Tuesday, 29 July 2014 00:00

"Earth", July 27, 2014

Psalm 24:1-6
A sermon preached by the Rev. Douglas M. Donley
July 27, 2014
University Baptist Church
First Congregational Church
Minneapolis, MN

Here we are in the last Sunday of July.  I always enjoy our July jaunts with First Congregational Church. We get to take a topic and explore it for four weeks.  This month, we looked at environmental stewardship by focusing our four Sundays together on the topics of air, fire, water and today’s topic, “Earth”.  When I opened my program to the Baptist Peace Fellowship’s conference in Canada last week, I was interested to see what they did with the concept of environmental stewardship, which was the focus of the conference.  To my delight and surprise, they focused one day on air, one of water, one on fire and one on the earth.  So, maybe madness loves company.

Throughout the week, we contemplated the Indigenous teachings of the medicine wheel.  The wheel has four quadrants, each representing a color, an element, a season, life-stage.  The North represents the element of air. It is symbolized by the color white.  It is associated with the elders, the winter season, the mind.  The East represents fire.  It’s color is yellow.  It represents spring, birth and the body.  The South represents water.  It’s the summer season, representing the joy and excitement of youth.  It’s color is red, the color of the Spirit.  Finally, we have the West representing earth.  It’s color is black, the fulfillment of all other colors combined.  It’s season is the earthy fall representing adulthood and the heart.  In the heart lies the earth.  All of these elements, ages, seasons, colors, aspects of our beings need to be in balance in order for us to be whole.  Maybe the reason we focus on these elements this summer is because we know that we have become somehow out of balance.  And we recognize that a part of our work as Christians is to bring our part of the world back into balance.

One of our indigenous teachers said that in Ojibwe the Bible’s John 3:16 says that that God so love the land.  This is different than God so love the world.  The land is what God loved.  The earth.


Land is at the heart of the Israel/Palestine war.  They are at a bomb-laden stalemate because each group wants the same land, which both groups see as holy and God-given.  There can be no peace until we learn how to share land with equity and with a hope toward future sustainable peace. “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof”, says the psalmist.  The stones cry out for justice.

Our Canadian friends reminded us that long before the continent was split up to be the US, Canada, and Mexico, it was inhabited by proud nations who for thousands of years had referred to the land as “turtle island”.  There was a publication years ago put out by American Baptists Concerned for Sexual Minorities.  Its title was “the Voice of the Turtle”. A turtle can only move if it sticks its neck out.  What might the turtle of this continent be telling us?  What might we need to listen to? How might we need to stick our necks out to preserve and honor the earth?

In Canada, we have the tar sands: a cash cow for certain industrialists, but an earth scorching and burning death zone for the land. In Minnesota we have hydraulic fracking which extracts natural gas from fissures in rocks deep underground by pumping in chemical-laden water into the porous subterranean rocks. Is the natural gas worth the earthquakes, the groundwater pollution? North Dakota is ground zero for oil production, and the oil comes right through the Twin Cities on old train cars prone to leaking and explosions.  Pesticides flow off our farmland and into our aquifers poisoning bees and aquatic life—all putting this world out of balance.

As one of our speakers put it this past week, it’s more than changing the kind of light bulbs we buy.  It’s about challenging the system that degrades our earth and keeps us dependant on mammon and fossil fuels.  Even President Obama, the president who has presided over the largest increase in domestic oil and natural gas extraction said, “ We can’t and shouldn’t burn all the fuel in the ground.  We need to look for sustainable alternatives.”  Let’s hope it’s more than lip-service.

I have a clergy friend who has gotten rid of his car and has decided to ride his bike everywhere he can and rely on friends and public transportation for the rest.  Steve Lee has commuted from Maple Grove by bicycle at least once per month for 40 months in a row and counting. Even I rode my bike here this morning.  It felt good.

Our creation stories accentuate our connection with the earth.  The very first person was named Adam, a derivation of Adamah, meaning earth.  Adam means earth-creature.  We are children of Adam, children of the earth, beautifully connected with the elements.

During Peace Camp, there was a soil ritual in which people were invited to bring a little bit of soil from their home and bring it forward, pouring it together in a ritualized urn from which something will grow in the coming year. They brought soil from their gardens, their beeches, and they mingled them with words of hope, of longing, of dreams. There was Arizona dry soil, Toronto clay, Minnesota sandy loam, Cuban tobacco soil, Soil from a Florida retirement home, from an Austin Texas church yard, from a community garden in Rochester, NY, from the Adirondacks, from Vancouver, BC, from the mountains of Chiapas, from a memory garden in Pittsburg, from a Karen youth farm in Louisville where they are now rooted. We shared these stories while former UBCer Doug Norton played the Ash Grove on piano.  We are all Adam, children of Adamah, connected and responsible for this creation and for each other.

And yet, we act like we are lone rangers and that we have a right to do and get and use what we please. Environmental degradation, warfare, poverty are all part of a sinful pathology that we are separate.  It is never just about our own personal individual salvation, it’s about all of our salvation.  It’s about saving the world and being a part of the solution.  Think about the prayers that sometimes open worship services.  It’s called and invocation. When we invoke God’s presence in worship, then we perpetuate the illusion that God is out there and other.  Maybe we ought to be invoking ourselves to awaken to God’s presence.

Maybe we can pray something like what Rabbi Harold Kushner said:

“Let the rain come and wash away the ancient grudges, the bitter hatreds held and nurtured over generations. Let the rain wash away the memory of the hurt, the neglect. Then let the sun come out and fill the sky with rainbows. Let the warmth of the sun heal us wherever we are broken. Let it burn away the fog so that we can see each other clearly. So that we can see beyond labels, beyond accents, gender or skin color. Let the warmth and brightness of the sun melt our selfishness, so that we can share the joys and feel the sorrows of our neighbors. And let the light of the sun be so strong that we will see all people as our neighbors. Let the earth, nourished by rain, bring forth flowers to surround us with beauty. And let the mountains teach our hearts to reach upward to heaven.”

My friends we are children of the earth.  We are responsible. The earth is God’s the fullness thereof.  We are God’s.  Therefore, care for the earth, your mother, your caretaker, your heart.

Tread on the earth lightly.  Preserve it for the next generation.  Nurture peace in the land.  Respect all living things.  Live in balance. Air, fire, water, earth, they are all God’s gifts to us.  Treat them as you would treat God.  Live in balance so that you and your children can live in balance beauty and joy.

Baptist writer and preacher Howard Thurman wrote: “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

Come alive, my friends. Nurture the Spirit at the heart of Adam, the earth-creature.  For the earth is not only God’s.  It is God.

Let me close with a song by an earth-lover and activist.  It’s probably the last song that Pete Seeger wrote.  It merits learning and singing.

God's counting on me, God's counting on you
Pete Seeger & Lorre Wyatt

When we look and we can see things are not what they should be
God's counting on me, God's counting on you (2x)


Hope and we'll all pull through,
Hope and we'll all pull through,
Hope and we'll all pull through me and you.

It's time to turn things around, trickle up not trickle down
God's counting on me, God's counting on you (2x)


And when drill, baby, drill turns to spill, baby, spill
God's counting on me, God's counting on you (2x)


Many wrong turns we have made, change the course, don't be afraid
God's counting on me, God's counting on you (2x)


When we sing with younger folk, we will never give up hope
God's counting on me, God's counting on you (2x)


Don't give up don't give in, workin' together we all can win
God's counting on me, God's counting on you (2x)


When we do the work of peace, we can see God's love increase
God's counting on me, God's counting on you (2x)

Chorus (2x)