Updated: Apr 26
a message by Dr. Bruce Havens
Coral Isles Church, U.C.C.
April 23, 2023
Psalm 104, selected verses NRSV
1Bless the Lord, O my soul. O Lord my God, you are very great. You are clothed with honor and majesty, 2wrapped in light as with a garment. You stretch out the heavens like a tent,
3you set the beams of your chambers on the waters, you make the clouds your chariot, you ride on the wings of the wind, 4you make the winds your messengers, fire and flame your ministers.
5You set the earth on its foundations, so that it shall never be shaken.
14You cause the grass to grow for the cattle, and plants for people to use, to bring forth food from the earth, 15and wine to gladden the human heart, oil to make the face shine, and bread to strengthen the human heart. 16The trees of the Lord are watered abundantly, the cedars of Lebanon that he planted. 17In them the birds build their nests; the stork has its home in the fir trees. 18The high mountains are for the wild goats; the rocks are a refuge for the coneys.
19You have made the moon to mark the seasons; the sun knows its time for setting.
24O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. 27These all look to you to give them their food in due season;
28when you give to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things. 30When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground.
31May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in his works—
32who looks on the earth and it trembles, who touches the mountains and they smoke.
33I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being.
34May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the Lord.
Bless the Lord, O my soul. Praise the Lord!
As you may be able to tell, our worship this morning is centered around God as our Creator. As I was planning today’s worship, I realized that yesterday was Earth Day. The United Church of Christ has a passion for ecological and creation stewardship and justice. But more than that I know that many of you have a deep passion for this earth, our “island home,” and the challenges and even crises our creation faces. I was moved, as I listened to last week’s worship, by Pam’s flute solo from Haydn that was inspired by God’s creation. All that connected for me to focus today on “Blessed Creation.”
So I chose to use Psalm 104 as a centerpiece of our worship today. It is a beautiful song poem about God’s passion for creation. It illuminates the many ways creation reflects God’s love, God’s joy, and God’s presence with us. As it is a long Psalm I have broken it up into “Responsive Readings,” hoping that hearing it in pieces will help us hear it and absorb its beauty and its theology. Our music hopefully also reflects that as well. In your bulletin is an insert with a few questions to focus your worship this morning, and I hope you will take it home and perhaps use them for your daily reflections. I will invite you to offer your initial thoughts as we go through the service as I know many of you take this topic seriously and have worked at issues of protecting and healing our environment far more than I have and I would like to give you a moment to share some of that if you wish.
Let me read through these questions so that you can be thinking about them in the back of your mind while we occupy the front of it with our songs, readings, and prayers. 1. What is an early memory of experiencing God’s presence/activity in creation:
2. What currently gives you hope for God’s creative power at work in creation:
3. What is one way you have worked at being a “steward” of creation:
4. What is one commitment you would like to make toward being a better steward in the coming week/month/year[s]?
So as you reflect on these in the next hour and the next week and I hope beyond, I hope these will help us begin a dialogue to return to and expand our efforts as a congregation to work and serve in our community in ways that show our love of creation and our appreciation for our Creator.
Now, let’s move on with our worship and our Welcome Song! The Psalm writer begins with glorious praise for our Creator: “1Bless the Lord, O my soul. O Lord my God, you are very great. … clothed with honor and majesty, 2wrapped in light as with a garment.” And goes on to mention the heavens, the waters, the clouds, the winds, and everything from the grass to the Leviathan and the “coneys,” which I had to look up…
All of this the Psalm writer punctuates with how good it is and what joy and praise it brings.
In our preparation for this Sunday, I discovered that the UCC was hosting its “Join the First Ever UCC Earth Day Summit.” We posted this event on our website and Facebook page in case anyone wanted to participate. I sat in on it. The theme was “What’s Possible?: Earth Day Stories of Hope.” It featured a keynote from Rev. Jim Antal, author of a book entitled Climate Church, Climate World. There was also a panel of inspiring speakers, and more. Part of the outcome of the webinar is that the UCC will be launching an effort to collect as many petition postcards as possible to seek government action for cleaner air and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. They are out of cards but I am trying to get a facsimile to post on line for anyone who wants to participate.
As we celebrate God’s Creation and God’s ongoing creative power and work and God’s call to us to enjoy what we have been given and care for it we have to confess that we have brought creation to a point of suffering by our hubris as human beings. I don’t have time to list all the ways our world is in danger of ecological collapse. Too many still doubt there is any problem, or think that the problem is overstated. One may believe or doubt climate change.
One may think we should challenge governments to do more to protect the environment or not. I grieve that the Christian church has a segment that is openly hostile to the beauty and the protection of God’s creation. There are loud voices who misinterpret Scripture and cheer for earth’s destruction thinking that somehow that will hasten a return of Jesus. Either out of ignorance or malice they have this concept that they will be lifted off the earth into some heavenly realm. They probably are the same ones who believe Jesus is coming back with tanks and AK57s to kill all their enemies, which probably includes a few of us, huh? But I only want to say this to say that the misinterpretation of verses like having “dominion” over the earth must be rejected as an excuse to fail as stewards of God’s creation.
In my preparation for this Sunday I came across this quote and I did not record the source, so I apologize, but although I didn’t write these words I agree whole-heartedly. The writer said, “Another challenge facing the future of creation was described by Richard Louv, in his book, Last Child in the Woods, coins a term: Nature Deficit Disorder. He describes it as “the human costs of alienation from nature.” “Louv’s contention is that we’ve lost something important in the process of industrializing and that our separation from the natural world has severe implications for our spiritual and emotional health. He writes: ‘Nature is often overlooked as a healing balm for the emotional hardships in a child’s life. You’ll likely never see a slick commercial for nature therapy, as you do for the latest antidepressant pharmaceuticals. But parents, educators and health workers need to know what a useful antidote to emotional and physical stress nature can be.’
“Jesus, whenever he got stressed out, would go out ‘to a lonely place,’ a mountaintop, or a boat on the sea. He knew what it meant to take time alone in nature and how healing that could be. It drove his disciples crazy, but it was often how Jesus renewed his strength and spiritual sanity. Some scholars believe Jesus was a desert mystic before his ministry, like John the Baptist who lived on locusts and wild honey and wore camel hides for clothes.” The writer adds, and I also agree, “I like to believe Jesus learned a lot from his wilderness retreats.”
The same writer points to the words of Matthew’s Gospel, 6:26-27, “Look at the birds of the air, … They neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.… And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?” Something is out of whack when we have become so disconnected from the literal roots of our lives. It’s time to learn from birds of the air and the flowers of the field on how to deal with anxiety, and from our Savior who figured all this out in the stillness of the wild.”
My daily routine is to walk 2 or 3 times from our apartment to Harry Harris Park and circle the waterfront. This is a centerpiece of my way to deal with anxieties, to pray, to plan sermons, to think about God in Creation and praise and rejoice in its beauty and glory. All this is to say that I know living here for many of you is a daily celebration of God’s creative power. I hope that no one becomes so jaded by paradise that we lose our awe and appreciation for this beautiful part of God’s world.
In addition, I want to affirm the steps you have taken and are taking to do the things we must do. I know we have done a basic “Green Church” inventory and made changes. We can also explore becoming a “Creation Justice Church.” Information on that is available at the ucc.org website. I also want to encourage our congregation to return to doing some of the outside efforts, missions, if you will, to act as stewards of our island home as God’s gift to us. Many of these are already organized, we just need to plan how to participate. One such opportunity is coming up in May: it is a “Trash Derby,” an annual event I believe, and is one way we can participate in a community effort. It is Friday and Saturday May 12-13, and we will post this and the information about it. If nothing else, there is also a celebration at Founders Park on Saturday – a Festival they are calling it – and I hope those who can, maybe we can have a church fellowship time together that Saturday. I’m hoping someone will help organize our participation in this who maybe has experienced this event in the past and knows what it takes.
There are many other ways we can honor God, live out our faith, and work for the protection and restoration of God’s creation. I hope those of you with an interest will bring opportunities forward for us to participate. Let’s become known in the community as “THAT church” for our work as stewards of creation as well as the other ways we are known by that phrase. Truly we live in a “Blessed Creation.” Truly our calling as people of faith is to commit to doing our very best to cherish it, protect and restore it as best we can, and praise God for it in so doing. AMEN.