Earth-Care Christians

May 5, 2019

Psalm 104

This morning, our worship centers on this Psalm that celebrates creation – these verses that direct our hearts and minds to remember, and be aware, of the goodness and power and astounding intricacy of God’s creation.

So I invite you to take a moment to center yourself, and put yourself in a place of worship by remembering a place in nature where you felt especially close to God…

-          it might be in the mountains, or meadows, or by a stream or the sea.

-          Imagine yourself there… and see if there’s sunshine or rain, if the temperature is cold or if it’s hot, or
somewhere in between.

-          Notice, the colors, the sounds. …

-          Most of all, remember how you feel when you are in that place.

* * * * *

Many of you know that I majored in Biology in college, which is why I’ll occasionally preach about oddball things like Epigenetics, or go on in some detail about Climate Change if something gets me started. I think that’s why I have a special place in my heart for Psalms like this one, that celebrates the gorgeousness of God’s good, green earth, and makes us pause to consider our own place in the grand scheme of things.

My own life experience echoes what Albert Einstein once said, “Science without religion is lame, and religion without science is blind.”

But obviously, you don’t need to have a science background to feel awesome wonder. You just have to notice. You just have to pay attention.

During Lent, when we had the white-board out in Heritage Hall for people to write on, one week’s question was this:

Where is your temple, the place, or time, or way you sense God’s presence?

One person wrote, “Where I’m surrounded by the enormity or beauty of God’s creation.”

Another said, “The Soccer field or Bioreserve.”

Another simply said, “Outside.”

It’s not surprising, is it? Not if we have eyes to see and ears to hear. Not if we pay attention.

I found myself thinking about all this as I was preparing for the Memorial service for Johnnie Valdes this week. Many of you knew Johnnie, but I know not all of you did; I wish you could have. She and her husband Don were stalwart members of the church for decades. He was a professor at Denison, and she was a ‘faculty wife.’ For Johnnie, that meant being incredibly active in the community, as a mom, as a church leader, in tennis club, in Garden club, and so much more. Her energy and exuberance and sense of humor were contagious.

One of the things I didn’t know until this week was that Johnnie was a conservationist. She read voraciously, including Biographies of her favorite heroes of history, and one of her favorites was Teddy Roosevelt, because of everything he did to protect wildlife and natural habitats by establishing the U.S. Forest Service, including 150 national forests. He was one of her heroes.

Johnnie was one of the first people to embrace, “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” – and she was so convinced of the importance of protecting the environment, she started the Recycling program in Licking County in the 1970s. In the 1970s!            

It was just so obvious to her it was the right thing to do. It was part of being faithful. Part of what it meant to be a steward of creation.

She would be so proud to know that we have become an “Earth Care Congregation.” It’s a special designation given by the Presbyterian Church Mission Council to churches that are intentional about our practices. It’s not a one-size-fits-all kind of program, more like a pattern of living, a way of life. It means we pay attention to caring for God’s earth in the way we worship, teach, do outreach, and care for our building and grounds.  

It’s things like using LED lights, recycling what we can, and using reusable dishes as often as possible, instead of paper and plastic. Mike Boardway – our properties staff – and Don Haven – our elder for properties – are brilliant at this!

Johnnie would be so proud. 

And then she would urge us to do the same kinds of things in our own lives, like she did.

One of the things I learned from her kids is that she would never let them throw away a paper towel or paper napkin that had only been used to dry your hands. It could be used again, to mop up spills! She kept them stashed under her sink. They were mortified. I thought, “a woman after my own heart!” 

What if we did the same thing? I don’t mean the paper towels… I mean making that kind of commitment ourselves. To take care of what we’ve been given. To take responsibility for it. To understand that in God’s eyes, our identity is to be stewards, not consumers.

Now, I don’t have any illusions that using my air conditioning less is going to stop Climate Change, or that my reusing bags is going to prevent the Great Garbage Patch in the ocean from killing whales, or taking my own to-go container with me to restaurants for leftovers is going to from keeping plastic out of the food supply.

And I confess to you that the scientist in me can get very grim, when I think about record-breaking Arctic temperatures, year after year after year, or century-floods that come every decade now.

But what I know is that the place to begin is not fear.

It is gratitude.

It is gratitude.

And so I end not with a challenge, but a comfort. At least, it is a word I have found comforting over and over again.

The Peace of Wild Things - by Wendell Berry

When despair grows in me

and I wake in the middle of the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting for their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.