In an increasingly cosmopolitan culture it is harder to understand one’s own roots.
The modern experience is that we come from many different backgrounds and cultures and we come together in search of what we have in common.
When I first came to Canada as a foreign student I anglicized my name because I quickly grew tired of having to explain it. I also didn’t always want to have to tell my story, rather, I wanted to belong. And always having to tell a story sets you apart.
When my wife and I were married she was kind enough to re-learn my name and call me Christoph, because that is what I had always been.
We lived in Winnipeg for eight years. Winnipeg has this great festival celebrating ethnic and cultural diversity. A Winnipeg friend told us about it with the highest praise. In fact, we knew about the festival before we ever knew that one day we would live in Winnipeg, because it wasn’t in Winnipeg that we met her. When we lived in Winnipeg we attended the fesival and enjoyed it. However, it turned out to be mostly about food, with some ethnic garb, music, and dance thrown in. But mostly it was about food.
The different narratives immigrants had brought with them had faded and what people remembered best about the old country were the recipes their grandma’s had handed down to them.
The Christians of Suriname have many stories. Stories of slavery and freedom, colonialism and independence, suppression and displacement, political insecurity and stability, diversity and unity, sin and forgiveness.
But among the many narratives they know, the narratives of the scriptures, of creation and redemption are key to the reading of their own story.
And so, in the face a difficult history, political injustice, and poverty they join in the refrain from Genesis 1 and exclaim the goodness of God’s creation. And those who proclaim the goodness of God’s creation proclaim the goodness of God.
Genesis one dates back to Israel’s exile in Babylon. It corresponds to an African American Spiritual we teach our children, He’s Got the Whole World in his Hands. In exile Israel affirmed that Babylon’s gods had no power, nor finally did their captors, because it was the God of Israel who had made the world. In the same way slaves, abused by their masters, remembered that in the end God was in control, for God holds the whole world in God’s hands.
God led Israel out of exile and God hears the cry of the needy. God has inscribed our names on the palm of God’s hands.
All that God made is very good.
The Christians of Suriname find themselves in this story.
That all that God made is very good is important to remember not only for the people in exile or the people of Suriname but also for us, especially the next time we think the world is going down the drain, or the next time we have to muster all our strength to love our neighbour, for God made everything to be very good. And so you and I and our neighbours are of great value.
And yet, for the people of Suriname, the fact that God made everything to be very good, is not a reason to be complacent and shrug their shoulders in the face of environmental degradation. The fact that all of God’s creation is very good is not only encouragement but also task to ensure that it remains very good.
The people of Suriname live on the coast and in the rain-forest. Mining, logging, pollution, and global warming are part of their experience.
The environmental theologian Norm Wirzba speaks of creation and explains that he speaks of creation not because he believes in a six day creation, but because creation attributes ownership to God. When we say natural resources, we look at the earth like a big store where everything is a commodity. He says when all you have is a credit card, everything is for sale, including God’s good creation.
But when you speak of creation you remember that God made it and that it is entrusted to us to till it and to keep it (Gen 2:15), not to use it up and destroy it.
And so our brothers and sisters in Suriname remind us that God’s good creation is gift and is task. As God adopts us in our baptism into Christ and incorporates us into his body as an act of love and grace and as this act comes with the command to live as God’s faithful people, so the act of love and grace we call creation comes with a command, and that command is to remember that the earth and all that is in it are the Lord’s.
Look at the picture on the jacket of your bulletin (at the top of this page). You see the seven women from Suriname we just met and who told us their stories. And we see two hands, that are symbolic for the hands of the seven but that may also represent our hands. These hands lift up God’s good creation in thanksgiving to God. The lifting up of God’s good creation is an act of worship and an act of commitment. May it be our act of worship and our commitment, for God is good.