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Reflections on the Gospel, Week before Sunday May 26 2012

Psalm 8

1O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.

2Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes, to silence the enemy and the avenger.

3When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established;

4what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?

5Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.

6You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet,

7all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field,

8the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

9O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

What I am Learning:

The book of Genesis is not the only book that speaks to God's creation of the world and the place of human beings in creation.

The Psalm begins and ends with the claim that the God of the Hebrew people is not just their God, but the true Creator of all things and all peoples.

Then we get a rather startling image: that the only defensive wall God needs is the beautiful and vulnerable cries and laughter of babies. It is the wonder of their growth and the light of their smiles that announces God's love for the creation.

Human beings are small compared to the earth, the earth a speck in the solar system, the solar system a mote in the galaxy, and the galaxy a nothing in the universe. Yet these small beings, a speck of a mote of a nothing are a little lower than God, crowned with glory and honor. In each moment we are both small and honored.

The Psalmist is not comparing our ethical goodness with God's. Rather our role in creation is to care for the dirt, air, plants, bugs, animals and indeed one another. This very role is our honor and glory.

But with such a role, with such power comes responsibility. This psalm is both comfort and challenge. The combined impact of over 7 billion of us is having dramatic consequences in our atmosphere, which recently passed 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide - levels not seen since 2.5 million years ago.

The air is a part of the commons - an image from the early years of our country and from Europe. Communities held land in common and people were able to hunt, graze their animals and gather in the commons. The commons allowed communities to feed their people for generations. Each generation was responsible to care for the commons, to manage its use so that it remained strong and vibrant for the next generations.

The words "under our feet" is an image used of ancient middle east kings. The psalmist used the word "dominion." This is not a concept of domination or exploitation. This Hebrew word means "to care for something so that it is whole."

In our care for the earth, in our stewardship of the commons, we are to act for the benefit of all creatures and for future generations.  In so doing we give praise to the Creator of the world.

This raises an terrible question: Is the way we are living truly giving such praise, when our systems of living are damaging the our commons of atmosphere, water and earth?

The Christian and Hebrew faiths are not merely concerned with personal morality or ethics, but also with our common life as human beings, as human communities charged with caring for the creation.

The dignity of human beings would not be lowered by revising our consumption patters or reducing our "standard of living" to be more in line with what the earth can sustain.

As this psalm suggests, our dignity truly suffers when we do not act together to care for the commons, for the creation in our care.