On this Earth Day Sunday, we celebrated with an opening Prelude by the Cherub Choir (min. 9), Rev. Annich’s sermon on the theology of science (min. 28:30), and Anne Wilson’s Love Your Neighbor offertory (min. 55:15).
Last Monday night Richard and I were channel surfing in search of a baseball game. My dear husband gets very sad at the end of October and counts the days until Pitchers and Catchers, and even more importantly till Opening Day, which is a day of holy obligation in our household, complete with hot dogs, team tee shirts, and the ritual playing of Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s On First.”
So in April he’s happy to watch baseball, any baseball. As we looked for a game to watch all we could find were pictures of near-empty stadiums. In one, two sad looking little boys bundled up in winter coats shivered in the wind. I half-jokingly, half seriously posted about it on Facebook and actually had exchanges with some of you on that post. I realized I was sick and tired of complaining about the “unseasonable” weather we’d been having, sick and tired of worrying about the floods, snow storms, and rain that had held spring at bay throughout the country, and, on a very trivial note, was feeling badly for baseball players and fans who just wanted to be outdoors enjoying a wonderful game. I was surprised by the immediate, heartfelt reactions to that post in which I asked if anyone else was thinking about climate change. The response of one colleague sticks with me, “Every moment of every day… sorrow upon sorrow.”
Today’s a day of celebration–a day to celebrate Mother Earth and to celebrate science. Some of you may not know this, but this weekend we are also celebrating the fact that Peter Williams has 101 patents to his name. (Really, Peter? Only 101? You need to quit slacking off!) So in the spirit of celebration I don’t want to wallow in sorrow. At the same time, I don’t want to be glib about what is happening in our ecosystem. Unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ve got to be painfully aware of the suffering environmental disasters have been causing at an ever-increasing pace.
Just one of many examples is the island of Puerto Rico where power to the whole island was lost again this week, while they are still reeling from the strongest hurricane to hit the island in 80 years. Can you imagine what it’s been like for the people of Puerto Rico? Sadly enough, forecasts for next year’s hurricane season are even more dire.
As I prayed about what to say this morning I prayed for balance–to not be superficial, but by the same token not to depress and paralyze you. I’m so tired of bad news and know that none of us functions well when we feel hopeless. Environmental scientists tell us that the news is not good in terms of what we’re doing to our planet, that time is of the essence and we must change our ways. So how do we take that in, on top of all sorts of other bad news, and still respond with vision and energy? How do we arouse ourselves from denial and avoidance?
I’m no scientist and initially found the thought of preaching today to be really daunting. But what a gift it’s been as I’ve wrestled with these very questions! I’ve spent weeks reading about scientific discoveries and debunking a long-held belief that my brain is geared toward language and not science. But my readings opened my mind to the fact that science IS a language, a language that describes the workings of the universe in a variety of ways–through chemistry, biology, and physics to name but a few of its branches. Science is an approach to life that depends on curiosity and awe, on being open-minded, intuitive, AND, in what should be an object lesson for people of faith, on being willing to change course when our hypotheses or beliefs become outdated.
So here’s my charge to you–if you have somehow put yourself into a box, thinking that you don’t “do” science, please challenge that assumption. As a first step please look at page 7 of the bulletin where I have directed you to an absolutely beautiful Ted Talk about nature that will fill you with awe. Start there.
Then if you’d like to dig deeper get a hold of Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s Astrophysics for People in a Hurry. It’s a delightful little book for anyone no matter what your background is. If you don’t know the work of this brilliant astrophysicist google him and watch some of his videos. Deepen your knowledge of galaxies and stars, what the psalmist describes as the work of God’s fingers. Learn more about space. Did you know that astronauts routinely return either converted to, or renewed in, deep faith in God because of the breathtaking mysteries they’ve observed?
Google women scientists, especially Tierra Guinn Fletcher, the 22-year-old brilliant rocket scientist from MIT. Become curious about the biologists, physicists, and chemists who are changing our world for the better. Thanks to science and technology that kind of information is right at our fingertips with the internet!
And right here in this community ask Elizabeth Shaw about her scientific studies and career, or pick Peter Williams’ brain about his inventions and what has inspired him to create them. In short, take steps, little baby steps to break out of the limiting belief that science isn’t for you or it’s somehow not relevant to your life, or, and this is the big one, that you have nothing more to learn about this world. We all have much to learn! This is how we stay inspired, motivated and hopeful!
Are you aware that Peter Williams’ work as a scientist is informed by his rock-solid belief in stewardship? For him everything is a trust from God to be used for God’s realm here on earth. The Psalmist reminds us that the God whose glory is above the heavens has chosen us, limited human beings that we are, to have dominion over the works of God’s hands.
Now let’s be very clear that dominion does not mean domination, it means stewardship. In his video series on Biblical stewardship, Professor Mark Powell of Trinity Lutheran Seminary tells a story that goes something like this. If we go away and hire house sitters to watch our pets and keep the house in good shape, and find everything in good order upon our return, we feel like we’ve hired good stewards. If we come back and the house is a wreck and the animals untended, we think we’ve hired bad stewards. But if we come home and the house sitters have changed everything about the place, including the locks, and refuse to let us in, we are no longer dealing with good stewards or bad stewards. Now we’re dealing with delusional people who think they’re the owners, not the stewards at all.
As we celebrate Earth Day with almost 200 other countries worldwide, we have to ask ourselves how and where we’ve forgotten that we are the stewards, not the owners. What has distracted us from our charge to care for the water, air, land and creatures God created and pronounced good? This is the world that Colossians tells us was created in Christ and for Christ and is still being held together by Christ. That’s the vision that keeps me moving forward. The Holy One who existed before time and chose to come into time to walk with us on this earth, is intimately involved in all of it. God who is invisible and a mystery beyond anything we can understand or articulate became visible and known to us in Jesus the Christ. The Christ who cared about the poor, the forgotten, the sick and the suffering. The Christ who used images from nature in most of his teachings. The Christ who was there from the beginning extravagantly, lavishly, and even playfully, creating a diversity of life forms. The Christ who embodied love in every way and calls us to love the earth and all its inhabitants because love and connection are the essence of who we truly are.
I’m keenly aware that we all have pretty full plates. Some of us are working hard on other issues of justice and healing. Some of us are busy with work or family, some of us with health issues or painful losses. So as we think about our call to be stewards how do we move beyond feeling overwhelmed? How do we faithfully hold the vision God holds for this world?
Holding the vision for me is first of all holding the vision of Christ eternally at the center of creation, brooding over it with deep love and concern.
An equally important part of holding the vision is practicing wonder. Science is a treasure trove of wonder as we ponder the intelligence of the human body, the far reaches of space, the mystery of subatomic particles, and the way our whole ecosystem has been designed to work in exquisite harmony.
Experimental biologist Jean Rostand once said of his work, “What a profession this is–this daily inhalation of wonder!” Followers of Christ can daily inhale wonder as we delight in everything God has made, and as we plumb the depths of the spiritual world.
How wondrous is it that God loves us, that God forgives us, that God uses imperfect creatures like us to be a little lower than the angels! How wondrous is it that God has always trusted a rag-taggedy bunch of followers to push beyond the limits of self-interest and live in community with each other and the whole created order!
We can respond to our loving Creator’s call to be stewards in many ways. We can live more simply so others can simply live by reducing mindless consumerism and the waste it creates. We can plant trees–we’re doing that next Sunday right across the street. We can join with others at the Earth Stewardship Network’s Earth Care Fair at Lyndhurst Presbyterian on May 12th. We can stop mindlessly using and discarding plastic. We can drive fuel efficient cars, or better yet, bike and walk more places. We can learn more about science and become its champions in a world where ignorance is being glorified by those who ought to be serving the common good. (On a side note: I got this bumper sticker for giving a donation to the Union of Concerned Scientists. It says “Stand Up for Science.” I’m thinking of inventing a new bumper sticker that says, “Honk if you love Jesus AND Science.” Are you with me, Pete?)
We can, and I think this one is critically important, study the issues, get involved, and exert our political will to stop the wanton destruction of the planet by electing leaders who are committed to earth care.
Above all else, we can practice wonder on a daily basis. We can open our eyes to the glory of God that surrounds us in an endless number of forms. We can allow that wonder to draw us closer to God’s heart of love and to the next right steps we as individuals and as a community need to take. As members of the body of Christ we can recommit to holding God’s vision before us and allowing it to direct our actions. The beauty of recommitting together is that through the grace of God the whole will always be more than the sum of any of our parts. Thanks be to God who loves this world and commands us to love it with all our minds, hearts, strength and hands.