Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | September 13, 2015

2015.09.13 “Season of Creation: Humanity” – Genesis 1: 26 – 28; Mark 10: 41 – 45

Central United Methodist Church
Season of Creation: Humanity
Pastor David L. Haley
Genesis 1: 26 – 28; Mark 10: 41 – 45
September 13th, 2015

humanity

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” – Genesis 1: 26 – 28, the Revised Standard Version

“When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” – Mark 10: 41 -45, the Revised Standard Version

Today, as we continue the Season of Creation, we consider the stars of the show, HUMANITY, at least as voted by those of us who are human. I understand among dolphins and whales, the vote came out quite differently. Among insects, there was complete disdain; they’re waiting us out, and will be here long after we’re gone.

To tell the truth, even how WE feel about the rest of our fellow humans may vary. On a good day, we may agree with William Shakespeare, who wrote:

‘What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an Angel! in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world! The paragon of animals! And yet to me, what is this quintessence of dust?” (Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, Act 2, Scene 2)

On a bad day, we may agree more with Mark Twain, who once said, “The more I know about people, the better I like my dogs.”

For those of us who have been privileged to travel the planet and experience humanity in its various forms, a privilege limited to few in the long history of the race, some observations come to mind:

1 – There are more of us than ever before. If there is one command of God we have heeded, it is “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth . . .” (Genesis 1:28).  Such that there are now 7.3 billion of us who make up humanity, and increasing exponentially, especially in countries like China and India, whose populations exceed one billion people.

2 – While – within the human species, there appears to be great diversity – it is superficial. DNA testing (a technique only about 40 years old) reveals that all human DNA is 99.9% the same. Also through DNA testing, comes the amazing revelation that every human being alive can be traced back to an ancestral male and female, and no, their names were not Adam and Eve. We are literally all related, even if distant cousins.

As the saying goes, underneath our clothes, no matter how elaborate or expensive they are, we are all naked, and essentially the same. Add to that the sobering acknowledgment that every one of us is also mortal. In 125 years, every human being alive now will be dead, including us, our children, and our grandchildren.

3 – Which brings us to a third observation, which is that perhaps the most remarkable thing about our species is our ability to create culture, such as language, art, clothes, music, architecture, science, and even religion. It is our ability to transmit this culture to future generations that allows civilization not only to exist, but to progress. None of our nearest relatives, such as the great apes, have come close, despite those jokes about monkeys in rooms full of typewriters, or now computers. While some may long for the “good old days,” I for one am thankful to exist only after the invention of antibiotics and anesthesia, among other things.

4 – Despite all this, as we know, as individuals and as a race, our species can be both noble and cruel; inventing art but also war; religion but also racism; high culture but also holocausts.

Perhaps no better current example demonstrates this than the current refugee crisis in Europe. Refugees are the collateral damage of what happens when you destroy countries through war, and people must flee for their lives and seek refuge elsewhere, in other countries. Do you know that there are more refugees on the road now than at any time since World War II? Sometimes they they are welcomed and cared for; sometimes they are turned away and left to suffer and die, as happened in Austria recently when an abandoned truck was found on the highway with the decomposing bodies of 71 dead refugees. It makes the point that we as a species can be compassionate and generous, but we can also be cruel and selfish. With more refugees likely to be on the road in the future due not only to war but to climate change and the rising of the oceans, this is a problem that is not going to go away, but is going to affect us all.

Desmond Tutu, the Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town, remind us that Africans have this thing called UBUNTU. UBUNTU is the essence of being human, and is part of the gift Africa is giving the world. Says Tutu:

“It embraces hospitality, caring about others, being able to go the extra mile for the sake of others. We believe that a person is a person through another person, that my humanity is caught up, bound up, inextricably, with yours. When I dehumanize you, I inexorably dehumanize myself. The solitary human being is a contradiction in terms and therefore you seek to work for the common good because your humanity comes into its own in belonging.” (Desmond Tutu, Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town)

What Desmond Tutu reminds us is not only true in regard to our fellow human beings, but also true in regard to our planet and the creatures with whom we share it. Because not only do we human beings create culture such as science and religion, we also create pollutants and toxic chemicals and landfills and nuclear waste and carbon dioxide, which causes global warming. With our human population exerting greater pressure on the planet than it ever has in the past, the pressure on the creatures with whom we share the planet is increased also.

Because of this, are you aware that the Earth is in the midst of a mass extinction of life, greater than anything the world has experienced since the vanishing of the dinosaurs, 65 million years ago? According to the UN Environment Programme, scientists estimate that 150-200 species of plant, insect, bird and mammal become extinct every 24 hours. This is nearly 1,000 times the “natural” or “background” rate. This includes some species that it would be hard to imagine life on earth without, like whales and elephants, for example.

Cecil_the_lionApart from human encroachment on animal habitats, perhaps there is no more glaring example of the attitude of our species toward other species than the recent story about the killing of Cecil the Lion, in Zimbabwe. Cecil the lion was a 13 year-old male African lion who lived in Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. Enter Walter Palmer, a Minnesota dentist and recreational big-game hunter, who killed Cecil, presumably in order that he might mount Cecil’s head in his den as a trophy. As you might imagine, Cecil’s killing has drawn international media attention and sparked outrage among animal conservationists, politicians and celebrities, as well as provoked a strong negative response against Palmer.

In the past, such scandalous behavior against the planet and our fellow creatures was justified theologically. After all in Genesis 1, the book of creation, doesn’t God command us to “subdue the earth; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth?” According to this account, we humans are the apex of creation and the Masters of the Universe. Given such theological rationalizations as this, we apparently think so, for domination is what we have done; crushing species to near extinction – sometimes even for sport – and using nature as a natural resource which runs through the pipeline to the garbage dump. As a cultural contrast, compare – for example – Aboriginal culture in Australia – 40,000 years old, and they are yet to create their first oil spill. Theological justification notwithstanding; which of these two examples of homo sapiens is more wise?

It is worth noting – however – that even in our own creation accounts, there is not one but two creation stories. In Genesis 2, God creates humanity and puts us in the garden “to till it and keep it.” (Genesis 2:15). Scholars have pointed out that these two tasks might be better translated, “to serve and to preserve it.” Might that not be a better understanding for modern times, when not only earth – but humanity with it – is threatened by the way we live?

Such an understanding is further corroborated by the words and example of Jesus in today’s Gospel. The way to live in the world, says Jesus, is not by domination or “lording it over others,” as the Romans did to them and as his own disciples wanted to do to each other, but to live as servants of each other, and by extension, as servants of the planet and all God’s creatures with whom we share it.

Understood this way, our role as humans is to tend the garden God has created for us. If you think about it, the act of tending a garden, as any good gardener knows, involves loving attention. Good gardeners strolls through their gardens with attention and loving care, noting “what’s happening,” and “what’s coming up,” and also, “what plants or species are crowding out the others?” (as we humans are doing). Not only is the garden cultivated, but so also is a cooperative relationship with the garden, which communicates its needs and desires, for those with ears to hear.

So – given all we have said – in the new reality in which we find ourselves, surely our relationship as human beings with earth and earth’s creatures has to change. While – in the past – we have often understood our responsibility to the planet in terms of the concept of stewardship – of “managing” the garden, it has limited usefulness in the new reality. Rather, in the new reality, we must learn not to manage as much as we must learn to “fit in,” to live in relationship. Some say, it’s more like a dance, and precisely because we humans possess such power to shape the future of life on earth, including the future of our own species, it’s imperative that we learn the steps. (From Darwin, Divinity, and the Dance of the Cosmos by Bruce Sanguin © 2005 Bruce Sanguin (Published by CooperHouse, an imprint of Wood Lake Publishing).

How can we begin? By being awake, alert, and paying attention, by cultivating the relationship and learning the lessons the garden is giving us.

When I was in California in July, I hoped to go surfing. I fully intended to one afternoon when we went to Zuma Beach, and it must have shown on my face, because the lifeguard met us and said, (Lesson Number 1). “Because the tide is receding and the beach is steep here, there is a riptide going on, so we don’t advise swimming right now. As I stood there on shore looking respectfully and longingly at the crashing waves, a school of dolphins came along, frolicking and diving, whom you could literally see swimming in the crests of the waves, as if to show off. It was an awesome sight, teaching me two more lessons (Lesson Number 2): I decided if there is anything to reincarnation, I want to come back as a dolphin. And finally, (Lesson Number 3): How have so many of us humans – thinking we are the Masters of the Universe – neglected, even mistreated, the fellow creatures God has given us to share the planet, for so long?

We have another exceptional Pope in the Catholic Church now in Francis, but I have always loved the words of a previous pope, John XXIII. Pope John XXIII once said this: “We are not on earth as museum keepers, but to cultivate a flourishing garden of life and to prepare a glorious future.” It is late in the game for some species – perhaps even our own – but let each of us begin, to live not in domination, not as masters, but as servants: of each other, of the earth, and all God’s creatures. Amen.

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