Earth Day 2018 Sermon - Rev. Susan Henry

Earth Day April 22, 2018

Genesis 2:4b-24 Pastor Susan Henry

Revelation 21:10, 22:1-5 House of Prayer Lutheran Church

Mark 1:9-11 Hingham Ma

Grace to you and peace from God who creates, redeems, and makes all things new.

In Partnership with God

Now and then, Earth Day falls on a Sunday, providing a perfect opportunity to celebrate and give thanks for God’s creation and to reflect on our partnership with God in tending and caring for the earth.  “The earth” is a pretty big topic, so let’s narrow our focus today. Seventy-one percent of the earth is covered by water, and almost all of that water is sea water, saltwater. Of the 4% that isn’t, half is ice and the other half – a mere 2%! – is freshwater, much of which is underground.  The water that’s readily available for drinking or washing or farming – the water in rivers and lakes, in streams and ponds – is a miniscule 0.3% of the earth’s water.  Imagine how little of that is part of our local watershed – the area that water naturally moves in as it flows to the Fore River, the Back River, and the Weir River!  (You can see those rivers on the map on the back of your bulletin.)

Our readings from scripture today include rivers that are named or described.  In the creation story, the four corners of the known earth are watered by the four rivers.  In the gospel, Jesus is baptized in the Jordan, a river that flows into the Sea of Galilee. And in John of Patmos’ vision of God’s future, “the river of the water of life” flows from the throne of God right through the center of the new Jerusalem.  Tigris, Euphrates, Jordan; river of the water of life; Fore River, Back River, Weir River. All belong to God’s creation, and all are storied waters.

The Tigris and Euphrates shaped civilizations and still flow through modern-day Iraq.  The Israelites once crossed the Jordan to enter the land God had promised to Abraham and Sarah and their descendants.  You might have a story about the watershed we’re part of. Maybe you’ve filled jugs at the spring in Wompatuck. Or maybe you’ve gotten stuck in the mud flats when the tide in Hingham Harbor went out faster than you expected.  Or maybe you know which pond to find tadpoles in nearby or where the fishing’s good. We’re shaped by water stories from throughout history and today, in the bible, at the baptismal font, and in our ordinary, everyday lives.

Although you might not have thought about this before, it makes a difference whether we experience water as part of nature or part of creation.  When our relationship with water flows out of our relationship with God, our story includes partnership with God in caring for all of creation. Our story from Genesis today is the second of two creation traditions in the bible, and, perhaps just as four gospels give us four portraits of Jesus, two creation stories reveal two portraits of our Creator.  

In the more familiar story where creation happens over seven days, God’s word brings everything into being.  God’s word does what it says. In this creation story, God is more literally “in touch” with creation. God forms humankind – adam in Hebrew – out of the earth – adamah.  God plants.  God puts adam in the garden God creates.  And from the beginning, God and humankind are partners:  “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.”  To work it and take care of it. To tend it and watch over it. To cultivate it and to be a good steward of it.  It’s “God’s Work/Our Hands” from the very beginning, isn’t it?

Earth Day is a good day to not only give thanks for creation, especially for water, but to ask ourselves how we’re doing in our partnership with God.  How are we attentive to the well-being of creation, to our common garden, our common water, the common good? Some Hingham residents will be out today at the Bathing Beach and some other sites doing cleanup for a “Cleaner Greener Hingham.”  On May 6, some of us will be doing spring yard cleanup for some of the seniors in this community, and others of us will care for creation as we make eco-friendly gifts for people who receive Meals on Wheels.

Each summer, we’ve sponsored a community garden through the ELCA’s Good Gifts program as we’ve donated money for the organic vegetables Rae Hall grows and brings to church.  Tim Badger’s life work and his sense of call from God is to help provide affordable, clean, safe water in a world where 1 out of 4 people drinks from a contaminated water supply.  Churchwide, ELCA members have raised over a million dollars for World Hunger water-related projects. We write letters and send drawings to our elected officials whose votes can help protect our water and assure the just use of this precious resource.  These are surely the “saint” side of being “saints and sinners at the same time” – but we are both.

We enjoy and we exploit.  We are grateful and we are greedy.  We stand in awe and we are arrogant.  Our single-serving plastic water bottles end up in landfills and foul our oceans.  The people of Flint, Michigan suffered great harm when their water was contaminated with lead because officials violated the trust the community had placed in them.  We waste ridiculous amounts of water while women and children in sub-Saharan Africa walk the equivalent of a 5K every day to fetch water for their families. Our wish to live near the water leads to more and more risky construction where floodwaters can wreak havoc, especially as sea levels rise.  No doubt you can add to this list of the ways we humans reveal the “sinner” side of being “saints and sinners at the same time.”

Compassion, community, and deep-down knowing that we are called to be partners with God all draw us to care for creation.   Mere convenience, sheer carelessness and human selfishness all work against our caring for what God has created and what God desires with us.  How might we take more to heart God’s call to tend and take care of creation? How can we act as faithful partners with God, knowing that some things are God’s alone to bring about and others are influenced by our actions -- or our inaction?

In Bertholt Brecht’s play “The Good Woman of Setzuan,” one of the gods and the peasant Wong have a conversation.  Wong says, “Everyone knows the province of Kwan is always having floods.” The god replies, “Really? How’s that?”  Wong answers, “Why, because they’re so irreligious.” The god responds, “Rubbish. It’s because they neglected the dam.”  This brings us back again to God’s work and our hands, to the partnership begun at creation.

Perhaps it will help if we keep before us not only the beginning of God’s story with us but also an image of the future God envisions.  In our reading from Revelation today, we get a glimpse of it. God’s future isn’t portrayed as endless harp-playing while we walk around on clouds, but as heaven coming to earth.  There, the river of the water of life is “bright as crystal,” flowing down the center of the city. The tree of life bears nourishing fruit, numerous kinds throughout the seasons. The leaves of that tree are for healing, for bringing about an end to conflict and separation.  

God’s future is all about renewal and refreshment and restoration.  At creation, trusting what was not worthy of trust led to eating a forbidden fruit in Eden and damaging humankind’s relationship with God.  Out of mercy, God had made clothing out of leaves to cover those who had disobeyed and then felt shame. But in God’s future, fruit is freely given and leaves are for healing.  Creator and creation live as God intended, redeemed and restored. All things are made new.

That is the future that God is drawing us toward.  We glimpse it in the waters of baptism, in the fruit of creation that becomes holy communion, and in our partnership with God in caring for creation.  Let me suggest just one concrete way we might live out our baptism, be the body of Christ in the world, and faithfully “till and keep” God’s good creation.  For a week or a month, you and I could drink only tap water. We could give the money we would have spent on bottled water, coffee, soda and other beverages to the ELCA World Hunger ‘Walk for Water’ Project.  It won’t be easy to do this, and our resistance to it might tell us something about that “saint and sinner at the same time” thing.  Whether we go for it or adapt it, it could be an offering, an expression of our commitment to care for the safe water we get to drink and for all the water in God’s good creation.  Perhaps it would become a sign of our gratitude to a Creator who values us as partners in God’s creative work.