(A golden oldie while I enjoy the holiday weekend)
I went fishing in northwest Ontario for a week with two friends. We got an all-day rain on Tuesday. So we headed to a town about fifty miles north. After a day of gawking, eating, shopping and general carousing, we got back about 10:30 p.m.
Our cabin was right on the lake, so we wandered down to the dock. One friend looked up and said, “Oh. My. Goodness!”–or perhaps something a bit more colorful. We froze in amazement. Northern lights stretched from horizon to horizon.
We lay on our backs on the dock. The aurora shimmered and danced for nearly an hour. In all that time, we spoke not a word. We simply worshiped in that Canadian cathedral of living light.
We were blessed with a Psalm 8 experience. “When I look at the heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established,” ponders the poet, “what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?” A very good question.
Our sun is a nondescript member of the three hundred billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy. The Milky Way is one of at least two trillion galaxies in the observable universe. The total number of stars is approximately a three followed by twenty-three zeroes.
Yet three foolish humans on the third rock from one of those nondescript stars were privileged to bear witness to the heavens lit with the glory of God. “O LORD, our Lord,” writes the psalmist, barely able to take it all in, “how majestic is Your name in all the earth!”
How to respond to such marvels? The Psalmist points to our human vocation within God’s Creation. The Lord has made us just a little lower than God, and crowned us with glory and honor. This is a picture of royalty. This is an astonishing assertion about beings as foolish and frail as we are. But there’s more.
“You have given them dominion over the works of Your hands,” the Psalmist continues. We hear echoes of Genesis one, verses twenty-eight and twenty-nine. God blessed the newly-minted human beings and instructed them to populate the earth. “And have dominion,” God continued, “over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
What are human beings that God should pay any attention to us? We are called to be keepers of Creation, managers of all that God has made.
Perhaps I have just set a world’s record for the linguistic long jump. So let me retrace my steps. What is this “dominion” we have been given? If we humans are God’s called and chosen representatives, then God is our model. How does God rule?
Today is Holy Trinity Sunday. We celebrate seeing God’s human face in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus tells us in Mark, chapter 10, that he came “not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
In Philippians two, we get even more of the picture. The Apostle Paul quotes an ancient Christian hymn. Even though Jesus is God’s human face for us, Jesus doesn’t exploit that status for personal privilege. Instead, Christ Jesus “humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death…on a cross.” If you want to see how God rules, look at Jesus on the cross.
We are called to rule the way God rules. Paul sums it up in Ephesians 1:22–”[God] has put all things under [Christ’s] feet and has made him the head over all things for the church…” We find ourselves right back at Psalm 8, verse 6. What are human beings that God should pay attention to us? We are called to be keepers of Creation, managers of everything God has made. We exercise that call when we rule like Jesus rules.
Paul captures this paradox in Romans 5, verses one through five. In the first two verses, he summarizes the good news of Jesus Christ. By grace, God makes us whole and invites us to trust that gift of life. When we do, we have peace with God through Jesus. On that basis, he says, “let us boast of our hope in sharing the glory of God.” That’s another way of saying we are called to rule like Jesus rules.
Jesus rules by serving, not by being served. That’s the operational definition of love. Love always requires suffering. Just ask any parent. If we had to do this on our own, we could never do it. So our peace with God brings a benefit–”God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
God calls us to rule the way God rules. In Jesus, God frees us to follow our divine destiny and gives us the model for ruling. God pours the Holy Spirit into our hearts so we can answer the call and live as God made us to live. Father, Son and Holy Spirit–Happy Trinity Sunday!
Now I return to our beginning. Look at the glories of creation and be struck dumb in wonder! Let us reflect on our management of God’s Creation. Let me quote from the ELCA social statement on the care of creation. “Made in the image of God,” the statement asserts,
“We are called to care for the earth as God cares for the earth. God’s command to have dominion and subdue the earth is not a license to dominate and exploit. Human dominion…should reflect God’s way of ruling as a shepherd king who takes the form of a servant…, wearing a crown of thorns.”
How are we doing? We are destroying Creation in our desperate desire to dominate. Human responsibility for climate change is real. The science is beyond contesting. Efforts to challenge climate change science are bad science. Of course, it is our grandchildren who will discover that truth firsthand.
Grandchildren–that’s more than enough to get my attention and change my behavior. I want no Father’s Day gifts. Rather, I am giving the gifts of simpler living, less consumption, and a smaller carbon footprint. I see that as central to my calling to be a fully human being.
“So, to become human,” wrote Jean Vanier, means “to become men and women with the wisdom of love.” There is no better description for our human vocation toward one another and toward all of Creation. Let’s pray…
Pastor Lowell R. Hennigs