The Pond We Live In

The Pond We Live In

Acts 4: 32-35  Romans 8:18-25

Alan Claassen & E. G.

November 22, 2015

Introduction: Alan

            In last week’s sermon entitled, “Thank God for Evolution” I said that

in light of the crisis of global warming, and increasing violence in the world, we need to understand the great insights of love and justice that are in science and the Bible in order to shape our current view of theology and cosmology. We need to understand who we are and what our purpose is in the evolution of life in this most amazing universe.

            I also said that E.G. and I will share more about the ethical implications of this awareness of the Universe story, where each creature is endowed with significance and worthy of respect, with selected readings from the Bible, the Pope’s Encyclical, the poetry of Mary Oliver, and the Earth Care Covenant of this congregation.

         Well here we are.

Opening: E.G.    Our congregation has been thinking and talking for some months about Pope Francis’ encyclical, ”Laudato Si (Praise be to you):  In care for Our Common Home.” The Earth Care Committee earlier sponsored an open viewing of the Pope’s speech to Congress in which he reviewed the themes in his encyclical. And a group of 16 of us are now reading and discussing the chapters in the encyclical on Tuesday afternoons.

         In his encyclical, Laudato Si, Pope Francis reminds us that Saint Francis called all creatures, no matter how small, by the name of ‘brother’ or ‘sister.’ Pope Francis writes that this conviction

         “cannot be written off as naïve romanticism, for it affects the choices which determine our behavior. If we approach nature and the environment without this openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs.

         By contrast, if we feel intimately united with all that exists, then sobriety and care will well up spontaneously. The poverty and austerity of Saint Francis were no mere veneer of asceticism, but something much more radical: a refusal to turn reality into an object to be used and controlled.” (Laudato Si, Introduction, 11)

         This intimate relationship with nature is beautifully expressed in Mary Oliver’s poem, Starfish.

In the sea rocks,

in the stone pockets

under the tide’s lip,

in water dense as blindness

they slid

like sponges,

like too many thumbs.

I knew this, and what I wanted

was to draw my hands back

from the water – what I wanted

was to be willing

to be afraid.

But I stayed there,

I crouched on the stone wall

while the sea poured its harsh song

through the sluices,

while I waited for the gritty lightning

of their touch, while I stared

down through the tide’s leaving

where sometimes I could see them –

their stubborn flesh

lounging on my knuckles.

What good does it do

to lie all day in the sun

loving what is easy?

It never grew easy,

but at last I grew peaceful:

all summer

my fear diminished

as they bloomed through the water

like flowers, like flecks

of an uncertain dream,

while I lay on the rocks, reaching

into the darkness, learning

little by little to love

our only world.


Alan Claassen

my fear diminished as they bloomed through the water

like flowers, like flecks of an uncertain dream,

while I lay on the rocks, reaching

into the darkness, learning

little by little to love

our only world.

We hear this expressed in the Bible Psalm 150:6

     “Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!” sings the Psalmist (Psalm 150:6). 

            From the music of the planets spinning deep in space, to the silent beauty of the starfish in the tide pools, to the trills of the thrushes deep in the forests, all creation praises the maker. We care for fellow creatures so that they, with us, can continue to sing God’s praises.

            The Creator/Creating has given human beings a special responsibility to care for creation. We are to nurture, sustain, and care for creation the way God nurtures, sustains, and cares for us.

            As it says in Genesis 2:15 “The Lord God took the humankind in the garden to till it and to keep it”

            And in Psalm 24:1The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof!”

The earth is not ours; it belongs to God.  And we share it, not just with other human beings, but with all of God’s creation, the sea stars in the tide pools, the refugees from Syria, those who suffer in poverty and those who bear the the responsibility of wealth, and the children of our children’s children.


         The Pope means Laudato Si to be a forthright and honest ongoing dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. His goal is to include everyone in consideration and conversation, since the environmental changes affect us all, and the poor in particular.  This may be the center of Pope Francis’s message in Laudato Si,

         “What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up? This question not only concerns the environment in isolation; the issue cannot be approached piecemeal. When we ask ourselves what kind of world we want to leave behind, we think in the first place of its general direction, its meaning and its values. Unless we struggle with these deeper issues, I do not believe that our concern for ecology will produce significant results.

         But if these issues are courageously faced, we are led inexorably to ask other pointed questions: What is the purpose of our life in this world? Why are we here? What is the goal of our work and all our efforts? What need does the earth have of us? It is no longer enough, then, simply to state that we should be concerned for future generations. We need to see that what is at stake is our own dignity…” (Chapter 4,160)


            What is the purpose of our life? What is our role in creation? What is our source of dignity? Perhaps we can learn something about that from a turtle such as the one that Mary Oliver writes about in her poem,

The Turtle

by Mary Oliver

breaks from the blue-black

skin of the water…

to dig with her ungainly feet

a nest…

and you think

of her patience, her fortitude,

her determination to complete

what she was born to do-

and then you realize a greater thing-

she doesn’t consider

what she was born to do.

She’s only filled

with an old blind wish.

It isn’t even hers but came to her

in the rain or the soft wind,

which is a gate through which her life keeps walking.

she can’t see

herself apart from the rest of the world

or the world from what she must do

every spring.

Crawling up the high hill,

luminous under the sand that has packed against her skin.

she doesn’t dream

she knows

she is a part of the pond she lives in,

the tall trees are her children,

the birds that swim above her

are tied to her by an unbreakable string.


“she can’t see herself apart from the rest of the world…she knows she is a part of the pond she lives in…”

            In this morning’s scripture reading from the Book of Acts, which takes place right after Peter’s Pentecost sermon where thousands listened to him and joined this new movement. These new disciples devoted themselves to the teachings and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

            And what was the result of this study, this fellowship, this breaking of the bread and prayers?

            Great grace, awe, came upon everyone.

            All who believed were together and had all things in common;

            they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all as they had need.

            Mary Oliver’s poem, entitled Goldenrod, is a celebration of the grace that abounds in creation and that delights in giving itself away. I would like to read the closing section of this poem

For myself,

  I was just passing by, when the wind flared

      and the blossoms rustled,

          and the glittering pandemonium leaned on me.

  I was just minding my own business

      when I found myself on their straw hillsides,

          citron and butter-colored, and was happy, and why not?

  Are not the difficult labors of our lives full of dark hours?

          And what has consciousness come to anyway, so far,

that is better than these light-filled bodies?

  All day

       on their airy backbones

           they toss in the wind,

they bend as though it was natural and godly to bend,

  they rise in a stiff sweetness,

      in the pure peace of giving one’s gold away.


they bend as though it was natural and godly to bend,

  they rise in a stiff sweetness,

      in the pure peace of giving one’s gold away.

            This moment, when the earth’s health is in danger and our economic structures are collapsing may be a Good Friday moment for us a civilization. We may be able to see what we have done wrong as human beings exploiting the planet and take an evolutionary step out of the tomb and forward into a consciousness that deeply understands what it means to share all things in common.

            As the turtle knows, we need to know the part of the pond that we live in.

            As the Goldenrod knows, we need to know, how to give our treasures away,

            As the starfish knows, we need to know, how to love our only world.

            And as the early church knew, that the earth is the Lord’s,

            and that great grace leads us to our spiritual nature,

                        where all things are shared in common.

We who believe this are called now at this time, as never before, to rise to the occasion and act with compassion and imagination, so that we may be agents of healing and justice and peace in our common home.


We would like to close this sermon with an invitation to read together our Earth Care Covenant. We invite you stand as your able.

FCC Sonoma Earth Care Covenant

We, the First Congregational Church of Sonoma, United Church of Christ,

            proclaim our love for God’s Creation

            and profess our belief that the Earth and all its life forms

            are an interconnected part of the sacred Web of Life.

We therefore covenant together to join in the great work

            of healing, preservation and justice

            as we strive to reduce

            our individual and collective adverse impact on the environment

            and to repair the damage that has been done to God’s Earth.

In worship and church life

            we will express our appreciation

            and give praise for the Earth and all its forms of life.

We make this covenant in the hope and faith

            that through our work we will be able to

            help improve and sustain the health

            of the land, air and water

            for the benefit of all current and future

            inhabitants of this Planet.


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