Director's Message

Messages from Dave Rhoads, Director of Lutherans Restoring Creation.
 

Bless ALL the Animals (10/07/11)

 

I have recently become fascinated with other animals and our human relationship with them. I say “other animals,” because we have tended to think of ourselves as other than animals. When my children and grandchildren were small, I had the hardest time convincing them that we humans are animals. We are rooted in Earth as surely as raccoons and trees. Many recent studies of animals have emphasized our commonality with other species, DNA similarities included. And they have emphasized the uncanny qualities, capacities, and skills of other animals that humans do not have and cannot replicate, even with technology.

 

On October 4, we celebrated St. Francis Day. In doing so, many congregations held services of the Blessing of the Animals. This is wonderful. Unfortunately, such a service can reinforce our separation from animals if the only animals we bless are “other” animals. We need to bless both human and non-humans together. The following sermon seeks to name that concern and stress our kinship with the whole animal kingdom.

 

Blessing the Animals: A Sermon

By David Rhoads

 

And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.” So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the sea, and let birds multiply on the earth. . . . And God said, “Let the earth bring forth creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.” And it was so. God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good (Gen. 1: 20-25).

 

And Jesus said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to all creation” (Mark 16:15 from the longer ending).

 

. . . . through him [Jesus] God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. (Col. 1:20)

 

First, I want to address you varieties of dogs and cats and other creatures who are here today. And I want to speak with you fish and ferrets and hamsters and parakeets and snakes brought here today by your human companions. You are here for your own sake, and you also represent all those who are not here today, animals of every kind—cattle and goats and horses and elephants and bees and cougars and crocodiles and puffer fish and eels and insects—so many we cannot name them all.

            I want to announce the good news to all you creatures. I want you to know that God loves you. God loves you for your own sake—and not because of what you can do for humans.

            You are good in yourselves. The good book tells us that when God created you—fish of the sea and birds of the air and creatures of the land—God looked at all God had created, and God saw that “indeed, it was very good!” (Gen. 1:12, 18, 21, 25, 31)

            When God created you, God blessed you. God told you to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Gen. 1:28). God created you in huge swarms and in great diversity. God wants all of you to survive and to thrive on Earth.

            God created the world for you, so that you have what you need to live. The psalmist tells us that God made the rain to water the trees, the trees for you birds to nest, the grass for you cattle to graze, and the crags as a refuge for you mountain goats (Ps. 104:14-24). God wants you to receive your “food in due season” and to be “filled with good things” (Ps. 104: 27-28).

            The Bible tells us that when the flood came, God rescued each of your species through Noah in the ark. And God made a covenant with you fish of the sea and birds of the air and domestic animals and all animals on Earth to protect you for the future (Gen. 9:8-17). God made the first “endangered species act.”

            Just like us, you are called to worship God. The hills are to clap their hands. The fields are to exalt (Ps. 148). You cattle and dogs and cats are to praise God by being who you are and exalting in it. John the seer had a vision in which he heard the entire creation—everything in heaven, on the earth, under the earth and in the sea—cry out in praise: “Blessing and honor and glory and power be to our God and to the lamb forever and ever” (Rev. 5:13).

            We human animals need to confess to you that we have systematically mistreated you, depleted your numbers, destroyed you, slaughtered you, crowded you out, neglected you, dealt with you as commodities in our quest for comfort and ease. We have not seen you as God’s creatures. We have not shown proper reverence or respect. Against God’s will, we have not set limits upon ourselves so that you might live and thrive. What we have done! We are sorry!

            You who are here today are so fortunate because you have human companions who care for you. But so many of your cousins are threatened with extinction—snow leopards and timber wolves and green sea turtles and condors and paddlefish and fin whales among so many others. We humans may so crowd out or deplete these kin of yours that not a single one of them will ever again exist on Earth.

            When we destroy you and diminish you in these ways, we not only compromise your ability to survive, we also stifle your capacity to praise God. Along with all creation, you are groaning in labor pains, waiting for the revelation of children of God who will care for creation and make provisions for you to thrive (Rom. 8:19-23).

 

Now I want to address you human creatures. I want to announce the good news to you also. God loves you. God loves you for your own sake and wants you to thrive. When God made you; God saw that this too was good.

            God said also to you: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the Earth” (Gen. 1:28) Yet we have already done this! So we need to find ways to limit the impact of our species, because God did not mean for us to crowd out the rights of other creatures to be fruitful and multiply also. In developed countries, we have become like an infestation—taking over land and destroying habitats and devouring species and infiltrating homes and migratory routes of so many other animals—and we need to learn our limits and exercise restraint.

            God even created us humans with a special responsibility—to exercise dominion (Gen. 1:28). This does not mean that we are to exercise domination over other creatures or to exploit them for human mis-use. Rather, we are to delight in other creatures, as God does, and respect and care for them. Our love for creation is the only basis for our right use of creation. We are to exercise dominion as servants of creation. As Jesus has said, we are not to lord over anyone, but be as slaves to all (Mark 10:42-45). We are to take responsibility for all creatures, to serve their needs, and to work to preserve them (Gen. 2:15).

            And we are to do this not with a sense of superiority but in solidarity with all other creatures. We were created to be together, to be companions to one another, to thrive all together. All animals are our cousins, our kin. And God made a covenant with us and with all other animals together. Admit it, we humans are also animals, primate mammals.

            And Jesus was a mammal. Jesus was born and lived in solidarity with all of life. Jesus lived to care about all who were oppressed and made vulnerable and marginalized by society; and right now that includes most creatures, not just humans. Jesus died in order that God might reconcile to God’s self all things in creation (Col. 1:20).

            In response to God’s love, we are freed to behave in ways that enable all of life to thrive together. You do not need to prove anything. You can set limits on yourselves. You can simplify your lifestyle so that others may survive and thrive. You can become aware the effects of your actions on other creatures and curtail your activity. You can act to establish and restore safe homes and habitats for those animals that are endangered.

 

Now I want to address all of you creatures together.  I had this vision in a dream during sleep at night. I was in the front row of a cathedral looking at the scene before me during a service of communion. I saw the priest passing bread to the first person kneeling at the communion railing. As I looked, the next figure at the railing was a snake! It was curled at the bottom with its back arching up over the rail and with head straining forward to receive the grace of Christ. The next figure was another person. Next was a raccoon with paws up on the communion rail leaning forward to receive the grace of Christ. Then I saw a bird perched on the corner of the railing eating bread crumbs.

            As I finished surveying this scene in my dream, suddenly the side walls of the cathedral fell away and outside was thick foliage of forest and jungle on each side with all manner of wild animals roaming around. In this moment, it seemed as if walls of separation had been removed and there was a seamless web of all creation praising God and exalting in the grace of Christ.

            From the time I awoke from that dream until this day, I have never been able to think of worship in the same way again. I now see all of Earth as the sanctuary in which we worship, and I see myself invoking and confessing and giving thanks and praising God and offering myself in solidarity with all of life. May that vision also be your vision.

            You who are here today are very fortunate because you and have a relationship of love and care and loyalty between yourself and your human or your pet companion. You model how all relationships between humans and other animals should be. We wish to project this relationship as the model for our human relationship with all animals. May we care about all animals as we care for our companions at home.

            I invite you all to come forward for a blessing. Sometimes when we have a service for the Blessing of the Animals, we bless only the non-human animals, as if we ourselves are not also animals. Therefore, as an expression of solidarity with each other, I invite all of you—non-human animals and human animals alike—to come for a blessing together. We bless you as companions together and we bless your relationship:

“May God bless each of you with health and safety and well-being and long life. And may God bless your relationship together so that it may be filled with love and joy.”

 [You may find this sermons and sermons by others in Earth and Word: Classic Sermons on Saving the Planet, edited by David Rhoads (Contimuum, 2001)]

 

Sermon on Land Sunday in the Season of Creation

9/11, 2011

 

Opening Blessing.

Rejoice O soil, in the God who made you, Fear not animals of the field, for God provides for you. Give thanks O people, for the God whose abiding love will never let you go. (Prayer by John Paarlberg)

 

Gospel Lesson

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Jesus, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.”

But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth.”

Scripture reflections

This is a day of infamy when war and destruction came to our land in the 9-11 attacks. Anyone who has watched recent programs about the attacks and the survivors cannot but be moved by the devastating impact this event had on the lives of so many people and on our nation as a whole. We can add the immeasurable loss of those who have lost loved ones, young men and women, in the wars in which we are currently engaged as a result of 9-11. This event is especially hard because it took place on our soil. Now multiple this tragedy in the wars being fought in so many lands around the world—on someone’s home soil with the immediate fears and threats and the loss of military and civilian life that persist daily. There is no way to take it in.

The OT lesson reminds us that violence and murder have been part of life from the beginning. Cain slew Abel as the result of a needless conflict between brothers. Violence multiplied and magnified so much that God decided to flood the whole place and start over. And, like our reflections on 9-11, there seems to be a curse on the ground itself that comes with the blood being shed.

The new ground zero memorial has opened this weekend. It appears to be a place of serenity to visit and to remember, filled with the presence of water and trees of life, dedicated not to a response of revenge or domination but to peace. It is a desire to turn from violence to peace, a desire to redeem the land from its curse and transform it into sacred ground.

Perhaps, that is a way to talk about the fact that Jesus spent three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. Jesus was in the earth itself. And Jesus reverses the curse on the land. Instead of the land being defiled by a corpse, Jesus sanctified the land by his presence, even in death. And his resurrection is not just the rising of a human by himself but the beginning of what the New Testament talks about as new creation, a renewed creation, moving toward what the Book of Revelation depicts as a new heaven and a new earth—with the presence of God, with the river of life and the tree of life, a place filled with justice and truth and peace.

Paul too talks about such a reversal. Adam sinned and his sin spread to violence, murder, and war. Jesus reversed this cycle by instead spreading grace and love and by calling a new humanity to be people of peace who love their enemies, who show mercy, who provide for the poor, and who look out for the vulnerable—with a commitment to bring life rather than death.

And our commitment to this new creation is not only to each other as humans but also with all nature. We have desecrated and degraded our Earth in more ways than war and violence. We have treated it as a commodity to be exploited and abused for human needs and wants. In so doing, we are destroying the very support system upon which we depend for life and well-being. We need also peace communities for Earth-community—to be reconciled with Earth so that we treat Earth with respect and love. And this brings us to the Season of Creation.

Why celebrate a Season of Creation? To restore to our life and commitments the larger orbit of God’s whole work and our whole life. This season enables us to recover this dimension of creation in our worship, the central place where humans gather to express their love for God. Creation has been neglected in our worship. Our church year is based on the life of Christ (Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, and Easter) and life in the Holy Spirit (Pentecost). Now it is time to have a season for God the “maker of heaven and earth” in which we celebrate the various domains of creation such as forests and rivers and land and wilderness.

We have focused so much on our human relationship with God and our human relationships with each other.  Now it is time also to lift up God’s relationship with creation and our relationship with creation.

We have become aware of our Christian neglect of creation in part because of what is happening to these domains of God’s creation, because of the ecological state of the world, with the pollution of our air, water, and land.  The Bible knows this degradation also, in terms of earth as God’s creation: “The Earth dries up and withers, the world languishes and withers, the heavens languish together with the earth. The Earth lies polluted under its inhabitants, for they have transgressed laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant”  (Isaiah 24:4-5).”

So, for us Christians, ecological issues are not ultimately “environmental” issues, but” religious” issues—about our relationship with God and our calling, as the Bible names it, to serve and to preserve Earth. And for us, care for creation is not an add-on but integral to our vocation as Christians. It is as foundational as “Love God, Love your neighbor, and Love creation.”

What resources can we recover from our tradition to address these vital issues? As it turns out, there are plenty of resources—in our Bible, in theology, from our worship, and with our ethics.  Just as we recovered justification and grace in the time of the Reformation, so now we can recover care for creation. The Bible has a vision that “all creation is groaning in travail awaiting the revelation of children of God” (Romans 5) who will redeem creation rather than destroy it. We may be that generation for which creation is waiting.

Lutherans especially have resources for this task. Luther wrote: “the gospel of God is not in the Bible alone but on the trees and in the flowers and clouds and stars.” This creation is groaning and waiting, even, as one theologian put it, waiting for the Lutherans!

What we need then is a theology that is down to earth! And what better occasion to reflect on a down to earth religion than “Land Sunday” in the Season of Creation. 

Land Sunday. The challenge of Land Sunday is for us to have a change of heart and mind and body so that we see the ground underneath our feet as sacred ground and to treat it accordingly.

Seeing the soil as vital. It may have seemed strange to you to say in the liturgy for Land Sunday: “Sing, soil, sing!” It is difficult for us to imagine just how important land and soil was in the agricultural world of the Bible. Land was the economy. It was the basis on which people got their identity, where they got their life and livelihood. Cain named his punishment this way: “My punishment is greater than I can bear! Today you have driven me away from the soil, and I shall be hidden from your face.” The relation to the soil they know, the land they worked, and the God they knew in and through the soil were all critical to their life.

More than this, they loved and respected the land. Every seventh year the land was to lie fallow so that it could be re-nourished. Every 49th year, those who had lost their land through fraud or poverty had an opportunity to get it back. They did not think the land belonged to them. “The land is mine” says the Lord, and if they as a people were to flourish, they needed to follow the guidance of the lord.

The land has intrinsic value. For the biblical world, land had integrity in its own right, totally apart from its value for human beings. It was not material to be exploited.  Most of us humans in the Western world, apart from those who farm, have become estranged from land since the industrial revolution. We think of land as lifeless and property to be bought and sold, as a commodity to serve our economic need and greed. One poet observed that there is a great sadness about this estrangement since the time of the industrial revolution, even without us being aware of it. Interestingly enough, human health actually depends upon a close relationship with nature. Scientific studies show that when we are relating to a tree, the blood pressure goes down. A new therapy has a risen called “eco-therapy, which shows how mental and psychological health depends on a relationship with nature. We know that hospital patients and the elderly fare better when having the opportunity to relate to nature. Children who are isolated from nature suffer from what one author called “Nature Deficit Disorder.”

Earth is alive and soil creates. In the creation stories, Earth is alive and is a co-creator with God. God commands the earth to bring forth life. “Let the earth bring forth animals and plants and birds in great diversity and teeming with life.” And God made humans from the soil. In fact the word Adam is simply the male form of the word adamah, which means “soil” or “earth.” So humans come from arable land, the same soil that brings forth plants and animals. If we had translated ADAM literally to mean “Earthman” all these centuries, our view of humans and our relationship to earth might have turned out differently. Humans belong to the earth. We buy and sell and think the property is ours. But “the Earth does not belong to us; we belong to the Earth.”

We learn the same thing about the creative powers of soil from evolution. Life emerged from water and then land—plants and animals of every kind. And it became clear that soil was the fertile bed from which all these things came. In a sermon called “The Glad Soil Rejoices,” John Paarlberg notes that Charles Darwin (who originated evolution as a way to explain the origin of species) studied earthworms for 40 years. He was fascinated by them and he calculated that there were about 63,500 earthworms in each acre of soil in his native England. Those same worms turn over ten tons of topsoil (Earth and Word: Classic Sermons on Saving the Planet, edited by David Rhoads).

But that is not all. He also quotes Annie Dillard, who wrote: “In the top inch of forest soil, biologists found an average of 1,365 living creatures: including 865 mites, 265 springtails, 22 millipedes, 29 adult beetles, and various number s of other creatures. Had an estimate been given of the microscopic population, it might have ranged up to two billion bacteria and many millions fungi, protozoa, and algae—in a mere teaspoon of soil!”

As the eminent biologist E. O. Wilson said, “A healthy soil literally breathes and moves.” It is alive. And absolutely everything on this Earth—plants, animals, human civilization—exists because of the mere six inches of topsoil that covers much of the land areas of our planet.

The land is gift to all living things. The land is a gift, because everything is freely created by God. Yes, it is gift to us, but it is also gift to the cattle and the goats and the birds. As Psalm 104 declares, God made the grass for the cattle, the trees for birds to nest in, and mountain crags for the goats—so that all things might receive what they need in due season (Ps. 104).

And as we know from evolution, Earth was gift to other animals long before us. God has been loving soil and all the living things that have emerged from it for about 3 of the 5 billions of years of Earth’s history. Long before humans appeared, God was loving and delighting in all of nature. It is somewhat ironic that we humans show up in the last few minutes—and we think it’s all about us!

Yes it is a gift. It is given for our delight and our use—but not us to misuse or to abuse. And our privilege comes with a commission—to care for the Earth. We humans are called to have dominion. But this does not mean to “exert domination.” Rather, it means to assume responsibility for the well-being of Earth.  In the creation stories, we were not created first and then Earth given to us. Rather, Earth was created first and it was good in itself in God’s eyes. Then we were created to tend this garden. In the second creation story, we were created to serve Earth. The words usually translated “to till and to keep” we now know mean “to serve and to preserve”—to serve as slaves serve a master. This mandate places us not over creation but as servants working as God’s agents to assure that the well-being of earth—so that all living things may thrive as God wishes them to multiply and fill the earth.

 The soil praises God. As the Psalm says, “Let all creation is praise God.” Or “All creation! Praise God!”

Let the heavens be glad and the Earth rejoice. And let them say among the nations, ‘The Lord is king.’ Let the sea roar and all that fills it; Let the field exalt and everything in it. Then shall the trees of the forest sing for joy before the lord” (I Chronicles 16:29-34; Psalm 148).

That is a great line! “Let the field exalt!” This means, as Paarlberg says, that “the very soils beneath our feet are, in their own way, choirs of creatures singing their insect hymns, michrobial chants, and fungal anthems in praise to the God who made them.”

They are our partners in worship. Rejoice, soil. It is not that the soil has a special voice or language to praise God. Rather they praise God by thriving in doing what they were created to do—produce plants and animals. That’s what praise is: thriving

And the Good news is proclaimed to the soil so that they will thrive.

Do not fear, O soil;

Be glad and rejoice, for the Lord has done great things!
Do not fear you animals of the field’ for the pastures of the wilderness are green;

The tree bears its fruit

The fig tree and vine give their full yield.

.

Then this soil is glad and rejoices and praises God! This means, as Paarlberg says, that “the very soils beneath our feet are, in their own way, choirs of creatures singing their insect hymns, michrobial chants, and fungal anthems in praise to the God who made them.”

 

God is in the soil. Think about that. God is in the soil—in the tree, in the flower, in the vegetables, in the weeds. The Bible declares that “The whole earth is filled with God’s glory.” And the Psalm for today asks “Where can you go on earth to escape God. God is everywhere.” That is glorious good news.

Martin Luther said that “The good news of the Gospel is in the bible alone, but also on the trees and in the flowers and cloud and stars.” This is foundational to Lutheran theology. Luther said that God is, in substance, in every creature and in everything. He said that “the entire fullness of God is in every grain of wheat, without remainder.” And in every leaf without remainder. Look at nature and see God present there! Luther said that after we are justified and no longer preoccupied with ourselves, we see the world differently. We see God there. We know that God is working for good in all creation.

That means God is not just up. God is also down—in, with, and under all things, not just in the heights but in the depths, the ground of our being, the bedrock on which we stand, in the marrow, the firmament of our lives. When we think of God as “up,” we imagine God as whispy and ethereal, not earthy. We should pray to God “down in” things.

When my wife Sandy got cancer, she was overwhelmed by the number of people who were praying for her, and she was deeply affected by those prayers. She recalled her experience of an aspen stand in the Rocky Mountains. Our guide explained that aspen stands were the largest living things on Earth because they were all connected in the root system (aspens reproduce not from seeds but through the root system). The guide explained that when it was dry, the trees down near the stream at the bottom of the hill will send water up through the roots to the trees without water at the top of the hill. Sandy said she felt like a dry tree at the top of a hill receiving nourishment through the root system from others in the community. God is down, in the root system, in the soil.

Soil is sacred ground. Take all of this: the soil has value in its own right, the soil is co-creator with God, the soil praises God, God is in the soil. All of this means that the soil beneath our feet is sacred ground. Such sacramental theology is central to Lutheran Theology. It means that we are called to have reverence for the soil. Reverence is the right basis for our use of the Earth. If we have reverence for something, we will use it wisely. We will treat it with care. We will not exploit or mistreat it. We will make sure it thrives. We will preserve it.

We interact constantly with the soil. We can’t help it. We have to breathe and eat.  As we sit here together, scientists tell us, we are exchanging millions of cells from being next to each other, touching each other, breathing the same air in and out.

More than this, we are continually interacting with the trees around us. The carbon dioxide we breathe out goes to ground; earthworms and beetles aerate the soil so it can get to the roots of the trees; which then transform it into oxygen; which trees emit so that we then are able to breathe. The soil is involved in that.

The soil is also involved in everything we eat. The soil brings forth plants. We eat the plants and so do the animals we eat. We eat what the soil has produced and it becomes us. We are what we eat. This is so well expressed by a poem by Judith Morley.

By what miracle

does this cracker

made from Kansas wheat,

 this cheese ripened in French caves,

this fig, grown and dried near Ephesus,

 turn into me?

My eyes,

my hands,

my cells, organs, juices, thoughts?

 

Am I not then Kansas wheat

and French cheese

and Smyrna figs?

Figs, no doubt, the ancient prophets ate?

 

As such, you cannot define me as a person without including the food I eat, the soil and air and water and sun that nourish the plants and the whole universe that supports these things. We are all interrelated to everything! All is in sacramental interrelationship.

If we are what we eat, then also the sacraments we share this day become the body of Christ as us—our eyes, our hands, our voice, our thoughts.

What do we do about our relationship with the soil?  We can have reverence for the soil. We can care for the soil. I say more, we can love the soil like God does! Love it and enjoy it. If you love it, you appreciate it, respect it. Notice it! Take off your shoes and walk barefoot on the earth. Dig in it. Inspect it. Root around in it. Learn what it creates. Love it.

One Texas pastor said. It is not enough to say we “care” for Earth. We care for our cars. But we “love” our children. We love them no matter what. Let’s love nature so that we will not let anything bad happen to it. Let’s love it no matter what.

We will not save what we do not love. When we love earth, we will walk easy on it. We will touch the earth lightly. We will not want to use  pesticides or herbicides and weed killing fertilizer on our lawns. We will want to use safe cleaning products that do not leach toxins into the ground. We will plant rain gardens, buy organic food locally produced so that we encourage farming that preserves the health of land and our health. We will advocate for land-friendly policies, earth-friendly mining, extraction, and logging practices, a lowering of our use of carbon-based fuels.  We will want to do no harm and to show love for life. As we do all these, we will be practicing resurrection—living and acting to restore Earth.

So, make a commitment this day to have a love affair with the land, with the soil. It will bring new life to you and deepen your relationship with God. To express all I have said, I close with a song written by Linda Bronstein. It is our admonition to love the land.

Take off your shoes, you weary ones.

The Earth is warm. The grass is sweet.

The Lord who spread the heavens out

Will wash with sunshine tired feet.

 

Take off your shoes uncertain ones.

The Earth is firm. Support is sure.

With every step you touch the Word

In whom all things are held secure.

 

Take off your shoes you doubting ones.

The earth is holy. Walk unshod.

In every tree and stone and brook

Is burning bright the fire of God.

 

Take off your shoes. The earth is yours,

And you belong to all you see.

So let your heart embrace it all

With love’s unbounded energy.

 

Amen

 

 
Celebrating Forest Sunday in the Season of Creation (9-6-11)

 “Then shall the trees of the forest sing for joy.”

 

This week is the first Sunday of the Season of Creation, an optional season of the church year that celebrates God the creator and various domains of creation. There are four Sundays for each of the three years of the common lectionary, celebrated most often during the month of September. This year, the Sundays for Series A are Forest Sunday, Land Sunday, Wilderness Sunday, and River Sunday. This week we celebrate Forest Sunday. (For more information, visit www.letallcreationpraise.org and www.seasonofcreation.com).

 

Trees praise God. Scripture makes it clear that all of creation worships God. “All creation, Praise the Lord!” the psalmist commands. So, trees and forests praise God.  “Let the heavens be glad and the Earth rejoice. And let them say among the nations, ‘The Lord is king.’ Let the sea roar and all that fills it; Let the field exalt and everything in it. Then shall the trees of the forest sing for joy before the lord” (I Chronicles 16:29-34). Psalm 148 commands fruit trees and all cedars to praise the Lord.

            This does not mean that trees have special sounds to do that, although the wind in the trees may make it seem so. Rather, it means that these living things praise God by doing what they were created to be and to do.

 

How We Diminish Their Praise. One of the ways to understand the impact of our degradation of Earth and its systems, our threat to species of animals and plants, is to realize that we are thereby diminishing their capacity to praise God. As we seek to restore Earth, protect endangered species, and preserve forests, we are enhancing their collective worship of their creator—as they are able to thrive and teem and relish being alive. God loved trees for billions of years before humans arrived. Could we ever love them as much?

 

Our Dependence on Trees. Humans are dependent on trees for every breath. Humans evolved in relation to trees. There is no animal life without the oxygen produced by trees. Scripture says, “Let everything that breaths praise the lord.” And every creature that breathes does so because of the forests. Indeed, the rain forests are called the “lungs of the Earth.” As you walk around outside, notice the trees and realize that you are interacting with them every moment.

 

Our Loss of Forests. In his commentary on Forest Sunday in The Season of Creation: A Preaching Commentary (Fortress, 2011), Old Testament scholar Ted Hiebert points out that “more forests have been cleared from 1850 to the present than in all of previous history” and “that the amount of forest cover available to each person has declined globally by 50 percent since 1960.” He also notes that forest clearing is a major cause of global climate change and loss of species diversity. In parts of Africa, deforestation is depriving many villages of needed wood for the heating and cooking upon which their daily lives depend. The incredible number of practical, biological, ecological, medicinal, spiritual, and aesthetic benefits to humans from trees is outlined in the book by Diane Beresford-Kroeger in The Global Forest: 40 Ways Trees Benefit Us.

 

Our Restoration of Forests. First of all, we need to preserve our forests. If we remove forests, we cannot restore that ecosystem by replanting. As they say, “You can plant a tree, but you cannot plant a forest.” Second, there is nevertheless a movement to reforest America. In Africa, Nobel Prize winner Mangari Maathai established the Green Belt Movement, a tree planting movement that resulted in the planting of 45 million trees. “Plant a tree, save a life” is not just a nice slogan. It represents a resurrection practice to restore Earth and the health of all beings. Hiebert enjoins us to think of the trees in our backyard, in our neighborhoods, and in our communities, and we might add our church lands. Become a Tree City USA (see www.arborday.org).

 

My own congregation, St. Andew in Racine, WI, is celebrating Forest Sunday by planting a memorial tree as the beginning of a Peace Garden. We are also identifying for members the trees on our church property as a way of inviting us and them to common worship—and to pray for them. Try including pictures of trees in your church directory as a way to show that they are part of the Earth community with whom you share the small piece of God’s good creation on which you worship together. And we sing this hymn:

 

O FOR A THOUSAND TREES

 

O for a thousand trees to sing

And join with us this day,

With ferns and frogs and butterflies:

A forest hymn of praise.

 

Come celebrate with all the land,

Let species rare begin,

With geese and owls and cockatoo,

A choir of country kin.

 

How can we hear creation groan,

The forests cry in pain?

With desert dragons we rejoice

When Earth is born again.

 

Let ev’ry stream and river flow

In song toward the sea;

With whale, and seal and albatross

We thank God we are free

 

O for a thousand trees to sing

And join with us this day,

With ferns and frogs and butterflies:

A forest hymn of praise.

 

                                                                        Words: © Norman Habel  2004

                                                                        Melody: O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing

 

Our Vocation to Care for Creation (8-29-11)
Thank you for accessing this site, and thank you for the care for creation concern you express and the actions you take on behalf of Earth. The good news of the Gospel resides everywhere in creation. Creation is a gift to all living forms. Living and non-living things are gifts to each other. And we humans can be aware of this giftedness of creation and we can offer gratitude and praise to God daily for the life and goodness of creation.

We at Lutherans Restoring Creation are dedicated to providing resources and encouragement for Lutherans to embrace our biblical vocation “to serve and to keep” God’s creation (Genesis 2:15). We are motivated for this by God’s enduring grace and everlasting love for creation.

Our personal vocation relates to things we do every day. If you have not thought about it, your living space is connected to every ecological problem. Consider the emissions from your furnace; the food that has been transported from a distance; the gas and oil in the car in the driveway; the water that comes in and goes out of the house; paper for office and household use; the cleaning products that enter the waste stream; the pesticides and herbicides used on lawn and garden that leech into the watershed; the electricity from power plants; the wood in the products purchased; the garbage that goes into landfills; and on and on.

The point is that we can act positively for Earth each day as part of our Christian discipline. We can make choices every day that reduce our negative imprint on the environment and that have an impact for good on the well-being of God’s Earth. We encourage you to make a Personal Covenant with Creation and make choices that extend and deepen your commitment.

Please contact us if you have questions, comments, or requests and if you have a desire to contribute time or money to the work of LRC. drhoads@lstc.edu

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