue to come together in us. We humans are physical and spiritual creatures at once. That’s the human condition that we celebrate on earth day. It is our job, flawed creatures that we are, sprung from earth ourselves, yet created by God, bearing the marks of God ourselves, to take care of the earth.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters.
And God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light.
And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.
And God said, "Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear." And it was so.
God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.
And God said, "Let the earth put forth vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, upon the earth." And it was so.
The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.
May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities -- all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent.
For in him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.