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Earth Day Sermon

                                                                                 Earth Day Sermon

I have a screen saver on my computer at home. A few weeks ago I noticed that one of my sons had changed the screen saver to photos taken in space by some important satellite and I have to say the pictures are stunning, unbelievable, simply remarkable.

But there is one photo that holds me like no other. It is the one many of you have seen, the photo of earth, floating there against a deep blue sea of stars - this one was not taken by a robot satellite, it was taken by astronaut Bill Anders on Apollo Mission 8 in 1968 , and it stunned the world. It was the first time human beings had seen the earth from space, the first time we had seen earth as it is - a smallish, marbled globe, holding all that we know and will ever know here. That one photo changed the way human beings understood the earth and because of that understanding it changed how we live on the earth. The first Earth Day was one of the direct results, in 1970. Anders said, “We came all this way to explore the moon, and the most important thing is that we discovered the Earth."

The other night that photo came up while I was visiting with one of my sons; it grabbed his attention, and then he said, “Did you know that every astronaut who ever goes into space comes back claiming they have had a spiritual conversion?” And I said, “No. I did not know that.” “Yes,” he said, “they come back believing there has to be a God.”

I believe there is a reason our holy scripture begins with the story of God breathing across the void creating the heavens and the earth, breathing across the earth calling into life the night and the day, plants and animals; breathing to life humankind imprinted with the image of the Creator. Casting a loving eye on all that God had created, God saw that it was good, very good - it was and is, earth, our fragile island home.

Scripture will go on to explain to us that we cannot be in right relationship with God unless we are in right relationship with the land. In the Hebrew, the “land” means all that is: the ground, the trees and plants, the rivers and seas, the animals and all other human beings, even the air we breathe. All of it. God imagined an astonishing world of beauty and plenty for all of us; it is our gift.

You know, I have a confession to make. Out of all the sermons I have heard, I only remember one (present company excluded, of course!) The sermon was given by Ellen Davis, an OT professor at the seminary. She was preaching from Hebrew scripture and she said, “One day, in the fullness of time, all of creation will be given its voice and we will be called to sit down at table and listen, really listen, and hear the pain we have caused.” In that moment, I will never forget, I suddenly knew that I would have to hear the sadness, the absolute unrelenting sadness and pain I had caused by abusing the finest gift I had ever been entrusted with: earth.

I imagined hearing the ocean weeping as it was clogged with billions, literally billions of pounds of trash I had helped dump into it; the air choked with pollution I had pumped out; I would hear the pain of trees being clear-cut and mountains being reduced to sludge; I would hear icebergs melting, ground water rotting and I would have to hear the cries of animals being eaten into extinction. I would hear the hunger of mothers and fathers and the thirst of small children, 5000 who die everyday for want of clean water while I let the tap run just so the water I drink will be colder. I was devastated.

Truthfully, I was also completely overwhelmed. How could I do anything about this, I wondered? Was I being asked to change my whole life? And anyway, what could one person like me really do that would make any difference at all? But that sermon was the beginning for me; the first tiny ray of light urging me to wake up to the way I lived; to embrace what I did with awareness and responsibility; it was a wake up call like no other I have ever had and it is never easy to wake up.

Maybe the first step is to really wrap our heads around the reality that we are all connected; everything is connected, all of it. What I do matters to people I will never meet; the choices we make will affect countries we may never visit; the chemicals we pour down our kitchen sink will sour our neighbors water years from now. Simply waking up to the ways that each of us effects just the ground around our own homes is a start.  And I believe that actually, we can do something and that something can make a difference.

When I was a little girl everyone (except Stuart says he didn’t) threw trash out the window of the car; just tossed it out like it didn’t make any difference. We thought nothing of it - eat a bag of chips, toss out the trash. Then Lady Bird Johnson got it into her head that the whole country was a mess, a virtual trash heap  and she started a campaign to clean up the whole country! She wanted to get rid of unsightly billboards and she wanted all of us to stop throwing our trash out the windows of our cars. I thought she was insane. Plus, I thought driving anywhere without billboards would make the trip really boring.

Really, I can’t tell you how ridiculous an idea this seemed to me. I thought it would never work. But it did work. Now if someone throws out trash we practically do a citizens arrest. We are horrified. Not everyone respects this cultural norm, but when they don’t, well we don’t look kindly on them. In fact, you can be fined a great deal of money - it is now a crime to throw trash out the window. We changed, one by one, and we cleaned up the whole country.

So what are we to do? Believing that as people of faith we accept the responsibility God has given us to be stewards of creation, we begin to arise from our sleepy state and take stock of how we live our lives - we start with ourselves first.

Making our homes more energy efficient, caulking doors and windows, setting the thermostat a degree or two lower in the winter and higher in the summer is not only going to fatten our bank accounts, it will reduce our carbon output. If every American changed just one light bulb to a florescent, we would save enough energy to light over 3 million homes a year or it would be as if we took 800,000 cars off the road! Just one light bulb.

If each of us ate only 20% less meat it would be as if we all drove a Prius. Eating locally grown fruits and vegetables not only supports local farmers, it greatly reduces the energy it takes to put food on the table. Keeping the tires on our cars at peak air pressure gets us better gas milage; turning off lights when we are not in a room saves energy and cuts our utility bills. Reuse, recycle, renew, because as Henry David Thoreau said, “what’s the use of a fine house if you don’t have a tolerable planet to put it on?”

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowen Williams, has spoken often and at length about our Christian responsibility towards the earth. He points to the amount of trash we produce, throwing away vast waste in plastic bags that will never bio-degrade and he asks: “How does this influence other parts of our lives? Do we think of people and relationships as disposable? God does not throw away and start again, we are asked to have the same commitment; God does not do waste.”

One of my best friends wrote me an email not long ago where she worried that she was a good person, she tries to cut down on her energy consumption, she really cares but she feels overwhelmed by the enormity of it all. She asked me, “How does this whole mess not paralyze you?” It was a question I have wrestled with more than once and I always come up with the same answer: Jesus does not heal all the leapers in Palestine, only the ones right in front of him; Jesus does not heal all the blind people in Jerusalem, only the one right in front of him; Jesus does not feed everyone in Judea, only 4000 or 5000 right in front of him.
I can’t take care of the whole of God’s creation, but I can try to take care of what is right in front of me. I can change one thing at a time. We can all change one thing at a time. This much we can do; and who knows, we might end up cleaning up the whole earth, our fragile island home.