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?
Yet you have made them a little lower than angels.
Just a little lower. Have you ever wondered exactly how much lower? A little lower. Is that a pinch lower? An inch lower? A mile lower? A little lower, like Kittery is lower on the coast than Portland? Lower like the earth is lower than the stars that the Psalmist sees up in the night skies? The Psalmist asks questions most of us have asked. Where do I fit in the universe? What is my place? Where do I stand in the order of things? Where do I locate my micro-self in this macro-universe? What am I that you are mindful of me?
Today it is vital to ponder our place in the world since it is World Communion Sunday. Where in the world do we locate the Congregational Church of Boothbay Harbor? For that matter, where does the church find itself in our culture, especially after COVID and our acrimonious times? I don't know about you, but I feel a lot lower than the angels right now. I feel the smallness of being described by the Psalmist. The scripture tells us that though we may feel so insignificant in the vast swerve of the universe, God is still mindful of us. As the blessing from Ash Wednesday proclaims, at the moment when ashes are smeared on your forehead, "Remember that thou art dust and matter, yet you matter greatly to God." All of this is helping us locate ourselves. We are not God; our fingers did not create the heavens; we are not the source. But that doesn't make us miserable worms. Actually, worms are very important. They, too, are a little lower than angels.
In older translations of Psalm 8, God gives humans dominion of the earth. That word has caused a lot of trouble, leading some to think we can do what we want with the earth. We can cut all its trees for lumber, suck oil from the ground with no worries about the air and atmosphere, and strip mine for its economic value. I much prefer this translation – God gives us "stewardship" of the earth. Our stewardship over things is more like gardeners than kings. We must properly locate ourselves, or we will mess everything up. We are a little lower than angels, but we are prone to error if we get hung up on the hierarchy. We must beware when we think being a little lower than angels makes us Masters of this little universe without regard for the rest of life. After all, Jesus said the last shall be first, and the first shall be last, so being near angelic shouldn't make us too cocky about our stewardship responsibilities.
Here is the best way I can say where we stand before God in the vast universe. We are in communion. You have already been in communion with half the world this morning. At breakfast, the wheat for your toast was grown in Kansas and the bread baked at a Hannafords. Brazil is the biggest coffee producer globally, but perhaps you prefer Columbian coffee, or Hawaiian Kona, or even better-Sumatra! Tea drinkers communed with India, Ceylon, and Darjaling, the Rift Valley of Kenya. If you had orange juice, it is from somewhere between Florida and Argentina. You dressed in clothes with cloth produced in Indonesia, and your shoes are likely from Vietnam (Nike, Adidas, and Crocs all have their primary production there.)
You got into your car, a Ford, an iconic American brand; that was put together in Brazil with components from Ireland, Czechoslovakia, and Arkansas. Your Honda may be more American. It's so confusing. Did you know that your car uses between 500 and 1500 computer chips? Taiwan is the largest manufacturer of these semiconductors, and with COVID, these are now in short supply. The petroleum to run your car might be pumped in Saudi Arabia by Philippine "guest workers" or on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico or North Dakota. If you have any questions about technical problems with your gadgets, you can dial an 800 number, and someone from Bangalore will assist you. You have been in communion with 40 or more countries already this morning. (It takes a massive international supply chain to get you to church. No wonder it is hard to get here by 10!). You can, of course, focus on buying local, which I do, spending good US dollars. Just hope that China keeps buying our Treasury bills, that their massive Evergrand Housing Developer doesn't default on its real estate, or some Senator from West Virginia or Kentucky throws the whole government into crisis.
You are also in communion, thanks to the global communications revolution. Facebook, YouTube, and iPhones have set off a new global flow of ideas uncontrollably reshaping our world. Some people use this to organize democratic uprisings like the Arab Spring or in Hong Kong. Others use it to produce videos that demonize Anthony Fauci, spread racial resentment and disinformation. YouTube can make a tiny pocket of hatred that ignites thousands to anger, to storm the Capital. I wonder if tiny pockets of love can also travel into the internet cloud and rain down peace through our screens. I admit, hate groups are kicking our butt when it comes to tech-savvy organization. The communications revolution has come, and communion is complicated, frightening, even deadly.
Throw in that you are sharing air and water with 6 billion other people across the planet, and I'd say that you are already in communion with the whole world every day. The demand for resources, especially food and energy, has connected us to a multicultural planet. If we want to survive, we better learn to be in communion with one another.
You may not think such economic, commercial, and worldly connections are communion. Communion is also a Holy ceremony, remembering Jesus's death, share bread and cup, remember Christ's sacrifice, and affirm our faith and hope in God. But let's remember the definition of communion with a small "c," which means simply "a common participation in a mental or emotional experience." This kind of communion impacts our lives every day, in ways seen and unseen, for better and worse. What relevance does communion with a capital C have upon our lives, where communion with a small c is unavoidable?
I need to be clear in this very first sermon that I do not have the answers. I ask a lot of questions. These days I don't trust many best practices, blueprints, or seven keys to an effective church. One of my favorite books during COVID was read by your Future Planning Group, called "Canoeing in the Mountains." The title references the vast Lewis and Clark expedition to map the Western United States after the Louisiana Purchase. They thought the Pacific Ocean was much closer and expected to find waterways to the coast. So, they brought canoes as their primary means of making the journey. Instead, they had to lug their canoes through the Rocky Mountains. They were in unexpected terrain with the wrong equipment.
Canoeing in the mountains is an excellent metaphor for where we are now, trying to navigate a landscape we didn't train or prepare to travel. The big difference is Lewis and Clark traveled into a world entirely unknown, and we are traveling into a world where we know too much. We are in communion with a complicated, messy world. We don't have to leave Boothbay Harbor to take a journey. Ready or not, here comes the future, and it feels like a hit-and-run driver leaving us injured beside the road. But I do not despair because Jesus promises to be there for those left for dead by bandits beside the road.
What are human beings that you are mindful of us, mortals that you care for us? Jesus tried to show us that we are created a little less than angels, and God is mindful of us even if we are blind like Bartemaues, even if we are isolated like a leper, even if we are poor in spirit or mourning. God's eye is on the sparrow, so I know God watches me. Like the original 12 disciples, a church may sometimes feel like a ragtag island of misfit toys. We may seem so small in the face of the multiple crises in front of us. But it is precisely people like us whom God calls and chooses to bring a world where earth and heaven meet.
God is mindful of us and calls us to live even deeper into communion with the world and every living thing on the planet. Communion should scare us a bit since it reminds us that Jesus was a mortal on this earth and was brutally killed the next day. But communion also reassures us that we are not alone in this journey. When we look to the heavens and see the stars, we are called to wonder and invited into communion with the source of all life, a living God. God is mindful of you today, mindful of us together, who are created just a little lower than angels. And God believes we will be just enough to help bring the fullness of creation that God intends. Amen.
Cover Picture: "The Best Supper" Jan Richardson http://www.janrichardsonimages.com/