Those are the words that came to mind as my sabbatical came to an end this summer. I had been on so many wonderful adventures, seen so many wonderful things, stood in awe in so many wonderful places. But as I returned home, I wondered what I was supposed to do with these experiences. I had been touched by God’s creation, but I had a feeling that it wasn’t just for my own gratification. I began to feel that there was more to do, that God’s call on my heart extended beyond the experiences of a summer to include a more significant part of my ministry.
I felt that my ministry and our church might be ready for something more. So, I started asking others. At a coffee conversation, or staff meeting, or ministry event, this idea, this “something more” came up. I felt like the Spirit was prompting me. Whispering again and again…
So, those conversations started coming more often and more intensely. Members of various ministries, the Spiritual Leadership Team, larger ripples emanating from the first pebble drop. Each time, there was more energy, more excitement, more agreement, more ideas. I kept praying, kept thinking, kept asking others to do the same. And each time I would bring up this idea, the echo I heard back was the same:
Then we landed on the Scripture passage in Acts that would be our guiding passage through these three weeks, and we have spent time asking what it means for us to be witnesses to the Gospel story of Christ. In Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, and even to the ends of the earth. And it struck me that perhaps this is what the Spirit was telling me. You see, I think that when Jesus told us to witness to the Resurrection story to the very ends of the earth, it is not exaggerating to suggest that all of creation was included. Remember, this call came from the same Jesus who told Nicodemus that God so loved the world, literally Greek says the “cosmos,” that salvation through Jesus was for all of creation. The same Jesus who taught that God loves the lilies of the field and the birds of the air, as well as every hair on our heads. The same Jesus who was present at the creation, who John tells us co-created the universe. This Jesus seemed to believe that all of creation was included in the salvation that he brought.
This was the same Jesus who went up to the hills to pray, who prayed in the early morning hours in the hills of Galilee the Psalms that he had learned since he was a child. Including Psalm 19, which proclaims, “the heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” Including Psalm 50, which sings “For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves on the field is mine.” And including Psalm 8, which is all about God’s creation:
1 O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
2 Out of the mouths of babes and infants
you have founded a bulwark because of your foes,
to silence the enemy and the avenger.
3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
4 what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?
5 Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
and crowned them with glory and honor.
6 You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under their feet,
7 all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
8 the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
9 O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
This is the Jesus who commanded his followers in that generation and every one since, “be my witnesses to the ends of the earth.”
All of this continued to flood over me, as that voice that started as a whisper had become a shout of proclamation:
This voice that I heard was apparently heard by others, as well, because as more people became involved, it became clearer and clearer that there was an excitement and energy around this idea of creation care. And different kinds of people were excited for very different reasons. You know, a lot of time creation care efforts get derailed because people assume that they can only look one specific way. Secular political assumptions start to creep in and people make associations that simply aren’t in the Bible. Many years ago, this creation care movement was mostly adopted by Republicans as “conservationism” by folks like President Grant who created the first National Park, and Teddy Roosevelt who supported that system even more, and President Nixon, who signed the Clean Air Act. More recently, Democrats like Vice President Gore and President Obama have taken it up, as part of what is sometimes called “environmentalism.” And so with these political connections, people have rejected the movement because they have rejected the politicians who supported it.
But, I love the sign that has hung in our hallway for as long as I have been here, placed by Nancy and Jack Leipzig as a part of creation care efforts many years ago: “It’s not a Republican thing or a Democratic thing. It is a ‘People thing’ and a responsibility that everyone of us have as children of God and His benefactors of this beautiful Earth.” Even though Nancy and Jack are gone, their legacy and their love reminds us that there is not just one way to care for God’s creation.
So, I want to introduce you to a new iteration of what Jack and Nancy, and Gore and Nixon, and Jesus and the Psalmist started a long time ago:
Welcome to “FBC’s Earthworks: The Psalm 8 Collective.”
Today, I want to talk about six kids of people who might be interested in engaging in this effort of creation care. Six ways that you can get involved in this effort. So imagine with me a room with six sides. And six doors.
The first door into this room of Creation Care is the door of Worship. We’ll call them Team Yellow. It is appropriate, given the fact that we started with Psalm 8, a song of worship, designed to be sung in the Temple. It is appropriate, on this Thanksgiving Sunday, that we are standing here in worship thanking God for the blessings of earth and land. Worship teaches us to care for creation, in the songs that we sing and the Scriptures we read. Standing at the door to that room is a familiar face to many: Anne Munsterman. Anne has been involved in worship for a long time here at First Baptist, and wants to find ways to open that door to new folks. We are thinking big: not only anthems and hymns and sermons that speak of creation care, but considering how our church grounds could be made to inspire worship, even organizing special outdoor worship services including a blessing of the animals service. Other churches have integrated what they call a liturgical “Season of Creation” (the four Sundays in September prior to St Francis of Assisi Day October 4th.) Anne is holding the door open for you and maybe you are ready to walk through it via the way of worship.
The second door into this room of Creation Care is the way of Scholars, or Team Purple. There are those who might enter the room of creation care through this scholarship: intellectual, theological understandings of creation care. Some might be interested in hearing and understanding the philosophical and intellectual ideas of creation care, including land sustainability, use of chemicals and pollution, species protection, global racism and the impact on the Global South, and climate change. This group might consider bringing in a speaker, panel, discussion group, or movie and conversation. Now, most of you know Anne; many of you may not know Caleb Robbins. Caleb and his wife Ashley have been attending the 8:30 service regularly for the last few months and when I told him about some of these ideas, he jumped at the chance to help. Caleb—Dr. Robbins—t is a stream ecologist here in Lawrence doing post-doc work. He has taught in former churches about the theology of creation care, and he is a wonderful example of the Scholarly door. Caleb is holding the door open for you and maybe you are ready to walk through it by the way of scholarship.
The third door–Team Green—is who we might call the “Re-sourcers.” There are some folks that believe that simple changes in the way we live can make a big difference: “Reuse, Reduce, Recycle.” This group lives by the mantra “Be green to save green,” because they know that changing light bulbs, windows, and switching to alternative energy and energy-saving practices are less expensive AND better for the environment. Churches across the country are working to make these changes, as they have seen them as a key component to caring for God’s creation. Holding the door for the Green Team is Marylee Southard. Marylee is interested in working to make these practical changes at church and help people make them at home. Recycling efforts, work days or training events, in-home energy audits, and hosting outside energy consultants to reduce the carbon footprint of the church…these are all ideas for Team Green. Marylee is holding the door open for you and maybe you are ready to walk through it by the way of the “Re-sourcers.”
A fourth door is what we are calling Sustenance. We’ll call them Team Orange. These are folks who pay close attention to the food they eat and the water they drink. They think about the ways that we care for our natural resources. Advocates for natural/organic/local food. Public health professionals and advocates. Water conservationists. And often folks who are simply label readers, watching closely what is in their food or the food of their family. Inviting you in the orange door are Joanna and Brandon Gillette…and Murphy. They are already thinking about how we might be more thoughtful of these issues and how we might learn more about our food and water. Cooking a church meal together to reduce waste. Bringing in a speaker to teach us about where our food comes from. Partnering with the Presbyterians on our shared food pantry garden. The way of the sustainers is open; the Gillettes are holding open the door.
The fifth door is near and dear to my heart—you might have noticed a couple of photos that I have showed you over the last few month—this is the way of the Nature-Lovers. Team Blue. Folks who enter through this door want to do more than save the environment for theoretical reasons, these folks want to save it because of their passion for being in nature. Camping. Hiking. Bike rides. Backpacking. Mountain-climbing. Trail running. Stream or park clean-up. Birdwatching. Nature photography. Even fishing and hunting. We have two door-holders for this door. Steve Yoder and Bryan Miller. Two stories on these guys. A couple of years ago, Steve and his son Olin had a couple of days off, so they drove out to Colorado, where they drove to a trailhead, crashed for the night, woke up at 3 am, hiked a 14,000-foot mountain, and drove back home. And Bryan…many of you probably saw him last week in church. After church last Sunday, he jumped in a car, drove to Arkansas, ran a trail run 38 miles long on Monday, and then drove back to work Tuesday. If you love nature, you are willing to do some crazy things! Now, you don’t have to be as crazy as these guys, but maybe you understand the way they are wired and you are ready to walk in the blue door with them.
One final door. The Red Door. The door of Advocacy. These are the folks inspired by the prophet Habakkuk. In 2.17, he writes, “For the violence done to Lebanon will overwhelm you; the destruction of the animals will terrify you—because of human bloodshed and violence to the earth, to cities and all who live in them.” Out of the prophetic tradition of Habakkuk and other prophets who have cried out for justice on behalf of the earth, this group will be more likely to be involved in direct action for the benefit of a healthy environment for all. In the vein of the prophetic advocates of old, they might include letter-writing campaigns, organizing of petitions, public appearances, or even nonviolent protests. We don’t have a door-holder for that one, yet. Maybe it’s you. Maybe it is someone you know, ready to take a prophetic stand. Ready to be a Habakkuk.
That brings me to my final point. Where do you fit in here? After the first of the year, we are going to have a ministry fair, in which we present some options for connecting. Some doors for you to walk through. But maybe you don’t want to wait that long. Maybe you want to jump into the planning and organizing stage right now. Maybe you want to be a door opener! These folks are going to be in the back after the service, to collect some names and sign up some folks ready to help organize. Now, maybe you are excited, but you don’t know that you fit into just one area. Lynne Beatty is our official gatherer of the “free agents,” or folks who aren’t sure where they fit. Her role—we are calling her our “freelancer”—will be to connect dots and help groups integrate together. She and many others have been involved in this conversation and are finding their place in the room.
This is FBC’s Earthworks: The Psalm 8 Collective.
And this is only the beginning. There are plenty others who are supportive, and have been key voices in the creativity around this, but aren’t up here. Now, of course, this won’t be for everyone, but I have a feeling that there are some of you right now who are starting to get a little excited. Some of you who have wanted to do something like this and weren’t sure how to get started. Some of you who have heard a voice similar to mine and are ready to shout it out loud: