June 28, 2020
Lincoln Street UMC, Portland, OR
Creation Sermon Series
From a God who sees
One of the sweet, unexpected benefits of the quarantine has been a discovery Tim and I made early on. It’s funny that we hadn’t noticed it before, or really paid much attention. I mean, it’s always been there. Faithfully present. But really we hadn’t seen it as much more than a glorified storage space for our winter fire wood.
But our front porch has been a wonderful gift to us during this pandemic. Facing west, it is always way too hot in the warm summer afternoons to enjoy much. And generally, when life is “normal,” we have been too busy in the mornings to take the time to sit out there. But with the quarantine, our schedules are all so different, and Tim and I have found ourselves out on the front porch in early mornings, sipping our tea, watching the neighborhood come alive.
There’s a huge sycamore tree in our neighbor’s backyard. It towers at least five stories above their house. It is full of crows and little flitting birds that will launch into the air in unison when disturbed. Starlings? Sparrows? Finches? I’m not sure, but they are entertaining in their quick synchronized movements.
My annual mother’s day floral basket hangs at the end of the porch roof. Together Tim and I study its pink petunia petals. Assessing it. Discussing whether it needs more or less water, more or less plant food. We marvel over the abundance of flowers and the cheerful color. I remark again and again on its powers to make me smile.
Then there’s the “weed” that has grown up amidst the roses. For a while it was just a little green added to the bed. Then buds began to show at the end of stalks. And now it’s a full-grown bush of something like Queen Anne’s Lace. I have delighted in its unexpected arrival. And I sit on my porch and marvel at the energy and persistence of creation to thrive even where it is not intended to be – and show the world a rugged, determined yet delicate beauty.
On Mondays, the garbage trucks roll through. I think I could now recognize the man who drives the recycle truck. His arm stuck out the open window, coordinating his aim so that the truck doesn’t hit parked cars and the grabber bars actually surround and latch onto the blue bin each time. He watches it lift, shakes it, lowers it and moves on. Tim and I shout a thank you. Sometimes he waves. Sometimes he doesn’t.
And this week we met Cameron’s friend. Hair pulled back in a ponytail, tattoo down one forearm, feet in flip flops, he sauntered past our house with a Starbucks in hand. He looked up and greeted us with a big hello and an open smile. We returned his greeting and that led into a surprisingly moving conversation. It began with “Isn’t the weather amazing.” and “Where are you from – visiting from San Diego.” But these common interchanges quickly opened a door into this young man’s life – he had traveled to the Portland area for Cameron’s funeral. We got to hear a testimony to his friend’s impact on his life and an amazing wide community of environmentalists, activists, chefs, friends and family. Clearly Cameron had a significant mark on the world before he was killed way too young in a biking accident. And Cameron’s friend, this young man standing out on our sidewalk, had traveled during a quarantine in order to grieve and be gifted by community in the wake of his friend’s death.
All this beauty. All this wonder, just outside my door. There every day. Encounters with strangers, pink explosions, rioting birds.
A couple of weeks ago during worship’s reflection time, we found ourselves sharing about how our Epiphany words were taking on meaning this year. I was interested to hear how some were challenged, some affirmed, others surprised, and still others were waiting for meaning to emerge. And I have to admit, in the moment I was not able to remember my word. I look at it most days, as it hangs on the wall beside my desk. But in that moment, on that Sunday, for the life of me, I could not remember.
But this week, well it has taken on a whole new sense of meaning. My word is seeing. And I have been caught up short by the ways in which this quarantine has brought me just that. Seeing. Seeing my world in new ways. Seeing my place in things in new ways. Sitting on my porch and seeing the world.
Perhaps there is something that connects a quarantine to seeing. Seeing requires stopping. Otherwise the world passes by in a blur. It requires a pause in the daily routines, the work, the rolling film of to-do’s. Seeing asks that we move from the inner landscape of should’s and could’s and instead focus on what is right there – the are’s. And there is nothing like a quarantine to shake up one’s life enough that all of sudden there’s room for seeing in my life.
In the passage from Genesis there are seven times that God sees. God pauses in the work of creation – in the busy list of should’s and could’s – and pays attention to what is. We come from a God who sees. Who from the very beginning of their relationship with the earth and with humanity, God sees. Pays attention. Is present. God does not create the world for some practical application, an answer to some thorny problem. God creates like an artist, who stops to delight and take that deep breath of wonder.
We know we are supposed to slow down and pay attention. We’re the choir we’re preaching to, right? But I wonder if we know this paying attention is part of how we are patterned to be; how our very DNA work within us. If we believe that on some level we are made in the image of God, then it’s in there, folks. This need to pay attention. To see the world. To witness to life – and all the ways that life well . . . has a life of it’s own.
God spun the ideas of creation into being and then watched. We too. We know that we are not God over our lives, but too often our living denies this understanding. With grit and determination and a fierce pace, we know, we trust, that we can have say over just exactly how this life goes down.
Until our sister loses her job and her spouse in one week. Until our child gets sick and no one knows why. Until a pandemic rages through the world and homes, livelihoods, and lives are lost. Until another black person is senselessly killed.
We come from a God who sees. Who sees all of that. And who witnesses with love, with compassion, with delight. We come from a God who does not flinch when life is horrible and injustice is rampant. We come from a God who sees us in all our glory and humiliation.
And in our paying attention, we too see with wonder and with awe and with humility. Our family tree – seeing the world and all of life, through the eyes of God.
This seeing – it helps us connect back in to who we are – created in God’s image. This seeing – it helps us see our place in the order of things – our limb of the family tree. This seeing – it helps us embrace all of life and the tremendous, powerful breath-taking gift that it is, our humble moments and those of glory.
We come from a God who sees – all of life and all of us. And says, that is good – very good.
This sermon was written by Elizabeth Winslea and delivered on June 28, 2020, via Zoom to the Lincoln Street United Methodist Church. It is published here with the permission of the author. Please link back to this post and credit the author if you reprint or use any portion of it.
 I gratefully acknowledge that the themes for this sermon series are taken from an essay by Debi Thomas as found at https://www.journeywithjesus.net/Essays/20140609JJ.shtml