While I was visiting family in CA I watched my future son-in-law Kevin plant flowers and veggies in some dark rich soil. He’s in the process of creating a porch garden for their new apartment in the middle of the sprawling L.A. metropolis built on a desert. Engaged in this task, Kevin was totally “in the moment” and seemed happy as a California clam. That’s how it is for some of us when we are up to the elbows in soil. Digging in and getting dirty while imagining the seedlings all grown up, is spiritual! We’ve traveled a lot this summer and we have gotten the chance to see some of the most beautiful countryside here in the US and in Europe, for which we are so grateful. God’s land is truly inspiring.
In our reading for today, Psalm 139 is aglow while describing God’s omnipresence. “Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your spirit?” the psalmist asks in v.7 Well, nowhere actually, because God’s hand made it all and gives it to us, freely. So, no matter where you go, there you are and there is God. “There is no escape from the presence of God” (which is pretty scary when you stop to think about it.) The Psalter is a collection of prayers composed throughout Israel’s history and is named psalms in Greek, which means song. “Despite the traditional association with King David, it is now generally agreed the psalms were composed over many centuries to serve the needs of the worshipping community in Jerusalem. The foundational research in this was done by German scholar Hermann Gunkel early in the 20th C.” In Psalm 139, we are instructed that we can’t remove the creative spirit from anything God has made, though it seems it’s been tried in the last couple of centuries.
The world is so busy fabricating artificial and digital copies of creation that sometimes we lose touch with the real thing. I love scientific advances but don’t think we should forsake our appreciation of the things that are inherently natural. In the days the Psalms were written, people thought the heavens and earth were literally separated by a dome, akin to a big stadium dome. There was the sky which was contained within the dome and anything above that was deemed heaven or “the heavens.” It was a systematic way to think of the world and a mechanism to organize the unknown, so the mystery of what was thought to be above the earth was intellectually manageable. Of course, now that we have rocketed outside our own atmosphere and can take measurements of the heavens way beyond the land our feet walk upon, we know it is not really above, at all. And so, it is with the soil beneath the surface. The seemingly simple land we tread on is deeply inhabited by microbes and small creatures exerting a vast potential for providing nutrients we need to grow life supporting food. What an awesome God to create a system which sustains us all made of dirt, air & water! For this we are deeply blessed and eternally grateful.
I guess at this point, we can justifiably ask – are we taking care of the land we have been freely given by God? Or have we become, through science and technology, blasé to the mystical in God’s land? A few years ago, John and I participated in a service trip to Appalachia. The area of Whitesburg and Neon KY where we were, is subject to the most brutal strip mining and mountaintop removal. I didn’t know coal mining of that drastic kind existed. The mining companies would literally blast into the mountains, tearing down trees and excavating big gashes into the native foliage and dirt. They would lift entire mountain tops off to obtain the coal and materials needed for corporate profit. I get it, I like business actually, but continually, promises were made by big business to the community for restoration of the mountains which never fully happened. Redevelopment of mountainsides and forests can’t be done by the hands of humans, because they are beautiful creations of God. The impoverished community was caught in a social conundrum because they loved their land but they also needed work and the mining companies provided jobs. Somehow jobs vs. land preservation is a choice we shouldn’t have to make, especially while there are other forms of energy available which we can use.
There is a thought which goes something like this “if you want to get outside of a difficult storm, you must go through it completely before you can emerge from it on the other side.” There are no shortcuts. You must travel through the dark to get to the light. It can seem awfully desolate in the middle there, but is it really? Feeling lost in the quagmire of problems can sometimes be an illusion created by us, for ourselves. Not always, believe me I understand there are many things that are outside or our own control, like hurricanes, earthquakes, cancer. However, with God since the beginning of creation, there has been no total darkness, not even during the Solar Eclipse we witnessed this summer. As the Psalmist wrote in v. 12: “even the darkness is not dark.”
Looking to the wisdom of the New Testament from our Matthew 12 reading, imagine how Jonah felt after being swallowed into the belly of the whale! Now THAT was probably dark, cold and wet inside. It must be how it felt for those who survived Hurricane Harvey or have been beaten up by Hurricane Irma; withstanding days of cold, wet driving rain and floods. Think about the folks who are facing devastation by raging fires in the Western states? No one chooses these calamities and so we are called to be the light, the helpers to our fellow humans in their time of need. That is why we have put a basket out to collect funds to assist in rescue efforts through the UCC Disaster Ministries and Church World Service Hurricane Response. We can be God’s hands and feet during the darkest hour of others.
Have you ever had an experience where you were completely caught at a loss and in the dark with no idea how to get out of it? What was that like? How did you alleviate your situation? Like you, I’ve seen news about the rescinding of DACA with sad perplexity. Imagine yourself as one of the 800,000 young adults who fear deportation, though have never known a country to live in but the U.S. Imagine if your parents had brought you here because the country they fled war torn asunder by war, famine, or gang violence? What would be your fear? Where would you live if deported? With whom? What about your siblings, your parents? The average DACA recipient is age 26 and came here at age 6. 91% are employed. 100% of have NO criminal record, paying $500 to renew their papers every two years (producing $800 million for the U.S.) and cannot renew if they have a criminal record. The luckiest immigrants will be protected through 2020. The least lucky will become vulnerable to deportation in March or earlier.
The New Testament scripture from Matthew 12 makes a point about the land in which things of importance grow.
"40 For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth.”
I don’t know if Jesus or the writer of Matthew meant that literally or not. I do know just as Jesus was resurrected from a dark place of burial, there are times when things look long gone or buried deeply away from our consciousness. But after a period, that subterranean idea or desire for life overcomes the darkness and springs forth with a new life. Why do I have faith in our ability to emerge from the dark and to create life out of a barren landscape? I’m not sure, maybe because it is written time and again in our scriptures and because I have experienced miracles of this kind in my own life. Today, we pray, earnestly, for God’s presence with the lives of those affected by the western fires, the hurricanes that have ravaged our seaboards and for the hundreds of thousands of souls who are fearful of being deported. Be with us, God. Please hear this message from the Community Church Movement of the ICCC of which we are a part.
Let us pray:
“You may be distant from many of us, but we hold you close in our hearts. Whatever the danger you face, we pray that God will enfold you in safety. We pray not only for you but for your community, all of whom are God’s children. Even as the waters and the winds rise in fury, we pray that you will feel the quiet presence and peace of God’s Spirit. We will not support you with prayer alone, nor will we forget you as time passes. Whatever the needs may be in the aftermath of the storm, we will seek to meet those needs in generous and appropriate outreach. May God bless and protect you in the hours and days ahead.”
Let’s do our part, for this is what God would have us do, in Jesus’ name.