God’s Earth, Our Sacred Space
Sunday, April 19, 2020
Intern Teleen Saunders
If I ask you to envision a sacred space, where would it be? It might be the sanctuary here at Augustana. Perhaps it’s your childhood home or a special vacation spot. For me, I have a special place called Crocus Hill. No, not the neighborhood off of Grand Avenue in St. Paul. My Crocus Hill is on a hiking trail down by the Minnesota river where I grew up in Bloomington. To get there, you have to hike down through the woods and back up again to a clearing. It really is a hill, poking up like a bald spot higher than the treetops of the surrounding forest. And every year, in the early spring wild crocuses grow, small fragile purple and white flowers that soon die when the wild grasses take over and drown out the sunlight. I don’t know how the crocuses originally got there, and I don’t really care. Because each year that those little flowers bloom, is like a miracle to me. And when I have a chance to hike up to that hill, I always take time to sit in prayer. Because it is there, where I feel most surrounded by the holiness of God’s creation. For me, Crocus Hill is a sacred space.
Most of us have a connection with nature in one form or another. Perhaps you grew up on a farm and measure time by the length of a growing season. Perhaps you enjoy camping or canoeing and can start your own bonfire with wood that’s still wet. Or perhaps you love to travel and have seen snowcapped mountains, the bluest oceans, or cactus blossoms in the desert. It’s hard not to be swept away by the transcendence of it all. And I wonder how anyone could not see an artist behind the creation as it’s surely God’s handiwork at play.
Certainly, the people of the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament, knew this transcendence. Psalm 24 declares, “The earth is the LORD’S and all that is in it… For he has founded it on the seas and established it on the rivers.” This Psalm was likely part of a worship procession into the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. It’s an acknowledgement that God invites us into sacred space. And what is this sacred space? Certainly the temple, but more than that! God’s sacred space extends to the whole earth and includes all that is in it!
And then our Psalm gets a little more personal asking, “Who shall stand in this Holy space?” And the answer is surprising. It’s not the priests, the kings, or the prophets. It’s anyone who is willing to wash their hands. Now maybe you are saying to yourself, “That’s me! I’ve washed my hands. A lot! Let me go into God’s sacred space!” Well, the answer isn’t so clear cut. Washing hands is not a cleanliness issue. It’s a moral one. Those who live a moral life, a compassionate life, a truthful life are invited into God’s sacred space.
And so now we have to ask ourselves. How are we doing? How have we been treating God’s sacred space, the earth and all that is in it?
Bishop Elizabeth Eaton of the ELCA recently issued an Earth Day message saying, “Humans, in service to God, have special roles on behalf of the whole of creation. Made in the image of God, 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. … [It] should reflect God’s way of ruling as a shepherd king who takes the form of a servant (Philippians 2:7), wearing a crown of thorns (Caring for Creation, pp. 2-3).”,
Currently, we are dealing with two interconnected crises on a worldwide basis. Both the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing climate change demonstrate the profound consequences of our disrupted, broken relationship with the natural world. What’s more, it is the most vulnerable in our society who are most likely to suffer the effects. This is not the garden of Eden and I’m afraid we have been taking things for granted. Our hands are dirty. All we have to do is see how the world is repairing itself while humanity is tucked away. We’ve seen a drop in carbon emissions, the return of swans in the Venice canals, and baby sea turtles along Brazil’s northern shoreline can now safely crawl an empty beach to the ocean. We have been out of balance.
But there is hope. God’s desire is for abundant life! The resurrection of Jesus Christ brings redemption for all of creation, not just humanity. As people of God, we have been called to lovingly serve the earth.
One way is to follow the example set by the Earthkeepers task force here at Augustana. In one year almost 5,000 pounds of organics from our congregation were diverted from the landfill because of intentional efforts to reduce and recycle our garbage. Another way to care for God’s creation is through self-reflection. Let us use this time as a mirror to examine our own individual impact on the environment. If you would like to observe Earth Day I invite you to visit earthday.org to learn about “virtual” ways to celebrate.
The end of Psalm 24 implores the people to “lift up your heads”. This is an invitation to view God’s handiwork. Who is the king of glory? Lift up your heads and see! Go outside, look at the stars, take a walk, hike through the woods, hear the birds, skip rocks across a pond, or look for signs of springtime right outside of your window. This is God’s earth, our sacred space. Thanks be to God.