Three weeks ago, it was Hurricane Harvey. That hurricane devastated Houston. Then on Thursday last week an earthquake in Mexico, 8.1 on the Richter scale--decimated parts of Southwestern Mexico; on Saturday of last week, that earthquake was followed by hurricane Katia. That hurricane touched down on the east coast of Mexico destroying buildings and rattling inhabitants. Then on Sunday, while we were in worship, Hurricane Irma hit Florida, and with such force that it demolished homes, and disrupted lives pretty much everywhere in the state. All the while, wild fires raged, and continue to rage in our nation’s northwestern states, decimating large swathes of land in Washington State, Oregon, Montana, California, and Colorado.
Blow the Trumpet in Zion, sound the alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble for the day of the Lord is coming; it is near!
Did that thought slip under the door of your consciousness, as you lay in your safe bed waiting for sleep—That thought, like an unwelcome notice from your landlord telling you that you are behind in your rent payments. Only it isn’t the landlord you owe, it’s God. You, we, have ignored the signs and closed our ears to our modern day prophets, our climatologists. Yes, as we lay in our safe beds, we considered that maybe now we are being asked to pay our Holy landlord or else. The great reckoning is upon us. The day of the Lord is coming, it is near.
It is the thing that no one is talking about—at least not while so many people are looking after the injured—and everyone is busy cleaning up and throwing out. This isn’t the time and yet it IS the time. It is most definitely the time, while nerves are frayed, frayed like taut and over-stressed rope; by all the catastrophes we have been and still are suffering through. Later it may be too late. Later we the memories will soften—the memories of the horror and the anguish of it all. Now is the time to consider if maybe God, in fact, is speaking from the whirlwind. God has visited upon us a plague of cutting, swarming, hopping, and destroying locusts.
But no, “Not God,” we tell ourselves. And yet. And yet, let us at least consider that the God we have imagined—the God we invoke in Sunday worship—That Sunday God is a faint whisper of God’s true and loud and robust self. We have imagined a kind and loving father. A God who is slow to anger as Joel says. God may be gracious, merciful and slow to anger; God may be abounding in steadfast love, but the prophet Joel believed that God also sent the locusts. To Joel’s mind even God has limits.Sometimes God runs out of patience. Could it be?
We are ruining God’s beautiful creation, with our factories and our mega-farms, with our sprawling cities and their end-to-end and side-by-side parking lots. We are decapitating mountains and denuding forests. We are vomiting our waste into rivers and oceans. Maybe God has finally had enough.
When I was young—maybe eight years old—I was raking leaves in the back yard. As I raked, this bizarre notion came to me-- that the grass I was raking was the world’s hair, and my rake was a giant comb. I said it was bizarre. Surely this was a great secret that my small self had intuited. The world is a living, breathing giant head, and we are like lice--building homes and riding bicycles and driving cars on the scalp of the world.
Turns out. Turns out I was more than half right—maybe. Some people say the world supports a great web of being. Some people say that all that is on our planet—ALL--from the single cell amoeba to the great white whale, from one lone desert wild flower to the giant redwood forests; from a single grain of sand to Mount Everest—that ALL, has been spun together like a web, into a (quote) “synergistic self-regulating complex system.” This web, this system (quote) “helps maintain and perpetuate the conditions for life on this planet.” So say some conservationists. Our world may not be a giant head as I once imagined, but the world may have something akin to a rudimentary brain.
We breathe in Oxygen and we breathe out Carbon Dioxide, Co2. Plants take in that Co2. These plants distribute it into the soil, where it is absorbed by the roots of still more plants. And, the plants break down the C02 and return Oxygen to the air for us to breathe. It’s all part of the system, all part of the web.
But sometimes our factories and cars and trucks spew a whole LOT of C02 into the air. Then what? When there is a superabundance of Carbon Dioxide, the web, the system responds. So for instance, when there is too much C02 over the ocean, algae blooms. Great quantities of algae blooms. That algae breaks down the C02 returning oxygen to the air. The system is maintained. That’s easy for us to follow. We get that. But it’s actually more complicated. The excess C02 heats up the air. That air could heat up our oceans—maybe just a few degrees, but enough to effect marine life. But again, our web responds. Imagine all that algae. It floats on the surface of the ocean as an ever so thin, living tissue. That thin algae-tissue blocks the heated air, and keeps the ocean temperatures, temperate. Minnows and dolphins and whales continue to swim and play. They get married and have little baby minnows, dolphins and whales, without any concern at all for the water temperature. As has been the case since the beginning of their existence, they depend on and are kept safe by the web.
But when we humans over-tax the web? Well, then the strands break and the web collapses. Air and ocean temperatures rise. Hurricanes happen. Floods happen. Wild fires happen. When the web collapses so goes the world’s complex, self-regulatory system. Actions have consequences. We know that. We learned that in kindergarten. You put your finger too close to the flame, you are going to get burned. You eat too much birthday cake, you get a tummy ache. It’s basic. Actions can sometimes have formidable, sobering, maybe even permanent consequences.
So, maybe the fact is, God hasn’t sent the hurricanes and earthquakes and all the rest. Maybe God isn’t involved in the machinations of the world at all. God doesn’t vote. God merely observes that the system is out of whack because we humans are careless, and greedy. God shrugs, and sighs, “Ah, well.” Either that or suck in your breath here, either that, or God doesn’t exist at all.
Could it be, that God is front and center in this world of ours? From the very beginning God participated in our world. God continues to participate in our world. Could it be that God is the great brain that created the systems that maintain and perpetuate the conditions for life? And if God is silent now, that doesn’t mean that God is not present. God’s tears are flowing and God’s heart is breaking. On an intimate level God is experiencing the destruction of that which is most dear.
You’ve heard the term pantheism? Hug a tree, you hug God. God is in the tree. That’s Pantheism. Pan means all, Theo means God in Greek. Pantheism. God is in all that is. Plenty of people believe that.
There is a related word, Panentheism. Pan-en-theism. Pan means all, en means in and Theo means God. Pan-en-theism. All is in God. Pantheism is the idea that God is greater than the world and the entire universe. And more, God interpenetrates the world and the universe. If that is the case then when you hug a tree, you are hugging your brother or sister. That is, you are hugging an entity that shares your parentage. You and the tree owe your existence to God. You and the tree are PART OF God. Again, panentheism. If that idea sounds slightly mystical, and well, “out there,” you would be right. It IS mystical, and it probably IS “out there,” but then our faith has always had its out-there mystics.
Panentheism IS scriptural. Once you start looking through scripture, you can find evidence of it everywhere—Just as one for instance-- in Psalm 139, my personal favorite; The Psalmist addressing God writes: “Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.”
The gospel writer of John is probably the most out-there mystic of our New Testament writers. The gospel writer John writes, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him and without him, not one thing came into being.”
Even the Apostle Paul, was probably an out-there mystic. In Ephesians he writes, “There is one God and Father of all, over all, who is above all through all and in all.”
Remember the locust plague we considered at the beginning of this sermon? At the end of the book, the prophet Joel prophesies that if the Jews repent—if they turn from what it is that has upset their Lord, then God will reward them. Joel, speaking for God says,
“I will repay you for the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer and the cutter, my great army which I sent against you. You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied and praise the name of the Lord who has dealt wondrously with you. You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I, the Lord, am your God and there is no other.”
May it be so for you as for me and for this fine and precious world we live in. Amen