Because of vacations and general laziness, etc., I haven't posted for a while. I am back to posting my weeky sermons from TCC on this site. As always, let me know what you think.
Genesis 1:1-2:4a; John 1:1-2
“It was a broiling August afternoon in New Orleans, Louisiana, the Big Easy. Those who ventured outside moved as if they were swimming in tupelo honey. Those inside . . . watched TV “storm teams” warn of a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico. Nothing surprising there: Hurricanes are as much a part of life in this town as hangovers on Ash Wednesday. But the next day the storm gathered steam and drew a bead on the city. As the whirling maelstrom approached the coast, more than a million people evacuated to higher ground. Some 200,000 remained, however—the car-less, the homeless, the aged and infirm, and those die-hard New Orleanians who look for any excuse to throw a party. The storm hit Breton Sound with the fury of a nuclear warhead, pushing a deadly storm surge into Lake Pontchartrain. The water crept to the top of the massive berm that holds back the lake and then spilled over. Nearly 80 percent of New Orleans lies below sea level—more than eight feet below in places—so the water poured in . . .As it reached 25 feet over parts of the city, people climbed onto roofs to escape it.”[i]
I just quoted an article written by National Geographic in October, 2004. Almost one year ago, the author forecast the consequences of Katrina with eerie precision. The article claimed that a year ago, The Federal Emergency Management Agency listed a hurricane strike on New Orleans as one of the most dire threats to the nation. While we listen to politicians blame each other for the response, we sink under the dawning realization that some preventive steps were never taken to protect the city. One of the key reasons Katrina devastated New Orleans was the loss of coastal wetlands. Healthy wetlands provide a natural buffer against storm surges. But the Louisiana wetlands have been steadily disappearing for years. Some of the erosion is natural. Humans have had their hand in it, too. Deep offshore wells now account for nearly a third of all domestic oil production. For decades, geologists believed that the oil deposits were too deep for drilling to have any impact on the surface. But three years ago, a petroleum geologist noticed that the highest rates of wetland loss coincided with the period of peak oil and gas production in the 1970s and 80’s. The removal of millions of barrels of oil and trillions of cubic feet of natural gas, caused a drop in subsurface pressure. Nearby underground faults slipped and the land above caved in. It’s like when you stick a straw in a soda and suck on it, everything goes down.
In the days after Katrina, politicians passed around blame for mismanagement like it was a game of hot potato. We heard little about our responsibility for the environmental factors. We no longer think of ourselves as intertwined with our environment. It’s as if we humans are no longer part of creation. We stride the earth as gods, and the ground beneath our feet lives only to serve. In the wake of Katrina, we face the same lesson once more: short-term advantages can be gained by exploiting the environment. But in the long term we pay for it. Just like you can spend three days drinking in New Orleans and it’ll be fun. Sooner or later you’re going to pay.
Many human beings misunderstand our true place in creation. We think the natural world is merely the place where we live. Creation is a commodity, and we are the consumers. In the process, we are alienated from the earth, and from each other, and also from God.
Creation implies relationship. When I read the creation epics in Genesis, I sense that God created us for relationship with God, and with all of creation. Relationships rupture when we treat the world around us as merchandise we can accumulate. Instead of relating to creation as a gift, we act as if the world around us exists solely for the satisfaction of our supposed needs.
Martin Buber was a philosopher and social activist. In 1923 he came out with a groundbreaking book called I and Thou. He talked about two different types of relationships. Some people have I-Thou or I-You relationships. An I-You relationship is a true dialogue. A person relates to another with mutuality, openness, and directness. There are also I-It relationships. In an I-It relationship, a person learns about another, and experiences another, but never enters into a relationship. I-It relationships are entirely objective. I have an I-It relationship with my doctor. We don’t get together and enter into one another’s profound hopes and fears. He doesn’t even know me. He looks me over and objectively compares my health to other males of my age.
Take the example of a tree. You see a tree in the middle of summer – a rigid green pillar in a flood of light. You can feel its movement and sense the flowing veins around the sturdy, striving core. You can sense the sucking of the roots and the breathing of the leaves. You can name put the tree in a category– call it a maple, an oak, a birch. You can tell with some predictability how it will grow and when it will lose its leaves. But, up to this point the tree remains an object – an It. You have only experienced the tree.
But, it can also happen, when will and grace are joined, that as you contemplate the tree you are drawn into a relation, and tree ceases to be an It. All of the sudden you notice the unique features of this tree. It is not just a maple. It has original features that make it different from other maples. It’s still a maple. It still has a predictable form, color, and chemistry. But now, it’s as if you are confronting this maple as an individual. As the breeze tickles its branches, the leaves shake and the limbs sway, and all of the sudden this tree is dancing with you. You are in a relationship. And relation is reciprocity.[ii]
I’d think that we are I-It people with creation. We think that if we have enough objective knowledge and experience and science and can pour it all into new technology, then we will be saved. It’s a lie that we can manufacture our own health and happiness. Many of us are I-It people with our heads stuck in a synthetic world that is cheap and impotent. Our ability to enjoy one another, and the rest of creation is dammed up by greed, corruption, fractured relationships, boredom, and injustice. And so we find it easier to objectify and accumulate. But God’s creation will not be tamed. Leonard Bernstein reminds us of this in some words from his Mass:
Go and lock up your bold men,
And hold men in tow.
You can stifle all adventure
For a century or so.
Smother hope before its risen.
Watch it wizen like a gourd.
But you cannot imprison
The Word of the Lord.
No, you cannot imprison
The Word of the Lord.
I’m talking about I-You relationships with creation – transforming every experience into a unique connection. I-You relationships draw us closer to one another and to God. Nature’s abundance and beauty reveals God’s generosity and majesty. Creation’s healing, nourishing and life-giving properties reveal divine love.[iii]
God is in everything, and everything is in God. Isn’t this the message in the opening lines of John’s gospel? Jesus is God in the flesh – the eternal word of God wearing human skin and living among us. Jesus came to reveal a God who calls us into relationship. Jesus is Immanuel, God With Us. He experiences everything we do. He lives through pain, and hunger, and happiness, and temptation, and death. Jesus doesn’t relate to us just as human beings with DNA and predictable gene patterns. We are not called into a clinical relationship with Jesus. He doesn’t look at you and say, “A typical Christian of your spiritual age should be healthier,” as he rips off a prescription for more prayer and selfless giving. Jesus relates to you as an individual. He knows your pain. He knows your trials. He knows what excites you and what scares you. And he loves you.
The question is whether we can relate back to God. Remember what Buber said: Relation is reciprocity. If relating to another means give and take, then we have to give and not just take. A new relationship with God and creation means being vulnerable to God’s Word-- the ongoing, creative energy of God. Our spiritual task is to get out of the way enough so that we might be filled and renewed with God’s Word so that we can go about our work of healing, celebrating, and co-creating.[iv]
What I’m really talking about today is the power of love. I’m asking you to love creation and to love one another, and to love God. The love I’m talking about involves some risk. Think of a two people who fall in love. In a moment of passion, a guy says, “I love you.” And the girl says, “Wow, I love you too.” I see it in the movies all the time. The guy might mean it with all of his soul. But he is only into experiencing the moment: the rush of excitement. He says, “I Love you,” but he might really mean, “I love girls,” or “I love how I feel right now.” If that’s the case, then what he calls love is really using the woman as an object to fulfill his supposed needs at that moment. How many people do you know who have heard the words “I love you,” and then left the relationship feeling cheap and used? We might call it love, but it’s not a relationship.
Think of what happens with another couple when they say “I love you” to one another. They look, and listen, and touch one another, and they know that what they see, hear, and feel has been kissed by God. This is not just any person. This is not just MY wife, or MY husband, or MY lover. This person represents the image of God, and we are given to one another as a reminder to enjoy the gifts of God.
Sure, we can live in an orderly, detached reliable world. We can categorize people and judge them, and distance ourselves from “those people” who are always screwing things up.
We can suck the life out of those around us, and our earth, until we are bloated and satisfied while others are tossed aside like second-hand remnants after they’ve served their purpose. There is another way.
We can approach one another, and the world around us and realize that that we see, or touch is a single unique being, interconnected yet unique. This week I want you to look. Really look. And listen, and touch know that what you see, and hear, and feel, has been kissed by God.
[i] “Gone With the Water” by Joel Bourne in National Geographic, http://www3.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/0410/feature5/
[ii] from Martin Buber, I and Thou (New York: Charles Scribner, 1970), 56-58.
[iii] “The Call of Creation: God's Invitation and the Human Response,” http://www.catholic-ew.org.uk/resource/GreenText/
[iv] Some ideas in this sermon were freely lifted from Original Blessing by Matthew Fox (New York: Putnam, 1983).