When I left three months ago to start my sabbatical, we were in the middle of a heat dome event unheard of so early in the summer. Seattle sweltered at 108 degrees. Portland hit something like 116. Where are we, Phoenix? Wildfires were already ramping up in eastern Washington. But COVID cases were low. We could dare to dream that we were coming through the worst of it.
When I left three months ago, the United States was still at war in Afghanistan. Girls could go to school; women could work outside the home. Our president and military were trying to figure out a graceful exit from a losing situation.
When I left three months ago, Haiti had a president, and Hurricane Ida was not yet a thing. There were no Haitian refugees massing at our southern border—just the usual refugees from Mexico and Central and South America.
Heat, climate change, pandemic, war, immigration, and on and on. Even though I was away from Prospect, we were all connected in going through these world changes. The world has moved forward three months, and we, as part of this world, have, too. People have gotten sick, people have died, people have been born, people have gone back to school and work in person—and sometimes turned around and gone home again as the COVID numbers spiked.
We are all connected. Perhaps over the past 19 months you have felt less connected than usual. Understandable. But the very spread of this virus shows how entirely connected we are. Who knew there could be a traceable line of connection between Wuhan, China and us?
If you want a more positive look at how connected we are, tell me what you had for breakfast, and we will do a little exercise together. [Input: eggs, cereal, coffee, juice, donut, etc.] Your coffee may take you to the mountains of Central America, where the coffee beans were grown. You are connected to those mountains, to those farmers and their families. We are connected to whoever harvested and roasted those coffee beans, whoever drove the trucks or sailed the ships to bring them here, whoever bought and sold them, whoever ground those beans and prepared your cup of coffee. We are connected to the bees that pollinate the coffee bean flowers, to the soil that grows the plants.
And that’s just our morning cup of coffee. We didn’t even talk about where your mug comes from, or the cereal or egg or bacon. It boggles the mind how many ways we are all connected.
The UCC has a scriptural motto, taken from John 17:21: “That they may all be one.” This is from a prayer in which Jesus asks God for unity among believers. But what we also recognize, if we follow what Amara said back in July about panentheism, is that God is in everything. God is in us, and we as separate individuals actually live and move and have our being within God. It is all God.
So on this World Communion Sunday we look up from our own communion in our own little church community to remember that we are one with Christians taking communion throughout the world. We are one in this communion with Christians across space and also across time, with Christians of centuries past and centuries still to come.
Communion is all about celebrating our oneness with each other and with God through Christ. We also celebrate our oneness with all of creation. And when we see and celebrate these connections, perhaps we are inspired to take good care of creation. Our reading in Psalm 8 talks about humans having dominion over the works of God’s hands. When dominion is misinterpreted, people think they have license to exploit and abuse the planet. But dominion is all about taking care of, stewarding God’s creation.
So here is a Psalm 8 – related story of connection from this sabbatical time. It is 10:00 at night and I have just returned to the farm after spending the day in Seattle. The dogs in the house bark their welcome and then rush past me to the open door; they need to pee. After they come back inside and crunch into a late bowl of kibble, I take my flashlight and stroll down to the empty barn. Back in the house, the dogs howl in protest, sure that they could do the evening chores much better than I.
In the barn, I grab a bucket of apples collected from under the trees and dump it out on the floor where sheep will spend the night. I walk out to the field where the sheep wait quietly at the gate. The flashlight catches their eyes, glinting like pairs of stars in the darkness.
“Look,” I say, holding out an apple in the light. “There are apples in the barn tonight.” As if they will understand me. I count heads: … 15, 16, 17. All here. When the gate opens they press forward and thunder out of the pasture. The barking from the house reaches a fever pitch.
Most evenings it is still light when the sheep come out of the pasture, and they have time to meander, looking for stray apples, pears and plums. But tonight it is dark, and they make a beeline for the safety of the barn. And the apples. I count heads again inside the barn and then shut them in for the night. I do not dominate them. I do take care of them, and they know it.
As I walk up the driveway, I turn off the flashlight and look at the clouds. A drenching rain has passed through, leaving everything puddled and glistening. The clouds that remain pick up light from Seattle and Everett and glow over my field. Between them, stars twinkle. The Big Dipper over here, the Little Dipper there, Cassiopeia the lopsided W, Andromeda, Pegasus, Pisces. It is the same sky that inspired the psalmist:
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them? (Psalm 8:3-4)
We are stardust, billion year old carbon. We are all stardust, all connected, all made of the same stuff. Sometimes on Ash Wednesday, when we impose ashes on our foreheads or our hands, I say, “Stardust you are, and to stardust you shall return.”
The psalmist has long since returned to stardust, but we have this moment to be flesh and blood, to be a flash of light illuminating this nanosecond in the history of the world.
Look at your hand, even just your thumb. What a marvel of design it is. It moves out and back, into the palm; it bends at the joints. Having an opposable thumb means we can hold a bassoon, or a pencil, or a hammer. Blood from our heart pulses through this thumb, giving it life and connecting it to the whole body. It is one small part of the greater whole, just as we are one small being in the greater One that is God.
We are stardust. Everything is stardust. We are all one in God. And even in that unity we are wildly diverse. We humans disagree, hate each other, kill each other. We also love each other, build each other up, sacrifice for the greater good. Both and.
God is in the moon and the stars. God is in the soil, the water, the wind, and the fire. God is in the mountains that fill our spirits with their beauty.
As individual personifications of that divine stardust, let us shine with God’s presence. Let us twinkle like the stars or the eyes of sheep caught in the flashlight, glisten like grass after a good rain, glow like clouds catching the city lights. Let us be fed by that divine presence that is in us and all around us, waiting to connect, that we may all be one. Amen.