William Sloane Coffin wrote, “The chief religious question is not, ‘What must I do to be saved?’ but rather, ‘What must we all do to save God’s creation?'”
This is the last Sunday in Eastertide, the last Sunday before Pentecost, and it is Ascension Sunday when we hear the story of Jesus leaving the earth and magically rising through the clouds into heaven.
There is a beautiful moment in the story where the disciples are gaping up at the sky and two angels appear in white robes beside them and ask, “Why are you looking up to heaven?”
Jesus and teachers in the early church stressed that the realm of God is within and among us, that the presence of Christ is not just in heaven but very much on earth, and that God and Christ are in us each and we are all in them. The same could be said of every creature and every planet and star and the whole universe.
And yet human civilization continues its wars and oppression of people and destruction of the earth and its species, while many if not most churches stand by looking up to heaven and asking “What must I do to be saved?”
The good news is that many other churches are focused on building the realm of God’s love and compassion and justice on earth and working together to save all God’s creation. This is hopeful and exciting, and we can be grateful that our congregation gets to be part of that movement and play the most significant role it can using the gifts and resources we have.
One source of wonderful gifts in our congregation is Mel Goertz. This Sunday the choir will be singing a text Mel wrote set to a tune she composed, “Be Still.” We also feature one of her haiku every week in the bulletin. Haiku is an art form that demands that we look down from heaven and notice the presence of the Spirit in nature (including humans). The “Way of Haiku” is very similar to the Way of the Christian mystics and the Way of Christ—all three see God in all things and all things in God.
We will hear this vision of God in and on earth in the scripture passages and hymns this week. We will hear an adaptation of Psalm 139 (“Where can I go from your presence?”) and two sections from the Gospel of Thomas (“Split a log; I am there. Lift a stone, and I am there.”) as well as the opening of the Gospel of John (“All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.”) We will sing “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise” and a beautiful hymn by Samuel Longfellow, who was a pastor, poet and younger brother of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “God of the Earth, the Sky, the Sea.”
The choir will sing the gorgeous “Vater Unser” by Arvo Pärt (give yourself a treat and listen to it below) as well as the hymn “God of the Sparrow God of the Whale” by Jaroslav Vajda. Pianist Annemieke McLane will play pieces by Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky.