Psalm 95:1-7a; Psalm 100
The Rev. Tom Herbek
April 28, 2019
The following is adapted from “The Creation” by James Weldon Johnson
And God stepped out on space,
And God looked around and said:
I’ll make me a world.
And far as the eye of God could see
Darkness covered everything,
Blacker than a hundred midnights
Down in a cypress swamp.
Then God smiled,
And the light broke,
And the darkness rolled up on one side,
And the light stood shining on the other,
And God said: That’s good!
Then God reached out and took the light in God’s hands,
And God rolled the light around in God’s hands
Until God made the sun;
And God set that sun a-blazing in the heavens.
And the light that was left from making the sun
God gathered it up in a shining ball
And flung it against the darkness,
Spangling the night with the moon and stars.
Then down between
The darkness and the light
God hurled the world;
And God said: That’s good!
Then God stepped down—
And the sun was on God’s right hand,
And the moon was on God’s left;
The stars were clustered about God’s head,
And the earth was under God’s feet.
And God walked, and where God trod
God’s footsteps hollowed the valleys out
And bulged the mountains up.
Then God stopped and looked and saw
That the earth was hot and barren.
So God stepped over to the edge of the world
And God spat out the seven seas—
God batted God’s eyes, and the lightning flashed—
God clapped God’s hands, and the thunder rolled—
And the waters above the earth came down,
The cooling waters came down.
Then the green grass sprouted,
And the little red flowers blossomed,
The pine tree pointed its finger to the sky,
And the oak spread out its arms,
The lakes cuddled down in the hollows of the ground,
And the rivers ran down to the sea;
And God smiled again,
And the rainbow appeared,
And curled itself around God’s shoulder.
Then God raised God’s arm and God waved God’s hand
Over the sea and over the land,
And God said: Bring forth! Bring forth!
And quicker than God could drop God’s hand,
Fishes and fowl
And beasts and birds
Swam the rivers and the seas,
Roamed the forests and the woods,
And split the air with their wings.
Then God walked around,
And God looked around
On all that God had made.
God looked at the sun,
And God looked at the moon,
And God looked at the little stars;
God looked on God’s world
With all its living things,
And God said: I’m lonely still.
Then God sat down—
On the side of a hill where God could think;
By a deep, wide river God sat down;
With God’s head in God’s hands,
God thought and thought,
Till God thought: I’ll make me a human!
Up from the bed of the river
God scooped the clay;
And by the bank of the river
God kneeled down;
And there the great God Almighty
Who lit the sun and fixed it in the sky,
Who flung the stars to the most far corner of the night,
Who rounded the earth in the middle of God’s hand;
This great God,
Like a mammy bending over her baby,
Kneeled down in the dust
Toiling over a lump of clay
Till God shaped it in God’s own image;
Then into it God blew the breath of life,
And the human became a living soul.
And God said: That’s good!
This past week, I have been especially proud to live in Canandaigua. Friday was Arbor Day, and both the City and the Town of Canandaigua celebrated by planting new trees. And on Earth Day, we found out that the city has earned a bronze-level certification as a “Climate Smart Community” for the environmental efforts here, including the solar array for electricity, the electric vehicle charging station, and the composting program. And the City was also designated a “Tree City USA” earlier this year.
In living here in this beautiful place of natural grandeur, we must be on our guard that it will not become routine or taken for granted. We must give ourselves opportunities to notice and to be thankful for what people come from all over the U.S. to experience for a few days. I am chagrined to admit the number of days that often go by between the times I actually and deliberately drive past and look at the lake. And it still affects me each time. It still gives me joy. It is a place where God must have said, “That’s good!”
We need to regularly let ourselves be moved by this piece of earth that we inhabit, this door to joy. And we must not take for granted that it will still be here for future generations. We must be diligent in our efforts as caretakers.
Many years ago, Adlai Stevenson said what we now know to be true: “We travel together, passengers on a little spaceship, dependent on its vulnerable supplies of air and soil; all committed for our safety to its security and peace, preserved from annihilation only by the care, the work, and I will say, the love we give our fragile craft.”
We do need everyone working together as caretakers of this fragile craft on which we all travel through space, this beautiful earth. It is no longer just “important” that we join this effort together; it is now essential for our very survival.
As William Sloan Coffin once said: “Let us dare to see that the survival unit in our time is no longer an individual nation or an individual anything. The survival unit in our time and henceforth is the whole human race and its environment.”
Anytime a tree is planted, hope is also planted. The trees we plant today may be here in 100 years– still providing shade and beauty and rejuvenating the air in this community– as each tree grows and matures. The people who were here before us, the Iroquois nation, had a much longer perspective than most of us do. They considered the question, “What would be good for the next seven generations?” in their decisions.
What if we considered the next seven generations as we make our decisions about this special part of our world where we are fortunate to live? There is an old Portuguese saying that is found on signs throughout the forests of Portugal: “Let no one say and say it to your shame that all was beauty here until you came.” As caretakers, let us continue to do all that we can to leave a legacy of beauty and a door to joy for those who come after us.
And perhaps we can teach those who visit here to do the same– not only for this place, but for their own hometowns. We need caretakers in all places, and we can be catalysts for those who visit here to do what they can in their own communities. After all, we are all in this together.
We need to be reminded– and often– that we are caretakers of our world. There is a word that the environmentalists use often these days. The word is “tipping-point.” A tipping point is based on the idea that when a dump truck starts to raise the truck bed, it gets to a certain point before anything moves, before the dirt moves, but then everything starts sliding down out of the dump truck and onto the ground. It is like an avalanche coming down a mountain. Sometimes we all need a reminder that little things can lead to something much bigger, for better or for worse.
What we each do makes a real difference– on many fronts. As caretakers of this fragile craft, we all must remember that what we do does makes a difference. And that is also true of the difference we can make with other people who travel on this craft with us.
When we read about the range of the effects of climate change on this fragile craft, it is easy to be overwhelmed by the enormity of the problems. Yet, we must do what we can, each in our own way.
I love the story of the boy on the beach, (since I have been that boy myself) throwing starfish, washed up by the tide, back into the surf. The story goes that a man, realistic and rational, said to the boy:
“There are hundreds of starfish on the beach. Do you really think throwing a few back can make any difference?” The boy picked up another starfish and threw it as far out as he could and replied: “Made a difference for that one!”
So let us do what we can, one tree at a time, one starfish at a time, one solar panel at a time, one bag of compost at a time, one small step that we take at a time. Perhaps it is easier for us to understand why it is so important, because we live in a place of such beauty, a door to joy. We are fortunate here to be close to nature, and to understand it as a “door to joy”. Irma Zaleski describes the first time she understood about the natural world as a “doorway to joy”:
When I was little, in Poland before the War, we used to spend nearly every summer at my grandmother’s house in the mountains. She lived alone, in a house built by local craftsmen on the edge of a torrent. The noise of its rushing waters was the background of every moment of our holidays and the first sound of eternity which I learned to hear.
My grandmother was the kind of grandmother that everybody should have. She was brilliant and wise, although a little bitter at times. She lived through wars, revolutions, a bad marriage and the death of two children.
What had saved her sanity, I believe, was her love of beauty and a passionate interest in all the things of the mind. She loved literature and art; she was fascinated by science. Above all else, she loved the beauty of the mountains among which she eventually died.
I must have been 5 or 6 at the time. One night, I was awakened by my grandmother leaning over my bed. There was a noise of a great storm outside. Grandmother picked me up and carried me out onto a big veranda which ran all along the front of the house. “Look!” she said, and turned my face toward the mountains, “Look, this is too beautiful to sleep through.”
I saw black sky, torn apart every few seconds by lightning, mountains emerging out of darkness, immense, powerful and so real. Thunder rolled among the peaks. I was not frightened- how could I be? I was awed.
I looked up at my grandmother’s face and, in a flash of light, I saw it flooded with wonder and joy. I did not realize it then, of course, but now I do, that what I saw was ecstasy. My grandmother was the first to point out to me a door to joy.
-Irma Zaleski, “The Door to Joy”
We never know who our teachers will be, and we must look for opportunities to help those who come here to understand why it is important to preserve this door to joy. In her book, Be the Miracle, Regina Barrett talks about how a teacher can make a huge difference in our life. She describes one teacher and how he changed her life: “He’s the reason I recycle. The reason I pick up rocks in a creek to see what’s crawling underneath. The reason I snip the tops off plants to make them grow bushier. The reason I wanted to be a forest ranger. There are so many more teachers whose names faded but whose imprint never will. What do they make? As someone said about teachers, they make more than most people will ever make. They make a difference.”
Whether we have a degree in education or not, we also can be teachers. There are so many ways to make a difference, whether it is by taking care of our earth, or taking care of people who everyone else has given up on. People of all ages can make the world a better place. Whether we are 9 years old or 90 years old, we can still make a difference. In 1997, a young woman named Jody Williams won the Nobel Peace Prize. She won it because of her campaign to end the use of landmines. She said:
I believe it is possible for ordinary people to achieve extraordinary things. For me, the difference between an “ordinary” and an “extraordinary” person is not the title that person might have, but what they do to make the world a better place for us all.
I know that holding such beliefs and speaking them publicly is not always easy or comfortable or popular. But I believe that life isn’t a popularity contest. I really don’t care what people say about me— and believe me, they’ve said plenty. For me, it’s about trying to do the right thing even when nobody else is looking. I believe that worrying about the problems plaguing our planet without taking steps to confront them is absolutely irrelevant. The only thing that changes this world is taking action.
I believe that words are easy. I believe that truth is told in the actions we take. And I believe that if enough ordinary people back up our desire for a better world with action, we can, in fact, accomplish absolutely extraordinary things.
– This I Believe
It is true that we ordinary people can achieve absolutely extraordinary things. God has given us this earth. And we are called to be good caretakers of this fragile craft, and of all the people on this earth.
How lucky we are that we get to experience a door to joy every day. All we have to do is look at the lake. God created such beauty on this fragile craft. It is easy to love it, to care for it, to do what we can, in our own way, one tree at a time, one starfish at a time.
May God bless our efforts, both what we do together, and what we each do in our own unique way. And may God’s voice be heard by each of us, as we do what we can: “That’s good!”