COMMUNITY CHURCH OF THE MONTEREY PENINSULA
P. O. BOX 222811
CARMEL CA 93922
Rev. Paul Wrightman, Pastor
Independent and United Church of Christ
September 27, 2020
Elizabeth, Luna (our new puppy), and I will be in Mammoth Lakes from September 26th through October 5th, so there will be no Zoom worship option the next two Sundays. Email and regular mail options will continue while we’re away. Our next Zoom Bible study will be on October 14th (not on the 7th because of the vice presidential debates).
Ada Morton was able to join our Zoom worship service this past Sunday, and seeing and hearing her was great!
Please pray for Barbara Wells who had heart value replacement surgery on Friday, September 25th. Lloyd tells me that she is doing well, so our prayers can be ones of thanksgiving and for her rapid and complete recovery.
Please pray for Peter Sewald, who will be having a heart ablation procedure to control atrial fib on October 1st.
We continue our sermon series on the most important texts in the Bible from Genesis through Revelation. Today we look at a Psalm celebrating God’s wonderful creation, which has strong implications for how we human beings treat our planet.
Stay Safe, Take Good Care,
And Always Remember that Jesus IS Emmanuel, God WITH Us, Paul
WORSHIP SERVICE FOR SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 27
INTRODUCTORY READING (U.N. Environmental Sabbath)
How wonderful, O Lord,
are the works of Your hands!
The heavens declare Your glory,
the arch of sky displays Your handiwork.
The heavens declare the glory of God.
In Your love You have given us the power
to behold the beauty of Your world,
robed in all its splendor.
The sun and the stars,
the valleys and hills,
the rivers and lakes
all disclose Your presence.
The earth reveals God’s eternal presence.
The roaring breakers of the sea
tell of Your awesome might;
the beasts of the field
and the birds of the air
bespeak Your wondrous will.
Life comes forth by God’s creative will.
In Your Goodness You have made us able to hear
the music of the world.
The raging of the winds,
the whisperings of trees in the wood,
and the precious voices of loved ones
reveal to us that You are in our midst.
A divine voice sings through all creation.
SUGGESTED MUSIC The Peacemakers – Healing Light (Deep Peace),
A Celtic Prayer You Tube
OPENING PRAYER (Sioux)
Grandfather Great Spirit
All over the world the faces of living ones are alike.
With tenderness they have come up out of the ground.
Look upon your children that they may
face the winds and walk the good road to the Day of Quiet.
Grandfather Great Spirit
Fill us with the Light.
Give us the strength to understand,
and the eyes to see.
Teach us to walk the soft Earth as relatives to all that live.
Our Father who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power,
and the glory, for ever and ever.
SCRIPTURE READING Psalm 104:1-4, 10-18, 24-26, NRSV
Bless the Lord, O my soul.
O Lord my God, you are very great.
You are clothed with honor and majesty,
wrapped in light as with a garment.
You stretch out the heavens like a tent,
you set the beams of your chambers on the waters,
you make the clouds your chariot,
you ride on the wings of the wind,
you make the winds your messengers,
fire and flame your ministers.
You make springs gush forth in the valleys;
they flow between the hills,
giving drink to every wild animal;
the wild donkeys quench their thirst.
By the streams the birds of the air have their habitation;
they sing among the branches.
From your lofty abode you water the mountains;
the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work.
You cause the grass to grow for the cattle,
and plants for people to use,
to bring forth food from the earth,
and wine to gladden the human heart,
oil to make the face shine,
and bread to strengthen the human heart.
The trees of the Lord are watered abundantly,
the cedars of Lebanon that he planted.
In them the birds build their nests;
the stork has its home in the fir trees.
The high mountains are for the wild goats;
the rocks are a refuge for the rock badgers.
O Lord, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom you have made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
Yonder is the sea, great and wide,
creeping things innumerable are there,
living things both small and great.
There go the ships,
and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it.
SERMON: THE WAY TO PEACE BEGINS WITH CREATION!
Rev. Paul Wrightman
(The underlining simply indicates what I would emphasize if delivered orally.)
After more than 1700 years of arguing, the leading Scripture scholars and theologians of nearly all the major groups within world Christianity have once again arrived at a consensus regarding peace: Jesus lived, taught, and breathed non-violent resistance to violent power – and expected his followers to live, teach, and breathe the same.
With the exception of many (not all) Christian fundamentalists – who along with Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist fundamentalists – live and teach a God of violence – this means that the mainline Protestant churches together with many evangelicals, along with the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches, are in essential agreement that Jesus lived and taught peace and expects his adherents to follow his lead in working non-violently for peace.
This is the first time since the first three hundred years of Christianity – when the early church lived and taught and breathed the nonviolence of Jesus – that a huge majority of Christians once again see their religion as a religion of peace.
A fascinating angle on Christianity once again becoming a religion of peace concerns what will happen when Jesus returns. For many centuries the second coming of Jesus has been viewed through the violent lens of the book of Revelation. Today the emphasis is going back to texts from the Hebrew Scriptures that Jesus personally identified with, texts like this one from the book of Micah:
In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple
will be established as the highest of the mountains;
it will be exalted above the hills, and peoples will stream to it.
Many nations will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He will judge between many peoples
and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their speaks into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.
Everyone will sit under their own vine
and under their own fig tree,
and no one will make them afraid,
for the Lord Almighty has spoken.
Nearly all the texts about the “last days” in the Hebrew Scriptures do not talk about God returning to destroy, but God coming to heal and to restore. Jesus resonated deeply with these passages. Many Scripture scholars and theologians hold that the New Testament book of Revelation directly contradicts the Jesus of the Gospels, and believe that if Jesus had been around when this book was written, he would have repudiated it.
One of the reflection questions after the sermon last week was: Do you see any contemporary paradigm-shifts in theology underway or on the horizon? What are they?
Quite a few contemporary Christian thinkers would answer this question by citing liberation theology applied to life on this planet as a whole, not just human beings. They tell us that political peace – peace within and among nations – will never happen in any lasting way until humankind makes peace with our planet. Another way of putting this would be to say that peace among people will remain out of reach until people make peace with the other life forms on our planet.
Our magnificent reading from Psalm 104, not to mention the four chapters of bragging about creation that we recently considered in the book of Job, makes it abundantly clear that God is in love with all of creation, and not just the human part of it.
How can we humans possibly think that we can at the same time wage war against all the rest of God’s creation and somehow achieve peace among people and nations? How can we humans be on the road to annihilating at least two thirds of all other life forms on this planet by the middle of this century and think that we can somehow magically attain peace among ourselves?
Let’s turn now to the story of Community Church.
Many churches affirm certain creeds of the historic Christian tradition; few churches have stated core values.
I find it fascinating that the leadership of Community Church chose to de-emphasize creeds, and instead to highlight certain core values which they considered to be crucial to the life of this church. Creeds are about what we are supposed to believe; core values seek to guide us in how to live.
So when we state as one of our core values that “We are stewards sustaining all of God’s creation,” this is not merely a statement of belief, but a commitment as to how we want to live.
The classic biblical text concerning the relationship between people and all other living beings on the planet is Genesis 1:26-28, which reads (underlining mine):
Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”
This is a text the misuse of which has led to immeasurable damage being done to the earth. The problem lies in the use of the word “dominion” and its synonym “subdue.”
“Dominion,” of course, means “kingly rule,” and “kingly rule,” for most of human history, has meant absolute, arbitrary, and autocratic rule.
The mistake we made was to understand God’s giving human beings “dominion” over creation as meaning that God gave us permission to do whatever we wanted to and with creation, just as many kings did whatever they wanted to and with their kingdoms.
The giant mistake we made was to look at dominion from the viewpoint of human kingship and human kingdoms, rather than from the vantage point of God’s kingship and God’s kingdom.
In Genesis, God gives human beings the privilege of standing in for God, so to speak, of acting on God’s behalf for the benefit and blessing of creation.
When God gives humanity the gift of “dominion” over creation, God expects us to act as God’s stewards in relationship to creation, to act with restraint and responsibility, not possessiveness and greed.
Several huge historical movements converged to create the ecological crisis that we find ourselves in today.
The Protestant Reformation, by emphasizing the relationship of the individual with God, de-emphasized the relationship of God with nature. Nature was no longer seen as numinous, or sacred, a powerful reflection of God’s presence, but as neutral stuff that human beings could use in whatever ways they wanted.
When the Enlightenment, with its emphasis on reason and the scientific method, burst upon the scene a century later, the stage was set for the amazing advances in technology which, in turn, ushered in the Industrial Revolution, with its wholesale exploitation of natural resources and the arrival of pollution on a scale never before seen in human history.
The exploitation and pollution of our planet has now increased to the point where we are bringing about irreparable damage to life on earth. As theologian Paul Wadell puts it (underlining mine): “The earth cannot afford the kind of human beings we have become. It cannot afford men and women who think of themselves primarily as consumers. It cannot afford people who see the natural world as something to exploit instead of reverence. It cannot afford all the waste and rubbish that flows in the wake of a lifestyle where people measure their well-being by what they own instead of who they are. It cannot afford a way of life that takes the natural world for granted and presumes that we can do to nature whatever we want without cost.”
Numerous authors have commented on how the way we conceive of our place in the universe dramatically impacts the way we live our everyday lives. Thus, primitive human beings, who saw themselves in an organic relationship with nature as a whole, tended to respect, even reverence, the creation of which they were a part.
With the advent of the Enlightenment, and especially Sir Isaac Newton’s mathematical and mechanistic way of understanding the universe – a way, moreover, which seemed to work, leading as it did to all sorts of breakthroughs in technology – we began to see our world and our universe as vast machines, machines which could be managed and manipulated in whatever ways governments and factory owners and international corporations saw fit. Indeed, “Survival of the fittest” became the catchphrase of corporations who shredded both the competition and the planet.
If governments and corporations – governments and corporations which “we the people” support – continue on their present trajectory, we will likely render the planet uninhabitable – not only for people but for all animal life – by the turn of this century. And if things continue to devolve at their present alarming rate this could be true by the middle of the century. Just a few years ago, for example, wildfires weren’t predicted to be this bad in the West until 2040. That puts us a good twenty years ahead of schedule!
So. . .how do we respond to this situation as people of faith?
Many are suggesting that the first thing we Christians need to do is to repent of our erroneous and self-serving interpretation of Genesis 1:26-28. We need to re-interpret the word “dominion” as stewardship and acknowledge that stewardship is a reality filled with responsibility.
But individual Christians, even whole denominations, can only go so far.
It’s going to take governmental leadership involving the vast majority of governments in our world today to turn things around. The world could have been prepared for the pandemic we find ourselves in now, but it wasn’t, and we’re paying a huge price for our negligence. The world has been put on warning by an overheating planet that continuing negligence in regard to climate change is tantamount to planetary homicide.
Christians from all over the globe are arguing that a serious and sustained commitment on the part of humankind to cool things down is the single most important issue of our time. They are calling climate change an existential threat, meaning that it threatens our very existence. They maintain that this is the single most important issue for every county to deal with in upcoming elections.
Personally, I think it’s going to take a combination of people of faith putting pressure on their governments and a personal commitment to becoming a different type of person. I think the remark by theological Paul Wadell quoted earlier deserves serious and sustained reflection: “[Our planet} cannot afford a lifestyle where people measure their well-being by what they own instead of who they are.”
As more and more people of faith (not just Christians!) choose to re-define themselves in terms of being rather than in terms of having, we just might arrive at a tipping point, a tipping point for good.
“Tell me the weight of a snowflake,” a sparrow asked a wild dove. “Nothing more than nothing,” was the answer.
“In that case I must tell you a marvelous story,” the sparrow said.
“I sat on the branch of a fir, close to its trunk, when it began to snow – not heavily, not like a raging blizzard – no, just like in a dream, without a sound, and without any violence.
Since I did not have anything better to do, I counted the snowflakes settling on the twigs and needles of my branch. Their number was exactly 741,952. When the 741,952nd dropped onto the branch, nothing more than nothing, as you say, the branch broke off.” Having said that, the sparrow flew away.
The dove, since Noah’s time an authority on the matter, thought about the story for awhile, and finally said to herself, “Perhaps only one person’s voice is lacking for peace to come to the world.”
How important do you think the environmental crisis ranks in terms of what should be a priority for our own government?
Spend some time meditating on the difference between being and having. What came to you?
CLOSING PRAYER Paul Winter, Contemporary
All praise be yours through Brother Sun.
All praise be yours through Sister Moon.
By Mother Earth, the Spirit be Praised.
By Brother Mountain, Sister Sea,
Through Brother Wind and Brother Air
Through Sister Water, Brother Fire
The Stars above give thanks to thee,
All praise to those who live in Peace.
All praise be yours, through Brother Wolf.
All praise be yours, through Sister Whale.
By nature’s song, the Spirit be praised.
By Brother Eagle, Sister Loon,
Through Brother Tiger, Sister Seal,
Let creatures all give thanks to Thee.
All praise to those who live in Peace.
Ask of the beasts and they shall teach you
the beauty of the Earth.
Ask of the trees and they shall teach you
the beauty of the Earth.
Ask of the Flowers and they shall teach you
the beauty of the Earth.
Ask of the Wind and it shall teach you
the beauty of the Earth.
SUGGESTED MUSIC 2 Cellos – Benedictus (by Karl Jenkins)
[Live at Arena Zagreb] You Tube
Patiently and persistently, God loves.
Relentlessly and unconditionally, God loves.
Now and forever, God loves.