A Part of It All
Genesis 1:1 - 2:3
June 23, 2019
Rev. Heather Kirk-Davidoff, Emmanuel Baptist Church
As of this past Friday, it is officially summer. Here's a summer memory that floats into my mind this time of year: It's late afternoon on a hot day and I'm floating on my back in a lake in northern Minnesota where my parents have a cabin. It's quiet--no boats, no people around me. I'm looking up at the sky which is bright blue with just a few wispy clouds, and I'm thinking about nothing at all. I'm just in the lake, under the sky, part of it all.
Do you know that feeling? That's not a memory of being awed by nature, the way I felt when I first saw the Grand Canyon or Niagara Fall. It isn't a memory of being surprised by nature, the way I feel when I turn the corner of a road and see a rainbow ahead, or look up and see a bald eagle. The memory of floating on the lake stays with me for a different reason. I wasn't looking at nature and admiring it. I was in the picture--right there with the sky below and the water beneath. I felt connected. Or maybe a better way to put it is to say I remembered that I am connected.
Have you ever had an experience like that? Is there something you've done, something that you regularly do, that enables you to feel deeply connected to the natural world? I'd love to hear your experience….
Thanks for sharing those stories. They each illustrate to me an important insight, something we know in our bones, in our guts. We are part of creation. We may spend most of our days in our heads, more connected to our phones than we are to the world around us, but at the end of the day we are made of the same stuff as the trees and the birds and the moon and the stars. All day long we are doers and leaders and shapers and performers but at the end of the day, we are creatures. We are God's creation.
Now I do realize that for some people, those are fighting words. "Creationists", after all, are people who stand in opposition to modern science. They argue that Genesis 1 should be understood as a literal description of how the world we know came into being, regardless of what archaeology, astronomy or any other scientific study might reveal. I'm the daughter of a scientist and I'm married to a scientist and so I learned early on that religious people should stay in their lane. We can talk about how to find meaning and purpose, but stay away from making comments about creation. Better still, don't even use the word, "creation"! We can read Genesis 1 as a fascinating myth but we want to be clear that it doesn't say anything true about US.
But my mind has been changing. It has become starkly evident that the way we have been living on this planet since the age of industrialization is no longer sustainable. The oceans, the atmosphere, the fresh water we drink, the ground in which we grow our food are all heavily impacted by human use and abuse. And we're having a hard time facing this challenge head-on. It seems to me that building a sustainable future for ourselves and our descendents on earth will require us to use every tool we have--scientific and technical tools but also spiritual tools. There is no sitting this one out. Religious people have to put ourselves back into the conversation.
Which brings us back to Genesis 1. What if we stopped thinking about the ways in which the story is not true and instead considered the ways in which this story is true, even in light of what we now know through science about the origins of the universe? What is most true about this story to me is the role that humans play in the story. Human beings do not create the world, Genesis reminds us. We are part of creation. We are in the same picture, in the same category as the moon and the stars and the plants and the birds.
Maybe this sounds obvious, like seeing ourselves as natural is the most natural thing in the world. But consider how hard we have worked to see ourselves in a different way. So much of human effort is framed as overcoming nature. We talk about history this way--we conquered land, we triumphed over the world of germs and disease and wild animals. We harnessed nature with irrigation systems and sails and windmills and domesticated animals and got it to do our will.
We frame religious history the same way. When we were cavemen, we worshiped the thunder god and the earth goddess but now we are more enlightened and so we understand that God is an abstract concept above all of the things we can touch and feel. And when we talk about Jesus, we tell stories about him descending to earth for a short time and then floating away again on a cloud. He is, at the end of the day, a deserter of creation and a forsaker of the human journey. Our goal as Christians is to join him eventually--somewhere else, away from the toils and snares of the created world.
This trajectory of human history is profoundly and succinctly summarized in one of the great theological works of our time--the 2008 Pixar movie WALL-E. Do any of you remember that movie? It is set at some point in a post-apocalyptic future when the earth has become so contaminated and so full of trash that is no longer habitable by people. So the people have all evacuated to a gigantic spaceship where they sit in motorized lounge chairs and drink slurpees all day while back on earth a solitary robot is tasked with cleaning things up. The movie makes it clear that human life, abstracted from the created world, is silly and meaningless. The story ends on a hopeful note, though, because the robot spots a plant starting to grow in the earth's soil and the spaceship lands and the people return and begin to plant and grow things again.
When my kids and I watched that movie ten years ago, I was so struck by the ending I wanted to stand up in the theater and announce, "Ladies and Gentlemen, I'm am a Christian pastor and if any of you would like to discuss the spiritual implications of this movie, I'll be in the lobby and would be happy to meet." I was just floored that a children's movie had not only succinctly diagnosed the problem with the story we've been telling about humanity but also pointed to a way forward. We need to stop floating above the world in our spaceships. We need to land, to step out of our technological bubbles and remember that this world is our home. The future will be built out of what we plant now.
Friends, this isn't just the story of WALL-E. This is the Good News of the Gospel. At the heart of the Christian story is this amazing promise: God has not given up on the world. God loves the world so much that God showed up--shows up--right here among us. Jesus Christ didn't take his disciples away from earth. He brought them closer to it. He taught them to come close to the people who were struggling with disease and to touch them. He taught them to find lessons about who God is and what God wants in the plants and the animals around them. He taught them to consider the lilies of the field and to see themselves in some way as created by the same God. And when he was crucified, when he experienced the worst of what this world has to offer, he didn't quit in disgust. He didn't leave us to our own devices. He came back and stood on the beach and cooked breakfast for his disciples and challenged them to keep loving and caring for all of God's good creation. We are part of that story--that is who we are and whose we are. Good creatures of a great God.
Can I get an AMEN?