Epiphany 1 B: Listen to the Earth

First Sunday after the Epiphany/Baptism of the Lord

Psalm 29 is our Psalm for the First Sunday after the Epiphany, which is also the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. This particular Psalm may have been chosen by those who maintain the lectionary readings as background to the scene in today’s Gospel reading, Mark 1:4-11, where Jesus comes out of the water after being baptized by John:

He saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

The words for “heaven” in both Hebrew and Greek can also mean just plain old “sky.” The Earth’s atmosphere speaks to Jesus. And Psalm 29 is all about how God speaks through nature. It contains these verses:

3           The voice of the Lord is over the waters;

the God of glory thunders,

the Lord, over mighty waters.

4           The voice of the Lord is powerful;

the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.

5           The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;

the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.

6           He makes Lebanon skip like a calf,

and Sirion like a young wild ox.

7           The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.

8           The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;

the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

9           The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl,

and strips the forest bare;

and in his temple all say, “Glory!”

The question is: If God is speaking to us through Creation, are we listening?

One of my former Old Testament professors has helped found a marvelous movement called The Earth Bible Project. Many scholars have dedicated themselves to retrieving from the ages a faith that does indeed listen to what the Apostle Paul calls the “groans of Creation.” This project helps us be honest about the places in the Bible where concerns of the Earth take a back seat to our own, sometimes self-serving, concerns. These scholars also seek to be honest and critical about the many ways we have misinterpreted the Bible because we have habitually seen everything with “me” in the center—that “me” being narrowly conceived as us humans only, us whites, us westerners, us Christians, or us Americans only in the center of the picture. (Citation: Norman C. Habel, ” The Earth Bible Project,” SBL Forum , n.p. [cited July 2004]. Online:http://sbl-site.org/Article.aspx?ArticleID=291)

Surely, we have an urgent lesson to learn from these days of  horrible pandemic, and of all the other crises of economics, politics, racial relations, etc, that we have had to deal with. The lesson is that we must take our little selves out of the center, and respect the whole of Creation as the handiwork of our Great God. We must repent for the wayswe continue every day to wound ourselves and all future generations by our disregard for the environment. A big part of this is that the series of viruses and bacteria that have attacked us, from SARS and swine flu to AIDS, have been arise because of our own careless incursions into and destruction of the habitats of animals. For another thing, we should now see clearly that we ourselves live and move and have our being only as part of the intricate web of life on this planet. We have fallen ill in the pandemic, and we will survive, only as part of the Whole.

I leave you with a list of the guiding principles of the Earth Bible Project. They should be a catalyst for our shared growth as a species, starting with the way we read Psalm 29 and the rest of the Bible. When we read Psalm 29, for instance, we learn about God’s voice from the Earth. And when we experience the ravages of this pandemic, we can feel the impact of principle 6 – the earth resists our injustices—especially the way we act as if we can get away with raping Her.

“Six Ecojustice Principles”  

  1. The Principle of Intrinsic Worth: The universe, Earth and all its components have intrinsic worth/value.
  2. The Principle of Interconnectedness: Earth is a community of interconnected living things that are mutually dependent on each other for life and survival.
  3. The Principle of Voice: Earth is a subject capable of raising its voice in celebration and against injustice.
  4. The Principle of Purpose: The universe, Earth and all its components, are part of a dynamic cosmic design within which each piece has a place in the overall goal of that design.
  5. The Principle of Mutual Custodianship: Earth is a balanced and diverse domain where responsible custodians can function as partners, rather than rulers, to sustain a balanced and diverse Earth community.
  6. The Principle of Resistance: Earth and its components not only differ from injustices at the hands of humans, but actively resist them in the struggle of justice.

These principles are basic to the approach of writers in the Earth Bible Project seeking to read the biblical text from the perspective of Earth. They can be found discussed in full in Norman C. Habel, ed., Readings from the Perspective of Earth, The Earth Bible, Vol. 1, Sheffield Academic Press, Sheffield, England, 2000.

There are many worthy organizations that can help us listen to the Earth. One that             another of my former professors, David Rhoads, helped found, and which specifically works to help members like me, of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, is called Lutherans Restoring Creation. Here is a link to the website:  https://lutheransrestoringcreation.org/

May we listen together to God’s voice in Nature. And “may the Lord bless his people with peace!”

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About John

John is a retired pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America who has served congregations for over 40 years, including in rural, suburban, campus ministry and urban settings. His love of Border Collie sheepdogs has been fortified by his many friendships with shepherds all around the world. Nothing he has ever or will ever accomplish is as significant as the patience God, his wife and his friends have shown in putting up with his deficiencies.
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