Sermon Illustrations


How many of you watched the PBS series last month on the National Parks? Besides the fabulous visual images of some of America’s most beautiful scenery, the documentary gave a very interesting perspective on the history of our national parks.

Did you know that Jim Grinnell’s dad has a great uncle named George Bird Grinnell who was part of the original National Parks movement? He also founded the Audubon Society, and even has a glacier named after him in Glacier National Park in Montana. The documentary featured Jim’s ancestor prominently.

The primary instigator of the idea of National Parks was a man named John Muir. He was a man who loved the wilderness and loved the mountains. As the program quoted him about his love for the great outdoors, I found myself really resonating with some of what he said and wrote.

The first episode was even titled "The Scripture of Nature." I’ve had several very deeply spiritual experiences in some natural settings – at Beaver Lake in Arkansas, and in the Rocky Mountains, and other places. I do, in fact, feel a connection with the Lord in those settings.

John Muir once wrote this:

A few minutes ago every tree was excited, bowing to the roaring storm, waving, swirling, tossing their branches in glorious enthusiasm like worship. But though to the outer ear these trees are now silent, their songs never cease. --John Muir

It made me think of the passage in Isaiah:

Isaiah 55:12 (NIV) You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.

It made me think of Jesus telling the Pharisees, who were complaining of the worship Jesus was receiving on Palm Sunday, that if they kept quiet, the stones would cry out in worship of Him.

But while John Muir said and wrote things about nature and creation that I can really relate to and appreciate, he also said some things that are more problematic. These kinds of thoughts were, quite frankly, echoed ad nauseum in the series by more contemporary thinkers and commentators with New Age leanings, so much so that I eventually gave up on it. Too much space on the DVR.

Anyway, John Muir wrote:

We all flow from one fountain Soul. All are expressions of one Love. God does not appear, and flow out, only from narrow chinks and round bored wells here and there in favored races and places, but He flows in grand undivided currents, shoreless and boundless over creeds and forms and all kinds of civilizations and peoples and beasts, saturating all and fountainizing all. -- June 9, 1872 letter to Miss Catharine Merrill, from New Sentinel Hotel, Yosemite Valley, in Badè’s Life and Letters of John Muir.

Without getting off on a tangent – that’s pantheism. Pantheism, in a nutshell, makes no distinction (or at most a very unclear distinction) between the Creator and the creature. According to pantheism, god is not transcendent. In practical terms, god is in all, and all is part of god

That thinking leads almost inevitably to a worship of nature. Watching this program, I thought a lot about how natural beauty – God’s creation - can lead to worship. For me, it wells up in worship of the Creator God who made it all. For others, including John Muir, and many people today, it leads not to a worship of the Creator of all the wonderful beauty around us, but to a worship of creation itself. It is, indeed, a form of idolatry.

(From a sermon by Bill Sullivan, I Put Away My Idols, 12/13/2009)

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