This sermon, preached at First Congregational Church of Hendersonville on May 8th, 2022, was adapted from a sermon preached in October of 2021. The text referenced is Psalm 104: 1-9 from the NRSV. The original sermon was titled “Remembering Who We Are, Becoming Ourselves.”
Psalm 104 tells of the relationship between Creator and Creation. In this passage, fire is named as God’s minister. The water serves the Lord. The wind is God’s messenger. All creatures, all beings, all aspects of Creation are intimately known by God. Even God’s body, imagined here by the Psalmist, is covered by light and wrapped in water. To me, this passage is moving because the relationship between God and Creation is right. The water listens to God’s voice, the wind carries God’s words, the sunrise plays off of God’s form… Creator and Creation are in harmony.
I’m moved by this imagery. I’m also convicted. Because, while the water is listening, I know that often, I am not. We are not. People are not.
As members of Creation, creatures ourselves, we have too often forgotten our role in the world. Our role declared in Genesis as stewards of this garden. Our role declared in the gospels as lovers of God and our neighbor. We have forgotten our charge of caretaking, and in our apathy and amnesia, we have caused great harm. Our reckless consumption of oil and gas has caused even the water to flee the boundaries drawn by God in today’s psalm, flooding communities at rates beyond anything we have ever known.
We act as though we are in control—as though our role is that of boundary-setter instead of boundary-keeper. As though we can fix this all on our own. As though we can make things right again by ourselves. But we are mistaken. We are not in control. We cannot “ride on the wings of the wind” like God in Psalm 104. We cannot control Creation, we can only exist within it. We can only be creatures in the world, of the world, formed by God and called to right relationship. We can only be beautifully and wonderfully human.
Friends, what would it mean to be human again? To stop acting as if we are in control and instead listen to God and God’s calling of care? What would it mean to honor our calling as creatures? To value love above expediency and personal comfort?
Christian theologian Walter Bruggemann says that we cannot become what we cannot imagine. And so, with the help of teachers listening deeply to Creator and Creation, I want to imagine with you today.
Let’s start now.
Sherri Mitchell, Weh’na Ha’mu Kwasset, of the Penawhapskek Nation is one of our teachers. Through her words and her works, she offers incredible lessons for our journey of remembering who we are and walking in our purpose. In her essay “Indigenous Prophecy and Mother Earth,” she acknowledges that “[h]uman beings have fallen out of alignment with life… [and] as a result, have forgotten how to live in relationship with the rest of creation…” But all is not lost.
Indigenous ways of knowing continue to steward the land and protect the water. Though indigenous peoples make up only 5% of the global population, land managed by indigenous people holds approximately 80% of the world’s biodiversity and 40-50% of the remaining protected places in the world. Our indigenous siblings have proven that the presence of people does not inherently lead to destruction. Instead, people can exist as valued parts of a healthy and thriving ecosystem. People can live within their means and their place. By honoring our relationship with one another, we can contribute to, and be a part of, the beauty of the world.
Beloved, this is good news.
With generosity, Sherri invites us to learn from her community—to consider the groundings of her culture and how these firm foundations have prevented her own amnesia and apathy in relation to her identity and the world. She speaks of “kincentric awareness,” the knowledge that every aspect of Creation is connected through kinship networks—that our ancestors include the trees, and the rivers, and the 2.3 million species that share fragments of our DNA.
She speaks to the concept of enough within her traditional language, explaining that while one word, “mamabaezu,” refers to individual needs meaning that “he or she has enough,” another word, “alabezu,” means “everyone has enough”—including all beings in the natural world.
In stark contrast to the values of western culture, Sherri declares that in order for there to be enough, there must be both mamabaezu and alabezu. Enough for the entire Earth community, for the fullness of Creation, for all of our relations, for me, and for you.
She presents a definition of wellbeing that is communal—in which the health of one depends on the health of all. A definition in which the relationship between all beings and their Creator is both honored and acknowledged. A definition that seeds our imagination with possibilities of how the world could be—how the world has been! How our forests can be seen for more than timber, palm oil, or as potential land to graze cattle.
Can you imagine? Can you imagine a world defined by enough instead of excess or scarcity? Can you imagine living like our health, and the health of the Ash tree, and mother, and monarch are connected?
In order to build the kin-dom of God, we must be able to envision a world that is different. We must be able to imagine who we could be, who we’re called to be—and remember that it is possible for us, once again, to become who we are.
This isn’t anything new.
We have been connected to Earth from our beginning. The Hebrew word for human, adam, comes from the Hebrew word for soil, adamah. In the second chapter of Genesis we learn that God forms us from soil. We are adam from adamah—quite literally “soil people.” We are creatures of Earth—connected to God, land, and all beings. Our joy tugs at the joy of others, our sorrow is communal. We are connected. Deeply. Our breath, and the breath of the bear, and the dragonfly, and the corn stalk, and the oak tree all intermingle in this space. And God’s breath, Ruach, the Holy Spirit, is among us too.
This is who we are–soil people charged with the care of one another, and the many creatures God delights in, and ultimately, this place. This place that is inherently good and that provides the food, and water, and oxygen with which we are able to meet each other’s needs.
We have unlearning to do. As we walk this path, we must unlearn ways that place profit before the lives of all our relations—human and non-human. We must unlearn ways of relating, speaking, and decision-making that are not rooted in relationship. We must unlearn language that tells us that the Earth is a thing and not a being emanating God’s love for us. Because God is here now, in this place, in this time, amidst soil and star stuff and all that has been called “good.” God’s breath continues to be felt over the waters. And God is still speaking.
Friends, we have everything we need to live into our callings. Like the water in Psalm 104, we must only learn to listen…
And once we remember who we are, we get to be who we are. Perhaps slowly at first, muscle memory takes time… But we get to live fully—from love, for love, with love, by love. We get to stand with all of Creation, as a part of Creation, and join in its groaning. We get to be a part of the awakening of God’s people.
And we are waking up.
Those of us who have lost our way are beginning to find ourselves again. Some through gardening and that sacred act of reaching our hands deep into the soil. Some through learning the names of our siblings–Pilliated woodpecker, Carolina Wren, Eastern Screech Owl. Some through drafting and supporting policies that offer the rights of personhood to rivers, forests, and other sacred spaces.
The list goes on and on.
In my work with the Creation Care Alliance, I strive to help congregations as they take these steps to faithfully love the fullness of Creation. And I am continuously inspired.
There are faith communities here in our region learning about native species and planting those species along the eroded banks of streams and creeks in their watershed as a means of fostering climate resilience, better water quality, and healthier waterways. There are faith communities hosting silent meditation and prayer hours for the health of all of God’s Creation on a weekly basis. There are faith communities that teach and preach on these issues, and then, organize “Souls to the Polls” events to encourage voting with these values in our hearts. There are faith communities that have installed solar panels and are now in the process of divesting their financial resources to ensure they don’t further fuel the climate crisis. There are faith communities partnering with wildlife conservation organizations to bring back the most endangered of our non-human kindred. There are faith communities planning children’s camps and activities to ensure that, for the youngest among us, it will be harder to forget our purpose of love…
In each of these communities, I have noticed something in common. They are all listening. They are striving, like the water in today’s psalm, to hear God’s voice and respond… Even when it feels uncomfortable. Even when it is hard. Step by step, they are walking the path… We are walking together.
Beloved, now is the time to remember who we are. Now is the time to become who we are. Now is the time to step into the Gospel truth that, like our indigenous siblings, proclaims authentic, trust-filled, relationship as the way forward… Now is the time to come together in community with Creation, within Creation, for the good of Creation.
May there be enough for you, and for me, and for the trees, and the rivers, and the salamanders, and our grandchildren, and all of us. And may we listen well.