We were created not to dominate and exploit God’s beautiful creation, but live in peace and harmony with all God’s creatures, taking good care of our planet. Like fingerprints, each one of us is different, with a unique combination of passions, gifts, personalities and experiences. We are called to live into the person whom God created us to be, and also affirm the uniqueness and beauty of the people around us. When we do this, we will flourish and will add to the beauty of God’s creation.
Speaker: Pastor Stephen “Tig” Intagliata
Main Bible Passage: Psalm 8
I would guess that each of us has had that experience where we gaze up into a clear night sky, and we see the moon, maybe try to point out some constellations,
and the longer we gaze into that sky the more stars we see, sometimes we even see clouds of stars in our galaxy.
One of my most memorable times of stargazing was on a cross-cultural experience in the four corners region with some students from Bluffton University a few years ago.
The Southwest has some incredible scenery and that region is filled with National Parks and National Monuments. One night we loaded up the vans and drove to Natural Bridges National Monument, out in the middle of nowhere.
And because it was so far away from the lights of cities and towns, the sky was just bursting with the natural light of countless stars. It’s known as one of the best Dark Sky Places in the country, places where there is the least “light pollution”.
And as I gazed up into that sky, it was one of those times when you’re just overwhelmed by the vastness, the infinite nature of this universe. And at times you might feel one with the universe like the title of our own Hija Yu’s painting that’s on the bulletin.
And you’re bewildered by the idea that there is a God who could create all these galaxies and set the world in motion.
And then you might start to feel like King David does in Psalm 8, where he says:
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?
Or as another Bible version puts it, Why do you care about us humans? Why are you concerned for us weaklings? (CEV)
Have you ever had that experience and thought those questions?
Like, if there is a God, a God who created this universe that goes on and on and on, what place do I have in it? Compared to this vast cosmos, I’m so small, so insignificant, so unimportant, so powerless and worthless.
And sometimes living as earthlings on this planet of ours reinforces those feelings:
Even with people all around us, sometimes we feel lonely and unnoticed, like nobody really cares. I heard recently that social media actually makes the teenagers who are on it constantly feel more lonely and unimportant.
There are so many things in our world that remind us of our mere mortality as fragile and broken human beings. It comes with the territory.
But fortunately the story doesn’t end here. There is hope. And that hope comes from the very God who created us in the first place.
You see, in this Psalm, there’s an incredible turning point. Writers call it the climax of the story, the place where the tension is the highest, it’s a make or break moment that changes the trajectory of the story.
In Psalm 8, that moment takes place between verse 4 and verse 5.
Right after lamenting over the seeming lack of value and worth that humans have in relation to God’s amazing creation, it’s like a light bulb goes off in David’s mind, the darkness turns to light,
And he has this revelation, a revelation where he begins to see things from God’s perspective instead of his own point of view as a mere human.
In verse 5, David proclaims to God, yet you have made us humans just a little lower than You, and you’ve crowned us with glory and honor. You see us as royalty.
And just like kings and queens have authority over their kingdom, you God have given us dominion, authority over all the rest of your creation. You have put us in charge of it, as your managers, to take good care of this beautiful planet that you have put us on.
Wow! What a turn of events! Things turn from despair to hope. From persona non grata, unwelcome, worthless, to being responsible for everything that lives and breathes and exists on this planet, animate and inanimate objects.
And it all has to do with identity. With us humans coming to understand who we are, and why we have been put on this earth. And it changes our entire outlook on life.
This psalm makes it clear to me that we humans have some aspects to our nature that the rest of God’s creatures don’t possess.
Now there’s no doubt that there are species in the animal world that have amazing capabilities that leave us amazed. But we humans are unique in that we have an incredible capacity for self-reflection,
And to be creative, and for reason and logic, and for morality, and for languages, and for awareness of our Creator that is beyond any species in the animal kingdom.
With great power comes great responsibility, right?
So God has given us dominion over the rest of creation. But not dominion in the sense of dominating, and exploiting for our own selfish desires,
But dominion in the sense of taking good care of this beautiful creation that God has entrusted to us,
God has given us the responsibility of living in harmony with the rest of creation, and I would say add to the beauty and the flourishing of creation.
When I think of this idea of living in harmony and flourishing with nature, I think of the farm of our very own Cory Suter, his wife Alison and their sons Jonathan and Caleb.
For example, at the Suter farm, the sheep mow the lawn and keep the bushes trimmed, the chickens provide them with eggs and meat and also eat the ticks and turn the compost pile. The Suters make sure their animals are well fed and taken care of.
The wild deer feel at home on the property and even clear the driveway of acorns.
It’s just a beautiful example of people exercising dominion in a way that cares for all of God’s creatures.
Not all of us have the calling or the opportunity to manage a farm like the Suters do, but I believe that we all have a calling to live in peace and harmony with all of God’s creation, and contribute to the flourishing of life on our amazing planet. earth.
Each one of us has a responsibility to take good care of this earth that God has given us, to protect and preserve it for future generations.
I heard just the other day that the ivory-billed woodpecker and 22 other species in the animal kingdom are set to be declared extinct and removed from the endangered species list.
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said that while a variety of factors contributed to each species’ demise, “humans altered their habitat in a significant way, and we couldn’t or didn’t do enough to ultimately change the trajectory before it was too late.”
On a more hopeful note, I also heard that biologists in Florida have worked to restore habitats that have led to the resurgence of the American crocodile population that had been on the endangered list.
Although with all the gators already in Florida, maybe some of the residents down there aren’t too thrilled about having to deal with more crocodiles too!
As I was thinking about this idea of adding to the beauty and flourishing of creation, along with the all the plants around us, I started reflecting on what helps we as humans to flourish,
On what helps us to live into claiming our identity that Psalm 8 describes as being crowned by God with honor and glory, and identity that then empowers us to carry out our calling to care for creation, which includes caring for each other.
So I’d like to offer two ways that I believe can help us flourish as humans and add to the beauty of God’s creation.
The first way is to live into, to embrace the unique person that God has created us each to be. We are each “fearfully and wonderfully made”, as David says so beautifully in Psalm 139.
And as we talked about in the children’s story, like fingerprints, each one of us is unique and different from everyone else, special in our own way.
You know when we look at the stars from afar in the night sky, they all look the same. But actually no two stars are alike. There are tiny brown dwarf stars, and red and blue supergiant stars. There are neutron stars and these things called Wolf-Rayet stars.
Like the stars, every one of us is unique in our own way. We are each wired differently. We have a unique combination of gifts, and passions and personalities, and experiences that together set us apart from everyone else.
And we flourish best when we embrace our uniqueness and use it to bless the world around us. The problem is that we have this tendency to compare ourselves to other people and envy the things they have that we don’t,
I don’t know about you, but too often I find myself saying, “I wish I was more like this person, or that person”. I wish I had this talent, or that gift, or that body, or their situation in life.
And those mind games we play never end well—they can sap the life right out of us. Comparison is the thief of joy, the saying goes.
When I was in high school, I was in choirs and musicals. I had never had a major part in a musical until my senior year. The play was Man of La Mancha, and I was chosen to play Sancho Panza, who’s the faithful companion of Don Quixote.
I was thrilled to get the part, but as rehearsals went on, things just weren’t clicking for me. I had my lines memorized, I was figuring out the choreography, and learning the music of the songs, but I just wasn’t feeling it.
My director, Phill Nash, was a really perceptive guy and he noticed that something was missing. So he pulled me aside at a rehearsal to give me a pep talk. He said something like this:
“Look Tig, I chose you for this part because I believe in you and knew that you were made to play this role. And I can see that you’re kind of holding something back up on stage.
You know what I think is the issue? I think that when you watched the movie and how James Coco played Sancho Panza in the movie, that you felt like you needed to copy the way that he played the part.
But you’re not James Coco, you’re Tig Intagliata. Make the part your own; bring your own unique self into it—your personality, your expressions, your own style and flair.”
After that pep talk, it was like a light went off and a weight was lifted from me. Mr. Nash gave me permission to not hold anything back and be myself in the role.
So I lived into the role as my unique self. I came alive with it had fun with it. And the audience could see that it was me playing Sancho Panza, that I wasn’t trying to be someone else, and it connected with them as a result.
I flourished in the role, and it contributed to the flourishing of the musical.
Friends, be yourself, because everybody else is already taken.
St. Irenaeus, a Greek bishop in the early church, said: The glory of God is a human being who is fully alive.
So let’s live into the unique person that God has created us to be. By doing this we will experience joy and add incredible beauty to the world around us.
The second way that we can flourish in God’s creation is related to the first. And that’s to affirm the worth and the uniqueness of the people around us.
When we lived in Ohio and Indiana, we would go to a Mennonite camp called Camp Friedenswald, which was in southern Michigan. There’s this big swamp that borders part of the camp, and for a long time most of us just saw it as an ugly nuisance that was a breeding ground for mosquitos.
But then the camp staff began seeing the swamp with new eyes, they started seeing this ecosystem that was teeming with life—all kinds of plants and animals made their home there. They saw incredible beauty in that swamp, and even discovered that it was actually not a swamp but a fen.
And they built a walkway that went out into the fen, so people could go out and see it more fully, and stand out there and gaze at its beauty, and notice all the life it contained.
I think that this story from nature holds a lesson for us humans as well. It’s kind of like that saying “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”.
Remember in Psalm 8 where David has this turning point, where he starts to see himself as God sees him, as God beholds him? Crowned with glory and honor?
Well, in our world today, so often we humans get mired in the swamp of feeling insignificant, worthless, maybe even feel like we’re a nuisance to the world around us.
Things happen and we feel diminished, degraded, and dejected. We ask what David did: why do you care about me? Why would anyone care about me?
It’s easy to lose sight of the way God sees us; in his image, fearfully and wonderfully made, crowned with glory and honor, with so much to offer.
So we need other people who see us as God sees us, who remind us of our worth, of our value, and our unique beauty.
One more story from Man of La Mancha. The lead woman in the story is known to everyone as Aldonza. In the eyes of the people around her, she is no more than a kitchen wench, not much higher than a dirty dishrag. And she gets taken advantage of by the men around her who treat her like scum.
Then Don Quixote comes along, and if you know the story, he’s this guy who has visions of grandeur, dreams of what the world should be like in all its glory, he sees things and people in ways that others don’t see.
And when he sees this woman he doesn’t see Aldonza; he sees someone that he calls Dulcinea, which means “sweet one”. And he treats her with dignity and respect, and care and kindness.
And she keeps rebelling against this new image that Don Quixote has of her. She’s been treated so badly for so long that it’s hard for her to envision herself any other way.
But Don Quixote doesn’t give up on her, and in the end, Aldonza begins to believe that she really can be the beautiful person that he says she is, Dulcinea.
Isn’t it wonderful when someone sees and points out the goodness in us, the value in us, the beauty in us, the uniqueness in us that for whatever reason we have lost sight of, or maybe never had realized about ourself?
What a gift it is to have people like that in our lives. And what a sacred calling we have to call out and affirm the gifts and the beauty and the dignity and the uniqueness in other people.
When that happens, we humans begin to come alive and flourish in incredible ways, ways that add to the beauty of God’s already amazing creation.
Friends, we are God’s fingerprints. Let’s color the world with those prints, let’s leave our mark everywhere we go. And when we do this, may we and the world see the hand of God at work all around us. AMEN.