Sunday, April 19, 2015

Prayers for the Earth

Catching Fish
Earth Sunday – Christ on Capitol Hill                                 April 19, 2015

Alleluia! Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Here’s what I’ve learned about the earth through gardening experiences in Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Minnesota… by the third year, plants are beginning to be established. By the fifth year… wow!
The first year, some plants don’t really take to the spot I’ve put them, or I’ve tried to plant things from greenhouses rather than transplants from neighbors nearby... and the transplants always do better. But as time goes along, the garden grows, more and more beautifully with each year of tending. So this year, we have rhubarb coming up, and lamb’s ears… and finally, the bleeding hearts, first planted in Wisconsin and transplanted in Illinois, and then planted at my parents’ home in Iowa while we moved from place to place… and divided and replanted in our backyard now… finally, the leaves have come up!

Somehow this is a metaphor for me about how much we have to learn from the Earth—from gardening, from caring for the creation. From trying, failing, and trying again with unfailing patience, endurance, persistence, learning again how to be stewards, caretakers of God’s gifts. In a culture that does not support us being in touch with the rhythms of the Creation, this Sunday, the Sunday closest to Earth Day, in the season of Easter—new life, resurrection—and with Spring unfolding all around us (I even saw wasps on the hot days this week!), we’re invited to be grateful for each opportunity to tend and care for the Earth, and see what we can learn. It’s one of the ways we’re called to be witnesses.

One day last spring, I visited the home of a couple to bring communion, and I saw a massive patch of violas in their rock bed alongside their house. “Volunteers!” the woman said. “All I did was just shake the flowers over the rocks when they had gone to seed last fall.” And here they were, a truly glorious patch of deep purple. Such beauty reminded me to be grateful, for the flowers… and for volunteers of all kinds, people and animals and plants who give themselves for the benefit of all.

Earth Day is certainly also a day when many voices, many organizations, very legitimately call us to be accountable for the ways that particularly wealthy countries, industries, economies, corporations, and citizens are over-using and abusing the Earth and all its creatures. There are both massive things that need to be done to repent and turn around our short-sighted ways in the world, and there are many small things that each one of us can do to be more conscious of what we use, what we throw away, and how to conserve, protect, reuse, recycle… how we can live more gently and sustainably with one another on this Earth.

But perhaps even more powerful than critique is the power of gratitude.
And I think that is the primary focus of the biblical witness that we hear in Genesis today.
In the days of Creation, described in Genesis, we hear how inter-related everything is. We hear about the distinctiveness and goodness of all the different parts of creation—light and dark, water and sky and sea, all kinds of plants and animals, birds and fish. On the sixth day, God creates adam – an earth person – and Elie Wiesel, a prolific Jewish writer, comments on this timing something like this:
Why did the Creator wait until the sixth day to give life to adam—why didn’t [God] do it at the very start? Answer: … well first God prepared a place for the human and only then created the person. Another answer: To keep the person from taking himself too seriously… for example, if a person is too proud, he could be asked: What are you boasting about—even mosquitos preceded you in the order of creation![1]
So, according to this perspective, humans are created not so much as the crowning moment of creation– as we have so often been taught – but humans are created in inter-dependence and in relationship to everything else.

And what is the “best for last” thing in the whole story of Creation?… It’s Sabbath. On the seventh day, God rested… giving permission to all of us to rest.
 Giving us permission not to have to be busy or earn or steward on that seventh day of rest… but simply to be in the love of our Creating, Saving, Renewing God so that all the other days of the week, we’ll know what that is like.

Don’t you think that being busy or too overworked to care or to be able do things differently, is at the heart of our brokenness in caring for the Earth? So many of the “improvements” to make life easier, cheaper, quicker, simpler are not good for us… but it’s incredibly hard to change our ways when these patterns are all we’ve ever known or what we’ve fallen into over time.

This week, part of the church staff: Angie, Joy and I had the opportunity to go and hear a wonderful presentation at the office of the Saint Paul Area Council of Churches about nutrition and how we can encourage our congregation members in practices of “eating clean,” avoiding four major things that we put into our bodies that end up being toxic to us because of their impact at the cellular level … and how making changes can make a big difference in the health of our bodies. One of the things the doctor who was presenting told us was that it makes him so angry when he sees someone filling their car with premium gasoline but filling their body with unhealthy garbage.

And this brings me, finally, to Jesus who as a resurrected body asked for something to eat… a food basic-to-life for his culture, on the shores of a lake… some broiled fish… and how that was a marker to followers of Jesus, then and now, that he was really among them. He was really a body, alive and needing basic nourishment, food re-creating the risen Christ as it re-creates us.

Abraham Heschel writes in The Sabbath, “Creation, we are taught, is not an act that happened once upon a time, once and for ever. The act of bringing the world into existence is a continuous process. God called the world into being, and that call goes on. There is this present moment because God is present. Every instant is an act of creation.”[2]
So… we continue to witness the creating work of God; we continue to be invited to the model of work and rest; we continue to need basic nourishment.

We gather to tend and honor the Earth, to share a meal and receive basic nourishment, to encounter the Creator and the risen Christ… and in all this, the Spirit calls us to be witnesses, not only seeing for ourselves but sharing the good news of what God has done for us… and not only for us, but for the whole Creation.

Alleluia! Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!

[1] Paraphrased from the work Messengers of God by Elie Wiesel, p. 10, Excerpt accessed through Google Play on 4/17/2015.
[2] Heschel, as cited on, accessed 4/17/2015.

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