In this “not ordinary time” – this so-called “Ordinary” time between Pentecost and Advent in which the current condition of our planet begs us to stop and re-consider how we are living–in this “not ordinary time” there are some core questions we need to consider. If we are to survive and adapt to the inevitable changes that are now in motion, if we are to make conscious choices about what direction we want our world to head, if we are to leave the planet with a chance for our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren to enjoy even a portion of the beauty and abundance generations before us have known, then we’d better get clear about who we are and Whose we are.
Last week we considered the question, “Where do you come from?” and looked at a few origin stories–the origin story in Genesis 1, which tells us we are from a God who creates, who savors beauty, who moves in rhythms, who rests; and the origin story of the Big Bang, which tells us we are made of stardust, of the same elements as the stars and moons and planets and galaxies, the same elements as the dust of our earth and the other creatures of our earth.
Today we consider the question, “Who am I? Who are you?” It’s related to last week’s inquiry, “Where do you come from?” and the piece of the origin story in Genesis 2 that Barbara read for us this morning continues our search. This is the beginning of the second creation story in Genesis–different from the one in the first chapter–and the very first line that Barbara read for us should give us a clue to that–“In the day that the Lord God made the earth and heavens…”–just one day, not six. There are no plants or herbs yet, only a stream and a river bed, out of which God begins to fashion the creatures, beginning with adam, literally the earthling or earth creature, out of the adamah, the dust of the ground. Adam has no gender, or maybe both /all genders, and when God blows breath into the earthling, adam becomes a living being. It is then that God plants a garden in Eden, and puts Adam in it, “to till it and keep it.” That was our original role in creation–to serve the soil.
The story goes on, of course. “It is not good that the earthling should be alone,” God says. “I will make a partner, a helpmeet for adam.” After making all the other creatures of the earth–the birds and animals and every living thing, which Adam names, God still is not satisfied. And so putting the adam to sleep, God reshapes the earthling into two, now with genders, bone of one another’s bone, flesh of one another’s flesh. None of this is science or history, remember, but poetry, hymn, doxology, story, the mystery greater than facts and figures. We are made for relationship! the story sings, we are made for each other.
Who are you? Who am I? Our culture, our society, surrounds us with answers to those questions, from the lips of leaders and celebrities, in glossy advertisements and seductive commercials.
You are a consumer, we are told. You hold the key to our economy, to putting people back to work, to generating capital which makes the world go round. Your patriotic duty is to go shopping, to buy, to accumulate, to eat, to acquire. We need to consume food and water, of course, to stay alive, but the word “consumer” as a common term is relatively recent to the English vocabulary, less than 100 years old. Yet now it defines us. Even those who want to be conscientious ask, “How can I be a green consumer?”
You are an individual, our society says. Your primary obligation is to yourself and your family. It’s weak to depend on others. Take care of your own. Family first. Country first. Freedom is being able to do what you want.
You are nobody, our culture says, unless you’re famous, unless you’re wealthy, unless you’ve got power, unless you’re beautiful in the way the magazines define beauty, unless you win.
These stories that our culture tells us about ourselves are big on immediate gratification and profit, have no sense of obligation to future generations, and are leading us deeper and deeper into the ecological and political crisis we’re in.
The best of the Christian tradition tells us that we are beloved children of God. “For all who are led by the spirit of God are children of God,” Paul wrote to the church in Rome. It is what we affirm in baptism. You’ll recall the story of Fayette who was astounded and delighted to learn in her baptismal preparation class that when she was baptized, she would be “beloved, a precious child of God, beautiful to behold.” And when she came up sputtering and blinking from being immersed in the waters of baptism, she cried out, “And now I am?” “Beloved!” the congregation responded. “A precious child of God! Beautiful to behold!” “Oh yes!” Fayette affirmed. And even months later, when Fayette lay in the hospital, bruised and beaten after a savage attack, she could be heard saying to herself, “I am beloved… I am a precious child of God…and if you come back later, I’ll be beautiful to behold.” Who are you? A beloved child of God.
Who are you? You are meant for relationship, for community. The church is that community that affirms each one as beloved child of God, across geography and time. We are part of a great cloud of witnesses.
Who are you? You are a creature of the earth, your DNA only infinitesimally different from that of all other creatures, yet our origin stories tells us we were given the role of being stewards of all the creatures, caretakers of the earth. We are, in fact, co-creators, coming, as we do, from a creative God. We are makers of music, of art, of dance, or poetry. We are creators of homes and shelters, tenders of gardens, sewers of quilts and clothing, cabinet-makers, carvers of wood and stone.
Who are you? You are a disciple of Christ, a follower of the teachings and the Way of Jesus. Like Jesus, you have the potential to become fully human and fully divine, the glory of God being the human being fully alive.
The stories we tell about ourselves shape us. How we perceive ourselves affects how we act. Experiments in positive psychology have shown how self-perception changes actions. When we see ourselves doing even a small act of compassion or kindness, we begin to perceive ourselves as compassionate and kind; and we then act more compassionately and kindly. When we give something of ourselves to another or to a cause, we begin to see ourselves as generous and can build on that. Conversely, stories that tell us we are good for nothing, or only to consume, reinforce those self-perceptions and those pathways for acting.
Are we citizens of Empire or citizens of the Earth, author David Korten asks? (The Great Turning, cited on notordinarytimes.org) We must change our stories–or reclaim our stories–if we are to heal the earth and have something beautiful and liveable to pass on to future generations.
Humans from humus [writes Rev. Tom VandeSadt], ancient of lineage,
Extending back to savannahs, oceans,
Our blood, made red and salty by iron and oceans,
Iron formed by atoms flung into the cosmos by primordial explosions,
Salty from the waters in which our ancestors swam.
Our lungs, filled with oxygen,
Exhaled by light-drinking trees that inhale what we exhale.
Formed by stardust and water, earth dust and sunlight,
We are life among life, creature among creatures,
Kin to every fruit on life’s sacred vine.
Woven by creation’s threads, we are part of, not apart from…
“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God,” Paul wrote. “…I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons and daughters of God…
And I am? You are? Beloved, precious children of God, beautiful to behold. All creation waits for us to reclaim and live into that identity. Amen, and amen.
Rev. Mary H. Lee-Clark