I have a confession to make. I have a fear of thunderstorms. Anytime there is a prediction that a thunderstorm may occur, I have to think my way out of a panic. I have to repeat that itís the humidity causing it and it will pass quickly. You see, where I grew up in rural Indiana, though we had humidity many of the thunderstorms were far more persistent than the pop-up ones weíve had lately. What stayed with me were the thunderstorms we could see marching towards us over the flat Hoosier plain. And in the Spring tornados were often hiding in those thunderheads.
Every Spring was tornado season.† I remember when the tornadoes swept through Central Indiana on April 11, 1965 and Russiaville was destroyed. But more vivid was the memory of when we believed that twisters were roaming across the highway from us. I donít remember the exact year, but there was a drought and the field across the highway was dust. The thunderstorm blew up a wall of dust reaching into the clouds. And behind that wall we could hear the locomotive sound of twisters Ö a twister sounds like a locomotive bearing down on you. For what seemed hours, we could hear the howling behind that wall.
I remember when the state of Indiana installed an early warning system to help train state police to identify conditions of the sky that could potentially form into a devastating twister. The sky gets putrid green and begins to swirl. You can watch it safely until it touches the ground, then you needed to get to shelter fast Ö my dad dug a basement for us one summer.
One of the things I like about New Jersey is that tornados are rare. I feel a lot safer here.
So I shuttered deeply when reading about the rash of twisters tearing through the Midwest. A couple of times, I checked with my niece in Indiana to see that they were safe. This year was a record. Last year there were 506 twisters by April. This year there were 1151, some of them bigger than I have ever thought they could be. One was a mile wide and left a 300 mile long path of destruction. A twisterís ability to destroy in an instant is enormous and they can appear suddenly and move swiftly. A hurricane you can watch for days approaching. A twister is here and gone leaving death and destruction.
And its getting worse Ö Mother Nature is not happy.
Sheís very unhappy. We are seeing flooding like we havenít seen before. Last year Pakistan had enormous floods. This year it was Australiaís turn. Now along the Mississippi and Missouri valleys we hear day after day of more damage from the flooding with whole towns going under.
And not just rain and snow. Texas and Arizona are suffering through terrible droughts that have trigger wildfires sweeping over tens of thousands of acres.
And I heard there was a twister in NJ! Indeed, some folks see this biblical weather as a sign of the End Times and Godsí punishment for our sins.
But our psalm today isnít a psalm of destruction, but a psalm of rejoicing in Godís glory and Godís marvelous works through the whole creation:
Say among the nations, ďThe Lord is king! The world is firmly established; it shall never be moved. He will judge the peoples with equity.Ē Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it. Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord; for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with his truth (NRSV vv10-13).
In the psalm nature and humans together are called to rejoice in God. The psalm calls upon nature and us to celebrate the wonders of God to all people. We are to celebrate that God is righteous and can be trusted to speak the truth. We are to celebrate that nature Ė the world Ė is rational and we can count on God to maintain the order of the universe. We are to celebrate that Godís judgment is just and equitable and righteous.
What is implied by this celebration is that we have bought into Godís way of living and interacting with the creation. The psalm calls not only on us to celebrate Godís goodness, but also calls on the heavens, the seas and sea creatures, fields and trees to celebrate Godís goodness. That the psalm juxipositions ourselves and nature tells us that Godís love is not limited to ourselves, but also includes nature.
All of nature comes from God and belongs to God. It is not ours to use however we wish. Nature belongs to God and Godís spirit binds us to Nature. A plant is more than just so much fiber and chemicals. It is also a window into Godís creative love for nature and for us. The mountains, the oceans, the forests, the deserts and the rivers are all windows into Godís beauty and creativeness.
I just recently read an article in the Planetary Report written by Ashley Gerard Davies on Lava Lakes. His interests are primarily lava lakes on Io a moon of Jupiter. But in order to understand Ioís lava lakes he visited lava lakes on earth. Hereís what he says about that experience:
Standing on the edge of a crater containing a lava lake, such as at ErtíAle volcano in Ethiopia, all of the senses are fully entertained. The lava lake is a treat for the eyes as the lava churns away under a thin, pliable crust, and lava fountains merrily play Ė this is an especially impressive sight at night. Escaping gas hisses loudly, terrific radiant heat desiccates the skin, and noxious fumes irritate the nose and throat. Although itís just geology at work, one cannot get over an irrational impression that the lava lake is, somehow, a living creature. Watching a lava lake up close evokes the same feelings as watching a prowling tiger Ė beautiful, but potentially deadly.
I suggest that Dr. Davies is experiencing Godís enchantment of nature. It is understandable that he would use the term ďirrational impressionĒ about the lava lake coming alive. But we can also interpret the experience as being so powerful that Godís spirit projects so strongly that even someone who may not be inclined to spiritual thinking cannot help but sense something is happening that is beyond the science of nature.
All of Nature is a window into God. We can race down the Garden State Parkway and never see nature. But sheís all along that road in the trees and animals, rivers and swamps. So when you get to your destination consider taking a walk Ė a nature walk if you will Ė and intentionally open your eyes and ears to nature. In a five minute walk in the morning or afternoon you will hear an amazing cacophony of birds singing. If you walk each day you will notice how the plants change, growing and blooming and eventually withering away. Eventually you will find yourself a part of that rhythm. In time you will sense Godís spirit moving in the rhythm of nature and the lives of birds, deer, squirrels and the whole menagerie that populates our beautiful state.
Iíve discovered that even the rocks seem to have a rhythm Ė a life if you will Ė of coming and going. Each Spring I find rocks in my yard that have surfaced over the winter and rocks that I have laid out sinking into the earth. Indeed, all of Nature is alive with Godís spirit of creativity, change and fertility.
We need Nature. We need Nature to feed us, to give us air to breath and water to drink. There is no place else that we know where humans can live without living in environmental units. Without the Earthís ability to make oxygen and grow plants and animals and importantly provide climates in which we can live, we would simply die off.† But we need to understand that Nature does not need us.
God has called us to be stewards of Godís good creation. Nature is a gift from God and like any gift-giver, God hopes we will use the gift wisely. Indeed, God through evolution and geology and other processes has constructed a world, where if we are not good stewards, the world will not be able to support us. Our ancestors knew that. But we sophisticated, educated, technologically savvy modern people have forgotten that. And thatís why Mother Nature is angry at us.
God does not arbitrarily judge us. Indeed, I donít think God directly ever punishes us. I believe that Godís judgment is righteous and true because it is the consequences of what we do. A friend once suggested that sinning Ė not doing what God wants us to do Ė is like swimming upstream, whereas; doing what God wants us to do, is like swimming downstream. If we swim downstream and follow Godís call to care for Nature as a people (rather than individuals) then by and large Nature and ourselves will live in harmony. If we donít do what God requires of us, then Nature Ė as weíve seen this year Ė rises against us because we have mucked up her processes. And I want to emphasize that it is as a world community that we must exercise good stewardship. Each one of us as individuals has a role and we need to fulfill that. But it cannot be successful unless all of the world participates.
I know itís hard to accept and understand how we humans, small as we are, can be capable of such enormous effect on the whole world. But the original gift that God gave us is freewill. God sacrificed Godís control over us by giving us the ability to make our own decisions with or without God. By so doing, God also gave us the divine capability to create. And we have been creating ever since. We have dropped down from the trees and remade the world. And that is a powerful, enormous responsibility that we must bear. Indeed, we have learned to go to the moon and see the planets within our reach. We have tapped the physics of the stars to make cataclysmic bombs. We have extended life. We must accept that we are terribly powerful Ö and that can be very frightening.
O sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples. For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; he is to be revered above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are idols, but the Lord made the heavens. Honor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary. (NRSV vv1-6).
God calls us to sing a new song. But we are by and large still singing the old song. And our voices are so loud that we drown out Natureís harmony. We insist on singing the old song to our idols of greed and consumerism. Its lyrics are about a nature that is there for our taking and will yield its wealth indefinitely. We still sing the lyrics of nature being able to repair the damage we are doing. We insist that we can build machines and cities and dykes that will protect us from natureís wild response. We sing this song that we can have whatever we want irrespective of the needs of others, including the needs of Mother Earth. We sing this song like children who havenít learned responsibility, who race through a mall thinking its all there just for their taking, who think some adult will come along and clean up after them.
Itís an old song. Itís a broken record. Itís a song that does not celebrate God but celebrates the rut that we live in and the hole we are digging deeper and deeper. Itís time for a new song just as the psalmist calls for.
We need to sing a new song that harmonizes with Mother Nature, a song whose lyrics are in all the languages of the world Ė for Mother Nature knows no national borders and expects the same responsibility and care from every human community.† We need a song whose rhythms come from the whole wide world Ė for what one people does to nature, all other people must live with the consequences.
It must be a song sung by all nations, all businesses and all people. Though each business, each nation, or each individual has a verse to sing, all the verses of all the world must be sung. And it is not an impossible dream. There are concerted and successful efforts to sing this new song of living with nature in harmony.
Have you looked on the utility poles around here? If you havenít, when you leave here today, look at them. You are likely to spot a solar energy panel on them. PSE&G has committed to using solar energy to provide clean energy and to maintain lower electric rates. Their Solar 4 Allô Program is putting enough energy into the electric grid to power the equivalent of 12,500 homes. They have also leased space on the roofs of public schools in Newark. That rent PSE&G pays returns needed income into the school budgets. And because of various government investment tax credits and the solar renewable energy certificates they are saving money and passing it on to you and meÖ and they are creating jobs.
Our oil supply worldwide will peak and begin its decline in the next generation or so. But the sun will shine for billions of more years. And sunlight is free. All you pay for is the installation and maintenance.
When Mother Earth is treated well, she returns much.
But you and I must not stand by idly hoping for the good grace of business and government. We must take responsibility. We have been taught to do house energy savings with light bulbs and recycling Ė all of which are needed. But our individual efforts are not going to be enough as needed as they are.
Mother Earth needs everyone in the world to work in concert. Our borders are just lines on a map as far as the climate is concerned. That means our businesses and governments must step up to this. And we must remember that in this great democracy that God has given us, you and I are the government Ö all those Senators and Representatives and President in Washington, work for us. We are their bosses. †Each of us needs to consider if its time we tell them that they arenít doing their job and demand at the voting booth to stop singing the old song and lead the chorus in the new song.
We can live in harmony with nature. Nature and ourselves are all part of Godís beautiful and diverse creation. We can rejoice in Godís beauty and bounty. We can marvel at the wondrous works of God in nature. And we can choose life for ourselves and nature. We can prosper not by taking what cannot be returned, but by sharing what can be renewed.
Think about it Ö
Godís grace and love be with you Ö