Today is both Palm Sunday and April Fool’s Day. There is a sermon I have in mind that draws the two together. I don’t remember exactly where I heard or read it but it concerns what has come to be known as Jesus’ “triumphant entry” on the first Palm Sunday long ago. The question eventually gets asked, “Do you think the donkey that carried Jesus up to Jerusalem that day thought all the cheering and excitement was about him?” The conclusion drawn in the sermon was how incredibly foolish the donkey would have been to think the praise and adoration was for him instead of the one who rode upon his back. The point made concerned the dangers of pride and our need for humility.
When Rob and I were at Red Rock Canyon in Nevada a few days ago we saw and photographed the three wild burros you see here. I told him that day about the sermon I had heard. We discussed how we humans often get ourselves in trouble because of our pride and how we should practice humility. A donkey would never think it was all about him but we humans often do. This flaw usually proves to be our downfall, confirming the biblical admonition, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18)
One area where I see much human pride these days concerns Creation. It seems like so many people think the earth belongs to us and it is ours to do with as we please. They may think this but the Bible clearly states, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” (Psalm 24:1) How arrogant, how foolish, for us to think the world exists for us! The apostle Paul echoed the Psalmist’s thoughts when he wrote concerning Jesus, “all things were created by him and for him.” (Colossians 1:16) Creation exists for God’s glory, not ours. To think otherwise would be just like the donkey Jesus rode believing the cheers were all for him.
Psalm 14:1 declares, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” According to statistics there are not a very high percentage of people who actually deny the existence of God. There are, however, a large percentage of people who live as though there is no God or who get confused and think they are Him. In the end, the biggest fool is the person who refuses to give God the glory He deserves. Unfortunately, I have been that person more times than I can count. Perhaps you are guilty too. Both the Bible and God’s “other book” (Creation) teach us that God deserves all the praise and honor and glory we can give Him. At the beginning of this Holy Week I encourage you to join me in striving to give God the glory He is due. If we fail to do so, what fools we will be!
When I was in Chaco Canyon early last month I picked up and read my first Tony Hillerman novel. Later today I will finish reading my fifteenth Hillerman novel. I quickly fell in love with his writings and have not been able to stop reading the Chee/Leaphorn series. I typically don’t read these kinds of books but I have thoroughly enjoyed this series and learning about Navajo culture and religion.
In his books Hillerman goes out of his way to note that the Navajo’s consider their land sacred. They have holy mountains and many rituals that show respect for the earth and nature. In a way that is foreign to many of us they live close to the earth. In his essay, “The Navajo Nation,” George Hardeen says the Navajo “made the land their religion.” You cannot understand Navajo religion apart from the land.
Years ago when I was in seminary I learned that the Jews, likewise, considered their land sacred. It was viewed as a gift from God. They, too, had their holy mountain and strong convictions that the ground upon which they stood was holy ground. Walter Brueggemann, in his classic work The Land, says “The Bible is the story of God’s people with God’s land.” He even makes the bold statement, “Land is a central, if not the central theme of biblical faith.” Like the Navajos, it would be hard to understand the Jewish religion apart from the land. After the Jews were led into exile in distant Babylon this proved to be a great test of their faith. When the Babylonians asked them to sing “the songs of Zion” they responded, “How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?” (Psalm 137:4) They had trouble separating their faith from the land they held sacred.
Reading Hillerman’s novels and reflecting on the Bible’s strong emphasis on the land has made me wonder why more of us don’t consider the land we live on sacred. Psalm 24:1 declares that “the earth is the Lord’s.” Does that not, in itself, make it sacred? Just recognizing the fact that a holy God created the world should move us to realize that it, too, is holy.
I strongly believe that many of the problems the world faces today are, at least in part, due to our failure to affirm the earth is sacred. If we truly believed that the earth belonged to God and is holy wouldn’t that cause us to take better care of it? Wouldn’t that cause us to do a better job of sharing its resources? Wouldn’t it make a difference in the way we observe and relate to nature? Will it take a burning bush to make us realize we stand on holy ground? I hope not. I fully concur with Elizabeth Barrett Browning who wrote, “Earth’s crammed with heaven; and every common bush afire with God; but only he who sees, takes off his shoes. The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.” May God give us all eyes to see that the land we live on truly is holy ground.
(I chose to illustrate this entry with three images I took last month in Tony Hillerman’s beloved New Mexico.)
“The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it…” Psalm 24:1
After posting my blog, “Spirituality and Beauty,” this past Sunday I got an e-mail from my good friend, Kenny Faught, who in response to what I had written shared a wonderful story. He wrote: “The post today reminded me of when I was a pastor in Cumberland, KY. An older pastor was with us for the week holding a revival meeting. One day we were walking a trail at Kingdom Come State Park when I realized he had ‘fallen behind’. I did an about-face and walked back to him. He was cradling a tiny flower in his hands, and asked, ‘Do you know why this tiny flower blooms way out here where it will likely never be seen? To the glory of God!’”
This “older pastor” realized something that many of us tend to forget. It’s not all about us. We tend to judge the worth or value—and even beauty—of things by how they affect us. If we benefit from the object or find it pleasing we give it value. If we do not find or see a personal benefit, or do not find it pleasing, we do not consider the object to be of much value or worth.
When Rob and I were photographing in Redwood National Park a couple of months ago we walked a trail in the Lost Creek area. Along the trail there were lots of wildflowers. I suspect most people would have considered the columbine we saw to be quite beautiful. On the same trail we also saw several banana slugs. Here my suspicion is that most people would not have considered this creature beautiful and might even call it “disgusting.” Why? Both are creations of God. Both have their place in the natural world.
Perhaps it is just part of being human that we judge everything from our own particular position. As Christians, however, we must recognize that the world should be viewed from God’s perspective. A lot of folks today need to experience a new “Copernican Revolution.” Copernicus turned the world upside down when he discovered that the earth revolved around the sun and not the other way around. I think it would turn our world upside down today as well if more of us could come to realize that the world does not revolve around us. The “older pastor” was right; the world exists for “the glory of God!”
I encourage you to give some thought to how you might view things differently if you sought to look at the world through God’s eyes rather than your own. I also encourage you to consider how this might affect how you treat the earth and its resources. If the earth truly is the Lord’s, as the Psalmist indicated, and it exists for His glory, I cannot help but believe that it will, indeed, make a difference in how we see and treat Creation.
(I photographed the columbine and banana slug in June on the trail described above.)
This past Thursday afternoon I decided to drive over to Breaks Interstate Park. With all the rain we had received in recent days I knew the water would be up and that this might offer some nice photographic opportunities. My hunch was right and I did manage to get some images I liked. I also captured some I didn’t like at all. The images I didn’t like were not good because I failed to expose correctly or did a poor job with my compositions. It was the subject matter—trash.
Along the banks of the Russell Fork River were hundreds of plastic bottles. These were not placed there intentionally. They had all been discarded at various places upstream and the swollen waters had carried them to this location making one of my favorite places in the park a mess. Just a short distance from this spot I encountered another eyesore. Some group had deposited their beer and food containers off the side of the road. It was obvious that this act of littering was intentional. Some folks had partied in this area and didn’t bother to take their trash with them when they left.
Seeing all the trash diminished my experience at Breaks Interstate Park. I usually leave such beautiful places feeling happier and more peaceful but this time the presence of all the litter saddened me. I left discouraged but also reminded how important it is that we take better care of God’s Creation.
Unfortunately, my experience at Breaks Interstate Park was not an isolated experience. There are few places you can go anymore where you do not see litter—discarded plastic containers, glass bottles, loose paper, cardboard boxes, etc. We are literally trashing the planet. This litter does far more than mess up beautiful pictures. It degrades the environment and can even cause health problems for both humans and animals alike. The presence of trash also makes it harder for us to see God in His Creation.
Psalms 24:1 says the earth belongs to the Lord. I know we tend to think of it as being our home but it is really His. From the looks of things we are not taking very good care of it. I know if someone came into my house and trashed it I would not be happy. I would consider the violator guilty of great disrespect. It makes you wonder what God thinks when He looks upon the earth. It makes you wonder what He thinks of us. And hopefully, it also makes you wonder what you can do to find a solution.
There are, of course, solutions to this problem. We can refrain from littering ourselves, practice recycling, purchase items that use less packaging, and participate in litter removal programs. We can also help educate and encourage others to respect the earth and be better stewards. Failing to make such efforts will result in further trashing of the planet and reveal our disrespect for the Owner of the house. Neither result is wise or desirable if we want to honor the Creator.