Thursday, July 4, 2013

Planting Seeds of Hope

“Planting Seeds of Hope” AUDIO RECORDING
Psalm 23; Acts 9:36-43
Hope UCC, Alexandria, VA
Fourth Sunday of Easter, April 21, 2013
Katelyn B. Macrae

Prayer: O Great Creator, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight. Amen.

Earth Day and the UCC’s 4/1 Earth Campaign invites us to pause and focus our attention on the beauty of creation and the amazing work of our Creator.

Today is an opportunity to give thanks for beauty and nature’s bounty that reminds us just how wonderful and creative God is. But more than just focusing our attention on the nature’s beauty – on the bright blue of the bird’s wings, Or how the suns rays fill the sky at sunrise, Earth Day and the UCC’s 4/1 Earth campaign also call us to account for the ways that our living on this sacred and hollowed ground has also led to environmental degradation and destruction, and how our religious tradition can contribute to earth’s destruction as well as earth’s redemption.

In my final semester at seminary, I took a class with about religious and environmental ethics. In the classroom we were a mix of theology and environmental science students. Mary Evelyn Tucker, one of our professors, cautioned those of us coming from the Divinity School about how the stories from our religious traditions has wrought danger on the environment. She asked us to look at our stories of origin, how our universe came to be - our cosmology – such as the story from Genesis that we shared in the Call to Worship.

Tucker says, “the story of cosmology gives us a sense of our place in the universe. And if we are so radically affecting the story by extinguishing other life forms and destroying our own nest, what does this imply about our religious sensibilities or our sense of the sacred?” (Worldly Wonder 1).
What does it imply for our sense of the sacredness of creation if we are destroying it, and perhaps ourselves in the process?

The before and after pictures Alberta Tar Sands in Canada shows how the boreal forests are destroyed after it has been strip mined for tar sands, which are processed to make oil. When we consider the proposed Keystone Pipeline XL this is where the oil is coming from. 

In addition to increased energy demand, global warmings’ impact is shown in the melting of the polar ice cap. Since 1979, the Polar Ice Cap has decreased 20%. The red boundary line marks where the ice cap was in 1979.

Warmer oceans and rising temperatures impact all of God’s creation.

Our West Virginia mountains have a hard time praising the glory of God after their mountaintops have been removed.
And birds of the air find it difficult to soar to the heights of the heavens after their wings are coated in oil. (BP Deepwater Horizon disaster).

Friends, these pictures confront me with the very real consequences of living in a country, and in a world that has an incredible dependence and an insatiable appetite for fossil fuels. These images also remind me that things I do as part of everyday living - when I drive in my car, or turn on the light, or check my email – are part of much larger and more complicated systems.
Did any of you see the documentary – No Impact Man? It came out a few years ago and was streaming free on Netflix. The documentary follows a writer, Colin, and his family living in New York City, on their quest to have a zero Carbon Footprint for one year.

Colin stops taking the elevator and public transportation, the family even washes their clothes by hand in the bathtub, and only buys local food. Colin uses a solar power generator for his laptop so that he can blog about the experience. The movie is both funny, and very serious, as illustrates just HOW enmeshed our daily activities are with carbon consumption and how complicated it is to extricate ourselves from these ways of living.
On Earth Day, we remember that we are a part of creation, and how we live on this earth has an impact. We can’t just turn and point the finger of blame at past generations, or governments or corporations, and act as if it’s always someone else’s fault or someone else’s responsibility to clean the world up. We are all in this “mess” together.  

On Earth Day, like on Good Friday, we take the time to acknowledge the places in this world where no life seems possible.

Psalm 23 provides familiar comfort in such times - The Lord is My Shepherd, I shall not want….Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I shall fear no evil for thou art with me…”

While we take in the barrenness of this landscape, we acknowledge that there is death and loss and environmental destruction.

But the story doesn’t end here. These psalmists’ words also give us comfort and hope. 
For yea, though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we shall fear no evil! We are not alone! God, our shepherd, is with us as we walk!
Christina Hutchins writes that we don’t know much about the valley in Psalm 23.

“We don’t even know if the valley of the shadow of death is the very same valley as that of the green pastures. Is it one place in two different seasons?… Is the grass-blooming valley a return to what had been previously demolished, the way that nature, when we let it, with time and a cessation of active destruction, heals itself and may heal us?”[1]

Death Valley, which you see above, looks completely different from the previous picture – and yet they are the same place.  In observing nature, we learn how possibility blooms in places that seemed barren and desolate.

In the cycles and seasons Nature teaches us how life and death are intertwined. A fallen tree becomes a home for bugs who eat the tree, and help it decompose to become soil that provide nourishment for other trees and in the forest. Or, for those who like to garden, think about how this year’s compost becomes next year’s garden fertilizer.

Like nature’s cycles and seasons, this story from Acts that we heard this morning also shows the movement from life to death to life. This story of transformation shows the power of God’s community gathering together to work for change.

Dorcas was a generous woman who shared her resources with those in need. When she died, the whole community experienced a loss – but they weren’t ready to accept her death. And so they took all of their resources, all of their energy, and went to get Peter. And as Peter was inside with Dorcas praying and doing his work, the community waited outside and prayed too. Dorcas lived again!
Biblical scholar Stephen D. Jones suggests that while the obvious miracle of the story is that Dorcas is revived, the underlying miracle is the miracle of the community who mustered all of their resources together. It was because of their persistence, and God’s grace, that new life was possible again.

Just like that community in Acts - when we combine our energy and efforts and act together for one Earth, through planting the vegetable garden at Hope, writing advocacy letters, and singing and praying about the wonders of creation, our collective actions proclaim that death and destruction and degradation do not have the last word. We are people of Hope, and we believe that with God’s help and the work of our hands, new life, and new growth are possible!

In your bulletin today you should have received a piece of butterfly paper. I invite you to pull it out now and hold it in your hand.

This paper is full of possibility – because it contains the seeds of Hope!

As you hold this paper in your hand, take a few moments to think about where you would like to plant some Hope in the world. It has been a difficult week, especially for those of us with ties to Boston. Is there a place, or a person, or a cause that comes to mind? If so, please write this down on the paper.

These butterflies are made of paper with wildflower seeds. If you take it home and put the paper on top of some soil in a cup, and water it - seeds will sprout in a few days!

Then you can go out and actually plant these seeds of hope in a place that could really use it! Or, if it’s not a physical place that you have in mind, or it’s too far away, consider planting these seeds in a place where you will see them often. Then each time you see these seeds of hope blooming you can say a prayer for your concern.

In the coming weeks, as we continue in the 4/1 Earth campaign let us plant seeds of hope and water them with our prayers. Let us sow these seeds freely and wildly, for God knows the world needs it. Amen.

[1], Dr. Christina Hutchins
Pacific School of Religion

Dr. Riess Potterveld
Pacific School of Religion