The universe story described in revelation is breathtaking in scope. In the beginning God created, out of chaos and darkness came light, out of disorder came creative transformation and life abounding. Out of divine vision came the heavens and the earth and the wondrous 14 billion year evolutionary process that has brought us to this moment in time: to pray, worship, love, and create, to be a church overlooking Nantucket Sound. We are here because of the interplay of divine wisdom, human freedom, and the chance encounters of particles and persons through which God’s gentle providence moves.
A week ago, I taught a group of military chaplains, senior officers, working on their doctorates. A consistent theme of our class involved reflecting on what it means to say we are created in the image of God, especially in a time of war, when protecting our land may mean harming those we perceive to be our enemies.
This is a big theological question, and no one has the complete answer. Is the image of God intelligence, the ability to love, creativity and artistry? While no one description of the divine image in us is satisfactory, perhaps the creation story can give us some guidance in understanding our calling as God’s beloved children, created in God’s image, and today celebrating the life of our church.
The creation story is inspiring in its poetry and imagery. Divine wisdom creates the stars, the sun, the moon, animal and plant life, seas and ponds, long before humans come on the scene. Non-human life is called “good” long before our natural and animal environment becomes the foundation of our civilizations and survival. Genesis asserts that the non-human world has value and significance apart from human need and productivity. Earth and sea, flora and fauna, matter to God as God’s good and beautiful creation. We have no life, no purpose, according to the Genesis creation story, apart from the nurturing environment. We can’t go it alone: without the first five days of creation – the slow process of divine creativity and evolution – we could not exist.
When we come on the scene, as God’s unique creatures, we are given a task, to create and nurture new life. The Genesis reading speaks of “dominion” but in the passage, this doesn’t mean ownership or the right to use the planet solely for our own purposes. Dominion means caretaking, gardening, and adding beauty to the world and always remembering that the Earth is the Lord’s, not ours, and its bounty is God’s gift not our creation.
The philosopher Alfred North Whitehead asserts that the aim of the universe is toward the production of beauty, and here on Cape Cod we know that this is the case, as we gaze out our windows at Wequaquet Lake or Long’s Pond, as we walk on the seashore, as we see a young child playing, osprey feeding its young, or look in the face of our beloved friend or companion. God’s aim is toward the creation of a beautiful world, and as God’s companions bearing the divine image, that is our ethical and spiritual calling as well. Destruction and death are inevitable, and necessary for survival, but our calling is to add to the beauty of the Earth, whether this means nurturing a child in loving ways, planting a garden, ensuring every person can reach her or his fullest potential, and caring for seas, skies, land, and streams and rivers.
Now, you might ask, what does this have to do with celebrating our Capital Campaign? What does brick and mortar and expanded ministry in the community have to do with beauty? How do our pledges enhance the beauty of our world?
I believe that throughout our church’s history, beauty has been at the heart of our ministry, even when we thought we were doing something else – the simple beauty of our sanctuary where thousands have found spiritual guidance and something to live for; the church school classrooms where children experienced the beauty of holiness in conversations with caring adults; a fellowship hall where we laugh and cry and celebrate with one another and nurture the ties that bind; meeting rooms where adults find healing and the moral character of our youth is formed. Church planning sessions that led to the women’s all-night shelter and fair housing in our community, outdoor worship for seekers on the beach, and dreams of future missions in our community. We may have thought this was just brick and mortar, but this place nurtures spirits and awakens persons to God’s image in places where they least expect to find it, their own lives.
God is still creating. God is still speaking, and God’s voice echoes in wider and wider circles of creativity and loving service. God is still creating here at South Congregational in beautiful music, the interpretation of scripture, spiritual growth, 12 step groups, scouting, loving conversations, outreach that is global in scope, and our growing sense of connection with the most vulnerable people on the Cape.
While the pledge drive may be ending soon, our work is beginning as we do ordinary things with great love, as we welcome strangers, and as we – this village church aiming at global perspective – continue to do something beautiful for God by bringing beauty to the world and healing to wayward and hurting persons. Let us rejoice at our calling to be God’s artistic and creative partners, bringing love and beauty to every task we do. Let us grow in the years ahead in mission and service, learning, loving, and living the word and wisdom of God.