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Sermon from September 6, 2020

Romans 13:8-14; Psalm 119:33-40; Matthew 18:15-20

Welcome to Creation Season, a five-week period observed around the world by many denominations including our own Episcopal Church.  A time to celebrate the bountiful gifts and beauty of nature, a time to consider our own relationship with the created world, a time to recognize the aching and painful cries of the earth, and a time to commit to reconciliation, restoration, and renewal.  As the Venite with which we begin Morning Prayer each week expresses so well, “The earth is the Lord’s for he made it.”  We are only part of that creation, and therefore we are called to both humility and responsibility. 

Sometimes children can be our best teachers, as they see, hear, and express themselves from a different perspective and with fresh insights.  One example of this is found in Martha Sterne’s little book of essays called Earthly Good.    

An artist in Martha’s parish was designing a chasuble for the priest to wear and decided to involve a group of children in the project.  “Tell me where God is,” she asked, “and we’ll make…a garment fit to wear as we thank God for all our blessings.” ….

They said, “Well, God’s in our hills, so [the artist] drew the hills…And God’s in the flowers and the sun and the moon….  One child said God is in the black holes in space, even there, and in the night and the day…. And the glory of God,[the children said], is in the animals we love—our dogs and cats, our parrots, our ponies.  Somebody said, well, don’t forget God made pigs too.  And woolly sheep.  And in the wild, God’s glory is…in great apes and giraffes and butterflies and even a bat….And in the fish and in the gentle manatee…..

“God is in it all, us all, for we are there, too, …filled with the glory of God—our children seem to know that we are part of the big, gracious and lively household of God.  And you know what else our children know?  We are not at the center; we are just dancers in the dance.  But we are dancers…who step outside the dance and know the glory of God is shot through it all.”    (Martha Sterne, Earthly Good, OSL Publications, 2003, pp. 49-51). We are all part of the dance of creation, the dance that God proclaimed in the very beginning of the book of Genesis to be good.  How do we engage in this dance?  How do we recognize our intrinsic relationship with all of creation? 

Paul’s letter to the Romans tells us to “love one another,” to even go so far as to “love your neighbor as yourself.”  He reminds us that “love does no wrong to a neighbor.”   That’s not a new idea by any means.  It’s a consistent theme throughout scripture, going way back to Leviticus and meeting us in Jesus’ summary of the law in the gospels.  The familiar story of the Good Samaritan also speaks to us of neighborliness.  It’s in that familiar story that we hear the question, “Who is my neighbor?”  As we enter this Creation Season, I invite you to see the earth in all its elements – flora and fauna, soil, water, air – as our neighbors and to consider our relationship with these neighbors.  We depend on each other.  Yet, too often, we humans exploit and neglect the creatures who make up the web of life which God has called us to safeguard.  Too often we operate out of selfish desires and feel empowered or entitled to take or use whatever we want, whenever we want it, without regard to the future.  Perhaps in raging wildfires that are more widespread and coming earlier each year, the increase in strength and frequency of hurricanes, warming temperatures, rising seas, and near drought conditions in our own county, we are hearing the earth using its voice to cry out, “Wake up, people!”   May we listen to the Earth’s voice and join in the dance so that we all may live and flourish. 

Now, I do know enough about Grace Church and Great Barrington to understand that this is a congregation and a community that recognizes climate crisis and is working on creation care.  Great Barrington led the way in Berkshire County with giving up plastic bags and single use plastic water bottles, and has just been designated a “Green Community.”  I’m sure many of us have solar panels on our houses and practice recycling. With Gideon’s Garden and Jen’s and Fisher’s guidance, young people are taught how to care for the earth and the chickens and even the skunks (if you don’t know about the skunks, check out the September 1 posting of “Tuesday’s Child” newsletter,).  When the bountiful harvest of produce from the garden is shared with our neighbors, they gain a more wholesome diet and the specter of hunger is pushed a little further away.  Though I’m most familiar with Lee Food Pantry, I know that Gideon’s Garden supplies several other distribution centers during the growing season.  This summer, Gideon’s Garden harvested over a thousand pounds of melons, and that’s just one of the numerous crops.   It’s a wonderful ministry growing food and contributing to growing youth.  This congregation indeed shows through its mission that it chooses to be a caring and compassionate neighbor.  As we move through this “Creation Season,” let’s celebrate all the ways in which we are already awake and acting.  Let’s also keep our eyes and ears and hearts open to new or expanded ways to call ourselves and our communities to greater awareness, responsibility, and action. 

We are commanded to love our neighbors, those who are vulnerable, those generations coming after us, and the whole web of life.  In our world, according to one source, 40% of food is wasted every day while 2 ½ billion people go hungry.  Are there ways to reduce food waste and address systemic causes of hunger?  Can we reduce our carbon footprint?  Are we encouraging authorities to return the United States to international climate accords?  You could add many more action items to this list, I’m sure.

During these months of battling the COVID-19 virus, we’ve naturally and appropriately been focused narrowly on survival and that’s likely to continue in some measure for quite a while.  We’ve learned that wearing a mask and social-distancing are about loving our neighbors, and we’ve mourned the thousands upon thousands of deaths around the world and nearby. 

One of the things (in addition to prayer) that has kept me going this pandemic summer has been the gift of natural beauty in this region we call home.  Staying close to home has provided ample time to appreciate the small things of nature—the intricacies of a single bloom, the industry of a bumblebee drawing nectar, the buzzing sound of hummingbirds moving from bush to feeder, the slither of a garden snake in the grass, the intense color of our purple Rose of Sharon, the enchantment of an evening sitting still and quiet in the presence of fireflies, the structural magnificence of a spider’s web, the sweet taste of tomatoes ripened on the vine, and the achingly beautiful beads of water on day lilies after a gentle rain.  I have a deeper appreciation of the creation that dances with us and calms us and restores us with good things to eat and beauty to enjoy.  “Creation Season” invites us to take responsibility to right the wrongs we humans have done to our neighbors, but it also invites us to celebrate and appreciate and enjoy the beauty and diversity of God’s good creation. 

As some of you know, my husband Jim and I have a nine-month-old grandson, Jimmy, who lives near Boston.  Until this week, pretty much his whole world had been their house, his grandparents’ houses, and daily stroller rides through his immediate neighborhood.  This week he’s been discovering the wider world with his parents.  On Plum Island, his first visit to the beach, he experienced the strange feel of sand in his hands, discovered that crawling through sand is a whole lot different than crawling on a wood floor, and (with his dad’s help) dipped his toes in the cold Atlantic Ocean.   In the photo we received, the look on Jimmy’s face as his dad holds him near the water’s edge is one of intense wide-eyed curiosity.  Yesterday, we received another photo of Jimmy and his dad on a hike in the Fells, a forest preserve near their home.  From the security of his back pack perch, Jimmy is looking up wide-eyed at the tall trees still clothed in their summer green leaves.  A sense of wonder and awe at this new environment in nature is almost palpable in the photo, and it made me think of from our prayer book baptismal liturgy: “Give them the gift of joy and wonder in all your works.” 

We care humbly and passionately for all of creation in the present time so that Jimmy’s generation and all the generations to come will be able to enjoy these experiences of beauty, and so that all the intricacies of creation will be healed and there will be no need for the earth and its creatures to cry out in pain.  Touch the earth gently, my friends.  Honor God by honoring and appreciating and caring for all of creation.    Amen.                                                  The Rev. Libby Wade