People working together for peace, justice and the restoration of the community of life.
"Love the Earth and Be Healed"
for Earth Sunday
Scripture Passages: Job 12:7-10 Mark 4:26-30
There is a favorite children's book called The Giving Tree which I used to read to my children when they were growing up. Some of you may have seen it. It is the story of the relationship between a tree and a boy. At the beginning of the story, the little boy spends a lot of time climbing the tree, playing in its branches and eating its apples. The tree loves the boy, and the tree is happy.
As the years pass, the boy becomes a teenager. He no longer spends as much time playing in the tree, but he does come and visit the tree with his girlfriend. He even carves a heart and their initials in the trunk of the tree. And the tree is happy.
As the boy gets older, he spends less and less time with the tree, but one day he visits the tree. It is time for him to go away to college. The tree offers the boy its apples to sell in order to help with his college expenses. So the boy takes the apples, and the tree is happy.
The boy doesn't come for a long time, and the tree misses the boy. Finally he comes. He wants to settle down, to marry and have children, so he needs to build a house. The tree offers him its branches, to help him build his house. So the boy cuts off the tree's branches and takes them away. And the tree is happy.
Many years pass, and the tree misses the boy. Finally, the boy comes back. He is middle-aged now, and things haven't worked out so well for him. His marriage has split up. He has lost his job. All he wants to do now is to get away. So the tree offers him the only thing it has left: its trunk. So he cuts down the tree and uses the trunk to build a boat to sail away in. And because the tree once again is able to give the boy what he wants, the tree is happy.
But decades go by, and the tree, which is now just an old stump, misses the boy terribly. Finally, the boy comes back. He is an old man now. The tree is overjoyed to see him, but the joy is mixed with sadness, because the tree has nothing left to give. "That's all right", says the boy. "I don't want anything now. I'm all tired out. All I want is a nice place to sit and rest." So he sits down on the old stump, and the tree is happy.
My children loved this book, and so did I. It reminds me of the unconditional and forgiving love of God, that keeps giving and giving and giving again. But this story also makes me uneasy. And in fact, as I think back, I realize that every time I read it I had a sense of sadness. Now I think I know why.
It's because the story is too true. It is a parable of how humans relate to the natural world. It is a story about how selfish and self-centered and short-sighted human beings can be, treating the rest of creation as if everything is just there to be used, even to be used up, by human beings.
This way of relating to the natural world is devastating the planet. Listen to these words from the June, 1992 issue of Newsweek Magazine: "The natural systems that support life on earth are reeling under the assault of human activity. The atmosphere is losing the ozone layer, which screens out cancer-causing ultraviolet sun rays. Once fertile soil, assaulted by overcultivation, overgrazing and overcutting, are turned to desert: 15 million acres of productive land disappear every year. Forests are clear-cut faster than they can grow back. Runoff from deforested land chokes coral reefs, home to one third of all fish species. Fleets that strip-mine the seas have depleted fisheries." With these assaults on the environment, many species of plants and animals are becoming extinct. Again, from the article in Newsweek: "Roughly 1.4 million species have been identified on earth. Scientists suspect there are probably 10 million to 80 million more, mostly in little-explored places such as the rain forest. But before science can find them, they're gone, destroyed with the one acre of tropical forest that disappears every second... With every acre go 50 to 100 species every day."
We are losing 50 to 100 species every day! And every time another plant or animal species is lost, the beautiful world which God created is diminished.
In our reading from Job, we hear the words, "But ask the animals, and they will teach you; the birds of the air, and they will tell you; ask the plants of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this?"
Have you ever felt the presence of God through an experience in the natural world? Even Martin Luther, the great Reformer who insisted that the Bible is the foundation for our thinking about God said, "The gospel is written not in the Bible alone, but on trees and flowers and clouds and stars." And listen to these eloquent words from John Wesley:
The world around us is the mighty volume wherein God hath declared himself. Human languages and characters are differnt in different nations. And those of one nation are not understood by the rest. But the book of nature is written in a universal character... It consists not of words, but things which picture out the Divine perfection. Ther firmament everywhere expanded, with all its starry host, declares the immensity and magnificence, the power and wishom of its Creator... Even the actions of animals are an eloquent and a pathetic language. [They] have a thousand engaging ways, which like the voice of God speaking to our hearts, command us to preserve and cherish them.
We have inherited a world of beauty and diversity, a world which still has the capacity to communicate to us the beauty and power and love of God. We are called to care for, not to use up, the natural world. We are called to be responsible members of the community of life.
I don't want to die leaving the children I love to inherit a wasteland. I don't want to look back on my life, knowing that there were things I might have done to make it different. I want to do everything I can to restore and heal the earth.
Please join me in this work. Work with me to build an environmental ministry through this church. Let me know if you will. Help me plant seeds for the future... seeds of healing, seeds of hope.
Like the Giving Tree, the natural world will go on giving and giving and giving again. But if we use it up, it will have nothing left to give. Our challenge is to love it and preserve it, for the sake of future generations, and out of obedience to God. And as we love the earth and work to preserve and restore it, we ourselves will be healed. For we are a part of the earth. We share its fate. As Chief Seattle said, "Whatever we do to the web of life, we do to ourselves."
There is a wonderful animated video out, called "The Man Who Planted Trees." It tells the story of a community that had had all its trees cut down. There were no more birds. The soil had eroded and couldn't grow crops. Weather patterns had changed and the streams had dried up. The children and the people no longer sang and danced and worked happily together.
But a man decides to start planting trees. He plants and he plants, caring for the seedlings. Eventually, trees dot the hillsides, the birds return, water starts flowing in the streams, the soil is replenished through the leaves, and children play and the community is restored.
Remember the story of Johnny Appleseed? It is a true story. His real name was John Chapman, and he went all around the country planting apple seeds and caring for them as seedlings. He was responsible for planting hundreds of thousands of apple trees for future generations, so that they would have apple trees and be able to play in their branches.
And in our own way, in our own time and place, we can plant seeds for the future. And even if at times things seem hopeless, we can trust that God will make those seeds grow, so that this world can be a good home for all God's children, in the midst of the glorious diversity of life that God intends.
"It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade."