Zhoushan For the Beauty of Creation
Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; April 18, 2021
3rd Sunday of Easter
Psalm 8; Luke 24:36-43
When I was a child one of my favorite people to visit was my cousin, Lisa, who lived beside her grandparents’ dairy farm. The block milk house, the dairy cows eagerly entering the stalls, the rattle of the milk cans, the fizzing of the tubing being cleaned and attached just so—the whole process fascinated me. But even more so, I was enamored by the farm itself. Oh, the hours Lisa and I spent running and playing on the rolling hills just behind the house and catching minnows in the creek near the front yard. I can still see in my mind’s eye the creek covered by a small wooden bridge with tiger lilies and wildflowers growing on either side. The Fisher Dairy Farm was a magical place on God’s good earth. But the dairy has been closed for years; Lisa’s grandparents have long past; and Lisa’s home is there no more. It was razed to the ground to make way for a new highway. Thinking about it reminds me of Joni Mitchell’s song, “Big Yellow Taxi.” “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone. They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”
As we gather to worship our Creator God this beautiful morning, we also recognize Earth Day—an annual event that is celebrated worldwide on April 22nd to encourage efforts to protect the environment—to protect the wonders of God’s creation. Instead of a traditional sermon this morning, what I want us to do together is a series of guided meditations. First, we will remember a place, then we will remember a meal, and, finally, we will imagine the future.
So, I invite you to close your eyes (if this feels comfortable to you). Allow your mind to take you back to a place that spoke to you of God’s beauty. It may have been decades ago or just yesterday. What do you see around you? What sounds do you hear? What smells? Who, if anyone, is with you? Finally, what is it that makes this place so special? (Silence)
In connection with our gospel reading, my mind takes me to the Sea of Galilee on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. I recall the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fish, which, tradition stays, is built on the site where Jesus fed the 5000 with five loaves and two fish. Behind the church is a grassy field and nearby the seven springs that flow into the sea. My friend, Rachel Crumbly, and I make our way alongside the sea in search of the springs. It takes some navigating because of all the stones rising from the water’s edge, but our journey does not disappoint. Seeing the water rushing into the sea is quite an experience—but it hardly holds a candle to witnessing a group of young men playing in the waterfall, splashing and swimming. It is not a far stretch to imagine Jesus and his disciples doing something just like this—refreshing themselves in the water after a long, day of teaching, healing, and caring for crowds of people.
In the final chapter of Luke, following Jesus’ resurrection, he once again appears to his disciples and once again says, “Peace be with you.” Since they think he’s a ghost and are terrified, they need a word of peace. Then Jesus asks for something to eat—not because he’s hungry but because he wants to show them he is not a ghost. It’s all a bit ironic since Jesus has a reputation for loving to eat—and here he is, risen from the dead, and still eating.
Let’s take a moment to reflect on eating with people we love and the joy it can bring. Again, I invite you to close your eyes and remember—this time a particular meal that was gratifying to you. Who sits around the table? What dishes of food do you see? What makes this meal special? How is God present? (Silence)
From potluck lunches to receptions to communion at the Lord’s Table, food is integral to what we do as a community of believers. We eat together and our bodies are nourished as are our souls. But things have changed since the days Jesus walked upon the earth. In our increasingly global food system, our food comes with a heavy environmental footprint. The pastoral images of well-loved farmland and animals roaming freely have given way to agricultural practices that damage the land, the animals, and, of course, eventually every living creature that lives upon the planet. Which begs the question, “How long will it be before dining around a table, eating healthy food we enjoy, becomes as challenging for us as it already is in many parts of the world?”
In 1992, long before Greta Thunberg became a household name, a young twelve-year-old girl from Canada made history when she attended the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. There, Severn Suzuki gave a speech that became known as “The Girl Who Silenced the World for 5 Minutes.” While I encourage you to go online and read the speech or watch the video in its entirety, I invite you to listen to a condensed portion of her powerful speech.
Hello, I’m Severn Suzuki speaking for The Environmental Children’s Organization. We are a group of twelve and thirteen-year-olds from Canada trying to make a difference… We raised all the money ourselves to come six thousand miles to tell you adults you must change your ways. Coming here today, I have no hidden agenda. I am fighting for my future. I am here to speak for all generations to come. I am here to speak on behalf of the starving children around the world whose cries go unheard. I am here to speak for the countless animals dying across this planet because they have nowhere left to go. We cannot afford to be not heard. I am afraid to go out in the sun now because of the holes in the ozone. I am afraid to breathe the air because I don’t know what chemicals are in it. I used to go fishing in Vancouver with my dad until just a few years ago we found the fish full of cancers. In my life, I have dreamt of seeing the great herds of wild animals, jungles and rainforests full of birds and butterflies, but now I wonder if they will even exist for my children to see. Did you have to worry about these little things when you were my age? All this is happening before our eyes and yet we act as if we have all the time we want and all the solutions. I’m only a child and I don’t have all the solutions, but I want you to realize, neither do you! You don’t know how to fix the holes in our ozone layer. You don’t know how to bring salmon back up a dead stream. You don’t know how to bring back an animal now extinct. And you can’t bring back forests that once grew where there is now desert. If you don’t know how to fix it, please stop breaking it! I’m only a child yet I know we are all part of a family, five billion strong, in fact, 30 million species strong and we all share the same air, water and soil. I’m only a child yet I know we are all in this together and should act as one single world towards one single goal. I’m only a child yet I know if all the money spent on war was spent on ending poverty and finding environmental answers, what a wonderful place this earth would be! At school, even in kindergarten, you teach us to behave in the world. You teach us: not to fight with others, to work things out, to respect others, to clean up our mess, not to hurt other creatures, to share – not be greedy. Then why do you go out and do the things you tell us not to do? Parents should be able to comfort their children by saying “everything’s going to be alright,” “we’re doing the best we can” and “it’s not the end of the world.” But I don’t think you can say that to us anymore. My father always says, “You are what you do, not what you say.” Well, what you do makes me cry at night. You grown ups say you love us. I challenge you, please make your actions reflect your words. Thank you.”[i]
At this time, please join me in our final reflection. With eyes closed, take a moment to ponder one action you might take to better care for God’s good earth and its resources—and when might you start? (Silence)
In closing, I offer you a blessing written by John Philip Newell, a poet, scholar, and Church of Scotland minister, who is widely recognized for his work in Celtic spirituality:
May the deep blessings of earth be with us.
May the fathomless soundings of seas surge in our soul.
May boundless stretches of the universe echo in our depths
To open us to wonder
To strengthen us for love
To humble us with gratitude
That we may find ourselves in one another
That we may lose ourselves in gladness
That we may give ourselves to peace. Amen.
*Cover Art by Rara Schlitt, used by permission