Top of Page ILLUMINATING AND THINKING ABOUT THE SERMON
This is the second week when joy is at the center of or theological thinking. This is all about that triumphant and joyous moment when you get something to finally work, or when you hear that you succeeded or that one of your children succeeded. It is that sudden moment of joy which can come from sudden insight or dreams fulfilled. It is that sudden moment in Scripture that we truly see and feel God. That is what we celebrate on Pentecost Sunday.
Einstein used thought experiments as a way to understand the Universe in which we live. He would try and imagine a set of circumstances that would help him better understand the world in which we live. So, let us use this method to try and escape taking our world for grant. Let us imagine a world that is only one great plain with just grass. This world only has only one season and only one type of plant and animal. There is rain but no snow; there is a breeze but no wind; there is grass but no trees. What would it be like to live in such a world?
After such an imaginary world the wonder and genius of the way God has created and is still creating our world every day may fill you with a sudden understanding of the joy of the psalmist. We all experience that sudden joy of Creation when we look out our windows and see three feet of snow which has transformed everything. We have the same sense of wonder when days later the sun has melted and returned the land to normal. In these transformations we see God at work in the world, and we can expect and have faith that the same transformations happen in the spiritual world that God has created for us.
Most of us have been entranced at times by the glorious displays of the sun's light illuminating the clouds. A shaft of light suddenly pierces the dark blue of a cloud, and in another moment the sun itself blinds our eyes as the vapors, swirling high over our heads, part. Before our eyes the shape of the cloud shifts, creating a wondrous display of colors, from deep purple and blue to red and orange, yellow and blinding white. Such a display might have inspired the writer of Psalm 104, with its imagery of God clothed in light, riding in his cloud chariot "on the wings of the wind." This psalm is coupled with the one preceding it, both Psalm 103 and 104 being the only ones that begin with "Bless the Lord, O my soul." But whereas Psalm 103 is concerned with God's gracious relationship with his people Israel, Psalm 104 dwells more on God as Creator.
Like the opening chapters of Genesis, which this psalm reminds us of, the psalmist uses imagery from the surrounding culture, including maybe even the famous "Hymn to the Sun." attributed to Pharaoh Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten) hundreds of years earlier. However, the psalmist sees everything as created by God, rather than as being separate divinities. The sun was at the center of Egyptian religion but is only mentioned once (vs 19) along with the moon (also deified in other religions) both as creations of God. The reference to God's stretching out the heavens "like a tent." May have grown from the Babylonian myth of Marduk's slaying of the monster Tiamat, but there is no longer any trace of a cosmic struggle. Everything springs from God's creative will and word. The scope of creation is covered, light and the heavens, clouds and winds, fire and flame, the earth and the waters of chaos, the mountains and valleys, life-giving springs, and the beats of air and fields and the deep—birds and cattle (and grass to feed the latter) and people. The latter can take joy in creation from "wine that gladdens the human heart, and oil to make the face shine." On and on the joyful description goes to include "the young lion, "and the already mentioned sun and moon, and even the deep-sea monster Leviathan is seen as "sporting." in the ocean. All of these looks to God for "their food in due season, "and even for the very breath of their being. Long before the Environmental Movement the psalmist saw the interconnection of creation, recognizing that humans do not stand aloof from the world, but are an integral part of it.
For the psalmist praise is the proper response of the observer of God's wonders. Only with God's breath do animals and humans live. This breath, which can also be translated as wind or spirit, as the NRSV does in v. 30— "when you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground." —is absolutely necessary for all. Probably this is the verse that the compilers of the Common Lectionary saw as the link to Pentecost, which the church celebrates this Sunday. The disciples gathered together certainly received a spirit of renewal, and certainly broke forth in loud praise.
The joy of seeing God in many ways is what is being celebrated this week. Not only is the joy of God being celebrated, but in a world full of gloom and doom we should take a moment to celebrate the real joys we have in life. There is the long tradition of finding joy in the world God has created as well as finding joy in our relationships. However, for many, we no longer seek joy and most of us do not recognize joy when it comes to us. So let us celebrate the joy of Pentecost and the joy of our faith this morning.
Top of Page ILLUSTRATING THE SERMON
Joy is fundamental to human existence and well-being, yet it is an elusive phenomenon that resists definition. For more than two millennia, the articulation and cultivation of joy was at the center of Jewish and Christian scripture, theology, and practices—an articulation and cultivation that in turn was grounded in and evolved over centuries of lived human experience, observation and discernment. Notwithstanding the importance of joy to human well-being and the deep, ancient religious foundations for understanding and cultivating joy, the very idea of joy has all but disappeared from modern theological reflection, is all but ignored by the social sciences, and is increasingly absent from lived experience. The consequence is a “flattening out,” a “graying,” of human life and communities—abundance of entertainment notwithstanding—and a sharp bloom of individual and communal dysfunction.
The Theology of Joy and the Good Life project seeks to restore joy to the center of Christian reflection on the nature of the good life and to restore the question of the good life to the core of Christian theology, the world’s colleges and universities, and our most significant global conversations.
The project has grown out of research conducted during the Center’s 2014 work on the “Theology of Joy.” This research led to several key insights and an operating hypothesis about the nature of joy and its relationship to the good life that we seek to research and test. Our hypothesis is that the good life has three basic dimensions: agential (what you do) , circumstantial (how the world is for you, both materially and culturally), and affective (how you feel).
Given this formal account, joy is revealed as the crown of the good life, both naming its affective dimension, and yet integrating all three. (See Miroslav Volf, “What is the Difference Between Joy and Happiness?”) Joy, as a positive emotion (an affective concern-based construal), is a positive affective response to an objective external good, construed rightly and about which one is rightly concerned.
Therefore, one cannot describe joy adequately without reference to the good life. Likewise, at least on the Christian account, one cannot describe the good life adequately without reference to joy. Each is integral to the other. When this essentially integral relationship of joy and the good life is grasped, it becomes apparent that joy is the affective dimension of the good life and that the good life is the life marked by joy.
This formal description constitutes the working hypothesis of the project, which the full proposal is designed to test by conducting research in three closely-related areas.
The core body of research investigates joy and the good life so as to test and articulate this fundamental integrity of joy and the good life. That is, this research explores whether and to what extent joy is indeed a dimension of the good life and the good life is one marked by true joy. This research will be advanced through two series of consultations—Joy Among the Virtues, Actions, and Emotions and Joy and the Phenomena of Human Existence—as well as by YCFC research scholars, project leadership team members, and work funded by sub-grants and competitions. This research serves as the foundation for all other project activities, including the development of “Christ and the Good Life,” a new course that invites seminary and divinity school students to reflect on the particular shape the good life assumes when Christ is taken to be the key to human flourishing (offered for the first time in Fall 2015).
Our 2014 consultation on joy and adolescence concluded that adolescence is a pivotal season for the cultivation of the good life of joy. For this reason, the project also studies factors that foster or inhibit joy in this crucial season of life and translate the fruits of this research into practical tools for youth ministry. This is the focus of the subproject on Joy and Adolescent Faith & Flourishing. (https://faith.yale.edu/joy/about)
The project explores joy and its analogs in other traditions, recognizing that the affective dimension of the good life may be described differently in different religious and philosophical traditions. In helping us attend to these differences and the ways that they shape the visions of the good life that motivate our lives, theology can serve as a bridge-builder rather than gatekeeper. This is the focus of the subproject on Joy and its Analogs in Other Traditions which will award eight $20k sub-grants to scholar-practitioners of non-Christian traditions to articulate visions of the good life within these traditions with particular attention to the affective dimension.
In all of its activities, the project seeks to involve and integrate the work of scholars working in sometimes disparate theological subfields, casting vision for a renewed and unified theological academy that places the articulation of normative visions of the good life at the core of its work. For this reason, the project begins in AY15-16 with a series of consultations on the “Future of Theology.”
Over the three years of the Templeton Foundation grant (2015-2018), the project will distribute more than $900,000 in subgrants and prizes, inviting a wide network of scholars, pastors, and seminarians to participate in the life of the project. The project also will sponsor monthly public lectures, support the development of two university courses, produce a growing video library of contributors and guests, edited volumes and books—including an anthology of poetry—and curricula for two church-based youth ministry courses.
Ultimately, the Theology of Joy and the Good Life project aims not only to conduct theological research, but to lay the foundations for a movement pursuing questions of the good life in the academy and the culture more broadly. From the start, the project is led by an extraordinary group of scholars and religious leaders from more than twenty institutions around the globe, including Jürgen Moltmann, Jonathan Sacks, N. T. Wright, and Nicholas Wolterstorff.
The Theology of Joy and the Good Life project is made possible by a $4.2 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation with additional support from the Youth Ministry Initiative, the McDonald Agape Foundation, Yale Center for Faith & Culture donors, and the Yale Divinity School. (https://faith.yale.edu/joy/about)
After writing my first article on this "Theology of Joy" page I received a very interesting email from one reader. Part of her response: "Your title is a curious one. Theology is so textbook, and the word Joy is a very confusing word in the Christian community."
How informative! For some Christians, these two terms are polar opposites. However, when theology ("thinking" about faith) is divorced from joy (a feeling or experience of faith) Christians end up feeling they must pitch their tents in one camp or the other.
Why the separation? In "modern" expressions of Christianity (1700s to 1900s), the pursuit of one's faith was sometimes reduced to a rational or theological endeavor. Modern theologians did at times produce very helpful tools for biblical study and wonderful articulations of "systematic theology", but in doing so they often neglected the Holy Spirit's role in bringing forth a rich experience of faith (For you philosophers, this divorce seems to be traceable to Immanuel Kant, whose "categorical imperatives" separated theological truths from the experiences of the five senses; as a result, Kant and other "enlightenment" thinkers tended to see God as sovereign and authoritative but not actually present).
The modern world got a bit annoyed at this, since God was often presented in such static and rational terms that people wondered how they could develop an intimate relationship with God. However, the "postmodern" church has taken on the challenge of "re-experiencing" faith. It often looks to the Holy Spirit and to worship as critical ways to revitalize authentic faith. And these pursuits, of course, are most commendable. Postmodern Christianity, however, is often guilty of over-reacting to its "modern" counterpart by valuing experience over thinking. Some churches, for example, now tend to view almost any spiritual experience as a valid one, without checking to see if this experience is guided by biblical parameters (as expressed in orthodox theology). God is seen as relational (a God of love) rather than rational (a God of truth and logic); God is present (with us or very much like us) more so than authoritative (above us or demanding obedience from us).
The goal is to talk about -- and even illustrate at times -- what it might be like if we strove to develop the sort of faith in Christ that truly integrates the head and the heart. That is, can theology be a way of strengthening our experience of God's presence? Can our feelings or experiences of God (through the Holy Spirit) be means for opening our hearts and minds to the truths of scripture?
Webster's Dictionary defines "joy" as "the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires." Our Christian theology evokes such an emotion when it is pondered. We find joy when we realize our "well-being" in Christ and that we actually possess what we desire--abundant life in Christ (in the present and eternally). As you can see, such an experience results when both the "head" and the "heart" are integrated in the knowledge of Christ.
I believe such an integration would have several very positive results (and perhaps you will think of others).
1. Our joy would be much more consistent or lasting, not based on the whims of emotions nor in any way "dry" or emotionless.
2. Our theology would no longer be simply "textbook" but lead to a living, breathing, and vibrant faith ... a "Spirit-filled theology", so to speak.
3. Our witness for Christ would no longer be reduced to simply emotional sharing about faith or over-intellectualizing, but rather would demonstrate to the world a "whole life" sort of faith -- and thus communicate to others that Christ cares about and wants to restore their whole lives.
Theology of Joy! Since it’s something I'm learning a lot about myself lately, I'm looking forward to continuing the conversation with you! (http://blogs.christianpost.com/Theology/theology-of-joy-what-is-it-66/ by John A. Studebaker, Ph.D.)
A Member of Parliament and future Governor of Bombay wrote the best-known hymn based on Psalm 104, "O Worship the King, "in 1833. Sir Robert Grant was born in India, though he considered Aberdeen, Scotland his home. His father Charles was also a member of Parliament and active in civic reforms. Despite their ancestral home, the Grants were Anglicans, and not Presbyterian. They belonged to the Evangelical wing of the church, giving much aid to missionary work. Sir Robert wrote poetry, this being the only one of his twelve hymns that continues to be sung. The language is majestic, like the Psalm's, and even if some of it is archaic— " Ancient of Days, pavilioned in splendor" —congregations have no trouble understanding its meaning. Even modern hymnals, though their editors might change the male pronouns referring to God, include five verses, so integral are they all to the Psalm's meaning—especially the fifth stanza in which the last phrase resonates with Biblical titles for God, reflecting Jesus' words in John's Upper Room account—" Our maker, defender, redeemer, and friend."
Fred Anderson's paraphrase of Psalm 104, "Bless the Lord, My Soul and Being, "also requires five stanzas to express fully this great psalm. Like the editors of the Revised Common Lectionary, his version leaves off before verse 35, the one condemning sinners to destruction—undoubtedly a good idea, saving worshippers from any semblance of self-righteousness, or appearance of the same to outsiders. The author, a Presbyterian graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary has pastured numerous churches and contributed much to the liturgy and music of his denomination, serving on the writing team for its Directory for Worship.
Maltbie D. Babcock's lovely "This Is My Father's World, "a longtime favorite hymn for many, is similar to Psalm 104 in that the hymn is full of praise and joy for God's creation of nature, and then at the end recognizes that sin ("wrong." in the hymn) mars it but that God still reigns. God is seen in all of nature, and there is no separation of secular from sacred. The songs of the birds are carols. The light of morning and the flower praise God, and even in "the rustling grass." God can be heard passing by. (For some strange reason this middle verse has been left out of the latest hymnal of the Presbyterians! Congregations are more the poorer for such an omission.) Author Babcock was an upstate New Yorker who attended Syracuse University where he was a top baseball pitcher and an excellent swimmer. His robust nature carried over into his faith and its practice. Students were drawn to him, so that when he was ordained a clergyman and called to serve the Brown Memorial Church in Baltimore, he began a popular ministry with the students at John Hopkins University. At Pentecost God was making visible the claim that the apostle Paul would later make, that God has made "of one blood all men and nations." Luke testifies that there were pilgrims in Jerusalem from virtually every nation—"Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs." This God-intended unity has often been denied, as we see in such a film as Final Solution, set during the last years of apartheid in South Africa. This pernicious system, supported even by some of the churches there, denied the truth of Pentecost and the teaching of the Scripture that we all have one Creator, and therefore are joined by a love freely given to us all. Gerrit Wolfaardt is the proud grandson of a Boer who was executed during the rebellion against English rule near the beginning of the 20th century. Confirmed in his racism by family, church and society, Gerrit and his buddies believed that Hitler's Final Solution should be applied to their country as well. They go about beating up any black who has the misfortune to cross their path while alone. Then Gerrit is converted to a new way of thinking, his Pentecost experience being a slow, gradual process brought about by a girl, a black pastor, the Bible, and Alan Paton's novel Cry, the Beloved Country (For more on how this transformation came about see the film illustration under July 20) When Gerrit shares his transformation at a church assembly of blacks, his audience is so skeptical that a white man can change that they interrupt him with their shouts, calming down again only when the black pastor Peter Lekota speaks up and then turns the pulpit over to Gerrit's wife Celeste, who completes her husband's story. Many in the audience accept the story, but not one angry man, who directly confronts Gerrit afterward. The man's name is Moses Moremi, and he has a good reason for hating Gerrit. He was the teenager whom Gerrit had beaten years earlier, a beating that had scarred both his face and his psyche. Resistant to pleas for reconciliation between the races, the embittered Moses serves as the final test for Gerrit. If he can be convinced that Gerrit really is what the apostle Paul called "a new person in Christ, "then maybe there is hope for reconciliation on the large, national stage of South Africa.
"If God can communicate His Power to a human nature made one with His Divine Person in the Incarnation, why cannot He continue to communicate it through other human natures made one with Him by the unifying spirit of Pentecost?" Fulton J. Sheen, The Fullness of Christ,1935
"Pentecost marks not only the beginning of the church as an organized society, but also the recognition of its unity…That there is a basic oneness of the Christian community is a reality which Pentecost never allows us to forget." (Samuel McCrea Cavert, National Council Outlook, 1959)
Sixty years ago, George W. Wiseman wrote a two-stanza poem entitled "Easter Must Be Reclaimed." He apparently was fed up with those who came just once a year to church, for whom Easter was more of a fashion show and Christ just a "fleeting afterthought." Part of the first verse derides those who forget "That Christ still lives when Easter's sun has set, The vision fades, the power is soon lost, If Easter does not lead to Pentecost." From Masterpieces of Religious Verse (Harper & Bros., 1948) p.207
Some Colorado lawmakers are taking steps to create legislation that would classify cats and dogs as companions. If enacted, the law would allow people in Colorado to sue veterinarians and animal abusers in order to seek damages for "loss of companionship, "up to $100,000. Under current law, pets are considered to be property, allowing pet owners to limit the damages they might receive to the pet's fair market value. Colorado is one of 14 states that recognizes the rights of dogs and cats to be beneficiaries, thus permitting people to leave money and property to their pets.
A number of saints in the Roman Catholic tradition are known for their fondness of nature. St. Martin of Tours had himself bound to a stake in the path of a sacred pine tree that people were planning to cut down. Saints Gerlach, Vulmar, and Bavo all were known to have lived in hollowed-out trees. St. Victorinus is said to have caused a dead tree to blossom at his death. St. Hermeland is reported to have driven caterpillars from the forest that she loved.
All creation is meant to share in the news of God's love when the final redemption takes place. In order to offset the cost of a scientific project, the Russian space agency will beam your words of love into the outermost reaches of the cosmos. On this past Valentine's Day, for about 15 or 20 dollars, people could have their words of affection transmitted into outer space with one of Russia's radio telescopes. The love messages are tacked on to the end of other transmissions that are being sent.
When it comes time to purchase a vehicle, an evangelical Christian group is encouraging people to ask themselves, "What would Jesus drive?" The question, of course, is meant to be a twist on the popular "What would Jesus do?" Pastor Jim Ball, director of the Evangelical Environmental Network remarks, "Most people don't think the kind of car they drive has anything to do with their faith. We want to show them how it does." He strongly believes that Christians should relate everything they do to the Lordship of Christ. The "What would Jesus drive?" ad campaign last year was financed by donations from the Energy Foundation and targeted areas in Iowa, Indiana, North Carolina, and Missouri—states chosen because of their large evangelical Christian populations. In particular, the ads are intended to discourage people from buying SUVs, which tend to have much lower gas mileage and cause more pollution that many other kinds of vehicles. The automakers, though, will not be easily convinced to change their production plans. During 2001, minivans, pickups, and SUVs outsold cars for the first time ever, and in the process caused the average gas mileage of new cars to sink to its lowest point since the early 1980s.
The apostle Paul speaks about all of creation sharing in God's ultimate redemption. Yet many Americans are somewhat oblivious to the world that exists outside the nation's borders. Even though Iraq has been in the news for months, only one of out seven people between the ages of 18 and 24 were able to locate Iraq on a world map, based on a study conducted by the National Geographic Society. One out of ten were not able to locate the United States. A mere 17% were able to find Afghanistan on a map. The same survey discovered that 34% of young Americans knew that the island used on the Survivor show was in the South Pacific, but only 30% could find New Jersey on a map. When asked to locate ten specific states on a map of the United States, only Texas and California could be located by a large majority—89%. Only 51% could correctly identify New York. On a map of the world, American youth could find an average of only seven of 16 countries in a quiz. In contrast, students in Sweden did far better, finding an average of 13 of the 16 countries. While 81% of the Americans knew that the Middle East is the biggest oil exporter, only 24% could find Saudi Arabia on a map.
One area of the world that certainly will look forward to the new creation that will one day take place is the Jordan River and the Dead Sea. The once grand Jordan River, the site of Israel's triumphant entry into the Promised Land and the location of Jesus' baptism, is now a polluted mire of water. The Jordan River is being sucked dry as water is being diverted for consumption in Israel, Jordan, and Syria. The main source of water for the Jordan River is the Sea of Galilee. Each year Israel is withdrawing about 700 million cubic meters of water from the Sea, placing it into the National Water Carrier, the conduit that supplies the nation's population centers all the way down to the Negev. Towns, cities, and farms near the Sea of Galilee also tap into the water for use. In effect, no decent water remains to flow into the Jordan. Brine is collected from springs at the bottom of the lake and from along the shores and dumped into the Jordan. Ten kilometers south of the Sea of Galilee, the Yarmouk River has been the other trusted source of water for the Jordan. But water from the Yarmouk is now diverted by Jordan to supply the needs of their people and farms. Between the brine being dumped into the river from the Sea of Galilee, the runoff of untreated sewage, and agricultural chemicals leeching into the water, the Jordan River is no longer safe for human consumption. At the Dead Sea, the water level there has been dropping by about a meter a year. Experts believe the body of water could disappear entirely by 2050. Back in the 1950s, 1.3 billion cubic meters of water flowed into the Dead Sea each year. Today the flow is down to 300 million. When the American naval explorer, William Lynch, visited the Dead Sea in 1848, he reported that the mouth of the Jordan River was 180 yards wide and three feet deep. Now the Jordan's mouth is a only a few meters wide, little more than a muddy creek.
The World Wildlife Federation estimates that by 2025, the Earth could lose as many as one fifth of all species currently known to exist. In recent centuries hundreds of species have become extinct, often due to human activities. The passenger pigeon was a source of food until excessive hunting and habitat loss caused it to be come extinct in 1914. The North American bison almost became extinct in the 1800s as settlers moved west. They survive today mainly because of the efforts of conservation groups.
The third most popular admission-charging tourist attraction in England is the Eden Project, a showcase of 4,500 plant species in Cornwall. The only sites more popular are the London Eye and the Tower of London. The 37 acres are filled with pathways, herb and flower gardens, trees, and various experimental crops. The outdoor gardens feature two biomes. The Humid Tropics Biome contains a vast assortment of plant life from such places of Malaysia, West Africa, and tropical South America. The Warm Temperate Biome is home to plants from the Mediterranean, South Africa, and California. Plans for a third biome to feature plants from dry tropical regions are underway. The Eden Project was established to promote environmental awareness.
Although urban sprawl seems to be consuming more and more of the landscape, nearly half of the planet's total land area is still wilderness. Conservation International's Center for Applied Biodiversity Science, in association with the Global Conservation Fund, identified large areas of land that still possess at least 70% of their original vegetation. Five of the wilderness areas—the Congo forests of Central Africa, New Guinea, the North American deserts, Amazonia, and the Miomba-Mopane woodlands and grasslands of southern Africa—are considered to be high biodiversity wilderness areas, with each possessing at least 1,500 unique species of flora. The areas designated as remaining wilderness regions within the United States are the Sonoran and Baja Californian deserts, the Colorado Plateau, the Greater Chihuahuan Desert, and the Mojave Desert.
The world of nature and humankind do not yet enjoy the promised day of peace and harmony. There are increasing reports from Africa of lions eating ecotourists. Quite often the people are being attacked because they are camping too close to the animals' habitat. The most famous attack took place in 1898 when two lions descended upon railroad workers attempting to build a bridge over the Tsavo River in Kenya, killing and eating nearly 30 people.
Many people have a desire to get along with and enjoy animals. According to last census, 36% of American households that have pets have dogs, while 32 have cats. But cat owners are slightly more likely to have more than one pet. In all, there are about 70 million cats in the United States and 60 million dogs.
Buddhists have contended that trees should be counted among the community of the sacred. In rural Thailand, some Buddhist monks have gone so far as to ordain particular teak and mahogany trees in endangered forests in the hope that villagers will refrain from cutting them down.
"If I spent enough time with the tiniest creature even a caterpillar I would never have to prepare a sermon. So full of God is every creature." (Matthew Fox, Meditations with Meister Eckhart. (Santa Fe, New Mexico: Bear & Company, 1983) p. 14,)
John Muir, famed naturalist and founder of the Sierra Club, wrote in one of his journals: "No Sierra landscape that I have seen holds anything truly dull, or any trace of what in manufactories is called rubbish or waste; everything is perfectly clean and pure and full of divine lessons. This quick, inevitable interest attaching to everything seems marvelous until the hand of God becomes visible; then it seems reasonable that what interests Him may well interest us. When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe. One fancies a heart like our own must be beating in every crystal and cell, and we feel like stopping to speak to the plants and animals as friendly fellow mountaineers. Nature as a poet, an enthusiastic workingman, becomes more and more visible the farther and higher we go; for mountains are fountains_ beginning places, however related to sources beyond mortal ken." (p. 245, from My First Summer in the Sierra, first published in 1911, reprinted by the Library of America in John Muir: Nature Writings, New York, Penguin Books USA, 1992)
The Christian tradition has long taken note of the role of trees in the life of Jesus: born in a wooden stable, mother married to a carpenter, crowned with thorns, and crucified on a cross.
The very idea that there will be a new creation runs counter to the secular images of the future that many people have. Robert Coles argues that a large number of people today have a hope for the future that "expects not a Judgment Day, hopes not for a Heaven, fears not a Hell, but for sure counts hard and bets everything on a longer and better spell of it in this place of ours." (Robert Coles, The Secular Mind (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999) p. 144-45)
On Pentecost, it is customary in Italy to scatter rose leaves from the ceiling of the churches to symbolize the fiery tongues that appeared over the disciples' heads. In France, it is a tradition to blow trumpets during Pentecost worship to simulate the sound of the mighty wind that accompanied the appearance of the Holy Spirit.
"Eschatology is not a speculative optional extra for Christianity. It is central to credible theology. Without an everlasting hope, present hope is no more than a device to endure this world's ambiguity." (John Polkinghorne, Serious Talk: Science and Religion in Dialogue (Harrisburg: Trinity, 1995) p. 106)
"Over increasingly large areas of the United States, spring now comes unheralded by the return of the birds, and the early mornings are strangely silent where once they were filled with the beauty of bird song." (Rachel Carson)
"We are living beyond our means. As a people we have developed a life-style that is draining the earth of its priceless and irreplaceable resources without regard for the future of our children and people all around the world." (Margaret Mead)
"The chief aim of all investigations of the external world should be to discover the rational order and harmony which has been imposed on it by God." (Johannes Kepler)
Paul's powerful image of creation "groaning." comes alive in Peter Jackson's film version of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. The evil wizard Saruman decides to tear up the ancient forest around his tower, digging up the ground to use as a factory to build weapons and create evil monsters. As the trees are being torn from the earth, you can actually hear them groaning. Although Jackson's final film of the trilogy has yet to be released, if he follows Tolkein's books, one of the signs that good triumphs in the end of the story is that trees never before seen in the land called the Shire, home of the hobbits, begin to spring up with the help of a magical seed. Where nature had been torn apart, beauty again blossoms forth as a sign of the presence of good.
"Sometimes we wish the world could cry and tell us about that which made it pregnant with fear-filling grandeur. Sometimes we wish our own heart would speak of that which made it heavy with wonder." (Abraham Joshua Heschel, Samuel H. Dresner, Editor, I Asked For Wonder: A Spiritual Anthology. (New York: Crossroad, 1991) p.2.)
Top of Page prayers (WorshipAid)
Creative and creating God, we ask your presence with us as we worship you, crowned in splendor, your mighty power reflected in your works. We come to you in awe of the living world around us, where everywhere we see the beauty, the color, the diversity, the richness of your works. We come before you grateful for your blessings, and we await the leading of your Spirit, as we sing your praises and pray that our meditations will be pleasing to you. Our souls praise and bless you, and seek your presence and your peace.
O God, we confess our sometime delight in conflict, and our lack of effort toward the unity you seek for us. How often we are walls when we could be bridges. How often we are blind to the light of your Spirit. We make no effort to overcome the divisions of language, race and culture that threaten to obscure our communication. We delight in boundaries, rather than working with your reconciling Spirit to break them down. Grant us mercy, and help us to forgive one another, overcome what divides us, and rejoice in the power of your unifying Spirit.
Generous God, we bring these offerings to you, thankful for the blessings you have abundantly showered upon us. Moved by the Spirit you gave the Church at Pentecost, we strive to be set free of greed and pettiness, and to be channels of your abundance. May we go forth from this place to embody your love, through Jesus Christ we pray.
Empowering God, who sent forth your creative Spirit to bring all things into being, we give you thanks and praise. When the Jerusalem Church sought your presence humbly on that Day of Pentecost so long ago, you did not leave them orphaned. You came to them, just as the Master had promised. Your transforming Spirit cut across the boundaries of language to bear witness to your mighty acts. Your Spirit of Truth gave voice to the simple disciples, that they might fulfill your ancient promise that all might tell aloud your glories, see visions and dream dreams.
O God, grant a vision to us, as individuals and as a congregation. We give thanks for all our predecessors, but we have our own work to do, our own mission to accomplish, our own vision to live out. Grant that our vision may be your own, and that, informed and empowered by your Spirit, we may bring into reality what is now only a dream. Bring to birth a new dynamism, a new vigor, a fresh outpouring of your Spirit, that we may bear fruit for your reign of love and justice. Mold us into a servant people, that we may reflect the love of the servant Lord who died that we might have life. In the Spirit of the Risen One, breathe new life into this body, that we may truly be the Body of Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.