God so loved the … cosmos?

Jesus died for creation as well as for us. We can participate in redeeming the world.

Clouds part as a partial eclipse of the sun and moon is seen atop the cross on the steeple of the New Sweden Evangelical Lutheran Church on April 8 in Manor, Texas. — Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press Clouds part as a partial eclipse of the sun and moon is seen atop the cross on the steeple of the New Sweden Evangelical Lutheran Church on April 8 in Manor, Texas. — Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

I was assigned the last sermon in a series on creation. We had heard sermons on oceans, flora and fauna and storm. The final topic was “Cosmos.” The first three Sundays had emphasized the particular in creation, and now my task was to work with the largest concept.

I remembered a scene from ­Thornton Wilder’s play Our Town. George and Rebecca are leaning out of their upstairs bedroom windows one evening, talking across the narrow strip of grass that separated their houses.

Rebecca: I never told you about the letter Jane Crofut got from her minister when she was sick. He wrote Jane a letter, and on the envelope the address was like this. It said: Jane Crofut, The Crofut Farm, Grover’s Corners, Sutton County, New Hampshire, United States of America.

George: What’s funny about that?

Rebecca: But listen, it’s not finished: the United States of America, continent of North America, Western Hemisphere, the Earth, the Solar System, the Universe, the Mind of God. That’s what it said on the envelope.

George: What do you know!

Rebecca: And the postman brought it just the same.

The letter Jane received reminded me there is much more to God’s creation than trees and flowers, oceans and mountains, storms and sunsets. The cosmos is the whole of God’s creation.

Not just our planet. Not just humans. Not only what we can see.

I began working with the scripture texts for that Sunday from Proverbs and Colossians. In my reading, I discovered something I had not known: The Greek word for world in John 3:16 is cosmos.

God so loved the cosmos? God sent Jesus to redeem trees? Ozone layers? Disappearing species?

I had assumed world in John 3:16 meant people. God gave Jesus to die for people. For you. For me.

But that is not what the text says. God so loved all creation that God sent the beloved Son.

Does God love a black hole in space, a tomato ripening on the vine, a biting mosquito, a cascading waterfall so much that God includes it in Jesus’ redeeming work?

Learning the Greek word for world was a stunning discovery, and I included this in my sermon. (I think I said I had been gobsmacked.) But there was enough in the Proverbs and Colossians texts to fill several sermons, so I only briefly mentioned that world was cosmos.

I’m not certain why I was so stunned. I think it was the struggle to grasp what it meant that Jesus died for creation as well as for me.

One of our tasks as Christians is to discover what our worldview is. That’s hard work, because our world­view is self-centered: We’re interested in how the world affects or involves us.

Realizing that the cosmos is from and for Jesus alters that worldview. The world is precious. God will never abandon it. We are an integral part of it.

The late Mennonite astronomer Owen Gingerich, who taught at Harvard, wrote in his 2006 book God’s Universe of finding the Good News in his worldview: “Just as I believe that the Book of Scripture illumines the pathway to God, I also believe that the Book of Nature, in all its astonishing detail — the blade of grass, the missing mass five or the incredible intricacy of DNA — suggests a God of purpose and a God of design. And I think my belief makes me no less a scientist.”

What happens at the cosmic level must be lived every day. We act out our understanding that the cosmos is a revelation of Jesus Christ. Christ is the agent of creation, the bond that holds the cosmos together.

By installing a compost bin, drying clothes on an outside line, turning down the heat, riding bikes to church or checking our carbon footprint, we are not just joining the bandwagon of woke folks. We are participating in the redemption of the world.

I grew up in a logging community with a sawmill on every road. (Well, a slight exaggeration.) I have seen trucks hauling just one log because it was so gigantic. Now when I go home, I see log trucks carrying 15, 20, 30 logs. The big ones are gone or off- limits.

The lumber industry was like wallpaper to me, so ubiquitous I hardly noticed it. It was what put food on my childhood table. It was what paid the farm mortgage. But I had to come to the position that logging as practiced at that time was not a redemptive act.

God’s redemptive work in Jesus Christ reaches out to the whole creation. Our theology has understood redemption as applying only to people. But sin destroys more than humanity’s relationship to God. It infects the cosmos with chaos and devastation. Our redemption restores not only our relationship with God and with each other but also with creation.

Shirley Yoder Brubaker attends Park View Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg, Va.

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