The Lord’s Earth
When I begin the day, I try to spend a little time in some devotions. One of the things I like to do is use the lectionary---the daily readings---from the Benedictine monks. I find some solace in knowing that what I am doing, every Benedictine monk and nun in this country and abroad is also doing. It draws me into an invisible community of seriously devout people. If I am not quite in the same place as they are, perhaps their influence can come my way. They are good company to keep!
This morning I turned to the lectionary and the reading was from Psalm 24. The opening line of that Psalm is engaging. “The Lord’s is the earth and its fullness…” This certainly has the effect of putting me in my place. The earth and everything on the earth and in the earth is the Lord’s. Obviously I and you inhabit only the smallest part of the earth. I can give you my address. I can tell you where I live and where I spend most of my time. It is infinitesimal compared to the entire earth. I have literally been around the earth; I have been to India, China, Japan and South America. I can tell you how huge the earth is. According to the Psalmist, the whole earth is the Lord’s.
I have to smile. I am bold enough to tell you I own my home! I could buy some land and claim ownership. I am duped into thinking the earth is not the Lord’s. Part of it is mine! Legally this is true. But cosmically it is a pretension and illusion. Legally I can keep other people from claiming ownership of my house. But cosmically, I cannot tell God this house is mine! And it is not just about my house.
The next line of the Psalm says that God claims me and you, too. The Psalmist writes that God takes charge of “the world and all who live in it.” This is where it gets tricky. If you ask me or most people on an American street, we would say, of course, that we are free. I can go where I want to go. In most cases, I can do what I want to do. Particularly when you are young and vigorous, you think you are totally free and capable of anything! At that point, we often feel god-like! But we are not.
Maybe that is good news to learn that we are not god-like. But it does not always seem like good news. It is humbling to come to the realization that we are not gods. Sometimes it even feels humiliating to learn that we are not gods. The earth and its fullness belong to God. Even our little place on the earth is not really ours. We can claim it; we can borrow it for a while. But ultimately it is God’s.
So what do we do, once we hear this news and take it seriously? The answer is already implied in those first lines we quoted from the Psalm. The deep truth is the earth and all its fullness is the Lords. That really is good news. It means that not only my house is the Lord’s house. It means that you and I are also the Lord’s. Quite simply, this means we belong to God. There are a number of ways people belong to each other.
We can think of the historical ways people have claimed other people. There have been slaves and there have been prisoners. Neither of those categories make any sense when we think of God. I do not see myself as the slave of God. And God certainly does not take prisoners---against our wills.
I think of two other categories that make much more sense. In fact, these two are both biblical ways of envisioning our relationship with God. The first way is to understand that we are children of God. Surely this is what the image of God the Father or God the Mother means to symbolize. You and I and every other person in the world are a child of God.
Like all children, we can be good kids or we can be little devils! I am sure God’s hope is for us kids just as surely as my hopes are the very best for my two kids. God wants us to shine with the Inner Light and be beacons to the world. We are to join God’s other children to make this the very best world possible. In fact, God wants us to co-create the kingdom of God!
The other positive image of our relationship with God is that of servant. I like to think of myself as the servant of God. I am put on earth to serve God. And since everyone and everything on the earth is the Lord’s, then I can legitimately see a very broad range of possibilities when it comes to my service.
Obviously, no one can serve all seven billion people who populate the earth. In most instances, we will have to look at those around us. These will be the ones we serve. Some of them we might not even like. But they also are God’s children---even if they are bad kids in the moment. We will need to find ways to bring good out of the bad. And the good ones? We need to find ways to encourage them to bigger and better things.
So the earth is the Lord’s…and so am I. Count me in, God. I am your child and servant. Put me to work.