Note from Pastor Rick (9/22/2016)

Thanks to Stefanie Bruggeman for sharing so well the work of the Opportunity Center last Sunday. Pastor Gregory with the children and youth made a good start on a “Youth Garden” (see here). Two things to keep in mind – the upcoming “Blessing of the Animals,” on Saturday morning October 1, 10:00 AM – bring your own critters and/or share the word with others. The service will be on the lawn and brief, with individual prayers of blessing for each animal. Also, don’t forget the Crop Walk on Sunday October 2. Carolyn will have a sign-up sheet for anyone who wants walk or anyone who wants to contribute to team FBCPA.

This week we will conclude a brief series on creation with a focus on the Cosmos. The texts are from Psalms, Proverbs, John, and Colossians. Psalm 148 is one of those great Psalms of praise that end the collection. All creation joins in praise of God. The other texts all speak of the interconnections of the Godhead and how all creation models that interconnectedness. With Wisdom and Christ and the Spirit and God, in the beginning there was the relationship! There is much to celebrate here and much to learn as we grow in wisdom and understanding, faith and love.

Come for Worship and Sunday School at 10 AM. Stay for Adult Spiritual Formation, where we will resume our consideration of the video series, Saving Jesus Redux.

Together, let us strive…to know God’s love!

Pastor Rick

 

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God’s Good Earth (4/24/2016)

Watery Earth NASA photoA sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Randle R. (Rick) Mixon
First Baptist Church, Palo Alto, CA

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Text: Psalm 121; Psalm 148; Matthew 6:19-21, 24-34

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

There is a profound sense in which this great poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins captures for me the dilemma with which we have wrestled throughout this Earth Month. “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.” “This is my Father’s world…“ “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” and, when it was done, “God saw everything that she had made, and indeed, it was very good.” God’s good earth.

And yet,

Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

Do we really see and understand this as God’s good earth, or have we taken the position that, while God may have created, creation itself was left for us to use and abuse was we will? What footprint have we left on God’s good earth as we trod across it, our heavy human boots searing and blearing, smearing and smudging? How do we reconcile the goodness of creation with some of the callous and careless decisions humans have made in the exercise of dominion?

My intent here is not to condemn progress. There is a place for human ingenuity or God would not have given it. Nor am I exactly on a back to nature kick (though there may be something for me to consider in that regard.) My primary concern here is for the disconnect, the ways in which we pit progress against nature in a false dichotomy that does not recognize sufficiently that all we have and are is gift from God. That is, God has given us certain abilities, among these a sort of intelligence that allows us to reason, to figure some things out, to build and even to create, in the image and likeness of God. God has also placed us in the midst of an amazing aggregation of resources. And God asks us to appreciate it all, to see its value, to delight in its goodness, and to care for it as an intricately interwoven whole of grand design. We approach it as Gordian knot, with sword in hand, at our own peril. “Touch the earth lightly, use the earth gently, nourish the life of the world in our care,” urges Shirley Erena Murray.

My friend, Mark Liebenow is a wonderful writer. A good deal of his work is nature writing in the tradition of Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Wendell Berry and Mary Oliver. He has written a lovely book, Mountains of Light: Seasons of Reflection in Yosemite, journaling his experiences in that wilderness. When he lived in California, Mark would spend a week at a time, almost always “off-season,” alone in Yosemite. October or January would yield beauty and mystery that the casual camper seldom experiences amid the crush of summer visitors. Of course, it also helps that Mark is dedicated to paying attention, as I suppose most good writers are.

After being awakened in the middle of the night by a bear rummaging around his campsite, he writes this reflection:

At 6:30 a.m., tired from conjuring danger from every stray noise and stiff from sleeping on the ground, I pull on clothes that froze overnight and step gingerly into the darkness, cautious of wild animals still prowling around. Leidig Meadow and the Merced River, whose waters sing nearby, are barely visible in the predawn light of the young moon. Night hides the canyon walls under a cloak of blackness while overhead thousands of sparkling, spinning stars, scattered like seeds across the infinity of the universe, dance in the dark silence that surrounds the earth. Into this wonder arises the crisp beauty of dawn, a narrow orange band of light that pierces the eastern horizon. The mountain’s scent condenses on my upturned face as I breathe in the valley and its peacefulness, then slowly exhale. My breath rises straight up in the still air.

As daylight floods over the mountains, the grandeur of Yosemite emerges and surrounds me with rivers, waterfalls, forests and sky. The fresh pine air quickens my pulse. I do not know where I am going now that I am here, but I know this is the beginning of something that has been waiting (pp. 2-3).

Surely “the world is charged with the grandeur of God” and God is praised from the depths of valley floor to the heights of the sparkling heavens. “Let the whole creation cry, alleluia!”

As much as I love reading what Mark writes, I find it difficult to imagine myself spending a week alone, camping in Yosemite, at any time of year. In book group on Saturday, Hugh and I agreed that we would prefer to visit nature but stay in a hotel. I confess that something is most likely lost in this perspective. Maybe this is what Hopkins is critiquing when he rues that the foot cannot “feel, being shod.” What do we miss? What is lost when we distance ourselves from God’s good earth, enshrining ourselves in protective palaces that divorce us from the goodness of the creative order?

Our friend, Greg Griffey, has posted a couple times now on Facebook a picture of two legs, pants rolled up, feet bare, standing in the grass, seeming to revel in contact with God’s good earth. He writes of his own journey to feel at home in this new place, “4 months out and I’m only beginning to feel the ground beneath my feet in this place of bay, mountains, ocean, fog, city, and traffic.” He says, “I don’t know when I began the journey from getting here to being here, but my resistance to this beginning did not stop it from quietly forming, just waiting until I was ready to live more fully into it.” A place on God’s good earth. Praise God with ten fine toes that wiggle in the grass!

“Let the whole creation cry, alleluia!” Praise to God! This ought to be the beginning and ending of all life, ours included. If we start with praise and end with praise, how might our lives be different? How might we define or re-define our concept of dominion? How might we organize or re-organize our relationship to creation? How would we approach God’s good earth? As I’ve said before, it is difficult for us to see beyond our own self-importance. Perhaps this the curse of being sentient beings. Our self-awareness often blinds us to any thought that it is not “all about me.” Maybe that’s why I don’t want to hang out alone in a tent in Yosemite, ironically. My comfort and security are more important to me than anything I might learn by coming so close to God’s good earth. I’d rather keep my boots on than feel the “first dewfall on the first grass…sprung in completeness where God’s feet pass.”

You know, and I know, as the expression goes, “we are Easter people living in a Good Friday world.” We do experience anxiety and insecurity. We feel we need to short circuit any threat to our existence through hoarding resources, accumulating goods for our own personal well-being, building fortresses, and stockpiling weapons of mass destruction. It’s pretty difficult to praise God from that position.

In Psalm 121 we are reminded that all the help we need “comes from the Holy One who made heaven and earth. Ultimately, it is God in whom we live and move and have our being. What more can we need? Jesus sits in the grass on a hillside, grounded in God’s good earth, and proclaims, “…where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” He says, “…do not worry about your life…can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?” “Look at the birds of the air…consider the lilies of the field…” If God cares for them, will God not also care for human creatures, made in her image and likeness? “…you of little faith,” he bemoans. Ouch, we didn’t want to hear that. We’re trying, Jesus. We want to be faithful. Sometimes it is so hard for us to trust, let alone take responsibility for right living.

We may live our lives somewhere between the glory of creation and the paving of paradise, but even in the deepest darkness of our fears, Hopkins holds hope for us. Our heavy human boots searing and blearing, smearing and smudging,

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

What if we focused our gaze on morning breaking, on the bright wings of the Spirit hovering over us, on the God who broods over us like a mother hen? What if we were to find our “treasure” in praising this God whose very essence is compassion and care? How would it affect our hearts, shape them, move them? How might our lives be transformed? If we were to stop and look around, where might we find creation praising God? Creation was praising God long before human beings ever came on the scene. What might we learn there? In that observation, the key to a renewed heart, one free of fear and insecurity, one made to sing God’s praise, can still be found. Think on these things. Pray about them. Let them become the ground –  God’s good earth –  from which you live your life.

Praise be to the Blessed One,
the very Breath of our breath,
the very Heart of our heart! Amen.

Food and conversation for Earth Month

Watery Earth NASA photoLast Sunday we shared a delicious vegetarian lunch in the Fellowship Hall. Thanks to everyone for their creativity and willingness to try something different. The meal was followed by a delightful video conversation with Pastor Gregory and Tripp Fuller. Tripp is a doctoral candidate at Claremont School of Theology, one of the founders of the nationally known podcast, “Homebrewed Christianity” and Program Director of “The Hatchery” in Los Angeles. At many times paralleling the morning’s sermon, he encouraged us to to look for and celebrate God in all creation. Using both awareness and creative imagination we can come to deeper understanding of how all of creation is interconnected. This understanding can only help to strengthen recognition of our need to care for creation. Tripp is also funny and entertaining.

This Sunday we will conclude our Earth Month focus (though not our attention to creation care.) The theme is “The Good Earth.” In Psalm 148 and other passages we find the whole creation praising the Creator. In other passages, including the “Sermon on the Mount” we are encouraged to let go of worry and trust that the great God of the universe will also be our redeemer and protector. Pastor Gregory has a word about our Eco-Education guest, Elise Willis, who will help us to talk about the trees if not actually to them.

Come Sunday morning at 10:00 AM for worship, study and shared community. Invite your family and friends, neighbors and colleagues, acquaintances and strangers to join us in the joy of this Earth Month Sunday.

Together, let us strive…to know God’s love!
Pastor Rick

Finding Our Place (4/17/2016)

A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Randle R. (Rick) Mixon
First Baptist Church, Palo Alto, CA

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Text: Genesis 1:26-2:4; Psalm 8

Today let’s move directly to the heart of the conflict. How do we find our place in the order of creation? For a very long time – perhaps, since the beginning – humans have heard “dominion,” “subdue,” “control” as invitation, if not mandate, to treat the earth as we will. Increasingly this perspective has been called into question. Many have come to see stewardship as our rightful place in the order of creation while others have argued that we are of the earth and not over it. The gifts with which God has graced human being are part of an intricate web of related being in which we take a significant but not superior place.

In Bible study Tuesday Phil suggested that without human intervention the rest of creation would have gotten along just fine. Perhaps human being has had a largely deleterious effect on creation from the beginning, given the struggle we have had to find our place within inherent limitations. Phil answered his own question by also suggesting that we might have been given a certain sort of intelligence that, when operative, has functioned in creative ways to advance the creative process and enhance life on the planet.

However, this theological debate is a different one than the current debate over the effects of human being on the environment. Some will argue that the place of domination that humans have occupied for too long threatens to destroy the earth. Others will argue that earth was created for humankind, for the comfort, convenience and well-being of humans as the obviously superior creatures. Some see the results of human encroachment on the natural order and the pollution of the environment as the inevitable result of human progress, which is privileged above all other dimensions of the natural order. Some see creation as infinitely adaptable or believe that human ingenuity is capable of repairing whatever damage we do to the earth.

Patrick Allitt, historian and author of A Climate of Crisis: America in the Age of Environmentalism, which is our Senior Connections Book Group book for this month, argues that, though humans have done real damage to the earth, we have also learned to take steps to correct much of the damage done. As science, technology, and economic prosperity have developed in the past couple of centuries, there have been serious environmental consequences; at the same time, humans have developed a concern for correcting our mistakes and a will to do what is necessary to right our wrongs. He argues, “I make no secret of the fact that I consider industrial civilization a superb accomplishment, very much worth protecting and improving. Industrialization has harmed the environment while improving life for almost everyone. We have the resources to remedy this harm (Patrick Allitt, A Climate of Crisis: America in the Age of Environmentalism, p. 13). Allitt believes that environmental alarmists have done a disservice to their cause by overstating their case and inciting fear instead of leading people to take seriously their concerns in ways that would lead to fixing problems and cultivating environmental well-being.

By contrast, poet, essayist and farmer, Wendell Berry, argues that “We have lived our lives by the assumption that what was good for us would be good for the world. We have been wrong. We must change our lives so that it will be possible to live by the contrary assumption, that what is good for the world will be good for us. And that requires that we make the effort to know the world and learn what is good for it” (Wendell BerryThe Long-Legged House).   He says, “The care of the Earth is our most ancient and most worthy, and after all our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it and to foster its renewal is our only hope.” These are complicated concerns and complex arguments. We will not resolve this debate this morning or any time soon.

It’s my belief that, as Christians, we have work to do on our theological and spiritual perspectives before we even come to the political, scientific and cultural arguments. Finding our place in the God’s created order will help us understand how we see and approach environmental concerns.

I am sure that this morning’s passage, over time, has helped to anchor the belief systems of those who privilege human being and see our place as dominating the rest of creation. In addition, there is the religious perspective that “this world is not my home, I’m just passing through.” In this hallowed perspective, there is no need to care for the planet as God will one day gather the select into heaven and to hell with the rest.  In either case, it is all about human being and little about the rest of creation.

It is difficult to ignore that a text, written by human beings, is likely to privilege human being by seeing it as unique and special. We are created in the image and likeness of God. God has made us a “little lower than God and crowned us with glory and honor.” It’s hard to be humble when we start with this understanding of our place. Of course, it doesn’t help that the English translations on which we have depended are grounded in the tradition of kingly power and rule. This language itself has helped to shape worldviews. Who hasn’t harbored a dream of being king or queen of all they see? Most of us, at one time or another, have dreamed of ruling, at least, our own backyard.

By contrast, Berry argues that “The ecological teaching of the Bible is simply inescapable: God made the world because He wanted it made. He thinks the world is good, and He loves it. It is His world; He has never relinquished title to it. And He has never revoked the conditions, bearing on His gift to us of the use of it, that oblige us to take excellent care of it” (Wendell Berry, What Are People For?) In this sense, there may be a sovereign but it is not us.

If we take the notion of dominion, of being made in God’s image and likeness, to mean service then our attitude toward the rest of creation will be altered radically. Then Nan Merrill is on to something when she writes, “O Love, my Beloved, how powerful is Your Name in all the earth!” (Nan C. Merrill, Psalms for Praying) rather than “O Lord, our Sovereign…”

In fact, Jesus seems to challenge this notion of sovereignty altogether, at least in any dominating sense. Jesus appears to find his place as the servant of all and even implies that serving is critical to God’s nature. With great irony, he pictures the “Kingdom of God” as a place that welcomes the least of these, the poor, the hungry, the sick, the outcast, the marginalized, and the stigmatized. Hardly a royal assemblage!

In his commentary on Genesis 1, Walter Brueggemann argues that “The text is revolutionary. It presents an inverted view of God, not as the one who reigns by fiat and remoteness, but as the one who governs by gracious self-giving.” He continues, “It also presents an inverted view of humanness. This man and woman are not the chattel and servants of God, but the agents of God to whom much is given and of whom much is expected” (Walter Brueggemann, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching – Genesis, p. 33). So, we may be elevated but that also means we are challenged and blessed with co-creative responsibility

Another Christian scholar of the Hebrew Scriptures, John Holbert, writes, “In Genesis 2:15 we read ‘YHWH God took the ‘adam and placed it in the garden of Eden to serve it and to protect it.’’ In light of this mandate, he argues, “…we are partners with God and with God’s creation, not masters, not dominators, not even stewards. We are finally no more important in God’s world than are the ravens, the lions, the mountain goats, even the ostriches…” Still, he concludes, ”The  image of servant of God’s world has the possibility to make us new creatures, helping us see our rightful place as God’s servants for the world. In short, we need conversion to a new way of thinking about the creation, the environment. The world, the cosmos, is not our oyster. Rather it is God’s pearl, and we are assigned the twin tasks of serving this pearl and protecting it from all abuse, especially abuse from ourselves” (John C. Holbert, “A Needed Climate Crisis Conversion: Reflections on Genesis 1:1-2:4a,” June 5, 2014, Opening the Old Testament, patheos.com).

Last week we spoke of the interconnection of all creation, even the ways that God is interwoven into all being, including human being. In commenting on Psalm 8, Elizabeth Webb writes, “All creatures, including human beings, live in interdependence with one another. As much as we have dominion over creation, we are also dependent upon it for our well-being. Our sovereignty can never mean that we place ourselves over-against the creation. As ‘lords’ over creation, we are in fact servants of it” (Elizabeth Webb, “Commentary on Psalm 8, June 15, 2014,” workingpreacher.org). And in today’s Words of Preparation, Maya Angelou declares, “While I know myself as a creation of God, I am also obligated to realize and remember that everyone else and everything else are also God’s creation.”

If, among other things, God is love, as we often claim, then to be created in the image and likeness of God is to be infused thoroughly with love as our source of power, as the shaping spirit of our humanity, as the place where we live and move and have our being. It seems to me that before we enter into any battles over climate change or fossil fuels or pollution or endangered species or the fate of the planet, we need to make sure we find our place as creatures made in the image and likeness of God. At the same time, we need to see and understand that the God in whose image and likeness we are made is a lover and not a king. God is self-giving and invites us to that same sort of self-giving love and concern for all that is. Human being is meant to be compassionate and caring. Rather than subdue we are to serve. Rather than rule we are meant to revel in the wonder of it all. Rather than dominate we are meant to delight in the goodness of what that God has created. To find our place is to look around, carefully, to see, to hear, to smell, to taste, to feel what God has made and blessed and called “very good” and then to say “yes!” to it all. Amen.

Come Together! (4/10/2016)

Watery Earth NASA photoA sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Randle R. (Rick) Mixon
First Baptist Church, Palo Alto, CA

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Text: Genesis 1                        Genesis 1: Beginningness               Paraphrase by Timothy Wayne Good

Before the beginning of time was the eternal God. Our beginning was God’s creation of   space and a nascent mass we would someday call home. The earth was an assemblage of primordial solids, liquids, gases and plasmas still without form; still unlit. God’s Spirit    moved across its face as God said: “Here is light. So be it.” The light’s embracing and     warming of the cold dark world pleased God. God spun the planet to separate the hours   into days and nights. The first day came to a close.

The next day, God separated the waters above and below: “So be it.” God called the moisture above “sky”, and the sunset and dawn of the second day in this primeval atmosphere created a global rainbow.

On the third day, God next separated the solid particles from water below to create land and sea.  “So be it” God said, and it was pleasing. But land needs roots to bind it together and make it alive, so God caused plants of all kinds to spring forth from the once       sterile ground. Fertile soil was created. “So be it.” God was pleased as another evening and morning brought an end to the third day.

On the fourth, God separated the nebulous glow of light by allowing celestial bodies to   shine through the clearing atmosphere. It was as it was willed. The cosmos danced across the heavens, and the sun and the moon raced. God was pleased.

The next day, God made the waters below and above alive with new life: leviathans; bugs; whales; bats; birds; and fish. They all pleased God, and God blessed them with the fruitfulness of ongoing creation. Evening passed and then the dawn; fifth day done.

God continued populating the planet by introducing land animals into the green paradise; and it pleased God. God said: “This next creature I will make in My own image with My own essence so that it may be able to rule over my earthly kingdom with wisdom and compassion.” So God formed humanity in all its many visages in God’s image, in the image of God made them all; God made them like Godself, male and female. God blessed them, too, with fruitfulness, and gave them responsibility for the care of   creation. “See,” God said, “I’ve given you everything you need to thrive, and abundance to sustain you and give you joy.”

God looked at the intricate relatedness of each of the worlds God created. We too see the intricate intimacies of life on earth – the chains, webs and circles of mutualism and dependence. God was pleased with His work; it was bustling, teeming, complete and whole – perfect. So God finished and took the final day off. God blessed this seventh day and made it a holy day to enjoy creation and to remember the Creator.

            These are the generations of God’s creation of all.

(Timothy Wayne Good, “Beginningness,” June 15, 2011, thenakedalien.blogspot.com)

Interconnection is not a particularly pretty word. It doesn’t really roll off the tongue. It’s difficult to imagine a poet using it to shape a phrase or complete a rhyme. Nor has it been a common concept in theological work, though we may find it moreso with the “greening” of theology. What today’s text teaches us is that God has carefully and lovingly interwoven the elements of creation into a grand and sacred whole, an entity that God shapes and calls “good.” There is much to explore, to understand, to embrace, to enjoy and, yes, to love in the intricate interconnectedness of creation.

For God’s own reasons and purposes, She sings out, “Come together!” And from every atomic particle, from the “primordial solids, gases and plasmas still without form,” God begins to create. Or, in the words of James Weldon Johnson (from “The Creation” in God’s Trombones),

AND God stepped out on space,
And He looked around and said,
“I’m lonely—
I’ll make me a world.”

To show off, to cure loneliness, for the sheer delight of it all, just because She could, God sang out, “Come together!” Things began to coalesce all around her and universe upon universe came into being. All that came into being was interconnected in and through the Creator, who saw it and said it was “good.”

When we talked about this creation story in Bible Study, I said it sounded to me as if God created from a sort of “roiling cauldron of stuff” rather than from nothing. As is often the case, Alan raised the challenging question, “But where did the ‘stuff’ come from, if God didn’t create it?” Of course, it’s a good question. The best response my little mind could come up with is that it pre-existed along with God. In actuality, it may be part of God, inextricably interconnected with the Holy One. To the degree we can visualize infinity, God and the “stuff” of God have always existed and always will. Alright, my head is starting to hurt. As we sometimes like to affirm, God is always the ”More.”

In a blog entitled, “The ‘Not-nothingess’ of Space,” Russ Dean writes, “I was surprised when I learned that outer space wasn’t made up of nothing. ‘What do you mean, it’s not ‘nothing’ out there? What’s out there?’” he asked. “I wasn’t talking about stars and planets, moons and asteroids, but about all the nothingness of space between them. I was told that that’s not nothing, either.” With the recent observation of “gravitational waves,” Russ says, “it reminds us that across the sea of whirling galaxies, the energy and the matter, the space and the time are really the same stuff, and the quarks and the stars, the waves and the wind — even the ‘red and yellow, black and white’ — are all part of One grand and unifying Spirit” (Russ Dean, “The ‘Not-nothingess’ of Space,” 4-4-2016, baptistnews.com). One grand and unifying Spirit that we call God, the One in whom we live and move have our being. Interconnection!

A couple of other things we considered as we studied this ancient word is how compatible it is with other current scientific thought. Now don’t get me wrong. I am not in any way suggesting that Genesis is or was ever meant to be a scientific text, but read it carefully and see if you don’t hear echoes of evolution in its poetry. And then, Alan, again, suggested that that first act of creation, that sudden separation of light from dark sounded a lot like the “big bang” theory. God sang out and suddenly, “boom,” things started to happen.

Part of the genius of this ancient explanatory myth is the way in which God carefully crafts each element and then gives it its appropriate place in a magnificent whole. To each lovingly shaped dimension of creation, She sings, “Come together!” and then she delights in the intricate beauty of her handiwork – “oh, that’s good.” In today’s Words of Preparation, Elizabeth Johnson writes, “Woven into our lives is the very fire from the stars and genes from the sea creatures, and everyone, utterly everyone, is kin in the radiant tapestry of being” (Elizabeth A. Johnson, Women, Earth, and Creator Spirit).  Interconnection!

Dan and Afan and I are in the midst of a set of concerts with The Choral Project, so you can imagine that singing in the choir has been on my mind this week. As I thought about today’s theme, it struck me that choirs and choral music are wonderful images for coming together and interconnection. In fact, a choir is interconnection by definition. If we practice long enough and hard enough we may create something of great beauty, infused by one great and unifying spirit.

But here’s the thing, you might not appreciate immediately all the different sounds the choir makes. This wondrous entity that is the music may sound strange to your ear or be alien to your experience. Our choir sings a lot of contemporary classical music, which is not to everyone’s taste. Sometimes you may have to work to understand, if not embrace, the genius of the composer.

Let me give you a couple of examples. Johann Sebastian Bach wrote a beautiful chorale that sounds like this. [Jan plays on the organ.]  He wrote this almost 300 years ago. In the 20th century, a fine Norwegian composer, Knut Nystedt, took this excerpt from the chorale and re-arranged it as a tribute to Bach’s genius. In his version, entitled, “Immortal Bach,” Nystedt divides the choir into five smaller choirs. Each small choir, in turn, sings the excerpt from the chorale, only each choir sings it at a different tempo. Now you might imagine that sounds like cacophony or chaos, and, frankly, to me it does, but Nystedt, the creator, heard something in that configuration that shaped the old elements of the chorale into a new sound, one that may come close to capturing the music of the spheres, which often sound beyond our easy listening.

Or as another example, we sing some music in which the choir divides into six or eight or twelve or sixteen parts. In this music, each part may sing its own note, creating a “sound cluster.” [Jan plays.] Again, you may not find the sound exactly beautiful, but in the context of a given work of music, this cluster may be a powerful way for the individual elements of the choir to come together in a new and exciting way. It is challenging to sing and challenging to hear but it also invites us to join with the creator who is constantly creating and drawing us into new and exciting configurations. Interconnection!

As we celebrate this earth month and beyond, we are likely to come up against ideas and images that are not easy to see or hear or necessarily to our liking. We can argue about the details of science and technology until the cows come home or the sun burns out. But there is a theological and spiritual underpinning for our conversation in the recognition of the interconnectedness of creation. It is all God’s doing. And God has blessed it and called it good. As God called creation to come together, the same God calls us to come together in appreciation, in love and care for what God has brought in to being. It is both a responsibility and great gift that calls us into a co-creative process of stewardship of creation. We may find it difficult at times to see with God’s eyes, to hear with God’s ears, to feel with God’s heart, or to reason with God’s mind, which is why we need to come together – to hear the beauty in the tone cluster, to admire the creative genius of gravitational waves, to discover the web-like intricacies that make up the earth, and to wonder at the constant shaping and re-shaping of creation.

“’See,’ God said, ‘I’ve given you everything you need to thrive, and abundance to sustain you and give you joy.’” Then, “God looked at the intricate relatedness of each of the worlds God created. We too see the intricate intimacies of life on earth – the chains, webs and circles of mutualism and dependence. God was pleased with this work; it was bustling, teeming, complete and whole – perfect.” And God sang out, “Come together! See how good it is. Share with me the delight of its existence and the joy of caring for it all.” Interconnection! Amen.

Journey of the Universe- April 6, 2016

journeyofuniverse

Let’s all gather in the Youth Room to watch a documentary style film about God’s good and beautiful Earth. With buttery popcorn to munch on and a good discussion to follow, we would love for you to join us as we unravel what is means for our church to participate in God’s healing of the world. The Journey of the Universe” by Brian Swimme who teaches at California Institute of Integral Studies. This is a classic! Hands down one of the all time best movies.