Let All That Breathes Praise the Lord - Psalms 148 & 150
A grandmother and her young grandson had never flown. A bit anxious, they boarded a plane. The plane soared. Fearfully, they looked out the window. They were overwhelmed with splendor: blueness of sky, white billowing clouds, green farmers’ fields, winding streams, and curving forests. The boy turned to his grandmother and whispered, “Nana, now we are with God.”
Theologians question the nature of God in nature, arguing whether the creation is God’s body. Wondering, does God care about what we do within creation? Is the world simply a source of commodities for human use? Most agree that God is both incarnate within creation and distinct from creation.
God loves creation, and calls it good. Chief Seattle in the early 1900s answered, “The earth is precious to God, and to harm the earth is to heap contempt on its Creator.” God answers us through Job: “But ask the animals, and they will teach you; the birds of the air, and they will tell you; ask the plants of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of every human being.”
We question, is God hurt when a calf is killed for a burger? Should we eat meat? How do we give thanks for the life snuffed out to feed us? Do our pets go to heaven? Can the Hubble telescope see solar systems that might have life? Are they watching for us as we watch for them? Does God judge our relationships to our ecosystems like Seuss’ Lorax? Why did God create the world? Why are we here?
In our adamant anthropocentrism we ask another grave question, “to be or not to be?” Shakespeare’s melancholy Hamlet pondered the suffering of his life wondering whether “to be.” We ponder other creatures’ lives and whether they should be or not be. Humanity’s folly with regard to creation becomes an ontological quiz? Shall humanity be? The Jaquar? Shall the Giant Panda be? The Tiger? Shall the Blue Whale exist? What about the Baker’s Cyprus or the African Penguin? As creatures of God diminish unto endangered species lists, we humans, who share their habitats, fight over whether they should exist. NIMBY-ism too often qualifies the answers – well yes – they should be, but not in my back yard inhibiting my industry, my wealth, my conveniences.
Global warming conversations have us asking: shall coastal cities survive? Shall polar bears and glacial ice continue? Shall the poor of the world be or shall we allow their grandchildren to starve? How hard will we try to change?
To be or not to be, that is the question. Can we dare ask the question knowing our God’s love of Creation? Can we dare not change our behavior answering that all of it should be? Let them praise God.
James Gustav Speth the co-founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council reports in his 2008 book, The Bridge at the Edge of the World: "Half the world's tropical and temperate forests are now gone. The rate of deforestation in the tropics continues at about an acre a second. About half the wetlands and a third of the mangroves are gone. An estimated 90 percent of the large predator fish are gone,…Twenty percent of the corals are gone, and another 20 percent severely threatened. Species are disappearing at rates about a thousand times faster than normal. The planet has not seen such a spasm of extinction in sixty-five million years, since the dinosaurs disappeared."
Praise God with all of creation. Say “yes” to life. Yes – rain forest, sleek Jaguar – you should exist. Yes – adorable Giant Panda, and orange striped Tiger. Yes –Penguins. Yes – Polar ice caps. God bless us as we answer “yes” to the poor of the world who are hungry. Yes – to the white/blue glaciers and green grasses. Yes - to the mountain tops of West Virginia. Our affirmations of life, diversity, and beauty echo off creation and become praise to God. Our appreciations of earth, sky and water spring to God as praise.
Friends, as we answer “yes” to life, we come closer to our purpose in life. Why do we exist? Why are we here? Psalms 148 and 150 answer the ontological question. We exist to give thanks to God for existing. Mammals, birds, insects, and humans breathe praise. The stars, stones, winds and waves whistle praise. Let all that breathes praise the Lord. Brothers and sisters, God’s creative breath fills us. We co-create with God – not consuming creation – but orchestrating the earth’s songs of praise.
An old adage goes, “Either Live with Hope or Die in Despair.” As we look to the world around us and hear of disappearing forests, struggle with wind farms that steal holy vistas, worry as crude oil destroys ocean and coastal community life, and natural gas fracking endangers ground waters, we can be paralyzed in despair. As we are burdened with the seemingly impossible changes needed to reduce carbon footprints, we can become immobilized into trances of apathy. Yet we are God’s children of the Way. We will live with hope harmonizing ourselves with the natural rhythms of the world’s praises.
An Episcopal church in New Jersey challenged itself. The members saved their trash for two weeks and brought the bags to the church. They ripped open the black bags and dumped them in the church courtyard. With rubber gloves the congregation sorted their garbage making piles – a waste pile, a composting pile, a recycling pile. Most did not belong in the dump. Imagine the congregation’s repentance. The Rockville United Church Greening Task Force urges us to greater creation praise and responsibility. Kendall and her friends inventoried two weeks of the church’s garbage. See their report, how we did and their advice in the Narthex and on the RUC webpage.
We are created to praise. We praise God with sea monsters and deeps, fire and hail, snow, frost and stormy wind. We praise God with mountains and hills, fruit trees and cedars, wild animals and cattle, creeping things and flying birds! We praise young and old together. Praise God with LED lights. Praise God reusing water bottles. Praise God insulating homes. Praise God with carpooling. Praise God with walking, with a bike. Praise God with locally grown food. Praise God by cleaning a stream. Praise God with laws to protect the poor. Praise God turning off lights, planting trees, loving pets. Praise God. Let everything that breathes, be allowed to breathe easier, and continue to praise the Lord. Amen.