Friday, October 30, 2009

Closer to Creation I: Sermon Notes

These are the notes to the first sermon in the "Closer to Creation" Series entitled "Something In the Water".  They are notes, which can make for tricky reading and absolutely horrific formatting in Blogger.  Sorry about that.  It is meant to be heard rather than read...

(Delivered September 20, 2009)
Something in The Water
Rev. Adam Tierney Eliot, Eliot Church, Natick, MA
Psalm 42
Genesis 1
Mark 9:30-37

Mary Oliver begins her "Morning Poem"

That we read today by saying that
Every morning the world is created
This is a great and hopeful idea
But if this is the case,

It while the world may be re-created
It isn’t always renewed it isn’t always healed
Most mornings the earth looks a bit too much like some of us
Which is to say a lot like we were the day before
But a little bit older, still tired, just wanting to go back to sleep

Who here has heard of “Mountaintop Removal”?
It is a very efficient way to remove coal
Where they make a mountain or hill about 500 feet shorter
To get at the deposits
Sending tons of rock and toxic minerals
Sliding down the side of the mountain into the lakes and streams below
Drying many of them up
And poisoning the water of the animals
And the human communities that live in the valleys
Of southern Appalachia

It all happens relatively quickly for the mining industry
So it is efficient in one way/ one human way/ one cheap way
As long as you don’t consider the collateral damage
Done to the world around it
And yet—even knowing the consequences--we keep on doing it
We keep on day after day, morning after morning
Allowing for this immense level of destruction
To fulfill our own energy needs
Pastor Peter Illyn an evangelical minister in Kentucky
And an environmental activist comments on the devastation
Wrought by this technique and our complicity in it
By asking us:
Have we really lost our souls? Have we lost our connection with God and with the miracle of life that the earth is a commodity to be scraped up?

These questions are in the form of a lament, really
And they could be asked of any number of environmental tragedies
Have we lost our connection with God and with the miracle of life?
Have we lost our connection with each other?

You see, we sometimes look at situations like this
Like Mountaintop removal
And see them as horrible situations that happen out there
But when we think about it we know
That the coal from those mountains
Fires the generators that power and heat our houses
Here in New England

We are connected, we are responsible
But the damage done to that connection has been great
So much so that we have a hard time finding it
And sometimes we can feel its absence
Even when we can no longer give it a name
No longer recognize our own isolation

Our world today is in the midst of an environmental crisis
And a spiritual one
Like the psalmist in our responsive reading today
Who equates his feeling of emptiness
With that of a deer looking for a drink of water
And finding that all the rivers have run dry
What should be abundant now seems to be gone
Deep calls to deep at the thunder of your cataracts;
All your waves and billows have gone over me

Now, our question today is a human one
Are we doomed to be forever isolated from each other
From nature, from the Divine?
Are we helpless before our own desires and perceived needs
That we ignore those of our children and of the rest of the world?
Or can we change?
We have grown accustomed to getting ahead
To surviving in a culture that measures success in individual terms
Of achievements of wealth, of material goods

This is not a new way of measuring our worth, either
It was the way in Jesus’ time as well
There is no nostalgic past
Free of exploitation
Just less efficient methods for exploitation in our historical past
There is no garden of Eden that we can get back to
From the beginning of history
We see that our very human nature
Sometimes pulls us away from one another
Just like what happens to the disciples in our reading today

So, if we cannot go back, (or if there is no “back to go to)
Is there hope that we can move forward?
Now, since you know that this is the first in a sermon series
I suspect that you know what I am going to say:
Yes, I believe there is hope,
For though there are many powers of isolation
In our world today
There is also the power of community
Just as our society has found ways to push us apart
We have also found ways to come together

Jesus sat his disciples down and told them
Whoever wants to be the first
Must be the last of all and the servant of all
We are here in a community of faith that recognizes this
And also sees
That even though the book of Genesis
Makes for very strange science
It also reminds us of a very basic truth
That we are all made from the same stuff
We all come out of the water
It is in us and we are in it
That is the essential message of our Water ritual today
We are in communion with each other
To some extent not because we chose to be
But because we always have been, because we must be
And I once again take the liberty of paraphrasing Thich Nhat Hanh by saying:
That We are all waves who have forgot that we are just part of the ocean

In our English language we call ourselves humans
And the earth is called the earth, the words are unrelated
In Hebrew—not just the ancient language of the Bible
But the Hebrew spoken by millions of Jewish people today
The word for human is Adam (one of my favorite words)
And the word for land  is Adamah
Literally we are the people, the things
That come up from the dust of the ground
Rabbi Arthur Waskow says that perhaps
We could all call ourselves "Earthlings"
To better get at our relationship
But I am afraid that I, at least,
Have seen too much science fiction for that

You get the point though, right?
Even as we are pushed apart by our individual needs
Even as the suffering of the earth seems somehow distant
We can only be pushed so far
Because our substance is the same
We are Adam and Admah
And we must ultimately find a way to heal the whole of creation
We have no other choice

I have one more Hebrew word for you today
And that is Berit or “Covenant”
The Teva Learning Center
A Jewish environmental and educational organization
Encourages its students to engage in a spiritual practice around
Berit Adamah or a “Covenant with the Earth”
And ask that they give up something
Some habit or lifestyle choice
That causes harm to the earth and isolates us from it
And try to give it up for at least six weeks

Through the course of this sermon series I will be practicing
covenant with the earth and would love to have company
And I was thinking of you
For another thing that community does
Is generate both support and accountability
We can share, we can discuss, we can learn together
At least every third Sunday
You will hear from me, or Donna, or Matt
In other words:
We did not make our mess alone
So it will take all of us to clean it up

What I am proposing is a series of covenants
A series of beginnings for each of us
With each lasting six weeks
Some people choose to change their spending habits

Buying more local produce for example
Others find ways to walk or bike
Not just for exercise and recreation
But for practical transportation so they drive measurably less
Or we put in gardens and lower our thermostats
Or give up bottled water
The trick is to make a commitment to do something achievable
Stick to it for six weeks and then make another covenant
Always growing closer to creation
To being in communion with the Divine
With the Earth, and with each other

Let us take a moment now to consider
Berit Adamah and what that might mean in our own lives


In the Beginning when God created the heaven and the earth, the earth was void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said “let there be light” and there was light.

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