Sunday, August 27, 2017

Pentecost 12A (Earth Care)

Genesis 1:26–31, Matthew 6:25–34




Beloved people of God, grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. AMEN.


First of all, thank you for vacation time. Donna and I enjoyed attending our daughter Hailey’s graduation from basic training at the Great Lakes Naval Base, north of Chicago. Hailey was glad to have us and her big brother Isaac there. The ceremony was impressive, and the weather was so much cooler than here. Whoever heard of going to Chicago in August to cool off?


We also spent time delighting in the natural beauty of our home state. We began our vacation by visiting my parents in Sunriver. Our daughter Rachel and her husband Andrew joined us. One morning Rachel and Andrew hiked up Mount Tumalo with me. What a glorious view we had from the summit— of Bachelor Butte, the Three Sisters, Broken Top, and the Deschutes River Valley!


In the middle of August Donna and I enjoyed several days at the Core Cabin near the McKenzie River, where I had written several chapters of Coming Home to Earth. The McKenzie is such a beautiful river. Donna had never been at the cabin before. The day after we left she said, “I miss the cabin.”


I also worked in a couple of days of steelhead fishing on the Lower Deschutes with my son Isaac. We backpacked eight miles up the river on our bikes. It was incredibly hot. Isaac also pulled a small bike trailer with a cooler. In theory the cooler was for all the hatchery steelhead we might catch. Wild steelhead have to be returned to the stream. I quickly figured out that the real reason for the trailer and cooler was to haul a twelve pack of cold beer. I am not much of a beer drinker, but a cold beer on a 100 degree day on the Deschutes tasted very, very good. I was kind to the fish by not catching or even hooking up any of them. Isaac, a fine fisherman, caught and released two wild steelhead.


On the last day of vacation we experienced, along with all of you, the wonder of the solar eclipse. My daughter Mary and I and some neighbors viewed it from the little park behind our house. It was a 98% solar eclipse, not quite as amazing as a total eclipse, but still impressive. For a brief time it grew darker, the air cooled, and it was eerily quiet, except for the sound of children playing a couple of streets over, apparently oblivious to the eclipse.


A solar eclipse is a once in a lifetime natural wonder for most people. We are blessed in Oregon to have a wealth of natural wonders that we can enjoy on a regular basis. We are so blessed that at times we may take Oregon’s natural beauty for granted.


We might think that God, the Creator, would take the wonder and beauty of creation for granted. Genesis 1:31 affirms that is not the case. In the NRSV this verse reads: “God saw everything that God had made, and indeed, it was very good.” This translation is okay, but the original Hebrew is more powerful. The Hebrew word for “very” is meodh. It has been almost forty years since I took Hebrew at Pacific Lutheran University. But I will never forget the way our Hebrew professor translated meodh. In his deep voice he said, “Meodh does not just mean ‘very’— it means `exceedingly’.” Thus, “God saw everything God had created, and indeed it was exceedingly good— that is, God was delighted with the whole creation.” We can also provide a stronger translation than “indeed” for the Hebrew word hinneh. In the King James Version and in the Revised Standard Version, the translation I grew up with, hinneh is translated as “behold.” “Behold” is a visual word. God beheld the whole creation. It is as if God, like an artist, stepped back, gazed at everything God had created, and said, “Yes!”[1]


Unlike God, we human beings, with our limited point of view, cannot behold the whole creation in a single gaze. Nonetheless, what a difference it makes in our lives the more we learn to see as God sees. That in which God delights is precious in God’s sight. Every human being, every creature, is precious to God. To learn how to see as God sees is to learn to recognize the preciousness of every human being and every creature we encounter. Several months ago I gave a copy of Coming Home to Earth to a young Jewish man. I was eager to see what would stand out for him as he read it. The first thing he mentioned was the concept of contuition. Contuition is all about learning to see all creatures as God sees them— as they really are—as precious. “To contuit one of God’s creatures is to perceive it with sharpened senses and to ponder it until the truth of it in relationship to God and the rest of creation becomes clear.”[2]


In Matthew 6:28–29 Jesus exhorts his followers: “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” In effect, Jesus issues an invitation to contuit the lilies of the field. The lilies of the field were not like our lilies. They were more like poppies. They were beautiful, but they would bloom only for a day. King Solomon was renowned for his wisdom, power, and wealth. Yet Jesus affirms that simple lilies of the field are as precious or even more precious than Solomon in all his glory.


In the Christian tradition St. Francis was considered a master of contuition. Devoted to Christ, Francis viewed each person and each creature with the eyes and heart of Jesus— that is, as God sees them. Those who are devoted to Christ will delight in all people and all creatures and see them as precious. We are far more likely to respect and care for that which we view as precious.


It is one thing to view everyone and everything as precious in theory. It is another thing to do so after what happened in Charlottesville two weekends ago. The people of Charlottesville and the nation as a whole are still reeling in the aftermath of the deadly racial violence that erupted there. President Trump has been taken to task by leaders in his own party and numerous other leaders for not being more forceful in calling out white supremacists, Neo-Nazi groups, and the Ku Klux Klan. How are we to view these perpetrators of hatred? How does God view them? How are we to respond to them? If we respond with hatred— that is, if adopt their modus operandi— then haven’t they won the day? But in what sense can we possibly delight in them or view them as precious in God’s sight?


It would be a mistake to presume that there are easy answers to such questions. Nonetheless, we still need to wrestle with them. It so happens that the week before the violence in Charlottesville I read an article in the August issue of Sojourners entitled “Confessions of a Former White Supremacist.” Tony McAleer is a former Neo-Nazi who helped found a group called “Life After Hate,” dedicated to helping people leave Neo-Nazi and other hate groups. He tells the story of another founder of “Life After Hate” who was being served at McDonald’s by an elderly African-American woman. When she saw a swastika tattooed on his hand, she looked up at him and said, “Oh honey, you’re so much better than that.” In a wonderful way she called him to account and yet affirmed him as precious in her eyes. He did not immediately leave white nationalism, but she had planted a seed. Eventually that seed germinated and contributed to the growth of Life After Hate. McAleer told Sojourners that “the hardest thing in the world is to have compassion for those who have no compassion. But those are the people who need it the most.”


The Dalai Lama tells of his friend Lopon-la who was arrested along with about 130 Tibetans and sent to a Chinese labor camp at about the same time the Dalai Lama secretly went into exile. After 18 years hard labor and torture Lopon-la was released and came to India where the Dalai Lama was in exile. He told the Dalai Lama that only 20 prisoners had survived. He mentioned that he faced some real dangers during those years. The Dalai Lama thought he meant dangers to his life. But he said that “he was in danger of losing . . . his compassion for his Chinese guards.”[3] Compassion is the central core value in the Buddhist tradition.


Compassion does not mean we should stand idly by in the face of hate-filled rhetoric and action. Well-meaning people may differ on the best way to resist hate. For example, do we limit ourselves to non-violent resistance? Or do we resort to force? But there is no question on the need to resist. Hate-filled rhetoric and action need to be stopped in their tracks. God may love each person, even misguided perpetrators of hate, but God surely hates their destructive rhetoric and actions.


On the day after the horrifying racial violence in Charlottesville my wife Donna and I attended St. Andrew Catholic Church in North Portland. I attended once before three years ago. Once again I was amazed by the diversity of people in the congregation. My sense is that anyone could walk in off the street and feel welcome there. The congregation embodied our welcome statement. God must have been delighted to see all who were gathered at St. Andrew Catholic on that Sunday. It was a sign of hope in such a troubling, divisive time.


According to Luke 19:41–42, during Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, as he neared the city, he looked out over it and wept, saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.” Surely God must weep when God sees the destructive things human beings have done to one another and to our fellow creatures. In a world filled with hate and destructive behavior, as we learn to see as God sees, we too will be moved to tears. Only if we learn to see as God sees will be able to recognize and pursue the things that make for peace for our Earth home and all its inhabitants.

In Jesus’ name, AMEN.

























[1] Coming Home to Earth, 53.

[2] Coming Home to Earth, 54.

[3] The Book of Joy, 155–56.