“God Is Green”

A three-part series of green sermons

– contributed by Pastor Aaron Holley, Reynoldsburg United Methodist Church, Reynoldsburg, Ohio

God Is Green
Part 1: “It Was Very Good”

Genesis 1:27-31
Job 38-40

  • Male emperor penguins can survive temperatures of minus 50 degrees celcius and winds up to 160 kmph
  • The Bactrian camels endure 50 degree Celsius summers and minus 40 degree Celsius winters
  • 5 million snowgeese fly more than 5,000 km each year to reach the arctic tundra
  • the pygmy seahorse is only 2cm long
  • Peregrines are the fastest animals in the world. They are believed to achieve speeds approaching 200km/h (124mph) when plunging from the sky after prey.
  • Ostriches do not need to drink – they can make their own water internally and get the rest from vegetation.
  • Hippos are fat, heavy-bodied animals, with short, stumpy legs. They have an enormous head with huge jaws filled with tusk-like canine and incisor teeth. They have a gape of 150 degrees, compared to 45 in humans. And, God gave them webbed toes.
  • Our galaxy has over 250 billion stars and our galaxy is only one of millions
  • There are more stars in the sky then there are grains of sand on earth
  • Every hour one billion cells in the body must be replaced
  • An average woman has 17 square feet of skin. When a women is in her ninth month of pregnancy she has 18.5 square feet of skin.
  • Your thigh bone is stronger than concrete.
  • The average human has approximately 100,000 hairs on their head.

1. God takes pride in His creation!

  • Ever had someone that was proud of you? What do they do? They talk about you.
  • Guess what God talks about the most? His Creation!
  • Trees are listed in scripture 600 times (which by the way, it’s interesting that God talks so much about trees, Jesus worked with trees, and then died on a tree)
  • In Luke 12, His Word says, consider the lilies
  • I Timothy 4:4—everything God created is good…

2. God’s creation brings Him joy!

  • Everything God created was done so for His pleasure.
  • God is a pleasure seeker
  • Rob Bell says, “God’s primary posture for creation is not production, but pleasure; not consumption, but celebration.”

3. The beauty of God’s creation can be seen in the way that it is designed to work together.

  • For the mutual benefit of the whole.
  • In proper relationship and balance.
  • Psalm 104:10-15 (water, ravines, donkeys, birds, grass, harvest, cattle, mankind, etc…)
  • Lifecycle
  • That’s why God said “it was very good”
  • There’s beauty in the harmony of His creation.

How often do we take time to see the beauty of what God says is “very good”?

Speaking of God’s wrath to mankind, Romans 1:25 warns us of the danger of worshiping the creation rather than the Creator.

God Is Green
Part 2: “It’s not easy being green”

  • Kermit the Frog video

Why is it difficult for Christians to embrace being green?

1. We have difficulty seeing past the political stereotypes of environmentalism.

    • Bill Moyers of Moyers on America (PBS) says about christians, “To them, environmentalists are tree-huggers and Earth Day is “a high and holy day for hippies”
    • Richard Cizik, Vice President for Governmental Affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals says, “to be biblically consistent sometimes you have to be politically inconsistent.”
    • Caring about the environment is not a political issue, it’s a spiritual one.
    • I care about the creator, therefore I care about the creation

2. We don’t think it’s our responsibility to worry about the earth.

      • Many Christians have taken the stance that God made the earth and He’ll take care of it. Our job is simply to enjoy it as its master.
      • Many believe that man was given dominion over everything so we have no responsibility to the earth. “We’re the bosses” mentality. We misquote Psalm 8:6—you made him ruler over the works of your hands, you put everything under his feet… (it’s been entrusted to us as servants)
      • Often, I think we forget that we don’t own the earth. Leviticus 25:23 tells us that we’re just “tenants”
      • Genesis 2:15—“You are to work and take care of it. As a steward of the earth…”
      • Work=abad (to dress, to serve, or to cultivate)
      • Take care=shamar (protect, preserve, attend to, or watch over)
      • Same as Genesis 3:23 “to work”

3. We do a poor job at taking a personal Sabbath, let alone being diligent to give the earth one.

        • Deuteronomy 5:13-14—remember the Sabbath
        • Leviticus 25-land sabbath (allow the land to rest) sustainability
        • The word land is from the hebrew word “erets”, which is the same word used in Genesis 1:1 for earth
        • The Hebrew people took this so seriously that on the 50th year, after 7 sabbath years, they partied to celebrate God’s blessings.

4. Our natural reaction as human is to become consumers of everything.

        • We are called to be good stewards of the environment not because of Mother Earth, but because it belongs to Father God.
        • We are called to replenish the earth… (Gen. 1:22-be fruitful and multiply)
        • We do it in churches, we do it in society and we do it to the environment.
        • Stewardship is the key.
        • Being good stewards doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy what the world has to offer, or can’t consume any of it. However, it does require us to be mindful of moderation and preservation.
        • God doesn’t demand that we be vegetarians, or that we can’t hunt. In fact, His word is full of the contrary, however, our primary role is not consumption, but rather preservation.
        • Noah’s Ark: God allowed creatures to perish and destroyed the earth he had created, but asked Noah to help him preserve life.

Simple Truth:

        • God created the world (and it was very good), but he commissioned mankind to take care of it.
          • As the stewards of God’s creation:
            • We are called serve and cultivate what God has made.
            • We are called to attend to, care for and preserve what God has made.

God Is Green
Part 3: “Hybrids”


  • We are going to completely destroy the earth if we don’t go totally green
    • God made the earth and it was very good!
    • Psalm 20:7—some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God
  • The ice caps are going to melt and completely flood the earth
    • Genesis 9—God’s covenant with Noah
  • The ozone layer is going to dissipate and we’re going to be burned up by the sun
    • 2 Peter 3:10-13—The Second Coming of Christ, the destruction of the current earth and the creation of a new one.
    • Revelation 21:1-5—a new heaven and new earth
  • If we don’t quit cutting down the trees, we’re going to run out of oxygen and life on earth will die.
    • I Corinthians 10:26—The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.
  • I have no responsibility in the matter, because God is going to take care of it all for me.
    • Remember last week’s simple truth—God created the world (and it was very good), but he commissioned mankind to take care of it. (Gen. 2:15)

So, what is our responsibility?

  • Joshua 3:9-17—Israel crosses the Red Sea
  • This is 40 years after God had led the children of Israel out of Egypt. It’s been 40 years since this group of Israelites’ parents had watched God part the Red Sea for them. This time, God asked them to do a little more to show their faith.
  • An important part of faith is our willingness to do what we can do.
    • James 2:14-25—faith without works is dead
    • We don’t have to do everything. God is big enough, strong enough and loves His creation enough to keep things running.
    • However, we do have a responsibility to do something that shows we appreciate the earth He has given to us and that shows we are willing to be good stewards of it.
  • God wants us to be people of faith and responsibility.
    • There’s something powerful to be said when we learn to work with God.
    • Faith—knowing that God is going to do His part
    • Responsibility—being willing to do what we can do
  • What would happen if we began to meet God half way?
    • Some may be saying, “I don’t know what I can do”
    • The great thing about meeting God half way is knowing that He’ll be there, when we get there.
    • Joshua 3:10—“This is how you will know that the living God is among you…”
    • Take a listen to some of these statistics…

Rob Bell, a cutting edge pastor at a large emerging church in Michigan recently did a series on the environment. Listen to some of these statistics…


  • If every American’s tires were properly inflated it would save more than 4 million gallons of gas a day
  • If our recycling rate increased from 30%-60% we would save 315 million barrels of oil in a year
  • 1 ton of recycled paper saves:
    • 17 trees
    • 3 cubic yards of landfill space
    • 7k gallons of water
    • 4200 kw hours of energy (enough to heat a home for 6 months)
    • 390 gallons of oil
    • prevents 60 lbs of air pollutants
  • if we all used energystar appliances, it would be the equivalent of taking 3 million cars off the road
  • 25% of an energy bill is phantom power
  • if every household in America switched out one compact fluorescent bulb it would reduce energy consumption as much as taking a million cars off the road

Creation Is Waiting

– contributed by the Rev. W. Stuart Ritter, Broad Street Presbyterian Church, Columbus, Ohio

When people of faith pay attention to the Bible and the Holy Spirit, things happen. We can make a difference in the world. I’ve been saying that in a variety of ways since arriving here in November. I say it because I see so much happening here… and so much potential that remains to be tapped.

Broadstreeters are active, committed and engaged in a great variety of programs and ministries — but we’re still in the process of “becoming” the people (and the church) that God is calling us to be. We’re on a journey that began with Abraham, and it’s up to us to see that it doesn’t end in disappointment.

When people of faith pay attention to the Bible and the Holy Spirit, things happen. This morning, on this 39th annual Earth Day, I’ll try to put some teeth into that claim.

It may seem counterintuitive (or downright irrational) to assert the power of Christian faith when we see how Christianity is being marginalized in American life. Organized religion in general, and Christian Churches in particular, are viewed by many Americans as archaic institutions, hollow vestiges of a bygone era.

Even the Pope knows it. Have you been following his current visit? In New York yesterday, at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the Pope lamented that the church is so often viewed as “legalistic and institutional” — the same words I remember his detractors using to describe Joseph Ratzinger before he was Benedict XVI.

Nonetheless, when people of faith pay attention to the Bible and the Holy Spirit, things happen. Here at Broad Street, we’re steeped in all sorts of traditions and we have more than our share of “sacred cows,” yet there are miracles happening among us:

Conventional wisdom says it’s folly to launch a capital campaign during an interim time; but we’re doing it, and people are starting to respond.

A process dedicated to tightening the budget could be deadly; but there’s as much energy and excitement in our Sustainability Task Force as any group in the church.

More than 60 people participated in our first Leadership Forum two weeks ago with Darrell Guder, and I hope even more of you will join us for the second one next month with Greg Finch.

Viewed from within the church, these are signs of health and strength that don’t suggest anything like a “legalistic, archaic institution.” Things are happening here. But still, that doesn’t guarantee that we’re making a difference in the world. Impacting society and caring for Creation take faith, commitment, determination, and action.

Earth Day gives us an opportunity to assess the church’s role in facing a critical challenge of our time. It prompts us to ask ourselves — as individuals and as a community of faith — what have we done, what are we doing, and what do we need to do, to be responsible stewards of God’s creation?

Paul wrote to the church at Rome, “The creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God.” Was he talking about us? We know we are God’s children, but how are we to be “revealed”? Perhaps we’ll find a clue as we think about our relationship to the natural environment.

What I love about Earth Day is that for nearly 40 years it has brought us — sometimes kicking and screaming — into an uneasy alliance of politics, science and the church. Back in the early 1960s, it was the brainchild of Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin. A national focus on the environment was encouraged by President Kennedy, but the dream of “Earth Day” wasn’t realized until 1970.

That first Earth Day — a “teach-in” on college campuses — inspired Bill Gibson, a Presbyterian Campus Minister, to organize what became the Eco-Justice Task Force, now a program of the National Council of Churches. Bill was just starting his ministry at Cornell when I graduated in 1968, so I didn’t get to know him for another 20 years — but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Dr. Gibson was equally at home in the worlds of religion and academia, and he had the credibility to draw members of both communities into his project. Remarkably, Christian social ethicists and Cornell scientists came together to build the case for responsible environmental stewardship. This unlikely coalition of church and science emerged from a small room at the First Presbyterian Church in Ithaca, New York, boldly speaking truth to power.

Even in those early days, it was clear that the Eco-Justice movement had important implications for international economics. (I don’t think anybody had coined the phrase “global economy” in 1970.)

Recognizing that a single natural disaster could wipe out crops, food supplies and livelihood for thousands of people in remote areas, Gibson and his colleagues understood that abuse of the environment by one society could have disastrous effects on another.

From the beginning, Eco-Justice focused on issues well beyond the just treatment of God’s Creation. Bill Gibson knew that when people of faith pay attention to the Bible and the Holy Spirit, things happen.

In 1990, I had the privilege of serving on the General Assembly committee that reviewed the work of the Eco-Justice Task Force. In a meeting room in Salt Lake City, it was Bill Gibson who helped me confront the broader implications of Paul’s words that we read this morning: “The whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now.”

As politics, science and faith have converged around a growing sense of urgency in addressing environmental justice, it’s gratifying to know that the Presbyterian Church didn’t wait for someone else to take the lead.

For four decades, the movement hatched at one Presbyterian church in upstate New York has been tweaking the collective conscience of humanity. The faithful, dogged persistence of people like Bill Gibson has helped us recognize environmental stewardship as a matter of “social justice.”

When people of faith pay attention to the Bible and the Holy Spirit, things happen. Now we understand that most of the world can’t afford the choices we make every day. The simple truth is: We can’t claim to love our neighbors while trashing the world that sustains them.

If we want to follow Christ’s commandment, we’d better make sure we’re living responsibly. Caring for God’s good Earth reveals to all Creation that we are God’s children. We can’t wait for another generation to change the balance; for “the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God.”

The time is now. It’s no coincidence that the theme of this year’s Earth Day is “The Poverty of Global Climate Change.” That poverty could soon be overwhelming. Creation can wait no longer. The time for responsible choices is now.

A movement is hatching today in this Presbyterian Church, thanks to our Green Committee. They’ve helped launch the Ohio chapter of Interfaith Power and Light — a nationwide effort to raise consciousness and make meaningful changes in our patterns of energy consumption.

And today, the Green Committee is asking each one of us to make a pledge — not a pledge of support, but a pledge of action, to do our part in saving and renewing the Earth.

When people of faith pay attention to the Bible and the Holy Spirit, things happen.

Bill Gibson didn’t live to see “The Poverty of Global Climate Change” proclaimed as the theme of Earth Day. But Al Gore’s film, “An Inconvenient Truth,” was released six weeks before Bill died, and he knew that the movement hatched in a church, supported by scientists and hotly debated by politicians, had begun to make a difference in the world.

Thanks be to God.

Be Responsible: Going Green for God.

– contributed by the Rev. Peter Faass, Christ Episcopal Church, Shaker Heights, Ohio

Gen. 1:1-2:4; Canticle 13; 2 Corinth. 13:11-13; Matt. 28:16-20

Friday’s Business section of The Plain Dealer featured a top of the fold article titled, “Using gas as a sales gimmick: Marketers know giveaways will draw struggling drivers.” A large color photograph accompanied the article and showed the Cavaliers mascot Moondog at a downtown gas station helping with a gasoline giveaway promotion. Actually Moondog wasn’t actually pumping this free gas, which would have been unusual enough in this era of self-service stations. Instead he was washing the front window of the car being gassed up, squeegee in hand, an image equally as unusual mind you, and harking back to the days when an attendant actually came out to your car as you drove up and hit that black rubber hose that caused the bell to ring in the station, notifying the attendant you were there. In those bygone days, they paid real attention to your car at a gas station – gas, oil, windshield wiper fluid, maybe even kicked the tires to check the air, so that your car was ready to hit the road refreshed and renewed.

Let’s hope that Moondog has paid as fine attention to the Cav’s roadworthiness this weekend as the team meets up with the Celtics in Boston tonight as he did to the car in that photo–op!

The writer of the article wrote this; “The event [of giving away $30 of free gas to 150 customers] was an example of what you might call playing the ultimate gas card. Madison Avenue is finding a way to create opportunity out of a crisis.” The crisis of course being the record $4.00 a gallon regular gasoline we are on the verge of paying in this country. The writer continued, “corporations are tapping into the anger consumers feel over paying higher prices to drive . . . people feel it isn’t fair . . . and here comes a company [like Shell or Donoto’s Pizza or Popular Mechanics magazine] that says ‘We’re going to fix it for you and make you feel good about something that makes you feel bad.’”

Fix it! Fix what, I want to know? I mean I think its okay that these 150 folks got some free gas – depending on the size of the car about 2/3’s of a tank full by my estimation. But what really has happened is that their addiction to cheap – or in this case free gas – was perpetuated for but a few more days. . The price of the gas hasn’t changed – it’s still going to be $4.00 when their tanks get empty – and the addiction still remains. There’s been no remedy or amendment of behavior or even a change in perception. Like an alcoholic with the DT’s these drivers received a fix, but nothing was fixed as far as the looming sub-crisis over oil is concerned. And that feel good high is going to end up like all other highs, the morning after just isn’t pretty.

Trust me, the last thing we Americans need right now is further manipulation by Madison Avenue or Wall St. and the corporate world to give us fixes so that we can get temporary feel good highs about our addiction to cheap fuel. What we need is an amendment of life.
I referred to the oil crisis a moment ago as a sub-crisis, because the crisis over oil is but a sub category of a greater crisis facing the world; the crisis of the rapid deterioration and in some cases failing environment. Along with the rising temperatures of global warming, the threat posed by the melting polar caps and rising seas, the depletions of the ozone layer, the dramatic changes in weather patterns and increased intensity and frequency of violent storms, the loss of species, the world shortage of food, the rise of illnesses like cancer and asthma, droughts and the shortage of potable water, the oil crisis is inextricably intertwined with the environment and how we humans treat this fragile earth our island home.
Humanity is in the process of destroying the earth.

And sadly much of the rationale for the ongoing abuse and destruction of the earth finds its genesis in Genesis; in fact in the very story we heard this morning. And it all hinges on the misunderstanding – or manipulation – of one word: dominion commonly understood as domination: the control, power over and subjugation of one entity over some other weaker entity.

“So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over [it].”

To often humankind has seen in these words of God in Genesis the scriptural imperative to use and abuse the earth, her resources and all its creatures wantonly: to dominate it to the point of destruction. In our own time this wanton abuse is more familiarly known as conspicuous consumption, consumerism and materialism, and the lust for wealth and power.

A Lutheran theologian I heard speak recently called the wanton abuse of the environment by humankind through our lust for all these “isms” as the, “I got mine and too bad for you” approach to life. Not much loving your neighbor as yourself in that belief is there?
Instead of gimmicks, deceptions, the feeding of addictions and perpetuating egregious behaviors and biblical interpretations, we need a radical new approach to our way of life. And that begins with a new understanding of what exactly God intended when God gave humanity dominion over the creation.

Eugene Peterson in his recent new translation of the bible called The Message offers us a more accurate meaning of what God’s intention was in turning over the creation to humanity. He writes, “God created human beings; he created them godlike. Reflecting God’s nature. He created them male and female. God blessed them: ‘Prosper! Reproduce! Fill the earth! Take charge! Be responsible for [it].’”

To be responsible for the creation is a huge theological paradigm shift from having domination over it. Being responsible indicates care and nurture. It indicates that one is liable to give an account for one’s actions in the discharge of an action or a trust. In The Message translation humanity is told by God to treat with respect and dignity this fragile earth, and that God will hold us accountable for how we discharge the trust we that we have been given.

So how are we doing with that responsibility?
As the faith community we have an opportunity to turn the environmental crisis into an opportunity for ourselves and others; an opportunity to see the world in which we live with new eyes. In even the worst crises in the scripture, God always offered hope – opportunity – for the people to redeem the situation. Within our current crisis with the environment lies an opportunity to restore seeing the creation as holy, so that we might honor the trust for the creation’s care that we have been given by God.

As individuals it can seem daunting to even begin and try to honor this holy trust. Yet as in all that God holds us accountable for we must try, try in the knowledge that we are sustained and accompanied by God in all those efforts.

Writing in The New York Times a few weeks ago, Michael Pollan wrote an article on the environment titled “Why Bother? Looking for a reason to go green.” Pollan gives what I believe is a wonderful reason, rich in theological sub-text, for bothering to care about the crisis of the environment.

He writes, “[So why should you bother to go green?] If you do bother, you will set an example for other people. If enough other people bother, each one influencing yet another in a chain reaction of behavioral change, markets for all manner of green products and alternative technologies will prosper and expand. (Just look at the market for hybrid cars.) Consciousness will be raised, perhaps even changed: new moral imperatives and new taboos might take root in our culture. Driving an S.U.V. or eating a 24-ounce steak or illuminating your McMansion like an airport runway at night might come to be regarded as outrages to human conscience. Not having things might become cooler than having them. And those who did change the way they live would acquire a moral standing to demand changes in others – from other people, other corporations, even other countries.”

To Pollan’s argument I would add one more reason for we people of faith. Why bother? Because God calls us to be bothered by the destruction of God’s good creation!

There is a hymn called Pass it On that I remember singing in the Methodist Church when I was a youth. The opening lyrics are, “It only takes a spark to get a fire going, And soon all those around can warm up in its glowing; That’s how it is with God’s Love, Once you’ve experienced it, You spread the love to everyone. You want to pass it on.”

That is what you and I are called to do. Ignite sparks of responsible behavior for this earth. To pass on that understanding of goodness which God pronounced on all that God had made at the end of each day of creation. To spread the knowledge of the holiness of creation; passing on the fire of God’s love for the earth and all that is in it and lives on it.

Go! Take charge and be responsible for the incredible precious gift that we have been given. And pass it on.


The Sixth Sunday of Easter: In God, we live, and move, and have our being.

– contributed by the Rev. R. William Carroll, Rector, The Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, Athens, Ohio

In God, brothers and sisters, we live and move and have our being. GOD is the one who “holds our souls in life.” God is the ultimate context, the environment if you will, for all we are and do. Life, love, and being itself are gifts of the divine abundance that overflows to pervade the universe. Today, we are using Eucharistic Prayer D, which addresses God in this way: “Fountain of life and source of all goodness, you made all things and fill them with your blessing; you created them to rejoice in the splendor of your radiance.”

Today is the Sunday after Earth day. It’s also the Sunday closest to the Rogation days, traditional days when the fields were blessed prior to planting. Today, we remember that the living God has filled the earth with blessing, placing us in the midst of a great community of life, a web of interdependent creatures. Francis of Assisi, that great Christian saint and lover of earth, called these creatures our brothers and sisters, because they reflect the goodness of the Father of Jesus. Our opening hymn is based on Francis’s Canticle of the Creatures. In it, he recognizes sun and moon; water and fire; and even death itself as our friends and companions on our earthly pilgrimage. Throughout his ministry, Francis acknowledged our kinship with animals, pets and predators alike, as he sought to live in peace with all living things.

Like God, the environment surrounds us and gives us life. The English word, derived as it is from “environs,” suggests a neighborhood. The Germans have a beautiful word for our environment. They call it the “Umwelt,” literally the world which surrounds us. We depend on this world for all we are and do. Thus, the world is, in a very real sense, like God. The world is a sacrament of God, an effective sign of God’s never failing love for creatures. Or, to cite a common medieval metaphor, the world is a book, like Scripture, which points us back to God. If we listen for God, we discover that every creature sounds its own distinctive note in the harmonious love song of our Creator.

Today, after the sermon, youth and children will help lead us in singing Hymn 385, which was originally written in the Dakota Sioux language. This hymn is based on a portion of the tenth chapter of Jeremiah. It is a prayer of the Dakota people in the midst of violence and dislocation caused by white settlers. In the midst of that violence, the hymn affirms the goodness of creation. It leads us back to the Creator, who gives us life and communion with others.

It’s important to frame our work for environmental justice in terms of God’s abundant goodness in creation. For Christians, work for any kind of justice must never descend into a joyless moralism. As worshipers of the one God of all reality, we seek community with all people, not just those we deem righteous or holy. We live together under the cross, as those who’ve experienced the power of forgiveness to change lives. The gift of community is central to God’s purposes for the planet. This means community with ALL neighbors, human and non-human alike. Our work to restore creation is a grateful response to God’s goodness, traces of which are found throughout creation and in every human being.

That’s not to minimize the ecological crisis, which I believe is nearing apocalyptic dimensions. The desecration of earth, water, and air is made all the more sinful, because these gifts are meant to be instruments of God’s never failing care. But our sense of urgency should never morph into panic or despair. These are just as sinful as the apathy and lust which are devastating the planet.

We can respond to this crisis joyfully, because our hope is in God. In God, we have a covenant partner who forgives us and patiently labors with us to undo the damage we’ve done. We rely on the firm promise of Jesus: “I will not leave you orphaned.” Soon, on the Day of Pentecost, we will experience the Holy Spirit—God’s own love—being poured out on all flesh. This love is meant to bind the universe together in communion. It is meant to empower us to turn our lives around and to draw us ever deeper into the life of Christ.

As our final act of worship today, we will go outside and plant a Bladder-Nut, a tree native to this region. Tom Redfern, who gave us the tree, shared with me a chapter about it from a beautiful book about American trees. I’d like to quote from this book, which was written in the 1930’s:

Of all the little trees that never grow to be big ones, found bordering our mid-west streams and woodlands, the Bladder-Nut is perhaps the handsomest. It grows straight and slender and trim, and in its long-stemmed, compound leaves and drooping pinkish white flower-clusters there is a distinctive gracefulness which adds much charm to the dainty dignity of its slender growth.

The author concludes his account as follows: “If you, perchance, should plant a Bladder-Nut tree in your dooryard, and inquirer might ring your bell some day to ask the name of the strange little tree on your lawn. Such things are known to have occurred. . Try planting one and see what happens.”

I’m quite aware that planting this tree is symbolic. It is not enough. But symbols matter. And I believe this action is a sign of a broader commitment to restoring God’s earth. In every liturgy, we pledge ourselves to a vision of a world not yet fully arrived—that of the Kingdom of God. Here are some other things we have done or plan to do, as signs of this pledge. This summer we are going to insulate the attic above the parish offices and in the Episcopal house. We have begun to look into the possibility of generating all our electricity ourselves with solar panels installed by a local company. Our creation justice ministry is raising awareness of the threat of global warming, and helping those who participate to take large and small steps toward reducing consumption of energy and the production of carbon dioxide. At our diocesan convention last year, we joined with other religious communities in supporting the creation of Ohio Interfaith Power and Light, which will eventually provide renewable energy for our households.

There’s another way in which caring for creation matters. Greening the Church is crucial to the credibility of our Christian witness today. You’ll recall from the first reading that Paul told the Athenians that they were religious in every way, because he saw an altar inscribed to “an unknown God.” I believe that, in this city of Athens, and around the world, people, especially youth and college students have a deep hunger for a more just, sustainable world. Without necessarily having an explicit faith in God, they are coming to a religious sensibility about the earth and our place within it. Caring for the earth is a religious act, done out of reverence for the divine goodness which pervades creation and fills all things with life. It is one of many ways God calls us to be reconciled with our neighbors. Implicitly or explicitly, it involves an act of trust in God, especially now, when the future is so uncertain.

Paul continued his sermon by proclaiming the God who made the world and everything in it, who gives life and breath to all things. And he went on to proclaim Jesus and the resurrection. In God, indeed, we live and move and have our being. May God’s love for the earth fill us with compassion for all God’s creatures. And may Christ’s victory over sin and death move us, always, to action.

Holy Dirt

– contributed by the Rev. Sydney V. (Skip) Jackson, Indianola Presbyterian Church, Columbus, Ohio

Texts: Psalm 19; Matthew 6:25-34

The heavens are telling the glory of God… — Psalm 19:1a

Look to the birds of the air… consider the lilies… — Matthew 6:26, 28

Wendell Berry is one of my favorite poets. In his poem, “The Peace of Wild Things,” he writes:

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 to 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.

Do you have such a place where you can go in stress-filled times? Or if you can’t go there physically then perhaps you go there in memory—a special place to “rest in the grace of the world” and, at least temporarily, to be free. I once asked the elders at a session meeting to share about such places in their lives. Mine is a place I haven’t been to in more than 20 years. It’s in the Jemez Mountains of Northern New Mexico, a high mountain meadow above 10,000 feet on the shoulder of Tschicoma Mountain, a sacred peak of the Pueblo people. The place is called Ciénega del Oso—“ciénega” for the marshy area at the base of the steep meadow and “del Oso” because, I imagine, it’s a place bears have been spotted. For me, it’s a sacred place of beauty and tranquility, a place of wholeness.

It is not uncommon for people to find God in such wild places, for they put us in touch with the earth. They remind us that we are earthlings—creatures of dirt and to dirt we will return. In such reminding we are given back our lives as God’s creations, beings molded by the hand of God. In telling his friends not to worry, Jesus points to the birds and to the lilies, not out of some sentimental view of “nature,” but because these creatures unselfconsciously take part in the life of God that is flowing forth through all creation. “The world is charged with the grandeur of God,” writes the poet, Gerard Manly Hopkins. John Buchanan, past senior pastor at Broad Street Presbyterian and now senior pastor at Fourth Presbyterian in Chicago tells of lying on his back looking up through the spreading branches of a tree and being stunned by the sight of leaves and branches and sky. He recalls some lines from the title poem of Wendell Berry’s A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems:

Great trees, outspreading and upright,
apostles of the living light.
Patient as stars, they hold in air
tier after tier a timbered choir,
stout beams upholding weightless grace
of song, a blessing on this place.

Some 3000 years ago, a gifted poet wrote, “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims God’s handiwork.” Creation, in all its deep, scientific mystery, in all its fearful wonder and majesty, in all its awesome power and beauty, reveals to us something of the nature of its creator. In creation we encounter and are encountered by God.

The poet or poets of the Psalms knew this. In Psalm 104, which we read last week in worship, God is the creator who stretches out the heavens… sets the earth on its foundations… makes springs gush forth for drinking and grass to grow for pasture… brings forth from the earth trees and mountains, the birds of the air, and wild animals… and provides food for people and wine to gladden the human heart. Throughout Genesis 1, God’s creation is proclaimed as good, and it is holy, for it contains within itself the essence of God’s loving, creative will. In Psalm 24 the poet sings, “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world and all those who live in it.” It is not ours. We are not even ours. All things (and we) belong to God. We are guests, caretakers, gardeners of the holy soil. What power we have over the world—and we do like that scriptural word “dominion”—is to be the power of the One who has true dominion, power to be used creatively to invite and evoke, to nurture and sustain, to restore and replenish. As Wendell Berry has said, “We are holy creatures living among other holy creatures in a world that is holy.”1

Berry uses the term “holy earth” when he writes at length about his concern about what is happening to the earth and the air and the water, especially at the hands of agribusinesses and industry. I want to translate that as “holy dirt”—getting it from the story in Exodus where Moses is told at the burning bush to remove his shoes for he is standing on holy ground. The Hebrew word here for ground is adamah, the very same word that is used in Genesis 2 when God takes the “dust of the ground” (the adamah) and forms the first human being (the adam, which is not actually a name Adam but a title, like the “dirt-being” or “earthling”). God breathes the breath of life into the adam made from the adamah. Literally, we are dirt that breathes—holy ground, holy dirt, holy us. From dirt we come, and to dirt we return. It’s all connected. And it’s all holy. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

“Holy dirt” also connects me back to Northern New Mexico. Use Google’s image search on “holy dirt” and you’ll find pictures of the adobe church shown on our bulletin cover—the Church of Our Lord of Esquipulas, commonly called the Santuario de Chimayo. It’s about 60 miles due east of La Cienega del Oso. You’ll also find pictures of a hole in the packed dirt floor of the church sanctuary containing holy dirt that is claimed to cause miraculous healings. Legend has it that the hole never empties of dirt. The faithful come and take it away in vials and film canisters, but every morning the hole replenishes itself. Far be it from me to claim the legend to be untrue, for in God’s eyes all dirt is holy dirt.

We modern human beings have lost much of our sense of connection with the earth. We have insulated ourselves from the effects of nature by technology, modern conveniences, global economics. Jesus knew he was living in a holy world, and when he wanted his followers to stop being so anxious about their lives (a bit of advice certainly relevant to any of us who spend time worrying so much about our lives) he pointed to the world of creation—the birds of the air, the lilies of the field. For us most lilies are greenhouse grown, and we buy frozen parts of chickens that have never seen the sky. Environmental activist and prophet Bill McKibben quips that when he goes to the supermarket and sees the vehicles in the parking lot, he can only conclude that the shoppers have driven through jungles, forded flooded streams, and climbed, steep rocky ridges to get there.2 Now those same drivers of huge SUVs find themselves worried sick by $4 per gallon gasoline.

Our connection with the earth is all too apparent in the adverse effects our actions have had and are having on the environment. I don’t need to go into all the statistics. We hear them every day. For decades, environmentalists have struggled to be taken seriously, and they are still muzzled at times by politics or derailed by economics. But we Americans, while making up only 4% of the world’s population consume one-quarter of its energy and produce one-quarter of its greenhouse gases. And as Bill McKibben says, “There is no more AWAY.” Remember when we thought we could throw things away. Well, “AWAY” is gone. Everything we discard as waste shows up somewhere, goes to someone else. Mercury goes up smoke stacks in coal-fired power plants and ends up in fish in the Scioto River. People flush a few leftover pills down the toilet, and we find antibiotics and tens of other drugs in drinking water. Breast milk is contaminated. Several times a year, just breathing the air is hazardous to your health.

It’s past time for people of faith to pay attention. Care of the earth is a moral issue, perhaps the most vital moral issue of our time. For too long much of so-called orthodox Christian theology has set us apart from the world. Since Augustine in the 4th-Century, we have been taught that people are born in original sin and that creation itself is fallen, the arena of human sin. Therefore neither people nor nature can be holy. Hence, we must be delivered from this world with all its temptations, delivered out of our bodies for that matter, into the realm of the spirit. We cannot be comfortable in the world, in nature, in our own humanness.

There is much of value in Augustine’s thought concerning the nature of human sin. But there are also long-standing traditions in the church that affirm the inherent goodness of creation and people, human goodness coming (at least potentially) from the image of God present in every newborn child. In recent times, Matthew Fox has written of “original blessing.” But the tradition goes back through Celtic Christianity that existed alongside the Church of Rome.

Celtic Christianity emphasizes the sacredness of nature and the intimate presence of God in all of daily life. Celtic crosses like the one we have on our communion table employ an interlacing tracery that symbolizes, not the fallen-ness of nature and humanity, but rather the interweaving of heaven and earth. Pelagius, a 4th-Century Celtic theologian who disputed with Augustine, proclaimed, “The face of God is in the face of every newborn infant.” This strand of thought continues through Bernard of Clairvaux and Julian of Norwich to St. Francis of Assisi, who wrote love poems to creation and the God of creation. We have one in our hymnal, “All Creatures of Our God and King,” which sings as well of the rushing wind and the clouds, the flowing water and the bright fire, the fertile earth and the growing flowers and fruits—let all of them God’s glory show! Alleluia!

In the late 1800s, Scottish scholar Alexander Carmichael collected Celtic songs and prayers from the remote islands off the west coast of Scotland. His Carmina Gadelica is filled with prayers celebrating the holy in all aspects of human life—from kindling a fire to milking a cow; from herding animals to sowing a field and weaving on a loom; prayers for hunting, reaping, waking, sleeping; for rising up, loving, birthing, and dying. Holy ground, holy dirt, holy us. The songs and prayers of the Iona Community today preserve and nurture this Celtic spirit.

As Christians, we need to reconnect with the earth. Jesus looked around, and everywhere he looked he saw the realm of God. When he wanted to convince his friends that God could be trusted with their very lives, he pointed to the world, saying, “Do not worry about your life… Look to the birds of the air… consider the lilies of the field…” In this way he assures them of God’s loving kindness. They can trust God with their living and with their dying.

Holy creation is their home. It is our home, everyone’s home. The holy dirt is our ground of being. We ourselves are holy dirt breathing the divine breath of life, and God’s realm is here among us, within us. So we need to do all we can—in faith, in life, in politics, in business—to love the earth, to honor it, to manage and protect it, so we may hand it on as home for our children and our children’s children’s children. We cannot escape our connections with the earth. As Wendell Berry warns, “To live we must daily break the body and shed the blood of creation. When we do this knowingly, lovingly, skillfully and reverently it is a sacrament. [But] when we do it ignorantly, greedily, and destructively, it is desecration. In such desecration we condemn ourselves to spiritual and moral loneliness and [condemn] others to [poverty] and want.”3 I’ll close with a Celtic prayer adapted from the worship of Iona Community. Please pray with me:

O God, you are above me, you are beneath.
You are in the air, you are in the earth.
You are beside me, you are within.
O God of heaven, you have made your home on earth
in the broken body of creation…
I am on your path, O God, you are on my way.
In the twistings of the road and in the currents of the river,
be with me by day, be with me by night.
Kindle within me a love for you in all things. Amen.4


1 In “Christianity and the Survival of Creation,” Earth and Word, ed. by David Rhoads (Continuum, 2007, p. 52).

2 “The Comforting Whirllwind: God and the Environmental Crisis,” sermon delivered in Carlisle, MA, 3/18/2001.

3 Wendell Berry, The Gift of Good Land (North Point Press, 1983, p. 272ff.).

4 Adapted from Celtic Prayers from Iona, by J. Philip Newell (Paulist Press, 1997, pp. 28 & 44).

The Light of the World

– contributed by the Rev. Sydney V. (Skip) Jackson, Indianola Presbyterian Church, Columbus, Ohio

[A kind of “Lessons & Carols” for Epiphany.]

Texts: Gn. 1:1-4; Ps. 139:11-12; Jn. 1:1-5; Jn. 8:12; Mt. 5:14-15; Is. 42:5-7

Jesus spoke to them saying, “I am the light of the world.” – John 8:12

Jesus said, “You are the light of the world.” – Matthew 5:14

I have given you as… a light to the nations… – Isaiah 42:6b

Each summer when my son Nathan was 6, 7, and 8 years old, he and I went to “Dad and Me” Camp-a camping program in Cascades Presbytery in Oregon for Dad’s and their young children-daughters or sons. The “me’s” got to experience camp before they were old enough to go all by themselves. And the dads had a special time with their kids for three days and two nights at camp. Nathan and I had gone twice when, as often happens in the church, the Presbytery asked me to lead the camp “since I knew what was going on.” I said, “OK,” and after lots of thought, I decided that the camp theme would be “You Are the Light of the World.” As much as possible I planned crafts and activities that played with images of light and darkness—like making translucent nametags from heat shrink plastic. Light is a particularly suggestive root image throughout scripture-beginning right off “in the beginning…” when God’s first action is the creation of light.

Genesis 1:1-4 In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was formless and void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good.

Light figures in many of the creation stories from different cultures around the world. Even the modern creation story that scientists call the “Big Bang” includes light as an integral part of the initial moments of creation. In a sense, all matter is a kind of frozen form of light, the equivalence given by Einstein’s famous formula, E=mC2. When I was a student at M.I.T., a favorite T-shirt sported by physics students began, “God said…” Nathan got this one for himself this past fall. “God said…” and then come Maxwell’s four equations electromagnetic radiation (aka “light”), and then the concluding line, “…and there was light.”

According to Genesis 1, God looked on this initial creation and proclaimed it good. God proclaims all succeeding acts of creation good as well. We forget this universal goodness at our peril, as we go through life attaching labels to all kinds of people, places, and things-proclaiming them to be good or bad, useful or useless, godly or ungodly. In God’s eyes, every thing, every place, every person is created good and is loved by God with a love that will not give up or let go. This is true for you… me… everybody!

Let us pause here to sing verse 4 of #267, “All Things Bright and Beautiful.”

I love pondering the image of light shining in the darkness as a symbol of God’s grace. So I am deeply saddened by the ways this metaphor is misused to divide and exclude certain people. We remember on this Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday weekend how, all to often, our world equates darkness with evil and light with good, and so comes to devalue the lives of people of color. We might contemplate how “white” light, when passed through a prism, reveals itself to include a full rainbow of colors. Or we might reflect on God’s presence within darkness. In Psalm 139, the singer cries out about trying to get away, to escape from God’s presence, to go somewhere out of God’s sight, beyond the reach of God’s hand. Two verses in particular speak of darkness and light-

Psalm 139:11-12 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,” even the darkness is not dark to you [Lord]; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.

Darkness is as light to God. The singer meets God within the darkness.

Let us sing verses 1 & 5 of Brian Wren’s hymn, “Joyful Is the Dark.”

Darkness is a very strange thing-actually it’s not really a thing at all. God created light, and darkness too, but only as an absence of light. Oh, we may speak of darkness hiding us, or pressing in upon us, or of being afraid of the dark. But darkness is like dryness or hunger. What is real is the food that satisfies hunger, the water that fills a bucket, the light that shines. Darkness is like the answer to an old riddle. What is greater than God, more evil than Satan, the rich lack it, the poor have lots of it, and if you eat it you’ll die? (The answer: nothing.)

Darkness is a kind of nothingness that is powerless against light. Many of you have seen my “box of darkness.” before. This box here is filled with darkness, yet it’s empty. There’s nothing in it. If I open it, does darkness pour out to stain the air or the floor? Of course not. The room doesn’t even get any dimmer. The light fills the box. Open a curtain at night. . Does darkness pour into the room? No! Light floods out, a beacon in the darkness. The Gospel of John opens with a powerful statement of this image of light shining in the darkness.

John 1:1-5 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

In John, the gift of life is directly connected to light-“and the life was the light to all people.” Right away the light is identified with Jesus, who is described a few verses later as “the true light, which enlightens everyone” [John 1:9]. When I left my career in science to go to seminary eleven years ago, this metaphorical equivalence of light with Jesus proved most helpful as I began wrestling with theological ideas that just didn’t seem to make sense. There’s the doctrine that Jesus both fully human and fully God, which seems awfully contradictory. Yet light is also highly contradictory-being at one and the same time both a particle and a wave. It turns out that what you observe depends on what you’re looking for. Do an experiment to observe light as a particle, and that’s what you see. Look for wave-like behavior, and voilá, there it is. It all seems very strange, but it’s true. I found in theology classes that the same applies to Jesus. What you find, divinity or humanity, depends on what you look for. One point of disagreement between conservative and liberal theology is that conservatives tend to go looking for Jesus’ divinity and liberals for his humanity. What is important to remember is that both are present at one and the same time. Jesus remains our Lord and our light.

Let us sing a couple of Taizé choruses, “The Lord Is My Light.”

John 8:12 Jesus spoke to [the crowds] saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.

This statement reverberates with both divinity and humanity. The “I AM” in this declaration is the holy name of God revealed to Moses at the burning bush. Moses wanted to know what he should say when the people asked him the name of this God who was to free them all from Egypt. “Tell them I AM has sent you,” answered God. Yet the divine “I AM” is also Jesus speaking as a human teacher to the crowds and to the Pharisees about the light of life that reveals the common humanity we share with all of God’s children everywhere. This human connection is important. In one of my favorite stories, a Rabbi who asks his students, “How can we know when the night has ended and the day begun?” His eager students offer answers: when you can tell your sheep dog from the sheep, when you can tell a fig tree from a palm, when you can see the lines on the palm of your hand. “Good answers all,” says the Rabbi, But I say that when you look into the eyes of a human being and see a sister or brother you know morning has broken. If you cannot see a sister or brother you will know that it will always be night.”

Let us sing #411, “Arise, Your Light Is Come.”

Given Jesus’ claim that he himself is the light of the world, how remarkable to find Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount saying to the crowds-

Matthew 5:14-15 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under a bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

This amazing statement-Jesus, the light of the world, saying that we are the light of the world as well-gave me my theme for the “Dad & Me” Camp. Letting your light shine before others is not just so they may see your good works. That’s especially true late at night after campfire when 20 dads and their kids must make their way back to the lodge in the dark. It doesn’t matter who has the flashlights. Letting your light shine before others is a practical matter of some importance.

As part of the camp program, I’d written a skit for the kids about a blind man whose friends lead him to Jesus to be healed. At the closing worship, I reminded everyone of the skit and then had the dads and me’s play out part of that story. First we dads blindfolded our kids. Then each dad guided his daughter or son out to a spot of his choosing. There the dad removed the blindfold to show the child something special or important-whatever the dad wanted his child especially to see. Then when everyone had returned to the worship area, the tables were turned, and the kids blindfolded their dads. For even the youngest of children are also the light of the world and have special things to show to us dads.

Let us sing together “This Little Light of Mine, I’m Gonna Let It Shine.”

Isaiah 42:5-7 Thus says God, the Lord who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it: I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison of those who sit in darkness.

Being a camp dean made me really aware of how important it is to do things-with the emphasis on do. It’s all well and good for you all to sit out there and listen to me go on and on about being the light of the world. But we really ought to be doing something. Since blindfolding everyone and leading you around seems a bit impractical, we’ll do something else instead.

When I titled my sermon, “The Light of the World,” I immediately thought of the various satellite images of the earth at night. But what I hadn’t realized until I located the photo for our bulletin cover on the International Dark-Sky Association web-site was that what they show is light pollution-wasted energy lighting up the sky and shining out into space. It’s amazing how much energy we squander, both outdoors and indoors.

It’s time to open up the brown paper sack you received coming into worship. [Each person received a sack from an usher. Each sack is stapled shut with a note: “Do not open until directed during the sermon. Handle with care. While sacks are being opened, I turn my bulb on.] What you have is a 13-Watt compact fluorescent light having the same light output as a standard 60-Watt incandescent light bulb. Our Presbyterian peacemaking covenant includes a commitment for the care and restoration of creation. So if we are going to be a light to the nations and let our little light shine, we should do so with real concern for the environment. What I want you to do is take your light and use it to replace a 60-Watt bulb, preferably one you use frequently (but not one on a dimmer or in a location that can get wet). Each time you turn your light on will then become a spiritual exercise. Remember that you are the light of the world—AND consider what you are accomplishing.

The standard incandescent light bulb is 125-year-old technology and is an energy hog in the home. In the church we have replaced most of the standard light bulbs. Here in the sanctuary all of the chandeliers and the lights under the side balconies are fluorescent, reducing our power consumption by nearly 15,000 Watts in this room alone. We no longer can heat the sanctuary with the lights like we did during revitalization when the furnace was being replaced. Your light, which cost less than $1.50, will outlast 8-10 standard light bulbs and use less than one-quarter the energy. Over its life, your bulb will save about 400 kWh—more than $40 at the present cost of electricity in Columbus—reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 400+ pounds and lessen, if only a bit, the environmental devastation of coal mining here in Ohio. It will also save energy used for air conditioning in the summer.

Recently Wal-Mart embarked on a campaign to sell over 100 million of these bulbs this year (the light bulb manufacturers aren’t especially happy). One hundred million is a lot. Just the 125 lights you’ve received here will replace more than 1000 standard light bulbs, save 50,000 kWh (enough to power 5-6 homes for a year), save over $5000, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 tons. So take your $40 in savings and buy more light bulbs and save even more energy and dollars… then contribute some of your savings to a food bank… even drop some in the offering plate. It’s all good stewardship.

The “One who is the light of the world” tells each of us that we are to be the light of the world as well. So take your little light, each of you, and let it shine. Each light is important, but hear also the message of the hymn we’re about to sing.

Many are the light beams from the one light. Our one light is Jesus.
Many are the light beams from the one light; we are one in Christ.

Let us now stand and sing verses 1, 3 & 5 of “Many Are the Lightbeams.”

As you sing, glance around you and see in each and every person a sister or brother in Christ-and know that, indeed, “morning has broken.” Amen and amen.

Holy Ground

– contributed by the Rev. Susan Warrener Smith, Indianola Presbyterian Church, Columbus, Ohio

Psalm 104

It’s hard not to resonate with this hymn of glory to God – God who set the earth on its foundations, in whose Wisdom all was made, and whose spirit is the breath of life. We all, I am sure, have had moments when we have been transfixed by God’s creation – stars in the night sky . . . spewing geysers and bubbling mudpots in Yellowstone National Park . . . the rock cliffs and woods of the Hocking Hills . . . the green cornfields of our farmland . . . the transformation of the world by newly fallen snow . . . the dogwoods and cherry blossoms that are bursting forth now in this springtime.

We must be cautious, however, about becoming too romantic about this matter. You may recall my telling the story of the time my husband and my daughter, Emily, and I were driving back to Columbus from Cincinnati on a summer evening. As we traveled north on 71, we could discern in the far distance dark, threatening thunder clouds, and the horizon was ablaze with lightning. We drove for quite a long time with no rain but constant lightning in the distance. Then about fifteen minutes south of London the rain began. It rapidly was pouring to the point where it was almost impossible to see. My husband calls it monsooning. We stopped awhile under an overpass, but the vigor of the storm made that feel like little protection. We ventured forth again and after debating about getting off the road completely, we took the exit at London. We turned into the first gas station we could find and sat. It poured! I cannot over-exaggerate the amount of water that fell from the skies that night. But more awesome and frightening was the unabated lightning. And I remember Emily exclaiming with youthful passion how people always think they can control nature, and we need nights like this one to remind us of our hubris and who really is in charge.
I suspect this is small comfort to anyone who has lost everything they own to a tornado, whose loved one has been buried in the rubble of an earthquake, or whose home has been washed out to sea by a tsunami. No, I would not want to become too romantic about nature. Understanding God as the One who creates, God as the One who redeems, and God as the One who imbues all creation with the Spirit of life is complicated business and does not settle for easy answers.

In her book, The Sacred Depths of Nature, biologist Ursula Goodenough says that after taking physics in college, she experienced acute panic on a camping trip. Lying underneath the night sky, she realized that even though there are some 100 billion galaxies in the universe, each containing about 100 billion stars, the only stars she could see were part of just one single galaxy . . . and furthermore, as she says, “each star is dying, exploding, accreting, exploding again, splitting atoms and fusing nuclei under enormous temperatures and pressures” . . . and perhaps most frightening of all was to think that “our Sun too will die, frying the Earth to a crisp during its heat-death, spewing its bits and pieces out into the frigid nothingness of curved spacetime.” And she wept into her pillow.

In time, however, Goodenough has come to understand that we “can deflect the apparent pointlessness of it all by realizing that [we] don’t have to seek a point.” She says, “Instead, I can see it as the locus of Mystery. The Mystery of why there is anything at all, rather than nothing. The Mystery of where the laws of physics came from. The Mystery of why the universe seems so strange.” Now she says, “I can lie on my back under the stars and the unseen galaxies, and I let their enormity wash over me. I assimilate the vastness of the distances, the impermanence, the fact of it all . . . Mystery generates wonder, and wonder generates awe.” Indeed understanding God as the One who creates, God as the One who redeems, and God as the One who imbues all creation with the Spirit of life is complicated and mysterious business.

The Mystery of it all may momentarily leave us awestruck, but it is surprisingly easy to forget. Emily’s exclamation that we all need reminding about who is the one in control is not to be completely discarded. Significant strides have been taken since I read – horror-stricken some 35 years ago – Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and learned about the consequences of indiscriminate dumping of DDT into our air and soil. But it is with ongoing frustration that the world continues to bicker over things like the Kyoto Protocol where the objective is to reduce greenhouse gases worldwide. 175 countries have ratified the protocol, but the United States is not one of those apparently because some other major producers of greenhouse gases like China have been exempted. Our government also says it will not ratify the treaty because of the strain it would put on our economy. In my household we always say the second reason is the real reason.

You probably have seen Al Gore’s film “An Inconvenient Truth.” Maybe you were fortunate enough to hear him speak on the subject here at OSU just last week. There have been other movies like “Erin Brockovitch” and “A Civil Action,” both exposing W.R. Grace Co. which wantonly has poured toxic waste and other pollutants into the ground with concern only for the economic return and no concern for the short and long-term consequences of such selfishness. As philosopher Norman Wirzba says, “We’d rather have a world of our own making and within our own control than acknowledge God’s ownership and control of creation. What we have not made we simply take and claim . . . We ignore the divine injunction . . . to take care of the earth and its creatures.” The Mystery of it all is surprisingly, let me say distressingly, easy to ignore or forget.

Long ago a psalmist stood in awe of the creation God made where waters stand above mountains and run down to the valleys . . . springs gush forth and flow between the hills, giving drink to living creatures . . . . birds sing and make their habitation in the branches by the streams . . . grass grows for the cattle . . . plants for the people . . . mountains for the wild goats . . . And the psalmist gives glory to God in whose wisdom all was made and in whose Spirit is found the breath of life.

At times we stand in awe of the extraordinary beauty of the universe. During an Apollo mission, astronaut Rusty Schweikert had a truly out of the ordinary glimpse of the beauty of all creation when he emerged from the space capsule on an umbilical cord. Apparently something went wrong with Mission Control in Houston, and so for a time Schweikert just floated silently around the Earth which he described as “a shining gem” which he wanted “to hug and kiss like a mother does her firstborn child.”

But as Vigen Guroian says in his charming book Inheriting Paradise, “The Christian knows . . . there are no easy strolls [through nature] with God.” Just tending a simple garden reminds us of this. The enjoyment of getting our hands into the soil and watching little seeds sprout “comes not without the toilsome struggle of raking and sowing and pulling up the weeds.” God as our creator, redeemer, and sustainer in the Holy Spirit and God as creator, redeemer, and sustainer in the Holy Spirit of all is an awesome, mysterious, and complicated business.

May the beauty of the universe stir us to praise God. May we surrender in amazement to the enormity of the Mystery we cannot explain and let it was over us. And may we strive with every fiber of our beings, until there is sweat on our brows, to honor God’s life-giving Spirit which moves with great power and mystery through all the avenues of our lives. And may we be ready to engage the joureny on which we have been sent, remembering that the road down which we are sent may not be an easy one – in fact, probably will not be an easy one – but also remembering that we are not sent alone. Rather we are sent by the One who not only creates and redeems but who fills us and sustains with the blessing of the Spirit.


– contributed by the Rev. Kathy Moody-Arndt, Lakeview United Methodist Church, Barberton, Ohio

Genesis 1:1-2:2a

I love this time of year. It is so amazing to watch all the changes going on in nature. It is awesome to see how plants and trees and birds just know what to do. All the different activities of nature seem to be part of a plan we can just barely fathom. Yet for all our scientific knowledge, the more we learn the more we discover how much more there is for us to explore.

While we’re busy arguing about how quickly the world was created and how it all came about, nature just keeps moving forward and responding to all the influences of a changing world.

Our knowledge of the universe has obviously grown and matured since Bible times yet we struggle to explain why things happen the way they do. We debate about how our human activities affect what we see happening in nature. We argue about how to provide for immediate human needs verses the long-term effects of our actions. Too often we see nature just as something that is there to satisfy our human desires rather than a gift from God. We see having certain things as our right. We expect life to give us a car, home conveniences and easy access to places of relaxation. As Americans we criticize developing countries like China and India for wanting what we have. Yet we are unwilling to take the lead in defining new standards for how nations use energy or natural resources.

Our passage today is very familiar to most of us. One of the things it does is to remind us that God existed when there was nothing. Then after creating the world, this same God looked and declared that it was Good. All God asked was that we care for the earth and all living things.

Many of our debates about the meaning of this creation account come because we want to focus on our scientific questions. We argue about the order in which things were created. We debate how long it took. We wonder about what it all means. But often our debates miss the purpose of this description. It was written not to make a scientific point but to respond to some very immediate concerns. Many scholars believe that this account at least in its present form, took shape during the time that the people of Judah were in exile in Babylon. In response to their captors who insisted that their rulers held all the power, these exiles told a story about their God; a God from whom all things came to be and a God who continued to be active in their lives. This was not a human god but one who was present before all time.

Today as we seek to understand God’s role in our lives, I think this passage points us towards a new awareness of our responsibilities towards creation and how we care for the earth. We are gradually realizing that when God entrusted us to have dominion over creation, it wasn’t a license to abuse the earth. It was instead about compassionate, responsible care for every living thing. It was about seeing creation as a gift rather than something to possess.

The industrial revolution in many ways was an attempt to place humans into the position of being the masters of the universe. We saw the amazing things we could invent and how these inventions opened up opportunities for advancement in wealth and convenience. We began to develop a sense of confidence and pride in all our human achievements. We thought “Anything is possible if we just try hard enough.”

We are now in a time when we are beginning to experience the limits of what is possible. Our dependency on oil makes us very mobile but also pollutes the air and makes us vulnerable to oil-rich countries. Our desire for our own space is making farm land less available and is filling our streams with chemicals and industrial waste that kills off fish and other living things. Our craving for more and more material things, is creating landfills that are costly and overflowing.

In the midst of our materialistic desires, there are more and more people left to live in slums with little hope that things will get better. In our country the inner cities are usually the places closest to polluting industries and poisonous waste. Developing nations often see their natural resources taken away from them with little benefit to their livelihood. cloud server . Changes in weather patterns and ravages of disease and corruption affect the well being of the desperate poor much more directly than the rich wherever they may live.

In our own state of Ohio we face our own difficult issues. One of them comes from our heavy reliance on coal which makes us a top polluter in the US. We also lag behind the national average of producing 10% of our electricity from renewable sources such as wind, solar and low-impact hydroelectric. We resist making the necessary changes fearing that improvements will hurt us economically. But in most cases developing alternative sources of energy would not only make it possible to take better care of the environment, but would also produce new jobs and make this a healthier place to live. Much of what is needed is an attitude adjustment so that we can actively look for improvements that could produce opportunities for economic development as well as the advancing of God’s creation.

One place where Ohio is already doing this regards the Cuyahoga River. In 1969 when the river caught fire in Cleveland because of oil-soaked debris, our area became nationally known for our polluted river. This was a little unfair because similar things were happening in many industrial cities. At the time it was common practice for industrial plants to dump their by-products into nearby rivers.

Today, although not all parts of the river are safe for swimming and fishing, there has been tremendous progress made. Much of the success has been possible because of the way our local communities have worked together. They have made it a priority to see that something is done. In the process we have discovered that local industries can continue and nature will return to areas once the conditions are conducive to growth.

As individuals we may listen to all this talk about the environment and think “Why change, what I do won’t affect these larger issues.” But our life styles are the main thing we can control. If we are created in the image of God, then we have a responsibility to treat God’s world as precious. We can’t force someone else to change. But with God’s help, we can certainly revise our attitudes and begin to look for opportunities to bless the earth rather than degrade it.

In your bulletin is a commitment card. It goes through the seven days of creation described in Genesis. I’d like us to take a few moments together and go through this list. As you move through the days, I will suggests a couple ideas and I encourage you to commit yourself to more intentionally caring for God’s creation.*


Move through the days of creation and consider how you can care for God’s creation in new ways.

I will commit to caring for my use of light and energy by_____________
I will commit to caring for and conserving the waters of earth by_____________
I will commit to caring for and enjoying earth’s plants by_____________
I will commit to caring for the air and the earth’s atmosphere by_____________
I will commit to caring for the fish in the sea and the birds in the air by_____________
I will commit to caring for the animals by_____________
I will commit to observing a Sabbath rest for myself and the earth by_____________

Let us pray.

Awesome God,
You have given us this earth of joy and promise as well as challenge. We commit ourselves today to doing all that we can for the good of creation. Amen.

*The Creation Care Commitment Card came from Seasons of the Spirit Congregational Life which is a resource for both worship and Christian education.