12 Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 17
World Day of Prayer for Creation
The Rev. Meg Lovejoy
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“I pray to the greatest Spiritual Power in which I live, and breathe, and have my being. I pray to God. I pray that we may at all times keep our minds open to new ideas and shun Dogma: that we may grow in our understanding of the nature of all living beings and our connectedness with the natural world; that we may become even more filled with generosity of spirit and true compassion and love for all life; that we may strive to heal the hurt that we have inflicted on nature and control our greed for material things, knowing that our actions are harming our natural world; that we may value each and every human being for who he is, for who she is, reaching to the spirit that is within, knowing the power of each individual to change the world.” These are the words of ethnologist, primatologist, and anthropologist Jane Goodall.
Today we celebrate the Global Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation. We join churches and people around the world as we pray and take action to protect creation, “this fragile earth, our island home.” (BCP p 370) The Season of Creation, which continues through St. Francis Day, is a time when we consider what effect our actions have upon God’s creation and how we can lessen the negative effects. While there is much disagreement about whether or not the climate is changing, we have seen some of the effects of what many call climate change. Hurricane Harvey parked over southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana dumping massive volumes of rain for an unprecedented length of time. Hurricane Ike had a 17 foot storm search when it hit Galveston Island and caused flooding across several southern Gulf of Mexico states. Increased rainfall in the Midwest has caused serious flooding and devastated farming in several states while decreased rainfall has caused drought in California and in some of the poorest countries in Africa. I don’t know about you, but I certainly feel like average temperatures are higher than they were 15 or 20 years ago. (And I don’t think it’s just my age.) This summer, Europe had some of its warmest temperatures ever recorded. Currently, the Amazon rainforest, which soaks up approximately 6 hundred million cubic tons of carbon dioxide a year, is burning. The majority of those fires were lit by people who want to clear the land and convert it to pasture land for cattle production. If we look at each of these incidents on an individual basis, we could say yes, it was a terrible, but one time occurrence. But when we look at the range of occurrences over a longer period of time, we can see the changes that have taken place due to human actions.
Even though Jeremiah wrote the words we heard today in 627 BCE, how appropriate are his words for us today. “I brought you into a plentiful land to eat its fruits and its good things. But when you entered you defiled my land, and made my heritage an abomination.” (Jer 2:7) A recent United Nations study warns that one million plant and animal species are in danger of extinction because of our actions. “Be appalled, O heavens, at this, be shocked, be utterly desolate, says the Lord.” (Jer 2:12) God’s creation is holy and each plant, animal, and landscape that is lost forever is a cause for utter desolation.
Just as Jeremiah and the other prophets warned the people of their transgressions, there are many, today, who warn us of ours. Sixteen year old Swedish climate activist, Greta Thunberg, sailed across the Atlantic Ocean to New York City on a racing sailboat powered by solar panels and arrived this past Wednesday. She will speak at the United Nations Climate Action Summit calling for quick action to save the planet. Climate scientist and Texas Tech University political science professor, Katharine Hayhoe, studies regional climate impacts and resilience planning. Dr. Hayhoe is interested in bridging the divide between scientists and citizens and studies how climate change impacts us on a human level. Farmer, poet, and climate activist Wendell Berry writes, “The care of the Earth is our most ancient, and most worthy, and after all our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it and to foster its renewal is our only hope.”
Paul wrote in his letter to the Hebrews, “ And, In the beginning, Lord, you founded the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands.” (Heb 1:10). Paul gives instructions on how to behave as followers of Christ, telling us to “let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers. Remember those who are in prisons” (Heb 13:1-3) Those may be literal prisons or prisons of hunger, poverty, addiction, and pain. When you look at the whole message of Paul’s letter to the Hebrews, you begin to understand that we are all sojourners in a land that doesn’t belong to us, but in reality, belongs to God. God has given us stewardship of creation and as stewards, we must do a better job of preserving it for those who come after us. Those who have the least impact upon creation, those who live in third world countries, those who live off the land, and those who live in poverty are most often those who are most affected by the changes that are occurring. These are who Paul is referring to when he tells us to show hospitality to strangers.
We don’t often think about the need to conserve water due to the prevalent rainfall we have here, but it takes a long time for that rainfall to go through the soil to underground rivers that can be tapped for potable water. Sewage, fertilizer, and other chemicals that end up in waterways contribute to algae blooms, pollution, and water that is not fit for any type of life. The trash, especially plastics, that end up on the side of the roads often end up in our rivers and bayous, eventually finding a way to the Gulf of Mexico and other oceans. In March 2018, an estimated seventy-nine thousand tons of plastic debris was found to occupy an area three times the size of France in the Pacific Ocean between California and Hawaii. The amount of plastic found in this area, known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, continues to increase in size due to ocean currents and continued dumping of fishing nets and both large and small plastics. Unfortunately, the currents that cause the accumulation of plastics also attract sea life, and the two don’t work well together. Discarded fishing nets trap and cause death to many birds, sea mammals, fish, and turtles. Many sea creatures ingest the micro plastics that are released as the sun breaks down the plastic and are unable to purge it from their bodies eventually killing them.
During this Season of Creation, we can take steps to reduce our carbon footprints. Recycling is a good start, but remember that energy is used to both produce and recycle the items we use. It is better if we can find an item that doesn’t have to be recycled. Let’s think about how we might cut back on the use of single use plastics. Volunteer to pick up trash and say something to those who are tossing their trash instead of proper disposal. Plant a garden, or a tree, or better yet, a citrus tree. Start small with just a few plants and expand as you are able. Grow some herbs. Reduce your food waste. My husband and I have a few laying hens who love to get food scraps that are no longer suitable for our consumption. They turn that waste into eggs. If you’re unable to get chickens, compost your food waste and use it in your garden. If you need some ideas on the steps you can do, please contact me. Most the ideas I have come from my daughters, so talk to your children and grandchildren. They have the most to lose if we don’t do a better job of creation care. It doesn’t matter if what you do is a large or small action, what matters is that you act. Our individual acts are small, but taken together they become massive and make a difference.
During this Season of Creation may we focus on better caring for God’s creation. Take a few moments each day to thank God for all that has been provided to us. Think of ways you can lessen your negative impact upon the earth and then act. If we are to survive as humankind we must care for the creation that God has given us, understanding that we are just passing through.