Season of Creation – Web of Life
Psalm 104 September 1, 2019
Faith Lutheran Church, Windham, Maine
Have you ever said to yourself, “The universe must be trying to tell me something,” because no matter which way you turn, you encounter the same message or issue over and over again? After a certain point, you can’t just chalk it up to coincidence. If you’re a person of faith, sooner or later it begins to dawn on you that it isn’t just “the universe” that’s trying to get your attention, it’s the Holy Spirit. At first, God’s Spirit may have politely tapped you on the shoulder. If that didn’t work, perhaps it escalated to something like the Spirit whispering “psssst!” and next a throat-clearing “ahem!” and then a pointed “Hello?!?” If you’re like me, it eventually requires God to take the spiritual equivalent of a baseball bat upside your head to get your attention. But eventually you realize, “OH!!! That’s what’s going on here!” It’s like the moment when you’re nearing the end of completing a jigsaw puzzle and piece after piece after piece clicks right into place.
That is what’s been happening to me over the past couple of weeks. In a series of completely unrelated (actually, God would say they were very related!) events—meetings, conversations, emails—a message finally got through. It actually started off nearly a year ago when the Council began considering the idea of holding a Blessing of the Animals service this coming October (the weekend closest to St. Francis of Assisi day) at Hartwell Farm, inviting the public to bring their pets and perhaps having a free-will offering to go to the Maine State Society for Protection of Animals stable on River Road, and/or to the Nature Conservancy of Maine.
A few months later, the Council was setting the schedule for our summer worship services in the Outdoor Chapel, and “by coincidence” decided that Sunday, September 1, would be our final outdoor service for 2019…
Then, just a couple of weeks ago, a church member asked if she could make an announcement at worship on September 1 about a project she was working on to help people use fewer of those little plastic bags for produce at the grocery store (you’ll hear more about that in a minute).
A few days later at the Council meeting, someone brought up a concern about how much plastic and paper we use at church events. Other Council members agreed and eventually a motion was passed to adopt a policy of reducing or eliminating plastic waste (things like plastic cutlery and one-use containers, Styrofoam cups and plates), reducing our use of paper cups and napkins, trying to use more unbleached paper goods (brown instead of white) and to begin using cloth napkins that can be washed and reused for our weekly coffee hours.
Then, this past Tuesday, I was in a meeting for my other job, at the Maine Council of Churches, when a volunteer just happened to mention that her church was doing a special outdoor worship service this Sunday because September 1 was the Worldwide Day of Prayer for Creation that kicks off a one-month “Season of Creation” that ends on St. Francis of Assisi day in October (an ecumenical event I had never heard of before)—and there it was—the circle was complete, the last puzzle piece clicked into place, the Holy Spirit took a good hard swing at my head, and I finally caught on… “OH! This is something God wants our church to pay attention to!” (Hey, I’m slow, but, like the tortoise, I eventually do get there!)
What started more than a year ago with our decision to have a St. Francis Day Blessing of the Animals service had come full circle, through a series of “coincidences” (or what a dear friend of mine used to call “God-incidences”), to bring us to this morning, here, in this beautiful setting in nature, celebrating the Worldwide Day of Prayer for Creation. Yes, God sometimes works in mysterious ways, but other times, like this one? God works in ways that are as obvious as the nose on your face!
As you heard at the beginning of worship this morning (and can read more about on the bulletin insert), this is the beginning of the one-month-long Season of Creation, which was first observed in 1989 and has grown to be sponsored by 147 Christian denominations worldwide, including the ELCA via the Lutheran World Federation. Lutherans all across the globe are called “to live in right relationship with creation and not exhaust it,” (LWF Assembly resolution) and the Twelfth LWF Assembly resolved that “the global ecological crisis is human-induced” and “a spiritual matter.” For each week of the Season, the LWF provides a bible study for churches to use, and our Sunday morning inter-generational Sunday School group will be using these (in fact, we used the study for Week 1 this morning).
The sacredness and goodness of creation is a conviction affirmed in scripture and in core Lutheran theological principles. The very first sentences of the very first book of the bible (Genesis 1) repeat the refrain “God saw that it was good” six times during the story of how God created the earth, ending with a final “God saw that it was very good,” on the sixth day when God saw everything in all creation and how it worked together as an interconnected living ecological system. Notice that God doesn’t say everything is “good for humans.” Each day, God declares that every element of creation is good in and of itself, apart from any usefulness to humans. This is the same perspective spoken by God from the whirlwind in the book of Job. So, though many have tried to argue that humanity’s stripping and degrading of the earth’s resources through mining, drilling, agriculture, sewage, garbage, industry and fuel emissions, is what we human beings are entitled and sanctioned by God to do, since God put us at the top of the food chain, none of this is what God had in mind when granting us “dominion” over creation. “Dominion” is more rightly translated “stewardship,” meaning God appointed us the caretakers, not the exploiters, of the world God has created.
Lutheran ethicist (and professor at my alma mater, Union Theological Seminary) Larry Rasmussen has called for an “eco-Reformation” of the church, where we foster an economy of the common good, so that the goods of the commons—earth, air, water and fire—are cared for both as a good for the present and for future generations of humankind and otherkind.
The bible teaches a political economy of “enough for all” based on sharing of what has been given to us by God for the common good of all. Love of neighbor, including future generations (who are our neighbors in time), is at the heart of both biblical and Lutheran theology. [Barbara Rossing, Lutheran World Federation, “And God saw that it was good: reflections on theology of creation,” 2017]
During this “Season of Creation,” and on this World Day of Prayer for Creation, how are we at Faith Lutheran Church supposed to live into our calling as stewards of God’s good creation? Are there things each of us can be doing as individuals, in our own personal lives and homes, to walk lightly on this fragile earth we’ve been given to care for? And are there things we can do together, as a church family? In a word, Yes! For starters, in the bulletin insert this morning, you will find a list of suggestions for individuals and for churches. This is the list for September, but the organization Creation Justice Ministries actually publishes a list for every week of the year—“52 Ways to Care for Creation” (available at creationjustice.org/care-for-creation.html)
Most of us expect that on our birthdays we will be receiving gifts, not giving them. But one of our members here today, whose birthday it is (!), is turning that tradition on its head. Lily would like to tell you about one way she has thought for individuals to take one small action to protect and care for the environment—and then during communion, after you have received bread and wine, you will receive from Lily, the birthday girl, a gift. (Lily’s speaks about her project to create re-useable net produce bags for grocery shopping)
In addition to individual actions, what can we do as a church community? We have already taken important steps: we use mugs instead of paper or Styrofoam cups at coffee hour each week; we recycle (with thanks to Steve Palmer for hauling it away); we maintain natural green space on our property—here in this forest, and in our new memorial garden; we added new insulation to our ceilings to improve energy efficiency. And now, as I mentioned a few moments ago, our Council has voted to institute a policy of reducing and eliminating plastic and paper waste we generate here. From now on, we pledge to use unbleached paper towels and napkins (brown rather than white) and to use cloth napkins whenever possible; we will no longer use Styrofoam cups or plates; we will use silverware rather than plastic cutlery whenever possible, and when disposable is required, we will purchase biodegradable cutlery made from potato or corn starch or bamboo; we’ll use only plastic cups and one-use containers that are recyclable (triangle with number 1-7 on bottom—and we’ll redouble our efforts to put these in the recycling bin and NOT in the garbage) or we’ll use biodegradable cups and containers (made from corn starch); we will use paper or cloth tablecloths, no more plastic. Will all this cost us a little more? Yes, and no. The hidden cost of continuing to use products that destroy our environment, lay in landfills for thousands of years, or add plastic microbeads to our rivers and oceans is far higher than the pennies we’ll spend on environmentally responsible products.
Over the next five Sundays, we will focus on scripture and theology that celebrates God’s good gift of creation and explores our call to be good stewards of that gift. Then, as the “big finish” to our observance of this year’s Season of Creation, we will host a Blessing of the Animals service for the community. It will be exciting to see where God’s Spirit leads us on this path toward environmental protection and conservation.
To conclude our sermon time this morning, I invite you to join me in an antiphonal reading of Psalm 104, one of the most famous of the creation celebration psalms (on the back of the handout that had our order of confession on the front). Then, after a brief prayer, we will stand and sing a beautiful hymn Piano Dave discovered, entitled “Touch the Earth Lightly” (see handout)—a hymn, I might add, written by a Presbyterian from New Zealand, Shirley Erena Murray!
Together let us recite Psalm 104—note that a variety of voices will participate—Voice 1, Voice 2, Right side (indicate their right), Left side, men and women:
Let us pray:
May God who established the dance of creation,
Who marveled at the lilies of the field,
Who transforms chaos to order,
Lead us to transform our lives and the Church
To reflect God’s glory in creation. Amen.
Please stand and sing “Touch the earth lightly.”