For the Beauty (An Earth Day Sermon on Psalm 104:1-6 & 10-24)

A sermon given at Colonial Church with Bob Dahm for Earth Day on April 18, 2021. You can listen to the sermon below or you can watch the Alternative or Traditional service on YouTube.

Psalm 104

God the Creator and Provider

1 Bless the Lord, O my soul.

    O Lord my God, you are very great.

You are clothed with honor and majesty,

2 wrapped in light as with a garment.

You stretch out the heavens like a tent,

3 you set the beams of your chambers on the waters,

you make the clouds your chariot,

    you ride on the wings of the wind,

4 you make the winds your messengers,

    fire and flame your ministers.

5 You set the earth on its foundations,

    so that it shall never be shaken.

6 You cover it with the deep as with a garment;

    the waters stood above the mountains.

10 You make springs gush forth in the valleys;

    they flow between the hills,

11 giving drink to every wild animal;

    the wild asses quench their thirst.

12 By the streams the birds of the air have their habitation;

    they sing among the branches.

13 From your lofty abode you water the mountains;

    the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work.

14 You cause the grass to grow for the cattle,

    and plants for people to use,

to bring forth food from the earth,

15 and wine to gladden the human heart,

oil to make the face shine,

  and bread to strengthen the human heart.

16 The trees of the Lord are watered abundantly,

    the cedars of Lebanon that he planted.

17 In them the birds build their nests;

    the stork has its home in the fir trees.

18 The high mountains are for the wild goats;

    the rocks are a refuge for the coneys.

19 You have made the moon to mark the seasons;

    the sun knows its time for setting.

20 You make darkness, and it is night,

    when all the animals of the forest come creeping out.

21 The young lions roar for their prey,

    seeking their food from God.

22 When the sun rises, they withdraw

    and lie down in their dens.

23 People go out to their work

    and to their labor until the evening.

24 O Lord, how manifold are your works!

    In wisdom you have made them all;

    the earth is full of your creatures.


Sara: Thanks be to God! This morning, as we consider and sit with this scripture and the invitation to all of us, will you begin in prayer with me, please? 
     

God, on this day we join with the Psalmist of old, with our hearts proclaiming: “for the beauty of your earth, for the wonder of each hour, for the joy of ear and eye and heart and mind, and the joy of human love, and for thyself best gift divine, who to the world was so freely given, for that great, great love of thy in peace on earth and joy in heaven.” Indeed, Lord of all, to you, we raise, this our hymn and our lives of grateful praise. 

Amen.


Part I: The Connection between Faith & Creation

Sara:  I don’t know if you receive Colonial Weekly, but if so, you may have gotten as excited as I have been, because we have our very own Organic Bob in the house today! In talking with the Creation Care Ministry Action Team about this month, which includes Arbor and Earth Days, in view of our sermon series as we are exploring our historic distinctives as a community of faith, I thought, we needed to have Organic Bob preaching to us!  Not only he’s a good man, but because he also knows all the things about all of the things related to creation…that I don’t know anything about. Bob, we are so glad to be here with you this morning!

Thinking about the beauty of creation, and especially in view of both the multiple mass shootings and another black man, Daunte Wright, being killed in Brooklyn Center, it’s just so much, right? In some ways it could seem a little strange to be preaching about creation. And yet today, as we begin this exploration and leaning into God’s invitation for us, I wanted to start back in Genesis. In the very beginning, we’re told that God was the creator God, who created all things, including all of us. And in those earliest days of creation, God looked at everything God created and named it tov, which is the fullness of goodness, that all of the created order was made before we had breath. And indeed, after humans are created, the next day is set apart for rest. I love that this is the case because it reminds us that we’re not the creators, we’re the created ones who then get to join with creation in singing and living lives that honor the creator and all of creation.

Now, if you know the story from the book of Genesis though, what you know is that after creation, the humans got to walk in the garden with God and one another, and they didn’t have any shame. They had everything that they needed. Of course, humans being human, they made decisions, as we continue to make similar decisions which take us out of the garden and we forget how we were created to live…so much so that already by Genesis chapter four which features the story of Cain and Abel, the sons of Adam and Eve, that Cain kills his brother because he doesn’t believe that there is enough, that God’s love couldn’t be for both of them equally, even as they are different. And after his death, God shows up and says to Cain, “Where is your brother?” To which Cain respond: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The answer to his question is, of course, yes.

Only four chapters in from the opening of the Bible, and we’ve moved from the beauty, the tov, the goodness of creation, walking with God in the garden to forgetting how we were meant to live. And when we forget how we were meant to live, we harm and kill one another. So part of our extending the invitation to live as people of faith who follow this Creator God, is because when we remember that we were meant to walk in the garden, it helps us to live garden lives, in sync with the God who is the God of all creation…including us and every single human being and breathing thing on this earth. For all of this is created by the Creator God. And it’s all connected. And it’s all good. But our ability to live out that love (or not) is shaped by our ability to remember where and how we were meant to walk. And so, as we explore the call to live our faith in the midst of creation together, to explore what it means to live “for the beauty” we will wonder what it might look like for us to return to the garden and to walk with God and one another, without shame. Now, let’s hear a little bit from Organic Bob.

Bob: There was a tribe in Africa who grew yams. When Western agricultural ideas came to them, they offered the possibility that they could exponentially increase their crop yield. With more yams, instead of subsisting, they’d have a little money in their pockets and they’re all in, saying: “Yes, let’s do this!” And what they found out, after these massive yields on land that had taken care of them for millennia, was health problems started to crop up in the tribe that they hadn’t had before. The food that was grown with the Western industrial agriculture had less nutritional density. And so they were suffering types of malnutrition because the chemicals that were designed to increase crop yields actually kill organisms in the soil that make food nutritious. And they also impart into the soil, some toxins that the food will pick up and we ingest. So they started having all these problems: health problems and that then led to social problems.

The Western agriculture suppliers started to raise the prices of the supplies they needed. And because they needed more and more, so it was almost like a drug dealer, and the social collapse that happened after this, was families fighting over finances, domestic abuse crept in, alcohol and other addiction. And these farmers were losing farms that had been in their family for centuries, and that led to suicide. So there was a lot of despair in the greed that was brought in.

Part II: God’s Ecosystem

Sara: So today we want to explore together, what does it mean for us to live as a part of God’s ecosystem? God’s vision for creation and for all of us. What does God desire for us? Theologian Sally McFague notes that the etymology of our current words, ecological, ecumenical, and economic, all stem from the Greek word oikos, which is translated as house. So in so many ways, ecology, McFague writes, is simply “words about home.” Ecology: “Words about home.” 

Some of you may recall the biblical passage when Jesus said: “In my father’s house are many rooms and there’s space for all of you. I’m going to prepare that place for you.” Indeed, Jesus came here to invite us to remember what it’s like to live at home, to bring forth that garden life that we were all invited and were meant to live in. We’re meant to be a people who walk with God, who care for this earth and for one another…because that is who God is, and Jesus comes and invites us to remember and be born again so that we can remember the things that we’ve forgotten: that the earth isn’t ours to just use, that we aren’t each other’s to abuse, but that we all are image bearers invited to remember these “words about home” and to come home, to live home, and to bring home to this world. That’s what we pray every week, right? That the kingdom would come here on earth, as it is in heaven. Come home. Bring home. Live home. This is what it means to follow and walk in the garden with this creator, to live in accordance with the ecosystem of God. Again, a word from Bob.

Bob: Many of you know I grew up on a farm in Iowa, and my mom was a school teacher and she also taught soil conservation to farmers and school kids, and pretty much anybody who would listen (and a few that wouldn’t…but that didn’t stop her). And I watched my dad and my grandfather, and then a couple years ago, my brother, all die of cancer. And a lot of these farmers I worked for over the summers, were dying of cancer and other chronic illnesses. And what I’ve learned in the years since then is that these chemicals carry a hidden cost. I have a lawn business and when I go out and we’ll see lawns that have been managed chemically and they’re beautiful, but when they stopped the chemicals, they start to fall apart. And what I learned was that the chemicals that they put down to take care of certain problems, they killed the organisms in the soil that would normally take care of those problems.

So, if the soil is healthy, the lawn will be healthy and it will be able to crowd out weeds. Well, the soil wasn’t healthy when you’re putting all these contaminants onto it. And even synthetic fertilizers turned into salts when they degrade. So we’re salting the soil, but once you start doing things the way that God does them, naturally, it begins to heal itself immediately. 

Part III: The Beauty of Diversity

Bob: I go to a lot of these workshops for sustainable agriculture. And a couple of years ago, I heard this woman speak, Dr. Suzanne Simard. And she did a study and there’s a lot of YouTube videos about it. And it’s about how trees talk to each other, and she did this in the Pacific Northwest. And there’s these great, big old trees, the old growth forest, and in those are some very large trees that they call mother trees.

Below the ground in this healthy, pristine soil, is a fungal network. Now, these fungi attach onto the roots of plants and they feed on what the plants put into the soil. Now, the carbohydrates centered there, and they can tell by what they’re getting, what the tree needs. So they’ll say: “Mama Redwood, you need calcium.” And they go out and get calcium from the soil and bring it back and feed it to the host plant. Cool, huh? But these fungal networks are attached to all kinds of trees and other plants. So this mother tree will form more of these fungal associations, these connections, with its offspring. They know, and then if there’s a tree that’s sick, the other trees will send nutrients to that tree through this fungal network. And again, if a tree is dying, the flow reverses, it empties itself into the community. So basically…trees have the moral code that we aspire to.

Sara:  I love when Bob talks about stuff! Every time he shares I am struck by that I don’t know about these things and it opens me to new ways of thinking and understanding faith, the world, God, and myself. One of the things that Bob was talking about in terms of the soil, and then also in terms of the way that these systems of trees care for each other is… Bob and I, as we were talking about this, we’re talking about the beauty of diversity and the way that we have the image from Corinthians, of the body of Christ, how every part is needed and all of the members, likewise, a soil cannot be healthy unless it has all of the diverse nutrients, and an ecosystem can’t be healthy unless it has everything from pesky mosquitoes…

They’re supposed to be part of the ecosystem, right? Yeah. Ok, Bob.

I admit it: there is importance of diversity if there is to be a healthy ecosystem. In MN we need everything from mosquitoes to maple trees. All of this is part of the life flourishing that God intends and God creates. And we’re a part of God’s ecosystem. We’re a part of this beauty and that invitation to remember that we cannot make it alone, and we were never meant to; that the beauty and wonder of creation reminds us that it takes all of us and all of created life. So might we continue to look to creation and remember the wonder of the God who comes from the mountains, who is indeed our help and our healer of all of life has named as beautiful and necessary the manifest diversity of creation. Once again, a word from Bob.

Part IV: Garden Living

Bob: I was doing a lot of pondering in preparation for today, and I had an epiphany that the way that we treat the environment is very similar to the way we treat women and minorities. We have this power over this environment and the choices that we make are many times to exploit, overharvest, abuse, just treat it as something we can get a resource from, instead of something that should be stewarded, something that should be nurtured, something that like the weeds, the solution lies in the problem. The weeds are telling us what the ecosystem needs and that metaphor carries through to minorities. Young black men are telling us what they need, and we need to listen to those and create a diverse community, because that’s what heals in the soil and in culture.

Sara:  Sometimes when we have conversations, whether it’s about topics like racism or climate change or creation, they quickly become political conversations and we cease to be curious about what our faith might be asking of us. We’re gathered here today because we’re the church and we’re in the midst of a sermon series called “How To Breathe.” We’re exploring who we’ve been as a community and asking who we might become together. And one of the distinctives about how we are church together is that we’ve long been concerned about creation; we’ve lived faith that believes that faith and spirituality is animated and brought to life in the midst of nature: whether it be trips you’ve gone on where you’ve encountered God in nature, whether it’s work you’ve done in creation care at church, or digging in your yard. We know that faith and the environment have something to do with one another. So when Bob told me about his recent epiphany on a Zoom call, and he shares with me what he just told you, I find myself left silent, with tears in my eyes, filled with gratitude for Bob’s heart for Jesus, all people, and all of creation. 

When he told me of this epiphany, he said: “Sara, we need to have a spiritual awakening!” And I kept crying, moved by how seen and understood I feel. You see, so many Christians have dismissed me as a feminist, as if that has nothing to do with faith, ignoring that I became a women’s studies minor in college because I believed in Jesus and that Jesus cared for all of us. And the invitation Bob just shared with us, to see this all as connected is what we wanted to share with you today: that our call as a people of faith is to follow the Creator God, to be born again and anew, to be a people who remember that we were meant to live in the garden. Indeed, in the vision of Revelation, heaven isn’t some far off place, but the vision of heaven is Eden restored. As theologian, Sandra Richter writes, “revelation is profoundly ecological in the sense of declaring God’s commitment to earth as the location for salvation.”

For God became embodied as Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God-with-us, in this skin, in bones like ours, to invite and call and remind each of us that new life is possible for us, in the here and now. It’s not complete; it’s not perfect, but we get to live into it. We are free to follow after this God who invites us to spiritual renewal that we might also have epiphanies like Bob’s where we see that it is all connected. And as we turn to this God and allow ourselves to be re-awoken, we get to remember a little bit more of what it means for us to walk in the garden. And so the invitation today to each of us is to go outside, to look around, maybe to read a Psalm of creation, maybe to write aloud your own Psalm of creation, giving thanks to the God who is the creator of all things, including us…and to remember that in your skin and in your bones, you were meant to walk with God, and with each of us in the midst of God’s beauty and wonder of creation, without shame.

So might we return to the garden, following after this Jesus who invites us to live and might we then breathe in, because right? We need trees to breathe anyway. Might we return to garden living, dear friends.

Let us pray together. God, of all creation, of water, earth and sky, the heavens are your tabernacle, and yet you also dwell with us. So might we, God, be born again by your spirit to walk in the garden of this life with you, to not be afraid or ashamed, to remember that we are indeed all of earth’s keeper and to live with that love and grace as your church, as this church, that we might grow in Christ. And we might serve this world, Amen.

Final Reflection: Elements Poem

Bob:  I was wondering how to bring a message about creation care and what that means to me, how to immerse myself in the spiritual side of nature. All those reflections came out in the form of this poem called “Elements.”

Let the air

nurture me

like a bed sheet on the line

as it drapes, swells, and flickers

across my face and arms.

Your water shall gently care for me

with soft rains falling,

bathing the earth,

like a momma cat

bathing her kitten.

You set the earth

to feed me.

Daily I am created

from the soil

and my soul is fed 

by the awesome majesty

in the natural world.

This earth

was made by You

for me,

for us.

It is a place for love.

Creator love for the Created 

and Creation.

We become part of this cycle

whenever we love.

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