The story of how Patricia and I found our house might not interest you, and might at first in the context of the larger problems surrounding us seem remarkably unimportant, but allow me to share one short part of it. In early March in 2006, having followed the “Open House” signs that first appeared as we were driving up Campbell Avenue in Tucson intending to stop at a Starbucks at Campbell and Sunrise, we pulled into the driveway of the house to which those signs led us. Patricia got out of the car before me, and went to the front door, through which she could see all the way out through the living room window in the back of the house and across what I guess in the midwest we would have called, “the backyard.”
“Oh John Dear, you’re going to like this!” she called out — and she was right; one of the nice features of our house is that one has a nice “western” exposure in the afternoon — which means that we get to see some absolutely awesome sunsets; Patricia calls them the “most beautiful sunsets in the country,” though the irony is that on the sunny days that drew her to want to live here, there are not so many clouds and the sunsets are less spectacular.
I understand the physics, the optics, of sunsets, but they are hardly man-made; sunsets are clearly the work of, in a superficial sense, “nature”. . . in one sense, “nature,” but I certainly prefer to that somewhat meaningless term, “nature,” the cause that we find in our reading from Genesis 1 and that leads to the idea that sunsets are a result of the work of the Creator, of God. I chuckle that even many of the self-proclaimed “agnostics” find something awesome in the creation — oops, “in nature.”
(I have to comment, perhaps unfairly, on the late physicist Stephen Hawking, he whose book, A Brief History of Time, was a best seller but mainly unread, which is not to put down the physics he did. As I understood him, Hawking said that creation was the result of the laws of physics, which I think is precisely backwards: the laws of physics describe the work of the Creator.)
The work of God the Creator: the world, the universe around us. Here in Arizona, we are blessed with the accessibility, whether we take advantage of it or not, not only of magnificent sunsets, but of tremendous geological and biological diversity in mountains and deserts and forests and in rivers and canyons. The drive down Salt Creek Canyon is magnificent, and those who visit Arizona to see the Grand Canyon, but neglect driving through Oak Creek Canyon coming north out of Sedona, heck, who miss as well the area south of Sedona, why, they are missing some fabulous bits of creation.
The French lawyer, John Calvin, from whom a major branch of the Reformation — including Presbyterianism — flows, says that God reveals God’s self to us in two ways. The first Calvin calls, “General Revelation,” which is creation; the second Calvin calls, “Specific Revelation,” by which he is referring to Jesus Christ.
Would that those who are content to be moved by nature, by the created world and I hope unconsciously by General Revelation, might be open to Specific Revelation as well — and I’ll return to that in a moment.
As a pastor who usually makes use of the Revised Common Lectionary of Scripture reading suggestions, I could not have asked for a finer pairing of a psalm and a Hebrew Bible Scripture than we have today, Genesis 1 and Psalm 8, and with due respect to one of the commentator’s whose notes I read, it actually is not clear that Psalm 8 reflects Genesis 1; it could well be the other way around. Genesis 1 is not the older of the two creation stories we have in Genesis; the Adam and Eve story, which is a completely different creation story with some irreconcilable detail differences to the Genesis 1 story, starts immediately after, in the same verse of Chapter 2 with which we ended a few moments ago. The Genesis 1 story is very structured, and as I try to say over and over again, what [Tom has/we have] read is not about how the God of Israel — our God — created everything, but rather that the God of Israel created everything. Thus I believe the story is true — even if the details it offers are nonsensical, such as the idea that the moon and stars and sun are placed on a dome over the earth; Apollo 8 rather disproved that idea.
But it is a mistake to let what is scientific nonsense to at least some of us more modern readers keep us from understanding the importance of what the writer of the Genesis 1 story was saying: All that you see and experience of the universe is the work of God!
And that is “General Revelation” to Calvin, although that really understates what both the writer of Genesis 1 and the writer of Psalm 8 have to say. The writer of Genesis has God declare what is the theological basis for ecological stewardship:
28 God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fertile and increase, fill the earth and master it; and rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and all the living things that creep on earth." 29 God said, "See, I give you every seed-bearing plant that is upon all the earth, and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit; they shall be yours for food. 30 And to all the animals on land, to all the birds of the sky, and to everything that creeps on earth, in which there is the breath of life, I give all the green plants for food." And it was so.
Genesis 1 thus says something about humankind and its role both in the hierarchy of creation and in using and preserving God’s creation; we are stewards and beneficiaries of what God has created.
But oh what the writer of Psalm 8 has to say, and here I admit it is a struggle to determine which translation of this transcendently beautiful psalm I should use; most I consult are good, yet none captures quite perfectly what I think the psalmist is saying, so let me use this two-slight-John Johnson-edits version of how Robert Alter translates part of this magnificent psalm:
When I see Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars You fixed firm,
What is man that You should note him
And the human creature, that You [care for him],
And You make him little less than [a god],
With glory and grandeur You crown him?
You make him rule over the work of Your hands.
All things You set under his feet.
There is no way to escape arguments about gender, so please excuse “him,” both Alter and his translation, and excuse me, because to try to say “him or her” destroys the rhythm of the original Hebrew poetry Alter is trying to capture, but it is humankind to which “him” refers.
But capture this idea from the psalm: God cares for human beings! We are not just part of creation, we are not just animals, we are something else; God has entrusted us with the well-being of creation!
We all are something else! Note that neither Genesis 1 nor Psalm 8 narrows down to “we Jews” are something else or “we Christians” or “we Caucasians are something else”; God created all, and thus cares for all, humankind.
We, we humans, are entrusted with the well-being of creation — and the pinnacle of creation is humankind!
While I had not originally intended this as a point I wanted to make, where those who find in ecology or “climate change” their own form of religion, and that there are those who do so find speaks poorly of how we as Christ’s Church have filled our call, which I’ll describe in a moment, our religion, our Judeo-Christian sharing of the ideas of the Hebrew Scriptures, points to caring for all that God has created, but always realizing that the summum bonum, or summum laborum, the apex of God’s creative effort, is us! We are more important than trees or plants or fish or birds or any of the other species, that God has created.
In other words, and this I had always planned to say, if we have an obligation of stewardship, the top priority is indeed to care for homo sapiens, for their lives and health and well-being, and their living under justice and not tyranny, for their being free from discrimination or ill-treatment because of the color of their skin or, yes, the faith they proclaim, and so far as possible, not in hunger or poverty, either
And this is where it is too easy to shrug our shoulders in disappointment or indifference, especially when we settle for the idea that the ultimate answer to all problems lies in politics. There is a power greater than government. Think: Could humans have created the universe?
Our Gospel reading today is one of the few passages that deal with Jesus after His resurrection, and the charge it gives is His charge to us, to us as His Church, but it cannot be an effective charge to the Church if it is not also understood as a charge to each of us as His followers:
And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."
We have stewardship over creation in the sense of using it wisely and preserving it for those who come after us, but we have stewardship — not quite the right word, I know, but bear with me — stewardship, guardianship, trusteeship, over the children of God who do not yet know God through the Son, who have not yet recognized the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Make disciples of all nations. Make disciples not in the sense of saying, “What a good, self-righteous person am I,” but rather, make disciples by teaching people to live out the two great commandments: Love God — which must include giving thanks to God as well as following the second great commandment: Love your neighbor as God loves you. For if we do not love out neighbor, all of our neighbors, all of God’s children, we are not loving God.
If we love nature without loving the Creator, of what value to anyone is that? But if we love the Creator we will love all — and everyone — that has been created.
But God is much more than “Creator”; God as Christ is redeemer of our shortcomings, our sins; God as Holy Spirit is sustainer of ourselves throughout the good moments and bad moments of earthly life.
And by gosh, those three roles are sometimes known as “the functional Trinity.” Today is what is known as “Trinity Sunday,” so in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” Amen.