by Dean Ohlman
You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.' But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God's throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King (Matthew 5:33-35).In today's passage from the Sermon on the Mount Jesus reiterates the prophet Isaiah's words (chapter 66). I'm not a theologian, so I can't tell you all the nuances of Jesus using these same words, and most of the commentaries I have read simply explain the main point of the message: just be honest and keep your word. You do not need to make an oath on anything if you tell the truth and honor your promises.
That's obviously a critical admonition for us all. Something else really jumped out at me: As Isaiah states, the heavens and the earth"the entire cosmos"is the work of God's "hands." And Jerusalem is as well. Jerusalem was chosen by David (obviously through God's direction), and it became the city of his throne built by human hands. Psalm 48, written by "the sons of Korah," used the same expression that Jesus used: it is "the city the Great King""foretelling the time in the future when the New Jerusalem, made by God's hands, descends to the earth and serves as "the throne of God and the Lamb" (Revelation 22:1).
A major point, then"and one the church seems to have often missed"is that the material heavens and earth and coming New Jerusalem are all of sacred significance. Consider some meanings of "sacred" from Dictionary.com: Sacred: 1. devoted or dedicated to a deity or to some religious purpose; consecrated. 2. entitled to veneration or religious respect by association with divinity or divine things; holy. 3. pertaining to or connected with religion (opposed to secular or profane); 4. regarded with reverence; 5. secured against violation and infringement; 6. properly immune from violence, interference, etc.
John Muir [who went on to found the Sierra Club] left the formal church primarily because of his super-pious father, who knew the Scriptures backward and forward but was abusive and spiritually shallow. But Muir kept his faith in God the Creator and perhaps sensed the sacred in the cosmos more than almost anyone else. And it was primarily because of Muir that American political leaders had the foresight to preserve some of the nation's most awe-inspiring wonders. The great national parks indeed offer us the opportunity to discover the sacred in God's good creation, but even a nearby meadow, woodlot, pond, seashore beach, or marsh left to pretty much function naturally gives evidence of His eternal power and divine nature.
I close with a reverie of John Muir's as a motivation for us to wonder even today in the glory of God's "footstool":
The forests seem kindly familiar, and the lands and meadows and glad singing streams. I should like to dwell with them forever. Here with bread and water I should be content. Even if not allowed to roam and climb, tethered to a stake or tree in some meadow or grove, even then I should be content forever. Bathed in such beauty, watching the expressions ever varying on the faces of the mountains, watching the stars, which here have a glory that the lowlander never dreams of, watching the circling seasons, listening to the songs of the waters and winds and birds would be endless pleasure.
And what glorious cloudlands I should see, storms and calms"a new heaven and a new earth every day, aye and new inhabitants. And how many visitors I should have. I feel sure I should not have one dull moment. And why should this appear so extravagant? It is common sense, a sign of health"genuine, natural, all-awake health. One would be at an endless Godful play, and what speeches and music and acting and scenery and lights!"sun, moon, stars, auroras. Creation just beginning, the morning stars "still singing together and all the children of God shouting for joy." [From My First Summer In the Sierra]
And it is with great joy that I look forward to visiting, after twenty years, Muir's "backyard": Yosemite National Park. I may even shout!
re-posted with permission
Dean Ohlman is a statesman of the creation care movement. You can follow his excellent work at the Wonder of Creation site.