Earth Day

Madelyn Campbell

Earth Day, a sermon by Madelyn Campbell delivered to the Accotink Unitarian Universalist Church on 27 April, 2014   

Happy Easter! Yes, last Sunday was Easter Sunday, but in the Christian liturgical calendar, this is still Eastertide. In the Jewish liturgical calendar this is the counting of the Omer - the 50 days between Passover and Shavout - also known in the Christian calendar as Pentecost.  In the northern European pagan liturgical calendar, this is Beltane-tide - the time between Ostara and Beltane, or May Day, in late spring. 
I like liturgical calendars. Perhaps it’s because I grew up with them and it seems natural to me, but I think I like them most because they tie us into the seasons. There is a rhythm.  Maybe it’s the musician and the dancer in me, but I think we need to pay attention to the rhythms - and the earth has a rhythm.
We had a long, tough winter, didn’t we? It was cold. I know some of you are gardeners. I keep hearing rosemary horror stories. This winter wasn’t kind to rosemary. Did anyone here lose rosemary? Or any other plants this winter? I confess that I’m not much of a gardner. I’ve tried, I really have. I grew a $15 tomato a couple of years ago. I accomplished that by getting all the things I needed to grow my one tomato plant. Which then produced…one tomato. It was a good tomato, though. Even though I don’t seem to have much of a green thumb, I do appreciate the gardeners in my life, and the beautiful fruits of their labors.
So it was a rough winter. My gardener friends have been assessing their losses. And yet. Did you see the cherry blossoms? The Yoshindo cherry trees  - the ones with the white blossoms that line the tidal basin - have already had their peak and we’ve been showered with white blossoms, but the Kwanzan cherry trees are in full bloom just about now. Giant pink balls of blooms hanging like party lights in the trees.
For you shall go out in joy,
    and be led back in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
    shall burst into song,
    and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
It feels like the trees are clapping their hands now. It feels that way to me. I hope you can feel that. Even after the very long winter, the earth is awakening again, and new life is springing forth. The rhythm of the seasons carries us forward.
The earth is resilient.  She weathers many things. Even us.
We’re a part of creation, and we act in it and on it. We sometimes think of ourselves as set apart from creation - as if humans are one thing and the environment something else. I’ve heard some people talk about the seventh principle - “respect for the interdependent web of all existence, of which we are a part” as the environmental principle, as if that were all it is - as if we, somehow aren’t included in that. But in the Hebrew scriptures, in the language itself, there is no language for the separation of humanity from the rest of creation.
In their book, The Predicament of the Prosperous, Bruce Birch and Larry Rasmussen talk about our relational responsibility to creation. Bruce Birch is a professor and friend of mine and an all around wise and respected academic. They tell us, “God calls us toward the shalom of the whole creation.” Shalom - that doesn’t just mean “peace” it means wholeness. The wholeness of relational responsibility, then. They go on further to tell us about redemption as new creation - redemption as, quote, “the effort to restore the whole network of relationships that have been broken by sin.” I don’t want to get too off the mark here, but perhaps we should define sin so that we’re all speaking one language. Sin literally means to miss the mark. So when we’re doing things that take us away from relationship - with each other, or with the rest of creation, that is sinful. When we’re repairing that, then it’s redemptive.
Birch and Rasmussen point to today’s passage from Isaiah as the place where this new creation theme appears most fully in Hebrew scripture.  They say, “Here the salvation history and creation history are wedded. They are both a part of the work of one God. God’s redemption of Israel and the nations renews nature as well.” 
Think about that. Renewing the people renews nature. How does that happen? Why are the trees clapping their hands? Why are cypresses growing instead of thorns?
We can’t renew nature without renewing our relationships with each other. It’s all intertwined. Well, that makes sense.
When we don’t treat each other as equals - when we  aren’t in right relationship with each other, it’s much easier to dump our waste on those we don’t care about. One of the most dangerous jobs in the world is breaking apart ships. You won’t see this happening in the U.S., though. This work, damaging to the environment, and often deadly to the people who do it, is done in Bangladesh, by “Other” people. People who are poor, and brown. Because they’re desperate for any work. They break the ships, and it breaks the world and our relationships.
But we don’t have to go halfway around the world to find brokenness.  Back in January, a chemical spill from Freedom Industries polluted the drinking water of Charleston, West Virginia. Four months later, residents were still using bottled water. But what would happen if we cared enough about everyone to stop manufacturing and storing dangerous chemicals in poor communities?
I’m not saying this is a simple thing. I’m not saying “all we have to do is” - there are no simple answers. But we can start with considering how we are all linked, and how we all deserve to be surrounded by beauty.
How can we make that happen? What happens if we just sit and wait?
We haven’t been kind to our planet. We’re using up fossil fuels and spewing lots of carbons into the atmosphere. We’re demolishing wetlands and then we act surprised when cities flood. And then some among us cling to the belief that we need do nothing, that God will rescue us. You’ve probably heard about the man who climbed up to the roof of his house during the flood and a boat came by, but he refused to get in, saying “God will save me.” Soon, the water was up to his hips, and another boat came by, but he said, “God will save me.”  By the time the water was at his chest and he was clinging to the chimney, a helicopter came by. He still refused the help, saying, “God will save me.” He drowned. When he got to heaven, he asked God, “Why didn’t you save me?” and God said, “I sent you two boats and a helicopter!”
We have to do some of this work ourselves.
I’d said earlier that the earth is resilient. It is. The earth will be here with or without us. Creation will continue. Do we want to take the hand of the Holy and do the work to repair the garden?
There are many ways we can do that work. For some people, it means really getting out there and doing the work in the garden. Have you been in our garden? Whether you’re a gardener or not, I hope you can appreciate the  beauty of the garden.
Of course, we don’t just have a garden. We have 11 beautiful acres of open fields, and woods, and the garden. We have room to run around and fly a kite, or to sit and absorb all the beauty. What a gift! How are we caring for it?
Some of you are stewards of the grounds. You mow the lawn. You pull weeds. You care for the garden. Thank you. You’re doing the repairing work. Working on our own grounds is important, because it keeps us in touch.
We don’t all do that, and we don’t all have to, but there are things we all can do. The Green Sanctuary team has a lot of information they’d like to share with us after the service today.   Information about things you can do around here, and things you can do at home.
And once we’re taking care of each other and our own local garden, well, how hard can it be to move out from there?
When I was little, I lived in Manhattan. If you’re not a city person, you might not think of cities as green spaces, but my parents took me often to Central Park and to Ft. Tryon Park - my favorite. My father took me to Ft. Tryon Park nearly every Sunday, and we’d walk through the formal gardens and then run around and play in the open spaces. Sometimes I’d run around in bare feet and feel the grass beneath my feet. I want all of my brothers and sisters in creation to have that experience. Do you?
Go out. Enjoy the grounds today. See the trees clapping their hands. Look at the Bradford pear trees just outside here. And imagine. Imagine how it can be - how we will go out in joy and be led back in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
    shall burst into song,
    and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
    instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;
and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial,
    for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.
Let us make this garden here. Now. Let us join with all that is Holy in repairing creation.

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