I was a bit of a star-gazer as a kid. I grew up near the ocean in Cape Elizabeth just on the other side of Portland, in a setting where - much like here - there was little light pollution. I would sit on the back deck of the house and stare for hours up at the endless night sky, not thinking about much in particular -- merely taking in the vastness of it all. As I grew older, I took just about every book out of the public library on space and astronomy and it didn’t diminish my wonder -- in fact, it served to increase my amazement as I would look up at the heavens and be fascinated by the light that was formed thousands of years ago from distant stars only just now reaching earth, amazed that our galaxy was only one among thousands of other galaxies, and humbled by the notion that life existed in connection to the vastness of the universe.
My curiosity about the world as a child wasn’t limited to the very big -- it also included the very small. I remember being about seven years old and sitting on my dad’s lap and asking him what the world was made of. And he uttered this magical word that changed my life, although I didn’t know it at the time. “Atoms” he said. My young brain puzzled over that one for awhile, because there was this kid in my Sunday School class named Adam, and I wasn’t quite sure how there were little, tiny, Adams making all this stuff. Once I figured out the difference, I was still mystified as to how - if we were all made of atoms - that glass looked like glass and wood looked like wood and - was even the moon made of atoms? So back to the library I went and checked out every single book in the children’s section and learned all about electrons and protons and neutrons and the elements and thus my interest in physics was born.
I followed these passions to being a math and physics double major at college, and it hasn’t left me even in my pastoral ministry. If you could take a look at my bookshelf, you’d see “The Elegant Universe” sitting next to “The Cost of Discipleship” next to a book on Chaos theory next to some worship resources and my journal,...all next to some science fiction. It took me many years to realize that God was speaking to me in the beauty I saw in the stars and in string theory, in the aesthetic of mathematical equations or quantum mechanics, even though I think - even as a child - it was something I grasped intuitively.
I think this is part of the reason that I love the creation story so much. I find such connection to this image of God hovering over the waters, of God’s breath reaching out over the deep, dark, chaotic void to draw forth light and form and substance and life. Everything from the stars in the sky to the grains of sand on the beach, from the largest black hole to the smallest quarks - God’s design called it into being, and God called it all good. We are all connected and sustained by these holy words that God spoke to call the universe into being.
This is the other reason I love this story - the sense of awe and wonder when we look out at the created world. How many of us find ourselves drawn to God when we look out at nature? [show of hands?] For me, there are times when I’m out for a walk, or sitting on my porch, or on vacation out in the Berkshires and I gaze at the mountains, or watch hummingbirds dive bomb each other at a feeder or seeing the clouds roll in for an approaching storm when I am just struck and humbled by the incredible power and mystery of this God who keeps life moving, who holds all things together, who continues to create and call new realities into our lives and into this world, and I know, without a doubt, that all creation was intended to be good....and no matter how bad things may get, all will become good once again.
I sometimes wonder if God might have been a little short-sighted when God put us human beings “in charge” of creation. It’s a responsibility that I’m pretty sure we’ve taken advantage of and abused, even as many have worked to off-set the damage that we around the world are doing to our planet. In some ways it’s a blessing that we live here in this beautiful place, where we on the whole understand our reliance upon the soil and the waters, where we try to live in harmony with the land, where we receycle and upcycle and reuse and reuse and reuse again. It’s amazing the incarnations of various items you see around the place. Even this morning at the hall with the craft item swap -- very few things go to waste around here. And yet, even we aren’t free from the effects of the harm being done to our planet. Much of the air pollution we experience here in Maine doesn’t come from our state - but is carried here on the windstream from coal plants in the south and the midwest and in exhaust emissions from DC northward.
We as a country don’t even have it that bad as compared to other places around the world, with countries like India and China becoming much more industrialized. A few years ago, I had the opportunity to travel to India as part of a class for seminary. We traveled around Southern India, visiting various cities and villages, travelling primarily by train. You would think that traveling through the countryside in an exotic place like India, you’d want a window seat on the train. Not so. The land around the tracks was filled with trash - old tires, bottles, cans, papers, most anything imaginable lined the landscape, and it was horrifying to see the marred beauty of the landscape, to think about the toxins leaching into the soil, to know that unless someone or some organization spends major resources, that trash will be around forever.
Somedays, it feels like all of creation is groaning under the weight of our failed responsibility as faithful stewards of the earth. In dooming the earth, we are dooming ourselves. Even the seemingly most insignificant change can have drastic effects. We may not think that our small actions make a difference, but what one person does affects all of us. Throwing a bottle into the trash instead of in the recycling bin, the byproducts of manufacturing plants trickling into the ground or into our water supply, the extra pollutants in the air on account of our reliance upon cars. Habitats for animals destroyed. Resources depleting. Ozone thinning.Mountains - gone. You can google ways that humanity is changing the planet and see before and after pictures from NASA of areas of earth - deforestation, water shortages, erosion, and more.
It’s a little terrifying to think of. And it’s even more terrifying to think of the effects that will eventually be felt more keenly by humankind within a generation - and how much more those effects will be felt by those who are poor - from famine and drought, to rising sea levels that make areas uninhabitable.
And I imagine God weeping at the thought of this beautiful world being taken apart, piece by piece.
What affects one of us, affects us all.
We’ve seen on the screen all throughout worship these images of creation - the majesty and splendor and awe - and the ordinary beauty that surrounds us every day. I feel so blessed to live in a place where you can see that beauty every day, like in last night’s gorgeous sunset after a hot and steamy day. Such scenes remind me that we are all connected - that the same God who orchestrated the sunset is the God who created me and who fashioned the rocks and trees and water and animals who inhabit it - and that we need to preserve and protect it, even when it means making inconvenient choices. Maybe it’s a call to think twice when we put our junk mail in the trash, or to stop using styrofoam coffee cups at the workplace, or to make a choice to buy products with minimal packaging - or to carpool with friends when going to work or doing errands on the mainland. Perhaps it is to take a more active stance in state and federal government with the standards around emissions and preventing the escalation of climate change.
I believe there is always more that we can do to be faithful stewards of this world that God entrusted to our care. We’re lucky here to live in a place that remains so beautiful -- but we want it to remain this way for our children, our grandchildren, our great-grandchildren and for generations to come.
So I invite all of us to remember the ways that we are all connected with one another and with creation -- that harm done to one is harm we all experience, and that care and compassion shown to one is a step in healing and restoring all there is. God’s work is about redeeming the whole world - not just humanity but all of creation. Justice in God’s kingdom includes justice for the rocks and the trees, the birds and the insects, humans and rivers and forests and oceans, the sun and moon and stars together. Let’s do our part to be faithful stewards of this universe that God has created, and to bring healing and wholeness to our Mother earth. Amen.
Pastor Melissa Yosua-Davis has been serving the Chebeague Island United Methodist Church since July 2015. She currently lives on the island with her husband and two dogs, and soon will expect a new addition to her family. Read here recent sermon excerpts, thoughts on life and faith, and current announcements for the chuch community. She also blogs at Going on to Perfection.