New Beginnings: God’s Natural World

given on October 19, 2008

How many of you noticed the moon this week? Since I was thinking about the possibility of having a new grandbaby during a full moon, I was watching the moon this week.  Well, still no grandbaby, but I have really enjoyed looking at the moon.  In fact, the last couple of days I began the morning drive to work with the setting moon on one side of the car and the rising sun on the other side.  I was encased between the images of night and day, darkness and light.
Sometimes this world we live in is just so absolutely gorgeous that is literally can take one’s breath away.  One morning, I suddenly realized that a young deer was running and jumping right beside the car as I drove down High Drive.  A little later, I felt something to my right, and there was another deer standing by the side of the road waiting for me to pass—not me waiting for it to pass.
Another glorious site is the sun as it shines through the leaves of the hard maples right now.  The sugar in those leaves turns almost neon, glowing orange with tones of yellow and red.  The colors contrast vividly against the almost black of the branches still holding onto the leaves leaves.  Then add to that picture the rays of sunshine, especially when the sun just begins to set in the west, backlighting those leave and branches.  Breath taking!
Can you stop and think what God sees on days like this?  As I have challenged you over the past few weeks, look at this world through God’s eyes.  Is God pleased with his creation today just as much as he was pleased when he created this earth?  I know when I see the glories of nature around me, I am pleased and I can understand God’s extreme pride.  But then I see a scar in nature.  I see asphalt poured out on a patch of land that is not part of the roadway.  I see trash thrown out on the side of the road or an old dump in a ditch out in the country.  I see a new development built only after all the trees have been bulldozed down and burned.
These are all reasons for me to stop and review just what my Christian responsibility is.  What better time than the gorgeous autumn days to stop and review the social principles that our denomination has outlined for us.  Listen to the words of the preface concerning social principles:
The United Methodist Church has a long history of concern for social justice.  Its members have often taken forthright positions on controversial issues involving Christian principles.  Early Methodists expressed their opposition to the slave trade, to smuggling, and to the cruel treatment of prisoners.  . . .   The social principles are a prayerful and thoughtful effort on the part of the General Conference to speak to the human issues in the contemporary world from a sound biblical and theological foundation as historically demonstrated in United Methodist traditions.  They are a call to faithfulness and are intended to be instructive and persuasive in the best of the prophetic spirits; however, they are not church law.
Again, this is not church law, rather the social principles are guidelines, philosophies, or, as they refer to them, positions on controversial issues.   We may not always agree with them, but I remind you:  look at these principles through God’s eyes.
As we learned in Genesis, God created the heavens and the earth.  The words are familiar, probably so familiar that we do not really think about what God saw when he finished his creation.  Out of nothing, he shaped the earth, the flora and the fauna that fills the earth.  What a task this creation was!  Just like we take the story of creation for granted, so do we take the creation, the natural world, itself for granted.
The first social principle tells us “[that] all creation is the Lord’s, and we are responsible for the ways in which we use and abuse it.”  A statement like that really lays out the church’s expectations for each one of us.  All creation includes “water, air, soil, minerals, energy resources, plants, animal life, and space.”  We are expected to use these resources carefully.  We are not to abuse any of these resources.  We are to be conservative in our use of the resources.
Looking at each of these elements of our natural world through God’s eyes really shows us how we continue to fail in this responsibility.  The General Conference, which reviews these social principles, literally outlines each category along with the guidelines United Methodists are encouraged to follow.  When I read through them, I find myself evaluating how I am managing.  I fear I am falling way short of God’s expectations.
For instance, consider the category of “water, air, soil, minerals, plants.”  I am trying to recycle now, but not 100%.  I do my best to recycle plastic bottles, but I still miss some when I accidentally throw an empty pill bottle into the kitchen trash or I hesitate to put in a chemical’s plastic bottle into the recycling bin.  I sometimes I feel like I really do not understand what plastic products really are safe to recycle. I guess I need to educate myself more adequately.
I am sure you are getting the idea of how difficult it is to be socially responsible.  I may see the problems, I may make an effort to tackle them, but I find that I cannot recycle all those plastics alone.  I need to make it a team effort at home, at school, and even here at church.  I believe working as a team is almost as important as recycling itself, because God knows no one individual can tackle such a huge task.  We must work in community.
But our social responsibility goes much farther in the natural world.  There is “energy resources utilization.”  The principles state United Methodists need to work for “rational and restrained transformation of parts of the nonhuman world into energy [and[ support the conservation of energy and responsible development of all energy resources” especially renewable energy sources.
Whew!  This certainly is more than I can do all by myself.  What can I do?  What can any of us do?  The energy issue certainly has been one of the hot topics in our lives this year.  The demand for hybrid cars, the trading down from SUVs, the changing of light bulbs, and even turning down the heat’s thermostat or raising the air conditioner’s temperature a couple of degrees are evidence that we are tackling this issue.  Thank goodness God did create sunshine.  The use of the natural elements of sunshine and wind, even water in hydro-power surely demonstrates how we are working to preserve the natural resources while meeting the energy demands.
But, I am getting away from the social principles.  The natural world is fragile.  The social principles include statements on animal life, space, science and technology, as well as food safety.  In these statements, there are some rather interesting lines which really stand out:

  • Under animal life:  humane treatment of pets and other domestic animals, animals used in research, and the painless slaughtering of meat animals, fish, and foul.
  • Concerning space there is only one line:  “The universe, known and unknown, is the creation of God and is due the respect we are called to give the earth.”  (I guess this means no trash dumps in space.)
  • On science and technology:  “Science and technology are complementary rather than mutually incompatible.”  This seems to put to rest the debate between those who believe in creationism and those who believe in evolution.
  • Finally, food safety is outlined, not only concerning the handling in the stores, but in the biological development of the foods we eat, the processing and the packaging.  The social principle even adds:  “We call for clear labeling of all processed or altered foods, with premarket safety testing required.  We oppose weakening the standards for organic food.”

I may be a cradle Methodist, but after delving into the social principles as last published in 2004 (the 2008 edition has yet to be published), I realize how little I really know what my denomination represents.  My focus has been centered on God and his love.  Now it time for new beginnings, new understanding; maybe even new practices as we consider how well we demonstrate God’s love following  the social principles.
As we begin anew to look at who we are as United Methodists, we can take this opportunity to broaden our vision.  We need to ask if new beginnings can begin right now.  We need to know that new beginnings can be launched any time, not just during Advent or not just on New Year’s Day, and not just because the fiscal year ends or begins.  We are so fortunate that we can turn to God and say we are sorry and we want to do better.
Let’s end with the United Methodist social creed first published in 1908.  This document concludes the social principles in the Book of Discipline and on the UMC website.  These words remind us what we believe and how that meets God’s expectations when he said to Adam and Eve, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.  Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (Gen. 1:28, NIV)
Join me in the current social creed;
We believe in God, Creator of the world; and in Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of creation. We believe in the Holy Spirit, through whom we acknowledge God’s gifts, and we repent of our sin in misusing these gifts to idolatrous ends.

We affirm the natural world as God’s handiwork and dedicate ourselves to its preservation, enhancement, and faithful use by humankind.

We joyfully receive for ourselves and others the blessings of community, sexuality, marriage, and the family.

We commit ourselves to the rights of men, women, children, youth, young adults, the aging, and people with disabilities; to improvement of the quality of life; and to the rights and dignity of all persons.

We believe in the right and duty of persons to work for the glory of God and the good of themselves and others and in the protection of their welfare in so doing; in the rights to property as a trust from God, collective bargaining, and responsible consumption; and in the elimination of economic and social distress.

We dedicate ourselves to peace throughout the world, to the rule of justice and law among nations, and to individual freedom for all people of the world.

We believe in the present and final triumph of God’s Word in human affairs and gladly accept our commission to manifest the life of the gospel in the world. Amen.

Dear Heavenly Father,
Thank you for creating this earth filled with glorious sites, spectacular views, breathtaking beauty, sweet aromas, and musical sounds.  We ask your guidance as we take responsibility in caring for this earth.  We want to do more, but we know our best efforts join the best of others as we learn to look at this earth through your eyes.                –Amen

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