Based on John 14: 23-29
This morning we step into one of the richest resources available to contemporary persons of faith; our inheritance of the farewell discourse. Jesus’ final summation of all that has happened and all that we are called to continue in response to these events. Absent of last-minute plot twists or cliff hanger endings, this summation proves to be just that; a review of all that has already been shown and told to us by Jesus throughout the Gospels. And, while contemporary Christians seem stalled in arguments concerning the implementation of this summation, the task itself reads clear: to love Jesus and keep his word.
On Tuesday morning, I found myself surrounded by faith leaders from various religious traditions committed to creation care as a religious imperative. Organized by Together Colorado, the first item on the agenda featured a five -person panel sharing how their different faith traditions called them to care for creation. While this panel lacked representation of religious groups against a religious imperative to care for creation, panelist filled the gap by reciting familiar arguments on their behalf. The most disturbing being an apocalyptic theology encouraging the degradation of the planet as a means to expedite the coming of Christ. Combine this with the commonplace theology of human dominion over the earth, and suddenly we have manufactured a divine stamp of approval to utilize the planet for our own purposes with little regard for the collective consequences.
Though this theological understanding reads problematic at best, diluted extensions of this narrative regularly seep into our mainline congregations, silencing our resolve and stifling our motivation to organize in creation’s defense. These theologies, birthed then watered down, appear much less harmful than chants to crush creation for Christ. Received as more palatable, softened theological offshoots, become unspoken exemptions from committing ourselves to collectively caring for creation. As an example, last May, Congressman Tim Walberg told his constituents that, while the climate may be changing, they don’t need to be concerned. “As a Christian,” Walberg announced, “I believe that there is a creator in God who is much bigger than us, and I’m confident that, if there’s a real problem, He can take care of it.”
A Fresh Goodbye
The high probability of future misinterpretations of his farewell summation was a reality Jesus choose to accept. Jesus once crucified and now risen, prepares to ascend to the Father knowing very well that the repetitive instruction to love as he has loved offers little clarity for what it will mean to love across context and beyond boundaries. He can only verbalize what they must do. The interpretation of how they must do it will be an ongoing process requiring a divine version of show and tell. It is because Jesus recognizes the situational nature of his instruction that his farewell includes a parting gift. A resource for remembering what love is and reimaging how love looks in our everyday lives.
In this post-resurrection era, the reception of the Holy Spirit will function as an extension of the empowering presence of Jesus in his absence. It will be the Holy Spirt engaging us in the interdependent work of sacred remembering and theological reformation. Offering us a hands-on learning experience through which we are able to determine what loving action looks like in context and, ultimately, challenging us with a collective commitment to re-learn what it means to listen to the calling of Christ.
In his TedTalk, “The Voice of the Natural World,” Bernie Krause describes his work of observing and recording soundscapes from the “biophony,” or the sound of all living organisms except humans, as the closest we may ever come to hearing the voice of God. Beyond the meditative quality of evening crickets or morning birdsong, the biophony communicates lessons and leadings for where we should go next and what we should do once we arrive there. A practice entwining spiritual and scientific learnings, the work of witnessing the biophony proves that, “careful listening offers incredibly valuable tools by which to evaluate the health of a habitat across the entire spectrum of life.”
Likewise, carefully listening to the anthrophony, or the noise created by humans, offers a parallel tool for assessing the health of our spiritual habitat. Krause explains that while some of this anthrophony is controlled, like music or theater, most of it is chaotic and incoherent. The rhetoric of mainstream television, the scream of sirens and the startle of a car horn. Even after rush hour has passed, the incessant surround-sound of our technological devices distracts us from the Spirit’s ability to transform noise into message and chaos into meaning. The result being a community dwelling in disconnection, unable to distinguish between the noise of the world and the message of the divine.
Manifesting Jesus’ instruction to love is dependent upon our ability to lower the volume of the anthrophony in order to discern the message in the biophony. It is a reorienting of our role from noise makers to translators. Emptying ourselves of ego, greed, and despair. We listen to learn the rhythms and rally cries of a God speaking through creation, even as we awaken to find the raw material for interpretation rapidly disappearing. Four decades ago, ten hours of biophony recordings would capture one hour of usable material adequate for an album or a film soundtrack or a museum installation. Today, it takes up to 1,000 hours or more to capture the same thing. Fully 50 percent of Krause’s archive come from habitats so radically altered they’re either altogether silent or can no longer be heard in any of their original form.
This is the fresh goodbye. The slow silencing of our most valuable connection to understanding the manifestation of love in context. A man-made response to the divine farewell discourse. The silencing of God’s voice in the anthrophony of ego, greed and entitlement. This silencing happens in unintentional acts of ignorance. The noise of a jet passing overhead a community of synchronized singing Great Basin Spadefoot Toads who, for only a moment, find their croak out of sync with the others. Singing an accidental solo, each off-beat toad becomes the victim of predators who quickly pick out and kill them as prey. And, this silencing happens in intentional acts of evil. A recording of the inconsolable cries of a lone surviving male beaver as he swims in slow circles searching for his mate and offspring. A result of two game wardens, who, for no particular reason, threw a stick of dynamite down the beaver’s dam.
The Spirit of the Living God cries out to us through creation. We hear these cries in the silence of the toad. We feel these cries in the sobs of the grieving beaver. It is not the return of Christ that will be expedited in the degradation of the earth, but the absence of our understanding of, and our connection to, the God of Creation. Beyond these walls, we are surrounded by messages reminding us of who we are and how we are to love.
I am confident that there is a real problem. That the climate is changing, and that we need to be concerned. I believe that there is a Creator called, God, who, through the Holy Spirit is present in each of us, and I’m confident that, acknowledging a real problem, we have access to the wisdom and courage to take care of it.