Monday, 14 September 2015 00:00

"Green is Beautiful", September 13, 2015


“Green is Beautiful”
Jeremiah 31:1-14
A sermon preached by the Rev. Douglas M. Donley
September 13, 2015
University Baptist Church
Minneapolis, MN

Here we are outside, enjoying the sunshine, the breeze, the new people, the opportunity to look at worship in a new way, and of course the food waiting for us for the preacher to finish up. The Worship Planning Team decided that this year we would focus our worship year around the theme “For the Beauty of the Earth”.  Each Sunday from now until Thanksgiving, we’ll focus on a different color and it’s beauty.  If you haven’t figured it out yet, today’s color is green.  Seems like a fitting way to begin the year, especially while it’s still a bit green outside.

Being outside like this reminds us of the beauty of this earth that is our temporary home.  It also reminds us of verdant green holy places near and far.  Those places that we found sanctuary.  Where the temperature was just right.  Where we let the grass tickle our feet, when there wasn’t a care in the world, when we played as a younger person or watched our offspring play.  So we want to capture it.  Preserve it. Keep it. For it is holy.  

I think of Sheryl Palmer.  Lawyer turned gardener or was it gardener turned lawyer.  One made it possible for the other.  She landscaped this place many years ago when we put in the handicap ramp.  She created a sanctuary at her and Nadean’s home in Stillwater, surrounded by her plants, the ever-changing palate of color and beauty.
How appropriate that she should spend her last moments surrounded by that color, that beauty, that green landscape, just at sunset.

We love our green spaces.  There’s a reason we call meadows and parks sanctuaries.  They speak of holiness in a way that we try in vain to imagine within the walls of our church buildings.  We try to recreate inside what God has created outside.

Think about those green places of holiness.  Bring them to mind.  Who was with you as you examined the veins in a green leaf?  What did you think of when wind blows through your hair and you bend your head back to take it in? How did your lungs feel when you inhaled the dry warm air?  What memories do the smells of fresh cut grass bring up in you?  Green is beautiful, isn’t it?

I’m reminded of an old Irish ballad, one of many love songs to Ireland that people were forced to flee when hunger beset them:

From Derry Quai we sailed away on the 23rd of May
We were taken on board by a pleasant crew bound for Americay
Fresh water there we did take on five thousand gallons or more
In case we'd run short going to New York far away from the Shamrock shore

So fare thee well, sweet Lisa, dear and likewise to Derry town
And twice farewell to my comrades bold who still dwell on that sainted ground
If fortune ever, it should favor me and money I have in store
Well, I'll come back and I'll wed the sweet lassie I left
On Paddy's Green Shamrock Shore

I imagine that’s what the Hebrew people thought about when they thought about Judah, the land from which they had been thrown into an exile, like so many Syrian refugees today.  They were sent away against their will, pushed out by conquering armies, told that their kind was not wanted there anymore.  They would have perished, and many did, were it not for the reminders of the prophets about their homeland and the hope that they could return again.  

Hear again what the prophet Jeremiah has to say to the people in exile.

At that time, says the Lord, I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be my people.
2 Thus says the Lord:
The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness;
when Israel sought for rest, 3the Lord appeared from far away.
I have loved you with an everlasting love;
   therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.
4 Again I will build you, and you shall be built, O virgin Israel!
Again you shall take your tambourines,
  and go forth in the dance of the merrymakers.
5 Again you shall plant vineyards on the mountains of Samaria;
the planters shall plant, and shall enjoy the fruit…
8 See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north,
   and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth,
among them the blind and the lame,
   those with child and those in labor, together;
   a great company, they shall return here.
9 With weeping they shall come, and with consolations I will lead them back,
I will let them walk by brooks of water,
   in a straight path in which they shall not stumble;
12 They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion,
   and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the Lord,
over the grain, the wine, and the oil, and over the young of the flock and the herd;
their life shall become like a watered garden, and they shall never languish again.
13 Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance,
   and the young men and the old shall be merry.
I will turn their mourning into joy,
   I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.
14 I will give the priests their fill of fatness,
   and my people shall be satisfied with my bounty, says the Lord.

It’s a reminder not only of their homeland, but also of the fact that God had not forgotten them.  

We treat this land as if we have forgotten God. We pave paradise and put in a parking lot.  Or we take out a parking lot and put in yet another six-story apartment building.  You are sitting on the last green space in Dinkytown.  And we cherish it. We celebrate it.  It beckons us to welcome everyone to play in its grass, to sit under the shade of a tree instead of a building.  We frolic on the playground.  We pick the raspberries, enjoy the flowers, and remind each other that God is here as the green blade still riseth.

Green is beautiful.  What can you do to make recognize the beauty of green?

Stephen Boyer wrote an editorial printed in yesterday’s Star Tribune saying that we ought to see the connection between the Syrian refugee crisis and climate change—making a desert out of a once fertile land.  Our insatiable appetite for oil and the military policies that have supported this addiction are the roots of the refugee crisis.  As we lose our water tables and once beautiful green cropland gets wasted in favor of crude oil, then we have lost something essential to the sacred balance of our lives.  

So, remembering that green is beautiful is more than sitting on the grass once a year and trying to conserve energy.  It’s certainly about our individual lifestyle choices.  But’s it’s also about our national policies and international commitments to slowing or even reversing climate change.  Imagine if Christians got behind that kind of movement?

It’s not that easy being green, sang Kermit.  But green is beautiful.  It’s essential and it’s a central part of God’s handiwork.  So, let’s find ways to be green.  It’s not easy by yourself, but together, we can make it so.

We’ll do it for we are thankful for the beauty of the earth.

We’ll do it because God is here in the green grass, because God has created this sanctuary for us. And in this sanctuary, we imagine something better, don’t we?  Why not start out this academic year imagining how we can love the land and its people.  God would be happy.  For green is beautiful.

For green is the color of spring.  
And green can be cool and friendly-like.
And green can be big like a mountain
or important like a river or tall like a tree.  
When green is all there is to be.  
It could make you wonder why, but why wonder, why wonder.
I’m green and it’ll do fine.  It’s beautiful. And it’s how I want to be.