Planet Earth Sunday
For more details see the Bible Study
In The Beginning (Gen. 1.1 and John 1.1)
There are many theories, myths and beliefs about the beginning of Earth, life or the entire cosmos. We discern in Genesis One and John One an amazing message we accept by faith. The beginning of everything, no matter how it may be explained, begins with that eternal impulse called the Word! The Word is not a simple sound, a cosmic noise or a big bang, but the creating impulse that has been at work from the beginning. There is no end to the possibilities of exploring this mystery in our creation: the life impulse of the Word, which is God creating, is present from the beginning and continues in our planet—from the smallest embryo to the largest galaxy. The beginning was only the beginning—the creating of God goes on and on!
The Earth Story (Gen. 1.2-13)
The Genesis story includes the story of Earth, a story we have tended to ignore. The story begins with Earth waiting under the primal waters and with God’s spirit hovering above. The waiting Earth is present but not yet transformed. Days One and Two provide the light and space for Earth to appear. Day Three is the big event! The waiting Earth emerges from the waters recalling the image of a child being born. God calls on the waters to separate/burst so that Earth can emerge. And Earth ‘appears’! The term ‘appear’ is normally used of God ‘appearing’, a theophany. The appearance of Earth is only the beginning of her story. Then she becomes a co-creator bringing forth vegetation (Day 3) and animal life (Day 6). Earth is God’s partner in creation and continues as such today.
Becoming a Part of Earth (John 1.14)
Hold up three jars—one filled with soil/earth, one filled with water and one filled with air. These elements are the very stuff of Earth. They are also the very stuff used by God in Genesis Two to create human beings. Humans are flesh made of earth/dust/clay, water and air. The remarkable truth of John 1.14 is that God, the Word, ‘became flesh’. God became the very same stuff of which Earth is made. God became part of Earth, a piece of Earth, flesh! God joined the very web of creation!
The fourth element traditionally associated with Earth is fire. And in the Old Testament God, the visible presence of God called ‘the glory’ appears as a cloud filled with fire on Mt Sinai. That same fire cloud then dwells in the tabernacle.
John declares not only that God became flesh—Earth, water, air—but also that in Jesus Christ the Word ‘tabernacled’ among us on Earth. And in Christ we see not only the flesh of Earth but also the fire, the glory of God’s presence. The mystery of the incarnation is also the mystery of God becoming part of Earth for us and with us.
See the Bible Study for more detail
To Dominate or to Serve (Gen. 1.26-28; Gen. 2.15)
How should human beings relate to Earth, our planet home? Does Scripture give us the right to dominate and subdue creation as many have claimed in the past? This right to dominate has even been used as justification for suppressing Indigenous peoples as mere animals! As it stands, Genesis 1.26-28 reflects the language of royalty, of ruling and subjugation. But should we be satisfied with that text as the basis for our relationship with Earth and the creatures of Earth. No! Because the very next chapter (2.15) reinterprets this relationship! Rather than being hailed as a ruler of Earth Adam, our ancestor, is given the responsibility of ‘serving and preserving Earth’. It is time to confess that we, especially in Western Christianity, have often abused our role as human beings by assuming we have the right to dominate the rest of creation without considering the word of God that calls us to serve and preserve what God has given us as our home.
To Serve as Christ Served (Mark 10.41-45)
This text from Mark is often cited as a guide to the way we should live as disciples of Christ, serving others rather than dominating them. Jesus reminds us that among the Romans of his day, the aspiration of leaders was to dominate and control, to have power over others. Jesus declares that his way is just the opposite. His followers are to serve rather than rule. The language used here reflects a reversal of the language in Gen. 1.26-28. Those who follow Christ are not rulers, but servants. And that is true for our relationships with creation and the creatures of Earth as well as our relationship with other humans. In short, Jesus’ words make it clear that the way of serving Earth (in Gen. 2.15) is more consistent with the way of the cross than the way of domination (in Gen. 1.26-28). The text from Philippians 2 reinforces this truth.
Kinship with Creation (Gen. 2.5-15)
A confession of the fact that human beings over the centuries, even in the name of Christianity, has exploited creation and abused the Indigenous people of Earth, invites us to consider one of the messages of our faith we have missed. In Genesis 2 it is clear that all human beings are made of Earth and the breath of God, the Spirit. We all have a kinship with nature, both physical and spiritual. One of the great forces in recent years, has been the arrogance of the Western world in thinking Indigenous peoples are savages, bereft of religion or the spiritual. We now realise that they have a spirituality that celebrates our common kinship with creation. They have a spiritual bond with Earth and the creatures of Earth that Westerners have lost because they have made domination over creation their ‘God-given’ right.
See the Bible Study for more detail
Good News from Sky (Ps. 19.1-6)
Psalm 19 offers one of the boldest portraits of creation communicating a message, a word of God we ought to hear. This Psalm is more than poetry. In this psalm the sky proclaims an important message to us all, a message about the vibrant presence and creative word of God. When the skies/heavens declare the glory of God’ they are reiterating the words of Isaiah (6.3) that Earth is ‘filled’ with God’s living presence. We are invited to see that presence shining through. The skies also announce that the work of the Creator is everywhere and that God keeps on creating all around us. An awareness of God’s presence and care in every part of creation ought to motivate us to respect our planet as a sacred place full of songs from the sky.
The Sympathy of Sky (Jer. 4.23-28; Mark 15.33-38)
When we listen closely to Mark’s version of Jesus’ passion, we hear the anguish of the sky in sympathy. At noon darkness covers the whole land and Jesus cries out to God from the darkness. Creation too is suffering. The darkness recalls the reading from Jeremiah. Not only does he foresee a virtual return to chaos when the enemy from the North arrives, he also hears creation groaning. Or in his words, ‘Earth mourns and the sky grows black’. The blackened sky is the sky suffering in empathy. And today, we need to be alert to a suffering sky that has been polluted by our greed. And we need to remember that Christ and this sky suffered together that noon on Calvary.
Christ Unites Sky/Heaven and Earth (Eph. 1.9-10, 23)
It is easy for us to fall into the old belief that heaven or the sky is God’s domain and that Earth is where humans and other creatures live. It is also easy, given our traditions, to believe that because Jesus is portrayed as ascending into the clouds, that his residence is in heaven. Ephesians makes it clear that the risen Christ gathers all things into himself, things in Earth and in heaven. In Christ they are one. As the Cosmic One, Christ also fills the universe, sky and space, heaven and Earth. The healing, life-giving presence and power of Christ permeates every piece of the planet and the universes beyond. Christ is not only our saviour from sin, he is the redeemer of the cosmos.
Themes from the Readings and Bible Study
Peace Mountain (Isaiah 65.17-25)
The Isaiah text introduces the hope that creation can be transformed and renewed so that there will be ‘peace in creation’. The imagery may seem to conflict with the normal pattern of ecosystems, but ultimately provides a promise that God, through Christ, is working towards peace in our world, including peace in creation. This peace is described as being ‘on my holy mountain.’ Peace mountain then becomes the symbol of God at the centre of our cosmos from which the renewal and hope of creation originates. Ultimately peace mountain is Calvary, the source of all our hopes for peace.
‘More than conquerors’ (Rom. 8.35-39)
One of the arrogant ideas of humans is that they can actually ‘conquer a mountain’ like Everest. Paul says that we are more than conquerors through ’him who loved us.’ The contrast is stark—overcoming all things through Christ and pretending to ‘conquer a mountain’. Paul even says that neither height nor depth nor anything ‘in all creation’ can separate us from the love of God in Christ. First, that message is true because we have a faith that binds us to Christ forever; it is also true because the love of God in Christ is at work in all creation, everywhere from mountain tops to deep ravines.
The Good News for all creation (Mark. 16.14-18)
The Gospel reading offers an alternative to the great commission of Christ in Matt. 28.18-20. In Mark’s version Jesus calls his disciples to preach the Gospel to ‘the whole creation’. The Gospel, then, not only applies to human beings but to all creation—sun, stars, fauna and flora. The task here would be to highlight the Gospel message that God in Christ is concerned with the ‘liberation’ of a groaning creation (Romans 8), the ‘reconciling’ of all things in creation to God (Col. 1.19-20), the renewal of creation as a ‘new heaven and a new Earth’ (Isa. 65.17-25; Rev. 21.1-4).
Blessing of the Animals Sunday
Themes from the Readings
Our Kinship with Animals (Gen. 2.18-25)
We often overlook that feature of the Genesis Two creation narrative that links us with animals in various ways. First, we are made of the same stuff as animals; we all come from Earth. We all breath the same air, what in the Old Testament is also called the breath or spirit of God. In short, we have the same source/mother and same Creator. Second, we are located together in the garden, part of a family of living creatures. That garden today is planet Earth. Third, God places the animals in the garden as potential partners of the first human. They are more than dumb creatures. They are potential companions. Fourth, the first human names the animals as one names a child. To name does not imply dominion, as some have claimed. When the women of the village name Ruth’s child, it is an act of acceptance and assurance. (Ruth 4.13-17). Humans and animals are kin, a truth that ecology has confirmed in amazing ways. Animals and humans have almost identical gene pools! God made us kin at a very deep level.
How Blessing Works (Num. 6.24-27)
When we close our worship services, we frequently use the Aaronic blessing. We bless the congregation. Throughout the Old Testament, God blesses both humans and creatures. God blessed creatures at the beginning so that they would live. He imparted life! How does blessing work for us? When we bless we make a connection with the person or animal that we bless, a special bond! But we not only connect, we share. When we formally bless, we share life forces. We transfer energy from God to the person or animal involved. We do not just say comforting words. We channel life, spiritual energy or healing from God or Christ. To bless is to mediate shalom. The Aaronic blessing closes with the promise that from the face of God we receive ‘peace/shalom’. Or as the famous prayer of St Francis begins, ‘Make me a channel of your peace!’
The Praise of Animals (Ps. 148)
In The Season of Creation we invite all domains and creatures of nature to join us in worship. That can be easily understood as a metaphor with little reality to it. When we actually include animals in our worship service, we are faced with their presence in a human worship context. They join us. In nature, however, creatures praise God in their own way, not our human ways. They may sing, dance, cavort and celebrate life in ways true to their species. As Psalm 18 declares, their praise may be different from us, but praise nevertheless. The challenge for us is to recognise the wider worshipping world around us and in that world discern possible ways to worship with the creatures of that world. The cosmic Christ has reconciled all worlds to God and those worlds respond in their own ways.