Earth Day Message from April 25, 2021

Fourth Sunday of Easter

Scripture: John 10:11-17; 1 John 3:16-18, 23-24

Preacher: Rev. Kristin Stoneking

Earth Day Message


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Transcript

In the earliest texts of Buddhism, material reality was described in terms of solidity, fluidity, temperature, and mobility. These elements were more commonly referred to as earth which was connected to solidity, water which was connected to fluidity, fire which was connected to temperature, and air which was connected to mobility. Earth, water, fire and air. The ancient Greeks, too, spoke of these four elements. Later Buddhist and Greek thinking added a fifth element, that of space. And though modern science has given us another way of understanding material reality through atomic theory with atoms as basic units which are in turn classified as different elements, we still refer to these elements of earth, water, fire, and air. They animate the zodiac and other frameworks that help us understand our lives and relationships. Though you may not know what the 16th element on the periodic table is, you probably know whether you are a Taurus (earth sign), or Aries, (fire sign), or Pisces (water sign), or Libra (air sign), and so forth. Earth, fire, water and air.


A few days ago we celebrated Earth Day. The “earth” in Earth Day is not quite the same as the “earth” referred to in the four elements. The “earth” in Earth Day is the all of it—the water that flows in you and me and around us through rivers and rain and sea and snow, the heat and fire that turns trees into ashes, the ground that is under our feet, and the air that surrounds us and fills our lungs and nostrils. The “earth” in EarthIn the earliest texts of Buddhism, material reality was described in terms of solidity, fluidity, temperature, and mobility. These elements were more commonly referred to as earth which was connected to solidity, water which was connected to fluidity, fire which was connected to temperature, and air which was connected to mobility. Earth, water, fire and air. The ancient Greeks, too, spoke of these four elements. Later Buddhist and Greek thinking added a fifth element, that of space. And though modern science has given us another way of understanding material reality through atomic theory with atoms as basic units which are in turn classified as different elements, we still refer to these elements of earth, water, fire, and air. They animate the zodiac and other frameworks that help us understand our lives and relationships. Though you may not know what the 16th element on the periodic table is, you probably know whether you are a Taurus (earth sign), or Aries, (fire sign), or Pisces (water sign), or Libra (air sign), and so forth. Earth, fire, water and air.

A few days ago we celebrated Earth Day. The “earth” in Earth Day is not quite the same as the “earth” referred to in the four elements. The “earth” in Earth Day is the all of it—the water that flows in you and me and around us through rivers and rain and sea and snow, the heat and fire that turns trees into ashes, the ground that is under our feet, and the air that surrounds us and fills our lungs and nostrils. The “earth” in Earth Day brings all the elements of creation into focus as one dynamic whole. These are the elements of life.

As we bring our attention to Earth Day and the care needed to support the fullness of creation, we are painfully aware of each of these elements. The groaning of earth, fire, water and air occupied our hearts and minds particularly this last year. We’re all too conscious of the presence and impact of fire, as last year as early as August, we and creatures who need air to live could not find fresh air outside due to fire and smoke. Landscapes were charred, destroyed, transformed, ground deforested. We know that the lack of water fuels the fire which results in the lack of fresh air.

Many of us are becoming aware of the Water Protectors, that group of persons descended from Anishinaabe women who understand it to be their sacred responsibility to protect the water sources in the Great Lakes from the oil pipelines of the Enbridge corporation, such as the Keystone XL and now, what is known as Line 3. The Water Protectors are calling now on all allies and those of strong heart to join them. Some of you have been following and supporting the Anishinaabe as well as the Water Protectors at Standing Rock in the Dakotas. Earth, water, fire and air.


And even with the groaning and dramatic struggle in earth, fire and water, it is perhaps air, or the lack thereof, that has garnered most of our attention this last year. As the Covid crisis became more understood, what we learned was that this was a virus that stole air from people. Air in the form of breath was cut off as lungs became infected and inflamed. The stealing of air led to the stealing of life. And when we heard George Floyd say over and over, “I can’t breathe”, we witnessed the manifestation of racism that again steals air and breath and life from our siblings of color.


This last week we heard the judge in the trial of the murder of George Floyd pronounce, “Guilty” three times, guilty. Even as I am beyond grateful and relieved by this outcome, I find I’m still holding my breath. Will sentencing be just? Can we sustain this moment of justice to dismantle and transform these systems of oppression? From whence does our help come as we seek to support the goodness and wholeness of life?

But on Earth Day we are called to fill our lungs with sweet air where ever we can find it, and to work to care for earth’s beauty and flourishing. Find hope where you may and keep pushing for the world of health and wholeness that Jesus showed us glimpses of. Earth Day is a day for all of us, all of the inhabitants of this planet. Christian, Buddhist, fowl or fish, all are blessed with the inheritance of our natural world.


Our scripture today from the gospel of John is known as the Good Shepherd. In the scripture is a very material, a very physical, image of Jesus: a living, breathing shepherd. Take a minute now and imagine this shepherd, and being on a hillside among sheep. Can you feel the breeze? See the grasses russle? Smell the earthy whiff of lanolin and dung? Feel the heat of the sun? In the imagery of the Good Shepherd, we are reminded again that we have a God who came to us as a creature of this earth. We have a shepherd who will do anything, even lay down his life, for his sheep, for us. The scripture tells us that the Good Shepherd desires our well-being and is willing to sacrifice all for the beauty of the earth, and for the beauty of our lives. In fact we know that in history he has done that.


Jesus then goes on to say, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me…I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold.” In history, God entered the realm of earth, water, fire and air, and became known to a particular people. We are descendants of those people, and we call ourselves Christians. But what is so significant about this text is that there is an expansiveness here that allows us to have a deep and real and physical and atoning relationship with God in the following of the way of Christ, AND that allows others to belong to other folds. In the course of history, matter and meaning has combined to make God manifest in many ways, be it through the beauty of the earth, or the practices of Buddhism, or the bonding of those who stand in solidarity to bring forth love and justice. There are many folds, but all respond to the voice of spirit and of love.


In this Easter season between the honoring of the physical life and death of Jesus and the birth of the church on Pentecost, we must wrestle with what it means to have both a physical and historical God AND a resurrected God who is beyond materiality. In the early decades of the twentieth century French Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin wrestled with this same tension. Teilhard de Chardin, who was also a paleontologist, began to bring the mysticism and doctrines of Catholicism into conversation with evolution. His writings and teachings angered the Catholic authorities and in 1925 he was exiled to China. Yet, he continued to think and write about who Christ was and is, what he means for our natural world and for our existence.


Teilhard de Chardin’s writings were suppressed and not published until a year after his death in 1955. But his ideas continue to be debated and considered. He described evolution as stretching from inanimate matter to a future state of Divine consciousness. To Darwin’s theory of evolution that remained in the material realm, Teilhard added a spiritual realm. He posited two kinds of energy: "Tangential Energy": energy that can be measured by physics and “Radial Energy" or spiritual energy which accumulates into a higher state as time progresses.


It seems to me that if we are to tend to the work of caring for the material realm--the earth--we must harness the power of the spiritual realm as well. Our second scripture for this morning is from First John which also talks about the one who would lay down his life for the sake of the well-being of others, and then goes on to name this action as love. Love, not just in words or speech, but in truth and action.


This Earth Day, the cosmic Christ, the resurrected one, who is both in the material and spiritual realms, is calling us to take action, to be shepherds of earth, water, fire and air. The Good shepherd is calling us to live and live again. To bring together all of our energy, whatever fold we may find ourselves in, and partner in the work of healing the earth. Amen.



***


Order of Service (Bulletin) - Sunday, April 25, 2021

GATHERING OUR STRENGTH

  • Prelude: "Voluntary and Trumpet Tune" - Rev. Jerry Asheim

  • Welcome and Announcements - Rev. Kristin Stoneking

  • Dare to Dance Liturgy - Melanie Green, Rev. Jerry Asheim & Cathryn Bruno

  • Opening Hymn: "Touch the Earth Lightly" Worship & Song 3129 - Rev. Jerry Asheim & Jonah Arreola-Burl

  • Invocation - Janene Kuan

​LEARNING THE STEPS

  • Scripture Reading: John 10:11-17 - Katherine Whitney

  • Children's Message: "Dreamers" - Susan Jardin

  • Scripture Reading: 1 John 3:16-18, 23-24 - Randall Miller

  • Anthem - "Done Found My Lost Sheep" - Rev. Jerry Asheim & Albert Sammons, Jr.

  • Message: "Earth Day" - Rev. Kristin Stoneking

THE BODY MOVES IN RESPONSE

  • Hymn of Response: "Let All Creation Dance" - Rev. Jerry Asheim & Cathryn Bruno

  • Call for Prayer - Rev. Frank Stone

  • Special Music: “Teach me to Dance" - Rev. Jerry Asheim & Charles Lynch

  • The Prayer Jesus Taught (Lord's Prayer) - Susan Willm

  • Sharing Our Resources and our Energy - Erin Adachi-Kriege

  • Offtertory: "Dance with the Spirit" - Jim & Jeanne Strathdee

STEPPING OUT INTO THE WORLD

  • Prayer of Dedication - Rev. Kristin Stoneking

  • Closing Hymn: “For the Beauty of the Earth" UM Hymnal #92 - Rev. Jerry Asheim & Margot Hanson

  • Benediction - Rev. Kristin Stoneking

  • Postlude: "The Heavens Are Telling the Glory of God" comp. Haydn - Rev. Jerry Asheim

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​Special Thanks To...

Special thanks to…

Preacher: Rev. Kristin Stoneking

Contributors: Rev. Jerry Asheim, Erin Adachi Kriege, Jonah Arreola-Burl, Cathryn Bruno, Melanie Green, Margot Hanson, Susan Jardin, Janene Kuan, Charles Lynch, Randall Miller, Albert Sammons, Jr., Frank Stone, Jim & Jeanne Strathdee, Katherine Whitney, Susan Willm.

Extra special thanks to MaAn Barcelo and Chris Baetge for their leadership of Epworth's Climate Emergency Response Team.

Video producer: Tai Jokela

Podcast producer: Ethan Toven-Lindsey

Livestream producer: Merrie Bunt


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Credits

Liturgy and Design © 2021 worshipdesignstudio.com, adapted by permission.

Prayer of Dedication © 2021 enfleshed

Hymns reprinted/streamed with permission under ONE LICENSE # A-733809, CCLI Copyright license # 20022935, & CCLI Streaming license # 20476749. All rights reserved.

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