Be the Church: Protect the Environment (Sermon for June 14, 2020)

One of the gifts that I got from my dad is a love of nature. Not the kind of love that makes me enjoy camping. No. I have the kind of love for nature that makes me say, “What a weird bug!” when we’re walking the dog and I see a weird bug. Or that makes me say, “Check out this creepy mushroom forest!” when I see the dead man’s fingers growing in our yard where a tree stump used to be.

I am the kind of person who moves the spider to a safer place in the house… and takes the centipede outside… and thinks, “If I’m going to take that bird nest down off the porch light after the season ends, I should really put a bird house somewhere.”

The world around us—the plants and the animals and the rock formations and the spangled heavens—is a work of art. Through nuclear physics and plate tectonics and evolution and a thousand other tools, God has made wonderful and beautiful things. And one of the gifts that I got from my dad is an appreciation of those things.

We are starting a new summer sermon series today. You see, we follow the Narrative Lectionary. If you don’t know the term, a lectionary is a schedule of Bible readings. There are readings for every Sunday and every holiday. And the Narrative Lectionary suggests readings for every Sunday and every holiday… from around Labor Day until about Pentecost. And then, in the summer, it gives us the space to explore other things.

And the United Church of Christ has this… thing. It’s on mugs and aprons and banners and magnets and coloring books and a bunch of other merch. And it goes like this:

Be the church. Protect the environment. Care for the poor. Forgive often. Reject racism. Fight for the powerless. Share earthly and spiritual resources. Embrace diversity. Love God. Enjoy this life.

And this summer, we’re spending time with that… thing. That list. And we’re starting here: be the church; protect the environment.

And if we’re going to start with that, then I need to start with this: almost no matter how bad you think things are… they’re worse.

I’ve talked about this before, in a sermon that I gave almost exactly a year ago: climate change is going to be bad. By 2030, the average global temperature will be one-and-a-half degrees (celsius) warmer than it was in the pre-industrial age. 

That means more hot extremes in most of the world; more extreme weather events, from droughts in some areas to flooding rains in others; rising seawater and the destruction of coastal areas; the endangerment and extinction of animals and plants; big threats to the health, livelihood, food security, water supply, human security, and economic status of people around the world.

And while climate change is the biggest environmental problem facing the world today, it is not the only one. We are poisoning and polluting the air, the water, and the land in more ways than we know.

And the effects of that environmental destruction is not spread evenly. People who are Black or brown or poor are substantially more likely to bear the burden of environmental damage than people who are white or wealthy. From diseases like heart disease and asthma and cancer… to being forced into being climate refugees.

Almost no matter how bad you think things are… they’re worse.

The Bible tells the story again and again and again. God loves the world this way: God makes the world and gives it as a gift.

God stretches out the heavens. God sets the earth on its foundations. God covers the earth with the deep.

God makes streams gush and streams flow. God grows the grass and trees and mountains. God fills the earth and the sea with and the air with life: with birds and goats and lions and fish and creepy crawly things. And God gives food and breath and spirit to them all.

God creates and sustains and cares for this world. And then… God turns to us—to part of that creation—and invites us to join in caring for it, too.

To what can I compare such an act of grace! It’s like da Vinci, painting the Mona Lisa, turned to a child and said, “You color in this bit.” God asks us to be conspirators in creation!

And, I know, that is a heavy responsibility. And, I know, we haven’t done a great job. You see, for too long, we thought that we could just kind of do whatever—we could exploit the earth and pour our waste back into it—and it would be okay. 

And now we are standing on a precipice… at a tipping point… maybe even out past the tipping point… and almost no matter how bad you think things are… they’re worse.

God asks us to be conspirators in creation… and we have dominated and destroyed, instead.

But there is still some grace left. The story is not over. Because as broken as the world is, God is working to restore it. And as broken as we are, we can join God in that work. We can be partners in the healing of a broken world.

But here’s the thing…

And I’m pretty sure that you’re going to hear this again and again as we work our way through this summer sermon series… as we talk about protecting the environment and caring for the poor and forgiving often and rejecting racism and fighting for the powerless and sharing earthly and spiritual resources and embracing diversity and loving God and enjoying this life… as we talk about being the church. You’re going to hear this.

Here’s the thing:

We are standing on a precipice. We are at a tipping point. We are maybe even out past the tipping point. And, right now, protecting the environment—being partners in the healing of a broken world, being the church—is not a small thing.

I mean, we should do the small things. We should wash dishes instead of using plastic and styrofoam. We should be responsible about how we use our cars and we should eat more sustainably. We should reduce and reuse and recycle. We should buy environmentally friendly products and we should use reusable drinking straws. We should do all of those things and more.

But we are standing on a precipice, at a tipping point, maybe even out past the tipping point. And protecting the environment—being partners in the healing of a broken world—is going to take a whole lot of people doing a whole lot of big, bold, wild, dangerous, grace-filled things.

I’ll be honest. I don’t know exactly what that looks like. I don’t have a list of action items.

Maybe it looks like doing more of the little things. Maybe it starts with washing the mugs and getting smart thermostats and making sure we recycle.

Maybe it looks like doing some big things. Maybe we end up with solar panels on the roof… or a sustainable community garden in the back yard… or a giant letter-writing campaign running through our town.

But I think it starts with this: with seeing the wonder and beauty of God’s creation, all around us. With hearing God’s call to be good stewards of this gift of a world—with this gift of a work of art—that God has given us. With praising the God who has given us this blessing, with proclaiming ourselves to be partners in the healing of a broken world, with asking God to make us a blessing to this world.

And those are, by themselves, big, bold, wild, dangerous, grace-filled things.

So thank God I know some people who can do big, bold, wild, dangerous, grace-filled things. Thank God I know some people who can be leaders in doing big, bold, wild, dangerous, grace-filled things. Thank God I know some folks who have heard the call and made the promises and entered into a covenant.

Thank God I know some folks who can be the church.

Alleluia. Amen.

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