“Us and our kin in creation”

“Us and our kin in creation”

This is the sermon the Rev. Allison Sandlin Liles preached on the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, the second Sunday in the Creation series, on September 13, 2020.


The Rev. Allison Sandlin Liles
Creation Season 2020
September 13, 2020

The parting of the Red Sea is a miracle performed by God through the prophet Moses. I imagine it to be both awe-inspiring and terrifying.

After the Passover which spares the Israelites’ firstborn children but kills those of the Egyptians, the Pharaoh finally agrees they may leave his country. It’s now been seven days since the Israelites’ Exodus from Egypt and the Pharaoh changed his mind. He and all the chariots of Egypt pursue God’s chosen people to the water and are about to overtake them.

With their toes touching the Red Sea, it appears that the Israelites will either be slaughtered or drowned. In their panic, they cry out to Moses, “Was it for a lack of graves in Egypt that you took us to die in the wilderness?  What have you done to us?”[1]

Moses knows his people are scared, so he reassures them. And then he prays to God. God calls Moses to stretch his hand out over the sea, causing a mighty east wind to blow all night long. The waters split apart like an axe splits wood, the waters become walls on their right and their left.

The Israelites march through the parted sea on dry ground during the night, with God’s pillar of fire overhead. When the Egyptian pursuers follow, God instructs Moses to raise his hand a second time sending the waters crashing down, drowning them in its depths. Recognizing the great miracle that had occurred, Moses and the people of Israel sang the Song of the Sea, and Miriam led the women in song and dance.

In this season of creation, as we intentionally reflect on the earth around us –  I feel a bit like the Israelites on the edge of the waters, watching the Egyptian chariots draw closer and closer. I feel like we, too, are in an impossible situation regarding our precious creation, with zero way out.

Yet even though I feel like the Israelites with our toes touching the edge of the Red Sea, I know that our situation is different. I know that there is danger in thinking we are too much like those fleeing Israelite. Because if we follow this line of thinking, we might come to believe that God will intervene in a similar way. That God will save us from the fires of our warming earth.

Perhaps if we trust enough.

Pray enough.

Believe enough.

God will save us, despite our careless behaviors or our smog filled skies. Doesn’t God promise, “behold I make all things new in creation”?

Let’s put a pin in that idea.

And go back to the beginning, the very beginning when God creates humankind in God’s own image. “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’” (Gen. 1:27–28).

We are the studying the book of Genesis on Thursday afternoons at St. Stephen’s over Zoom. And as we read these two verses from the first chapter of Genesis a few weeks ago, one word in particular jumped out at me, a word whose interpretation is widely debated. The word is most often translated into English as dominion

“God said to them, have dominion over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” I believe dominion means that we have sovereignty over and responsibility for the well-being of God’s Creation. We are called to cultivate and care for the Earth in the way that God does, that is with love and wisdom. We are called to exercise dominion in ways that allow God’s original creative act to be further unfolded.

Dominion comes the word Latin domus – meaning means house, temple, or even the dome over the earth. I watched a lecture by former Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori about a decade ago from the Healing Our Planet Earth HOPE conference in which she said something to the effect of all humankind living under the same dome. And just as we care for members who share our individual houses, individual domus, we are also called by God to care for the fellow inhabitants of our earthly dome.

That’s what it means to be a wise and holy householder. We do this out of compassion, not just for ourselves or our children, but for all people, and all people’s children. And their children’s children. And their children’s children’s children. We live under this dome together, so we care for one another show empathy for one another’s pain. This is what it means to be a people of incarnation; abundant life is meant for this world and this life – for all creation.

We hear this echoed in the words from today’s collect of the day.

God, our Creator, we celebrate your presence among us and our kin in creation, especially in the soil, the fields and the land. Help us to empathize with your creatures who suffer. Lift our spirits to rejoice with the land, the flowers of the field and all the creatures of the countryside. In the name of Christ, who reconciles and renews all things in creation.

With this in mind, the fact that this climate crisis is perpetuated primarily by human beings and primarily affects other human beings should be of our utmost concern. It’s a justice issue. We as human beings are all created by God, in the image of God and loved by God. We are all equal in God’s eyes. And as we are all created under this same dominion or earthly dome –we should care for one another in such a way.  God our creator, “help us to empathize with your creatures who suffer.”

Our reading from Exodus today reiterates this call to community. We are reminded of God establishing the people of Israel as God’s own people and how God saves them so that the covenant with Abraham may be fulfilled. We hear about valuing community and doing all we can to protect our lives together.

As we focus on the environment during the Season of Creation, we are called to look at the land we share with our communities and around the earth. We are called to look at how we treat land – both the developed and undeveloped spaces. How are we caring for the creatures displaced by urban sprawl? How are we caring for the people living in the lands of food deserts? How do we care for the common spaces are wildly natural? Do we have an interest in the places we do not own?

So, coming back to that pin.

My daughter has been telling us a lot lately that “we have 14 years to turn the earth around or else it will be too late.” I honestly have no idea where she got that number or if it’s true. What I do know is that she deeply believes that it is true and she’s calling our family out on selfish and careless behaviors.

Fourteen years – that feels an awful lot like being backed into a corner with no further options. Will God intervene? Will God save us, despite our careless behaviors or our smog filled skies?

God’s biblical promise is not that God will forever save us from ourselves and our selfishness. The promise is that God will forever stand with us, urging us to move in the divine way of unity and wholeness with all created beings under this shared dome. I don’t believe our God will swallow up the CO2 levels or cool the oceans or extinguish wildfires in the Sierra Nevadas through a heavenly breath. But I do fully believe that our God will continue reminding us that we are connected to one another and that there are more options than being drowned or slaughtered.

While God may not intervene to save the planet while we stand idly by, I do believe that God is in the process of saving us. God is working on us and through us at this very moment to turn us toward the healing of the planet and the healing of all people living together under this great dome.

[1] Exodus 14.11, Robert Alter’s translation in The Five Books of Moses