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April 23, 2017

Pastor Fowler’s Sermon for April 23, 2017

“Every Day is Earth Day”

Genesis 1:26-31; Romans 8:19-21

 

At my last church in Fort Bragg, for a number of years we let out approximately 25 painted lady butterflies into creation on Easter Sunday. As you may remember from last Sunday’s children’s sermon, butterflies are symbols of Christ’s resurrection.  It is so inspiring to see them fly off, or flutter down to a flower or plant to pump blood into their wings before taking off. I have to admit I kind of got attached to them over the years we did this, as I was the one who transferred the tiny caterpillars into individual cups. For the first couple of weeks, they lived in my office on a tray, eating special food I placed in each cup. I watched as they ate and slept in their little individual apartments.  I was their caretaker. When they began to go into their pupae or chrysalis stage, I handed them over to our church preschool, and they were then transferred to their upscale townhouse, or butterfly tent. In approximately ten to fourteen days, we had butterflies ready to be launched on Easter Sunday. It took a bit of math to make it all work so that is could be done on that day, but it was a joyous thing to do. The last time I did this a couple of years ago, after we released the butterflies, I noticed that there were still two who had yet to come out of their chrysalis. I put the tent back in my office and went home. When I came back the next day, I found one had come out. I released it out on a flowering Rhododendron in the front.  Then two days later, the very last painted lady butterfly came out of its chrysalis and was ready to go out into the big world. I had the privilege of getting the butterfly out of the butterfly tent, and letting it go out into creation. I have to admit I felt some responsibility for this tiny insect, and muttered something like- “Enjoy your life! Enjoy God’s amazing creation!” I then noticed one of our church members over at the other side of the church spraying some weed killer on the sidewalk, and encouraged this little one to fly in the other direction. I felt responsible for the wellbeing of that butterfly. I assume it went off from flower to flower and spread pollen so that other plants would bloom, becoming part of the rich tapestry of Spring, and of God’s creation. I felt like, at least in that moment, I was being a good caretaker of God’s creation. Who knows? Maybe we could do that here next Easter?

 

This is the day after Earth day, and in the midst of spring-a perfect time for us to focus upon our role in God’s creation- with so many plants blooming, bees buzzing, butterflies flapping along. We are surrounded right now by so many beautiful colors and smells. God has blessed us with abundance at this time of year. What does scripture say our role is in God’s creation? Well the word “stewardship” comes to mind. I know many of you equate stewardship with our financial campaign in the fall, but the word has very practical applications for our focus on creation as well.

 

 

A steward is one who manages the affairs of a household or of an estate for an owner. In the Christian sense, a steward is the household manager of God’s affairs upon the earth. As our call to worship from Psalm 24 tells us, “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.” We Christians are in effect good stewards, good caretakers of the earth which belongs to God.

 

I can remember many years ago as a teenager learning a valuable lesson regarding being a good caretaker. I was hired by an older couple in our congregation back in Vallejo, Ca. to care for their huge, sprawling vegetable garden while they took a 3-week vacation. This was pretty much before there were drip systems and the like. Most of the garden had to be watered by hand or hose. I remember being given instructions for what needed to be watered and when, and assured them I would be diligent in my watering. It was a hot summer in Vallejo, and watering was important.

 

Ah, the word of a teenage boy is as good as gold...not. I rode my bike and went out the first three days or so, and did my watering duties. But then, summer beckoned. I wanted to ride motorcycles with my friends, watch Spiderman cartoons on T.V. and play my first of many video game systems, My Magnavox Odyssey2! For the next three days, I neglected my duties, until my mom noticed and said something like, “Don’t you have a care taking job to do?” When I went back over to the house and walked around the garden, I was shocked to notice that some of the plants had begun to wilt. I had to work extra hard over the next few days to get those plants back in shape. I had neglected my duty as a caretaker, and almost messed things up pretty badly.

 

In today’s passage from Genesis, in verse 26, God says that we humans are be good caretakers too. You and I have a role to play in God’s creation: we are to have "dominion" over fish, and birds, and cattle, and wild animals, and the "creeping things" – incidentally, the Hebrew word that is translated as "cattle" really means any domesticated animal and "creeping things" refers to everything from bugs to lizards. So, we are to have dominion over every animal upon the earth, even butterflies.

 

The challenge is that as humankind has multiplied and filled the earth, and dreamt up ever more interesting technology, we’ve altered the notion of "dominion." Dominion once meant a kind of stewardship: that is, we humans were given a certain care-taking role over God’s creation, to use what we need, and to care for and nurture what we didn’t need in creation. In the older notion of "dominion," we were managers, but not the CEO...

 

 

Today, though, it seems like we’ve tried to amend the meaning. Really, it only requires the addition of two little letters, an “a” and a “t” to turn "dominion" into "domination." We humans are trying to usurp God’s role as CEO of the planet and do as we wish. Today we hear, far too often, that the creation is ours to do with as we please without worrying about consequences. And frankly, the worst thing I hear is that way too many Christians are arguing this! I got into a rather heated debate with one Christian friend on Facebook over this very issue. "God made the earth for us to use," they say. "So that means that it is ours to use in any way we want." If we continue to burn fossil fuels, ignore the facts about global warming, allow clear‑cutting in places like the Amazon, drive multiple species to extinction, ¼ well, God said we could.”  No, God didn’t. God wants us to do our job- to be good caretakers, have dominion over creation- to rule this amazing creation just as God would- with nurture and with love. And just because God gave us dominion doesn’t mean the earth is ours to do with as we please. Psalm 89:11 says, “The heavens are yours, Lord (not ours); the world and all that is in it: You have made them.

 

Sadly, the whole issue of caring for creation has become a political circus rather than a church issue. People who care about trees get named “tree huggers.” People who care about global warming are denounced as having a “liberal agenda,” or worse. But loving nature and caring about the plight of our planet do not have their origins in politics. The origins of caring for creation go back to Adam and Eve and the garden. 

 

When I used to spend time out my favorite beach spot in Fort Bragg and look at the ocean waves, the whale spouts, and listen to the roar of the sea, it became so easy for me to sit in awe of the beauty of the earth. I get a similar feeling when I get up to the top of Lithia Park here in Ashland, or look at the snow covered peak of Mt. Grizzly. I sometimes imagine that I am but one small person in the vastness of all that God created, and I acknowledge my place in it all. As it says in psalm 8, “When I look at Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and stars that You have established; what are human beings that You are mindful of them, mortals that You care for them?”(Psalm 8:4-5)

 

But it’s much more difficult to acknowledge my responsibility toward creation, my role as a caretaker and steward. And yet, that is the job description God gave me, and you, right at the very beginning of scripture. Then in verse 31 of the Genesis passage, we read, “and God saw everything that God had made, and behold it was very good.” All those billions of years ago, it was good, very good. Is it still very good? Do we appreciate it? Do we thank God for it? Are their actions we have done which harm that very good creation? Can we commit ourselves here and now to some changes in our lives that will help God’s very good creation?

 

I could give you a list of things to do to help the earth- to recycle batteries at Ashland Hardware, which takes your old batteries for free, to buy a Prius or other less fossil-fueled dependent vehicle, to shop locally, to change to more energy efficient light bulbs, etc. But these are things you know already, and even though they do make a difference, there is something much more important that Christians need to do right now, and it isn’t easy.

 

Become politically active in fighting FOR creation. This is important for Christians to do right now. We become motivated to stand up and save God’s creation because it is our duty as caretakers of the earth. President Trump is at best a skeptic regarding climate change, and has just signed an executive order meant to  instruct federal regulators to rewrite key Obama-era rules curbing U.S. carbon emissions — namely the Clean Power Plan, which was intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the nation’s electric plants. It also seeks to lift a moratorium on federal coal leasing and remove the requirement that federal officials consider the impact of climate change when making decisions. He also has suggested cutting the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget by 1/3, reducing its staff significantly so that federal monies can be shifted towards the military and border security, and has placed an antagonist in charge of the agency. Write your congressman, call your senator, or march. This is something I have done a few times in my own life, and it feels like I am telling those around me to wake up about some issue.  There is a march and rally scheduled in Medford next Saturday, April 29- the People’s Climate March from 3-6pm beginning at the Medford Commons. Maybe we could have a group from our church be part of that event.  Whether or not you can march, let your voice be heard before the next federal budget is passed in October.

 

If we don’t fight for our environment, for protecting our planet, how will people in our world be able to marvel at God’s glorious creation when water is water is unsafe to drink, air is too toxic to breathe, and the decay of the surrounding environment becomes a danger? How can people experience God in nature when the work of God’s fingers is polluted and heading towards death instead of life? As Stephen Matson from Sojourner’s wrote, “The Bible says that the skies declare God’s craftsmanship, but what happens when people can’t see the sky due to smog and waste? Pollution, destruction, and the exploitation of our world isn’t a victimless crime-it’s intentionally hiding God from others, and the act of making our earth less desirable is blinding others to the goodness of God. If we Christians seriously want others to be able to experience God, they should start making the earth a better place- ultimately reflecting the magnificence of God.”

 

If you are interested, perhaps we could form a group of folks interested in protecting God’s creation here at this church. We could look at way to become more active in caring for creation, in reducing our carbon footprint as a church, in being an example for this community by being good stewards of God’s creation. After all, good planets are hard to find, and we need to be focused upon the earth for more than just a day. There is a sign-up sheet out in the narthex if you would like to become part of this group.

 

A few years ago, Abby and I were driving home from school while preparations were being made for Earth Day in Fort Bragg. We drove by all the signs being put up for Earth Day. We talked about needing to take care of God’s creation, and Abby said, “You know Dad, when you think about it, EVERY day is Earth Day.” How true, especially for those of us who believe, and love and serve our God-who owns the earth, and calls us to care for it. Paul tells us in Romans that the whole of creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons and daughters of God. The whole of creation has been groaning in travail and waits expectantly for us to rise up, to act and fight for creation. God entrusts this planet to our care. May we be worthy of the trust God has placed in us, not just one day, but every day. Alleluia! Amen.

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