When I was in divinity school at Duke I had a professor for Old Testament who had a certain reputation. His name was Dr. Crenshaw but we dubbed him Cringe-shaw. His class was hard but mostly people cringed when they saw he had them because his class was so boring. He was not an entertaining lecturer. He was not flamboyant or energetic. He was the poster boy of what you think of when I say Old Testament Professor, bald, gray hair, monotone voice, but extremely knowledgeable. One day as we sat in class and he was throwing out facts about the ancient Hebrew literature he stated that he was going to read us a book that he reads to his grandchildren.
As we grinned, glad we wouldn’t have to take notes for a while, he pulled out Old Turtle and began to read. As a good Methodist Seminary student I was sitting in the back of the class so even if he showed the pictures in the book, which he didn’t, I wouldn’t have seen them. What we in the back in the class couldn’t miss was the fact that as Dr. Crenshaw read the last couple of pages of this book he started to get emotional and cry. This scholar of ancient traditions and language, this professor who is held in high esteem, this grandfather broke down because in the end Old Turtle smiled.
To be honest that caught me and many of my classmates off guard and we left that class thinking to ourselves, what in the world just happened. We did not grasp the emotional side of the story. We wondered why he did what he did and what other motives could have been behind such a tearful ending to this children’s book. As I read this book today to the children I did not feel an overwhelming surge of emotions but I cannot ignore the importance of the message held within its words and beautiful watercolor illustrations.
Two major themes emerge for me which I think are very important for us adults to remember. One is who is God and the other is who are we. The creation story which starts all our Bibles is a picture of an ancient culture explaining to one another how the world was made. Many scholars will tell you that the first chapter of Genesis is to be read for more poetry and not taken literal. Did God create the world in 6, 24 hour days? By the end of the sixth day was the world exactly like we know it today? Were all the species of plants and animals all like the ones we see?
The truth is we will never know and there are those Christians who take the first chapter of Genesis very literally and there are other Christians out there that look at it as a very poetic story. The truth is we don’t know how the world was created, whether evolution was involved over millions of our years, or of a week all that we know was made. I am not going to get into an argument between evolution and creation. The point of how the world came to be is not how but the by whom. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Where there was nothing, God created something. Where there was darkness God created light. Christians can argue all day long about the how but who is never doubted. God created the world and us.
But who is this creator God? What do we know about him, or her, them or it? Through all generations and all of history this is one question we all ask, who is God? This is the argument that creation was having in the beginning of the book. All creation thought God was just like them. The fish though God swam in the dark blue depths of the sea. The mountains saw God as a snowy peak, high above the clouds. The stars said God is a twinkling and shining, far, far away. The willow insisted God was a part of the world, always growing and always giving but the island argued God is separate and apart. Every piece of creation thought God was just like them until Old Turtle stopped them.
Karl Barth is one of if not the most important theologian of the 20th century. He has influenced many people and his work is brilliant. One of the things that stood out to me about his way of thinking about God is the dichotomy in which he frames God. He will say God is judgment but also God is love. God is kindness but God is jealous. God is both of these things and each one all in the same. God swims in the dark blue depths of the sea while at the same time a snowy peak, high above the clouds. This is Old Turtle’s point. God is all these things all the time.
We humans though have a very hard time with this concept. Even now there are people in this congregation getting a head ache trying to wrap your minds around this concept. We are finite creatures who are trying to describe, know, and understand an infinite being. It is impossible because we are limited and every example we use leaves a piece of the puzzle out or doesn’t give us the grand picture. Yes God is powerful just like the bear but he is also gentle just like the robin. God is like the shining sun, far above all things, but God is also like a river who flows through they very heart of things.
William Bryan said this, “I have observed the power of the watermelon seed. It has the power of drawing from the ground and through itself 200,000 times its weight. When you can tell me how it takes this material and out of it colors an outside surface beyond the imitation of art, and then forms inside of it a white rind and within that again a red heart, thickly inlaid with black seeds, each one of which in turn is capable of drawing through itself 200,000 times its weight–when you can explain to me the mystery of a watermelon, you can ask me to explain the mystery of God.” Last week we talked about taking the time to be open to God that is all around us, this week we remind our selves what it we see.
Alycia’s mom is an art teaching in Ohio. Being the daughter of an art teacher means she was dragged around to many different ‘art things.’ She learned a lot about art and artists. She can look at famous paintings and tell you who the artist is. I look at a famous painting I can tell you how pretty it looks. It seems different artists have different ways of painting, it makes sense. We all have a unique way of doing things, a way that makes us, us. I am sure many of you can look at a painting and at least guess if it is done by a five year old or Picasso. The same can be said about the artist that designed the world.
We can look at the world and we can see pieces of God in it. We use the world around us all the time to describe God. The Grand Canyon is 277 miles long and is 18 miles wide at one point. God is even bigger. 85,000 cubic feet of water falls every second at Niagara Falls making it the most powerful waterfall in North America. God is more powerful. The smallest animal in the world is an amoeba which is a one celled organism which is cannot be seen by the human eye. God is more detailed. The fastest animal in the world is not the cheetah, it is the Peregrine Falcon which can go up to 200 miles an hour when in a dive. God is still faster. The Rhinoceros beetle can carry 850 times its own weight making it the strongest animal in the world. God is even stronger.
We look at all the amazing things in this world and we can get a sneak peak at what God is like, yet always remembering God is even more. Something that is also amazing is that Old Turtle says that all of creation isn’t the best vision of God. There will soon be a new family of beings in the world…They will be reminders of all that God is. They will be strong, yet tender, a message of love from God to the earth, and a prayer from the earth back to God. We are the best reminders of all that God is. We are the best reminders of all that God is. WE are the best reminders of all that God is.
If I would have continued to read in Genesis this morning I would have come to the 15th verse of the 2nd chapter. There God tells Adam to take care of the garden of Eden, to till it and keep it. God placed the best reminders of who God is, in charge of all the other reminders that exist. It is our job to take care of the world and the things that make it up. Yes God has given these things for use to use for food, shelter, fuel, and stuff, but we are not supposed to abuse it either.
There are many going arguments going on in today’s world about global climate change. Al Gore won a noble peace prize for his work in informing the world about the changes that are taking place. There are others out there that believe that global warming is a joke and is simply the world doing what it always has and just because now we have the technology to monitor these things doesn’t make it a crisis.
Whether you believe the current media hype or not, you cannot ignore the fact that we humans are doing some drastic things to our world. We have killed off species of animals. The wolves that use to roam the Isle of Great Britain don’t exist any more. The same is true for the Dodo bird. You can travel to the highest peak east of the Mississippi, which is in our own state, Mt. Mitchell and see the effects of air pollution and acid rain. Trees are dying all over the place because pollution filled clouds get caught up on its peak. On June 22, 1969 the Cuyahuga River caught on fire in Cleveland, OH. Water, which was polluted so badly, caught on fire.
We humans have done horrible things to the place we call home and it is our Christian duty, our divine mandate to take care of it. Creation calls out to us that we are destroying images of God. The mountain who rumbled, Sometimes I see God swimming, in the dark blue depths of the sea. From the stone who said, I sometimes feel her breath, as she blows by. All that God has created and said was good, we tend to take for granted and abuse.
Looking back I believe that Dr. Crenshaw showed so much emotion because he realized that the people ended up hearing creation’s call to please stop. And after a long, lonesome and scary time…the people listened, and began to hear…and to see God in one another…and in the beauty of all the Earth. May we, the best reminders of all God is, look at the world around us and see God’s creation, not something to be used and thrown away. May we be able to be the people that makes Old Turtle smile.