Working and Keeping the Earthly Temple

By Lize B.–
Have you ever experienced feeling existentially flat, one dimensional, disconnected and estranged from the physical world around you? There’s something quite hellish about it.

The Italian Renaissance writer Dante would agree. In Inferno, one inhabitant of hell asks the traveler Dante: “What brings you to this place of spacelessness?”

Thankfully, God does not desire for us to be spaceless or oblivious to our spatial surroundings. As told in the epic poem of Genesis, God takes great care to orient human creatures to the space around them: God shows Adam and Eve the lay of the land and invites them to share with Him in caring for it and cultivating it into a place of fruitfulness and divine communion. And, double thankfully, the Genesis poem tells us that even sin and brokenness from human greed and distrust of God does not doom us to a spaceless existence. Yes, sin introduces turmoil, frustration, and awkwardness into our relationship with our surroundings, but such a cursed dynamic is not too much for the redemptive love of God, our Creator and Savior of the world. Hot hallelujah!

The Building & Grounds Ministry at St. John’s believes and celebrates just this. God still extends the invitation to us human creatures to join Him in cultivating place. God did not abruptly revoke it once sin entered the story, but rather at the right time and in the right way, God himself became human to free us from sin’s curse, to remind us of the invitation to partner with Him, and to disciple us human creatures in how we can fulfill our calling to cultivate greater life in our surroundings with God’s spirit, drawing the whole world into fruitful relationship. It is indeed an amazing, intricate invitation to garden and community build with our incarnate God, Jesus!

The Building & Grounds ministry has been making good on this invitation, and we’ve been planting a pollinator garden at the church side yard and praying over the place. Like the parable of the mustard, this pollinator garden has become a gathering spot where new relationships are forming and curiosity about the Kingdom of God is being sparked.

Over various mornings and sundowns, we’ve met under the church yard’s longest standing oak tree to get down on our knees, shake weeds up from the rocky soil and plant flowers of all colors and sizes. With dirty hands and masked cover mouths, we would wave to passersby, share with each other our quarantine stories, and meditate together on biblical poems and parables involving gardening and human dominion and care of the earth. New friendships between parishioners grew, and realizations of God dwelling with us and empowering us to have earthly dominion as Christ has dominion deepened.

Unbeknownst to us, the neighbors were watching us from their windows. After a week or two of yard work, four of those neighbors independently stopped by to say thank you for beautifying the block, donate gardening gear to the church, or simply lend a hand in weeding. Nannies pushing strollers expressed how their favorite part on their daily afternoon walk was strolling the church garden path. Soon butterflies, bees, and other pollinators will stop by for nectar refreshment before continuing their flights to sprinkle nutrients over orchards and other plant life habitats.

In Genesis 1-2, God tells us that we humans will have the most impactful footprint of all the creatures He made (i.e. we will have dominion), and the only way to have good dominion is lead and move as God moves. We are to be in step with God in dwelling in the earth. We are to be God’s likeness.

How are we doing? Are other humans and animals of the land and sea cheering in response to how we take up space at St. John’s? Are we inhabiting this acre of land on Orange and Humphrey Streets in Godlike ways rather than as a means to project before all to see some image of us as “good doers” “good citizens” “good stewards” “community gardeners”? We are called to becoming something much higher and life giving than that. Wherever Jesus walked, he generated life, healing, awareness of heaven coming to earth, and relationship renewal. We are called to have that same footprint as disciples of Christ empowered by the Holy Spirit.

May our neighbors — human, insect, plant, and soil in all their distinctiveness — rejoice because we, St. John’s, took up space and treated the earth as holy ground because our Creator God is indeed in our midst.

All creatures rejoice!
Joel 2:21 – 23
Do not fear, O soil;
    be glad and rejoice,
    for the Lord has done great things!
Do not fear, you animals of the field,
    for the pastures of the wilderness are green;
the tree bears its fruit,
    the fig tree and vine give their full yield.O children of Zion, be glad

 and rejoice in the Lord your God.

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