Tag Archives: Gardening/Landscaping

Food – Faith – Farming

Since there are so many members of our ELCA community who live in agricultural areas and we all depend on food to sustain us; let’s explore how we can deliberately share the spectrum of ways our churches can inform members of opportunities, practice mindful eating, and love the wide array of neighbors who help feed us.

Stewarding your Church “Property” as an Earth Community

by David Rhoads

I recently participated in the spring convocation at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg (April, 2012). The convocation centered on the theme of “Getting Green Faithfully,” and it included such notable speakers as Gil Waldkoenig (Professor of Church in Society at Gettysburg), Cynthia Moe-Lobeda (Professor of Environmental Studies, Theology, and Religious Studies at Seattle University), and Fletcher Harper (Executive Director of GreenFaith). All of the lectures, workshops, and worship were meaningful and invigorating. I was challenged by all of them.

The reflections that follow were stimulated by Gil Waldkoenig—as a way to begin to extend his conceptual reflection on land use among churches with some practical suggestions. His lecture (see the Fall, 2012 Cross Currents issue devoted to eco-theology)  was called “From Commodity to Community: Churches and the Land They Own.” In this presentation, he challenged the ELCA “to affirm greening that has been taking root in its congregations, to reorient to creation, and to join the public efforts for environmental restoration and wilderness participation.” He outlined a number of steps to take as means to think ecologically and theologically about land that belongs to congregations (and other church organizations) and how that land might be assessed and stewarded in wise ways.

I want to begin by honoring the folks in every parish who serve on the committee that cares for the (building and) grounds. Often it is a thankless job, with hard work that needs to be done on a regular or seasonal basis—mowing, raking, shoveling, sowing, weeding, harvesting, trimming, clearing, cleaning, among many other things. Many of these folks have specialized skills and use them wisely in their commitment to their congregational vocation and their exercise of good stewardship. They see their work on the grounds of the church as a sacred trust, and they take pride in their work.

Generally speaking, however, we are all caught up in a treatment of land that comes from the culture rather than from our theological traditions. As Gil’s title suggests, we see our land as a commodity. We look at church “sites for development.” We consider its commercial value. We talk about “owning” the land, and we have “Property” Committees. We “maintain” the property based on various cultural values of attractiveness—which lead us often to treat the lawn with weed-killing toxins and to plant non-native trees and shrubbery based on appearance alone.

Now we need to “reorient” our views, as Gil says, in order to see ourselves as stewards of land that is God’s good Earth. In the biblical creation stories, God made the land and called it good before creating humans. Creation was valued for its own sake, apart from human use of it. God created humans last to exercise responsibility for Earth, and God commissioned humans “to serve and to protect” creation. Our Lutheran theology affirms the goodness of the material world. We claim that the movement of God is toward becoming incarnate in, with, and under creation. We consider God to be present and creating in an ongoing way by “working for good in all things.” As such, God is earthbound, and the Earth is filled with God’s glory. We Lutherans have a sacramental theology affirming that the “finite can bear the infinite.” Our sacraments witness to the conviction that since Christ is present in such ordinary elements as grapes and grain and water, then we can be sure that Christ is present everywhere—in all places, in all things, and on all occasions. And our theology claims that the Holy Spirit is the giver and sustainer of life.

The consequence of these convictions is that we see our church land and all living things that share this space together as sacred. Land is not simply the measured square footage with 8 inches of topsoil dirt. Land is not soil apart from the microbes, worms, grubs, beetles, that inhabit it, the trees, shrubs, flowers, and grasses that are rooted in it, the insects, birds, small mammals, and rodents sustained by it—including the humans who depend on the soil and on all that lives out of the soil for sustenance, beauty, and breath itself.  This is an Earth community, and we are part of it.

Because all of it is sacred, we who share this space are enjoined to treat the land of our congregations with reverence and to care for it in such a way that all of life thrives there. Our reverence for the land is the right basis for our use of that land. We need to have knowledge of the plants and animals on the land and to understand our impact on their habitat. We need to be aware of the impact of our choices on other humans, especially the vulnerable in our society and in the world. We need to understand the principles and actions of conservation and preservation. And we need to see our relationship with life around us as one of kinship and communion.

Furthermore, we are called to pray to God and give praise to God in accompaniment with the soil and the elm trees and the rhododendrons and the tulips and the grackles and the raccoons and the mice that share this land with us. Just as the Bible calls all living things to worship by thriving in their space, so too we are commanded to worship together with them: “Let all creation praise the Lord” or “All creation! Praise the Lord!” Such a reorientation in our relationship to life around us will lead us to echo the words of Jacob when he wrestled with the angel: “Surely God was in this place and I did not know it.” Now we know!

Gil affirms the importance of place when he lifts up the question God asks Adam and Eve in the garden: “Where are you?” Our answer to that question is this: Here we are—an integral and inextricable part of this garden Earth. Ecological thinking affirms such a reorientation toward the land. Everything is connected to and interrelated with everything else. We share a common heritage in the universe. We are all made up of stardust. We share similar DNA with other higher primates. We have an intimate communion of interrelationships with all things, whether we are aware of it or not.  Beyond our commonalities, each church community holds a particular time and place in this larger system of things. We can see ourselves and the life immediately around us as a small piece of Earth community in which we acknowledge ourselves as mammals and embrace our kinship with all other creatures. We can recognize our human dependence on the land for food and on the life of the land for oxygen that enables breath itself.

This perspective leaves us with a deep sense of place. The mandate is this:  Know the region of which you are a part, learn its geological and natural history, and understand how your land relates to and inter-acts with the larger terrain around and how it is part in the local watershed. Know the ecosystem of your church land—its native trees and other plants, the insects, birds and other small animals that share this sacred space with you. Draw on local experts to get an assessment of the land and soil and native species as a basis for making decisions that impact the land. Consider land use around the church in its urban, suburban or rural context. Be aware of the green spaces around you—or the lack of them! Assess your proximity to corporate or industrial processes that affect the land in your neighborhood and city.

This entire reorientation means that we are part of an Earth Community that shares our land together and that we know this land as the true sanctuary in which we gather and worship. One congregation includes pictures of trees and birds and small mammals from their land as part of their church directory of “members.” Another church took pictures of their trees, enlarged them, and framed them as artwork for the church—so that people would notice their trees as creations of beauty. Churches can cultivate an awareness of and a love for all things natural around them.

So what practical actions might a congregation take to show reverence for the land and all its flora and fauna and to serve and protect it with humility, gratitude, and grace? Here are some ideas to consider.

  1. Know your space: Learn all that you can about the land, its plants and animals, and its make-up and history.
  2. Preserve and restore the natural state of the land. Identify the native plants, and protect and nourish them. Planting trees or shrubs or flowers or grass for appearance sake alone does not foster the life of the native eco-system. A Japanese flowering tree draws virtually no native life to its vicinity. By contrast, Douglas Tallamy of the University of Delaware estimates that a native oak tree will attract 252 native species of insects, birds, mammals, rodents, and other plants!
  • Plant a prairie area: Many churches have taken a segment of their land and turned it into prairie. This requires careful planning and some maintenance, but it restores the land and reminds us that life will thrive everywhere when there are wild places somewhere.
  • Design a beautiful landscape of native trees, shrubs, flowers, and grass. This will create a rich eco-system to celebrate. Planting native does not mean that the results are wild or unruly looking. People thrive in the midst of natural beauty.
  • Plant appropriate trees to clean the air by absorbing carbon dioxide and producing oxygen.
  1. Serve and protect your lawn.There are many resources available to build an attractive lawn in Earth-friendly ways.
  • Native grasses will root deeper, stay longer, require less water, and need less mowing.
  • Avoid pesticides or herbicides or toxic weed killers
  • Learn and use Earth-friendly techniques of sowing and natural fertilizing for developing a healthy and attractive lawn.
  • Consider Earth-wise driveways and parking areas: Install permeable cover, use gravel, or space some islands of trees and drainage areas throughout the parking areas.
  1. Gardens
  • Vegetable garden. Practice organic gardening. Share produce with food pantries. Local movements that focus on food and gardening will provide plenty of master gardeners to teach you. Engage the entire congregation, the neighbors, and especially the youth in the garden work. Partner with a church that has little access to land. Where possible, plant seasonally. Even a small garden bears a witness to good land use. Treat the land with reverence so that it will be nourished and re-nourished. Let the land lie fallow every seven years!
  • Flower gardens of native species. To enhance beauty. For selling to raise money for a food bank or giving to shut-ins. To decorate the altar rather than getting flowers that have been shipped from a distance and preserved with refrigeration. Put potted flowers throughout the church.
  • Plant an orchard, small or large: A story goes that Martin Luther was once asked what he would do if he knew that the world would end tomorrow. He reportedly replied: Plant an apple tree.” Now there’s an investment in the future! Again, this is for the hunger needs in your community.
  • Roof top gardens: depending on your roof and access to it, consider rooftop gardens to make the most of the space and to moderate building temperatures in all seasons.
  • Container gardens. If you have unused blacktop, consider small plastic swimming pools or wood frame containers along with intense gardening techniques to give members or provide neighbors with a space to plant some food for their tables.
  • Greenhouses. Churches are beginning to extend their growing season and maximize their garden productivity with greenhouses.
  • Rain gardens: Rain gardens are small, strategically-placed areas (often near roof run-off) in which native plants with deep roots are clustered. They absorb water deep into the ground so that the water is cleansed by nature—rather than carrying toxins on the surface into the local watershed. Rain gardens also serve to minimize the accumulation of water in flood plains. Local environmental organizations or universities can assist in setting these up, providing plants, and even perhaps offering a grant.
  • Specialized natural spaces. Some churches have set up space with selected native plants to serve as a butterfly garden or as a way-station for certain migratory birds.
  • Peace garden. Many churches are setting up small or large peace gardens with lovely native trees and plants to form a kind of sanctuary with benches for small-group worship or personal meditation. Sometimes they include a labyrinth as a guided walking meditation.
  • Memorial garden. This may be a way to maintain a cemetery. Some churches have places for the burial of ashes or simply an inscribed brick or plaque to commemorate a loved one. Soon churches will be setting space aside for natural (green) burials.
  1. Best Practices.
  • Local foods. When you have coffee hour with healthy snacks and potlucks, seek to encourage the offering of fruit or dishes made from foods grown locally. These can sometimes be accompanied by recipes designed to encourage seasonal cooking with locally grown foods. Also, consider wine for communion from a regional winery and bread from grain grown in the area.
  • Compost. Some churches provide compost for their garden from lawn clippings, leaves, and food scraps. One church has a very large worm compost area for members to bring food scraps for composting.
  • Rain barrels. Rain barrels strategically placed under downspouts can collect a large amount of water for use on gardens and church lawns. They are not expensive and can be installed easily.
  • Church schools, kindergartens, child and adult day care programs. Incorporate and teach Earth-friendly perspectives and practices in the programs you sponsor as a congregation.
  1. Extend your commitment beyond church land
  • Farmers market: My own church has such a large garden that they began a farmers market, badly needed on our side of town. Now seven or more vendors come to our parking lot each Thursday afternoon in the summer months. In addition to selling produce, church members make baked good and crafts for sale. Much of the proceeds go to a food bank. Again, a farmers market encourages eating locally grown foods.
  • Community Supported Agriculture. Supporting local farmers and the eating of locally grown foods are both outcomes of the Community Supported Agriculture programs, which match individuals, cooperatives, and organizations with local farmers. Your church may serve as a weekly drop-off point.
  • Urban food production. Some churches are working together to transform vacant lots into community gardens, raising vegetables in an hydroponic context indoors, and raising fish in indoor pools.
  • Gardens and lawns at home. Sponsor classes or workshops for members and the local community that teach organic gardening for home gardens and lawn care. Develop a pledge for members to make—a “covenant with creation”—that solidifies their efforts to carry out best practices for their yards and gardens.
  • Local projects: Engage members with opportunities to restore natural habitats, carry out reforestation, or plant trees in the city. Support your community in becoming a Bird City or a Tree City. Cooperate with local environmental organizations in the effort to strengthen the Earth community in your larger neighborhood.
  • Avoid unnecessary waste in the local landfill. Reduce, reuse, and recycle as thoroughly as possible. Use ceramic plates and utensils or purchase ones that decompose (and do not discard them in sealed plastic garbage bags!) Avoid the use of toxic cleaning products in the church that will go into the landfill or watershed. Avoid use of or properly dispose of all dangerous products.
  • Throughout the ELCA. Work to extend the practices you have developed so that they may be used on the land of other organizations and institutions of the church—colleges and universities, outdoor ministry camps and retreat centers, social ministry organizations, synod offices, and so on.
  • Spread the word. As opportunities arise, let your commitments and practices be known throughout the larger community through news outlets and word of mouth.
  1. Land trust:Consider placing your property in a permanent land trust, whereby it will be preserved from development in perpetuity.
  2. Public Witness:
  • Local Advocacy: If your church or community is near mining industries or fracking sites or land development or agribusiness sites or logging or brown fields, consider leading or joining conversations or protests that work toward safe environmental practices. Be especially aware of the human cost in ecological injustice and environmental racism.
  • National advocacy: Connect your efforts to be good stewards of your land with efforts to support laws and policies that maintain national parks, preserve wilderness areas from development, protect endangered species, and support efforts on behalf of clean air, pure water, and fertile land.
  • Global advocacy. Become aware of the problems created on lands around the world from global climate change, degradation of land from agribusiness, stripping of rain forests, and use of toxic spray to enhance food production.
  • Places of moral deliberation: Where controversy exists, seek to have your congregation become a place where the issues can be discussed in respectful and constructive ways.
  1. Cultivate a relationship with nature. God made nature for God’s own delight. When we despoil nature, we diminish the capacity for nature to praise God by thriving. When we restore nature we magnify God’s pleasure.
  • Enhance health. A relationship with nature improves the health of mind, body, and soul. Blood pressure goes down, recovery from illness quickens, and depression can lift in the time spent in natural settings.  See a relationship with nature as part of the church’s ministry.
  • Enjoy nature. Love it for its own sake. Worship outside. Display a nature map of your land and make an inventory of all that is on it. Encourage members to learn the trees and plants so that they can appreciate them and worship with them. Have a naturalist give your members a walking tour around your land or your neighborhood.
  • Celebrate your gardening. With a sowing celebration in the spring and a harvest festival in the fall. Have a meal, provide activities, and invite the community. Raise funds and gifts of food for the poor.
  • Bring nature into the church building and the worship space. Trees and plants purify the air and delight the senses. Consider an aquarium or gerbil cages.
  • Go to local green spaces: organize outings to local nature preserves or parks or the zoo. Talk about your experience. Hold a council or congregational retreat in a natural setting.
  1. Learn about nature. Martin Luther said there were two books of revelation, the Bible and nature. In the 16thcentury reformation, Luther put the Bible into the hands of the laity. Now it is time to put nature into the hands of all of us.
  • Educational programs. Incorporate a relationship to the land in the educational program of the church for all ages: adult forums, Bible study, book groups, youth activities, and vacation church school.
  • Stewardship. Revise your vision of stewardship to see care for creation not as an add-on but as the larger conceptual framework in which all other stewardship takes place. Incorporate care of creation into annual stewardship programs.
  • Church library and reading groups. Stock the library with books and videos that explain our eco-systems on Earth and inspire us to action. See the list brief below.

In sum, we need the conceptual theological framework that teachers like Gil Waldkoenig are providing us as a theological basis for our care of the land. We also need some practical ideas to carry out the mandates that arise from such reflections. In all of this, the goal is to create an ethos of Earth-care embedded in the identity and mission of the whole congregation—such that members are able to say: “This is who we are. And this is what we do!”

Selected List of articles, books, and videos

See the article: “Means and Scenes of Grace” by Gilson Waldkoenig in Dialog: A Journal of Theology (Winter, 2011) http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1540-6385.2011.00633.x/abstract. The issue is dedicated to eco-theology and includes articles by Norma Wirzba, Christopher Chapple and Whitney Bauman. A follow-up article to “Scenes and Means,” tentatively entitled “From Commodity to Community: Churches and the Land They Own,” will appear in the forthcoming Cross Currents Fall 2012, which will also be dedicated to eco-theology.

Norman Habel, David Rhoads, and Paul Santmire. The Season of Creation: A Preaching Commentary (Fortress, 2011)

Ben Stewart, A Watered Garden: Christian Worship and Earth’s Ecology (Augsburg Fortress, 2011)

Douglas Tallamy. Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants [latest edition} (Timber Press, 2007).

Anthony Westin, Back to Earth: The Environmental Movement in the Twenty-first Century (Temple University Press, 1994).

Jeff Wild and Peter Bakken. Church on Earth: Grounding Your Ministry in a Sense of Place (Fortress, 2009).

Norman Wirzba. Food and Faith: A Theology of Eating (Cambridge University Press, 2011)

David Rhoads, ed. Earth and Word: Classic Sermons on Saving the Planet (Continuum, 2007). Contains a number of sermons directly dealing with our relationship with the land.

 “Dirt! The Movie.” Narrated by Jamie Lee Curtis, this movie explores the soil beneath our feet. Interviews with Wangari Maathai, Vandana Shiva, Wes Jackson, Alice Waters, Majora Carter, and others trace connections between dirt, food, community, spirituality, social justice, and environmental sustainability.

 “The Journey of the Universe” An epic story of cosmic, earth and Human transformation. For information, go to www.journeyoftheuniverse.org.

“Earthbound: Created and Called to Care for Creation” (2009).Earthbound is a six-part series on DVD that looks at Christians’ complex relationship with God’s creation. Many Lutheran voices and case studies of the greening of Lutheran Institutions.  The series is available from Seraphim Communications http://store.seracomm.com/.

“Urban Roots” (2011). Directed by Mark MacInnis, this film tells the uplifting story of dedicated and diverse citizens, allied with environmental and academic groups, who are reclaiming post-industrial Detroit by growing food and cultivating community.

God in Forests: Who is Jesus for Chipmunks?

A Service In and For the Forests – Feel free to share this worship service or get ideas – we appreciate acknowledgement!

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Pentecost Creation/Forest — July 15, 2018
Homily by Pastor Susan Henry, House of Prayer Lutheran Church

Who Is Jesus for Chipmunks?

For maybe twenty-five years, I’ve mulled over a theological question that makes me feel a little foolish. I never raised it in a seminary class or talked about it with a professor, and when I’ve tentatively mentioned it to a colleague or two, they’ve looked at me like, “What???” But this question keeps coming up for me, and that kind of insistence in my life is sometimes God’s way of nudging me to stick with something that matters. So, even though you’ll probably laugh or give me the “What?” look, I’m going to share my theological question with you: “Who is Jesus for chipmunks?”
Stated more broadly, I guess this is a question about Jesus’ relationship with life other than human life – with chipmunks and vultures, worms and whales, Easter lilies and Queen Ann’s lace, cornfields and baobab trees. Who is Jesus for the rest of God’s created world? Does other-than-human life need Jesus, just as we do?

Martin Luther taught that “God writes the Gospel, not in the Bible alone, but also on trees and in the flowers and clouds and stars.” Luther must have thought that something important about being saved, about being made whole, is written right on creation itself. And Luther perceived God as “entirely and personally present in the wilderness, in the garden, in the field.” Imagine that! In suggesting that the gospel is not only proclaimed in Jesus but also revealed somehow in creation itself, maybe Luther too had been wondering about who Jesus is for chipmunks.

I don’t have a definitive theological conviction about this chipmunk thing yet, but over the past couple years I’ve felt something shifting in me that makes me way more attentive to all of life, not just human life, and to God’s relationship with life itself on the planet we all call home. Where I’ve been, who I’ve met – especially Phoebe, and what I’ve read has given me new and helpful vocabulary about “the web of life” and about “other-than-human life” and about how everything belongs, everything is connected, every kind of life matters.
Throughout my ministry, I’ve talked about the Bible as the long story of God’s loving way with God’s people, and although that’s true, it doesn’t seem quite sufficient anymore. I see how I’ve skipped over the part of the Flood story where the rainbow is a sign of the covenant God makes not only with humankind, but also with all the creatures of the earth. God saves life. People matter, but we’re not all that matters to God.

When I was on sabbatical a couple years ago, I invited you all to “notice and note” the created world around you with the hope that you (and I) would really see more, would care more about what we noticed, and would be moved to care for God’s creation more faithfully and intentionally. While you were here noticing the world around you, I was in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan noticing and noting the national forest in which I could drive at least ten miles in every direction and maybe only cross one road. It was amazing, dense, dark, humbling. I was fascinated by all the life around me at Carrie’s cabin – the jackpines with cones that only open under intense heat so that new life can begin after a forest fire, the trees with straight rows of woodpecker holes in them – like corncobs, the eagles that dove for fish in the lake in front of the cabin and took their catch home to the eaglets in their massive nests. I saw more, I learned more, I cared more. I felt more connected to creation and to all life.

For days, I tried to identify some other huge birds that I knew weren’t eagles and didn’t seem like osprey or hawks, either. Finally, I saw one – then another, and then a third — land in a couple dead trees fairly nearby. I grabbed the binoculars, zeroed in on those birds, and discovered that they were huge, ugly, disgusting, bare-headed, hunched-over vultures. Ha! I laughed out loud because I was expecting beauty and grandeur but I got these less-than-lovely scavengers who nevertheless are a really important part of the web of life. We need those vultures!

In the UP, I saw the startling, bare, ruined earth where land was being clear-cut for the sake of more and more new construction, for joining house to house to house, despite its cost to the life of the forest community. I learned a little about woodlot management where mules or horses are used to haul out what is selectively cut, instead of using massive machinery that makes it necessary to cut more in order to sell more in order to pay back the massive loans on that incredibly expensive logging equipment. It’s a pretty vicious cycle and a pretty grim story.

Right alongside all this, I was reading Earth-Honoring Faith, Lutheran ethicist Larry Rasmussen’s urgent call to sing faith’s song in a new key – an unfamiliar key that no longer treats the earth only as something to be used, even exploited, by humankind, but in ways that foster the well-being of all creation, ways that “sing to the Lord a new song.” Spirituality and ecology become allies in this transformation, for the sake of the world God created and loves.
Back in 1971, Dr. Seuss wrote The Lorax, and it’s still a call for voices that will speak for the trees and for people who will act for the sake of nature’s well-being. In a way, it’s even a call to what Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann names as “a new ecological perspective in which the earth and all of the creatures of the Earth are treated like covenant partners who are entitled to dignity and viability. Every acre,” he says, “every squirrel, every radish, every whale, every cornstalk is entitled to viability and respect.”
The Lorax calls us to speak for the trees and act for the sake of creation, but scripture, creation itself, theologians, and ethicists call us to do so because we are people of faith, because we know Jesus, because we love the world that God loves. “God so loved the world” – the cosmos, the planet, the people, the trees, the oceans, the creatures, even the chipmunks – that God came and lived among us on this beautiful blue marble that is life’s home. And not just for our lives, but for all the life we know.

When our fallenness, our sin, our very human unwillingness to let God be God in our lives compromises other life and maybe the life of the planet, God’s saving work in Jesus matters, and our faithful response to God’s grace matters, too. Never before has human life had so large an effect on our planet, and that just might call for an enlarged understanding of what it means to live faithfully. Our assumption that human life matters most to God might be challenged by the gospel written in trees and flowers and clouds and stars; in beauty, wonder, well-being, fullness of life, and harmonious relationship with God and all creation; in life together that’s more like life in the kingdom Jesus came preaching.

It may be quite a shift for you to take that “new ecological perspective” Brueggemann describes “in which the earth and all of the creatures of the Earth are treated like covenant partners who are entitled to dignity and viability.” I’m still in the midst of that shift myself. You might wonder about, be drawn to, challenge, or even resist such a new perspective, but perhaps we can’t sing in a new and unfamiliar key without a new perspective. It won’t be easy, but it might be necessary for us as people of faith. If Jesus came that we might have life and have it abundantly, such abundance surely includes respect for the life of, as Brueggeman puts it, “every acre, every squirrel, every radish, every whale, every cornstalk.”
Every chipmunk, too.

Amen

Sources: 

Attributed to Luther, cited in Awakening to God’s Call to Earthkeeping, elca.org

 LW 37:61, ibid.

Genesis 9:9

Earth-Honoring Faith: Religious Ethics in a New Key, Larry L. Rasmussen, Oxford University Press, 2013

 Walter Brueggemann, “Jesus Acted Out the Alternative to Empire,” posted June 22, 2018, sojo.net

Microscopic – Lost in Wonder, Love, and Praise

Micro-Creation Service Bulletin – Click here – free to share! (wonderful readings, music, etc.)

Homily by Pastor Susan Henry, House of Prayer Lutheran Church – Hingham MA

Pentecost 13 B Creation  – –  August 19, 2018

Grace to you and peace from God our Creator and from our Lord Jesus Christ.

Lost in Wonder, Love, and Praise

Because I was appalled at the prospect of dissecting a frog, I never took biology. My study of living organisms hasn’t been academic, but it has led me to love life, to stand in awe of God’s creative impulses and energy, and, lately, to feel more and more connected not just with human life, but with all of life.

I wasn’t in a biology lab, but I learned about dinosaurs, insects, and sea creatures because I was teaching four-year-olds about them. I know chicken anatomy because whole chickens are cheaper than chicken parts, so I long ago learned how to cut them up. I’ve milked goats and stirred a microbe-rich culture into that milk to make yogurt, and I’ve watched and smelled yeast at work in fragrant, rising bread dough. Most of what I know about plants comes either from gardening, being in the woods, or drawing what I see around me. Really, what I know about biology is more like having a pocketful of seeds, twigs, and shells than knowing where everything fits in a grand scheme. But, as a hymn puts it, I’m “lost in wonder, love, and praise.”

This is the third of three summer worship services that have been turning our hearts and minds to God the Creator “of all that is, seen and unseen” – the God of galaxies so vast and so distant it’s hard to wrap our minds around them, the God of forests that breathe in the carbon dioxide we have exhaled and then breathe out the oxygen we will inhale, the God of a fungal network so infinitesimal that 800 miles of it runs through the soil beneath just one footstep that we take. Really, the mind boggles!

The biblical writers knew nothing of micro-organisms, of course, but they too were lost in wonder, love and praise: “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” “How great are your works, O Lord! Your thoughts are very deep!” Both worship and study can draw our attention to what we might often take for granted about God’s awe-inspiring, gracious, creative work made known in human and other-than-human life.

At Bible study Thursday morning, we read today’s verses from scripture, and then we sat in awe of how our bodies are able to heal when we get a cut or break a bone. We laughed in amazement at the number of cherry tomatoes a mere three plants can produce from three tiny seeds. We pondered what we can see through a telescope and what is far beyond our seeing. We caught a glimpse of how everything is connected, how everything belongs. We were lost in wonder, love, and praise.

It’s good for us to intentionally focus on the marvels of creation and on the Creator of all that exists. It’s good for us to contemplate how interrelated all of life is, so that we can honor, respect, and protect what God has made and continues to create. It’s good for us to acknowledge how the Earth suffers when we fail to care for God’s creation, so that we can confess “what we have done and left undone” and so that we can change our ways.

Our reflection today about “the zoo in you” comes from Larry Rasmussen, a Lutheran ethicist who teaches at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. He too is lost in wonder, love and praise when he considers the sacredness of the web of life of which we are a part. But out of a passion for the well-being of that whole web of life, he is calling us to a life of faith that honors not only human life, but the life of the Earth itself. We’ve not been very good at that. We humans most often see our planet through the lens of how it can be useful to us, and we’ve gotten quite adept at consuming Earth’s resources – often without considering the consequences of what we do. Never before in Earth’s history have human actions been able to have such a massive impact on the web of life on Earth. That is no small thing.

People of faith bring a perspective to this situation that is grounded in knowing and loving God who creates, redeems and sustains us. And although we do think of God as the creator of all life, we probably haven’t thought much about God’s redeeming and sustaining work for the sake of all of life, for the sake of the web of life itself. Even less have we considered what it might ask of us to honor God’s desires for the well-being of all life.

Well-being, wholeness, fullness of life, flourishing, completeness, harmony, peace – this is the future God is drawing us toward. Scripture uses the word “shalom” to speak of this kind of life. We can also recall Jesus’ many parables about the kingdom of God. People kept asking Jesus, “What is the kingdom of God like? What is life like where what God desires is how life actually is?”

One time, Jesus said, “[The kingdom of God] is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.” Now, you may find that as enigmatic a response as the Bible study group did, but that’s the nature of parables. Jesus didn’t hand out easy answers but instead left his hearers puzzling over his words, taking them back home with them, pondering what yeast is and what someone did and what the result was – and what all that has to do with wholeness and well-being and flourishing.
Among other things, perhaps Jesus was calling his followers to be leaven in the loaf of their society, to help create something life-sustaining and God-honoring. People of faith like us today can be the leaven mixed into critical discussions and decisions about the well-being of the Earth and about the flourishing of all life – the leaven, the soil, the wheat, the baker, and those who share the bread. In living out such an Earth-honoring faith, we may discover that the kingdom of God has come near.

Amen

Growing a garden church from food scraps and compost

We turned an empty lot in L.A. into an edible sanctuary.

by Anna Woofenden (shared from Christian Century magazine)

When I moved to Los Angeles in 2014 to start a church that connected people with food, the earth, each other, and God, I envisioned a sanctuary created around the table. It would not be built out of stones and stained glass and wood but would be circled by vegetable beds and fruit trees, with sky for ceiling and earth for floor. The vision was to create an urban farm and outdoor sanctuary feeding people in body, mind, and spirit.

In the early months, the Garden Church wandered from public park to downtown street corner. We walked the neighborhood and listened to our neighbors, finding out which grocery stores had fresh vegetables and noticing the homeless encampments, the schools, the clinics, and the empty lots. [Read more here…]

 

 

 

Creation Care Congregation: Building and Grounds Ideas

Building and Grounds: “The church as an alternative community”

Energy Stewards Initiative. LRC program for congregations to reduce your energy use/costs and carbon footprint, with online tracking of energy data via the EPA’s Energy Star Portfolio, an action plan, and consultation and accountability through regular webinars. Or get an energy audit and follow steps to reduce energy. For more info contact your local utility or visit: https://www.energystar.gov/buildings/owners_and_managers/congregations

Comprehensive Environmental Guide for Churches, Their Buildings and Grounds. Use a checklist along with the full guide for an overall environmental inventory of your congregation, and take action. Download the entire guide – some details may be outdated, but the ties to faith and ideas are timeless. www.webofcreation.org/Environmental%20Guide.pdf

Choose a specific project: Replace all incandescent bulbs; retrofit fluorescent lighting; develop a recycling program; reduce paper use; purchase green cleaning products; make Earth-friendly food choices; eliminate Styrofoam; develop Earth-friendly lawn care, among others.

Use of land & water: Community garden; restore to prairie; preserve natural habitats; plant trees; create a sanctuary or peace garden; nurture animal life. Phase out fertilizers and pesticides use for lawns. Many free resources, stories, samples and readings to share throughout the LRC site, but local experts are best to build on existing relationships. Consider sharing a broader understanding of our relationship with soil by researching the “Kiss the Ground” program. This educational movement has the potential to involve those interested in agriculture, science, history, gardening and climate change.  Watershed discipleship resources are plentiful and offer a safe entry point for many who may not feel called to other issues in creation care.

Know your property as an “Earth community.” Get to know the trees, plants, animals, insects, birds, and other creatures who live with you on this space. Live in such a way that all of you may thrive together. Pray for them. Worship with them. Include some in your church directory as your creation family. For directions, go to: http://www.lutheransrestoringcreation.org/stewarding-your-property-as-an-earth-community.

For more information about Becoming a Caring-for-Creation Congregation, visit this page.

Stewarding the Gift of Water: ELCA Advocacy Fact Sheet

Theological background and information on water stewardship globally, nationally, and locally. Under the “Find Your Watershed” section of the Factsheet you can click on the link to the USEPA site and input your zip code and you will be able to locate your watershed.
or go to the ELCA Advocacy Resources page.