Scriptural base: Genesis 1:26-31
26 Then God said, “Let us make human beings[b] in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth,[c] and the small animals that scurry along the ground.”
27 So God created human beings[d] in his own image.
In the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
28 Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.”
29 Then God said, “Look! I have given you every seed-bearing plant throughout the earth and all the fruit trees for your food. 30 And I have given every green plant as food for all the wild animals, the birds in the sky, and the small animals that scurry along the ground—everything that has life.” And that is what happened.
31 Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good!
Spring simply delights me. I love watching the trees begin to turn colors as the sap moves up the branches and the flowers pop up above the dried leaves that have blanketed them all winter long. The birds are singing even before the sun is visible above the horizon. How can anyone not praise God for such glories!
Then I see something that literally tears at my heart. Over the winter, the preventive work along the roads became evident. The methods of trimming back the branches and young trees shred and mutilate the trees. They look like arms ripped off, twisted, peeled, and scarred. The pain I feel is as horrible as seeing a child crying in pain as the cuts are cleaned and bandaged up. But, the trees have no one cleaning and bandaging them.
Reading through the first story of creation in Genesis, the images leave plenty for one’s imagination to picture the earth God created. And as he looked over all that he had done, he knew that this earth needed caretakers. The question for us today is, “Are we caretakers of this earth?”
United Methodists have long supported the role of caretaker. The social principles are carefully outlined and reviewed every four years. The principles for the natural world begin with this statement:
All creation is the Lord’s, and we are responsible for the ways in which we use and abuse it. Water, air, soil, minerals, energy resources, plants, animal life, and space are to be valued and conserved because they are God’s creation and not solely because they are useful to human beings. God has granted us stewardship of creation. We should meet these stewardship duties through acts of loving care and respect. [Accessed on April 18, 2015 at www.umc.org/what-we-believe/the-natural-world]
The full natural world principle includes eight categories:
- Water, air, soil, minerals, plants
- Energy resources utilization
- Animal life
- Global Climate Stewardship
- Science and technology
- Food safety
- Food justice
The list covers much more than what comes to mind when thinking about this week’s focus of Earth Day and Arbor Day. In fact, the hymn “For the Beauty of the Earth,” does not include all of those categories, but it does tell us that we have a gorgeous world that we praise and therefore are responsible for its care.
Of course being raised on a farm, some may think that my reaction to the pruned trees is understandable, but the business of keeping the roads safe is another way to be a proper caretaker of God’s earth. I cannot agree, especially as I see other trimmed trees that are not shredded but are neatly trimmed and cleaned up.
Yes, this is personal. God placed us in the position of caretaker for this world and we must take charge. We need to do all that we can for our little corner of the world. What do we do to care for this earth that we are so dependent upon for our own existence?
Today the hymns we sing are part of the praise we lift to God for providing us this world. The words outline so many delights in our natural world:
- Hymn 145: “Morning Has Broken” — . . .like the first morning, . . . blackbird has spoken, . . . Sweet the rain’s new fall sunlit from heaven, like the first dewfall on the first grass. . .
- Hymn 92: “For the Beauty of the Earth” — . . . glory of the skies, . . . for the beauty of each hour of the day and of the night, hill and vale and tree and flower, sun and moon, and stars of light, . . joy of ear and eye. . .mystic harmony linking sense to sound and sight . . .
- Hymn 189: “Fairest Lord Jesus” — . . . Fair are the meadows, fairer still the woodlands, robed in the blooming . . Fair is the sunshine, fairer still the moonlight, and all the twinkling starry host . . .
There are so many more hymns that add similar images to our vision of this glorious earth we were gifted and were assigned to be caretakers.
This week there are two days added to the calendar which focus on this responsibility. First there is Earth Day on Wednesday, April 22. Even though this is a recent addition to the calendar in our generations’ experience, the fact that it is now a widely proclaimed day to focus on the very same list of principles that have long been part of the United Methodists’ social principles.
Again, the question: Are we caretakers of this earth? Continuing through the introduction to the natural world listed in the UM Book of Discipline, there is more to the rationale of including the natural world in the social principles:
. . . Economic, political, social, and technological developments have increased our human numbers, and lengthened and enriched our lives. However, these developments have led to regional defoliation, dramatic extinction of species, massive human suffering, overpopulation, and misuse and overconsumption of natural and nonrenewable resources, particularly by industrialized societies. This continued course of action jeopardizes the natural heritage that God has entrusted to all generations. . . .
Daily decisions on how we farm, how we make consumer decisions, and how we even dispose of our trash all are wrapped up in the economic, political, social and technological decisions we make. Are we making decisions based on the role of caretaker or are our decisions made without any concern to how it affects this world in which we live.
As I read through the introduction, I find myself squirming. Right now I have a drawer full of outdated technology that I have no idea what I should do with in terms of recycling or repurposing or simply adding to the landfills. The daily decisions we make in our homes do not necessarily seem to reflect our caretaker role. Sometimes we just look at convenience.
What, then, are we to do? Being well-informed is one step, but then when you find a method that supports the caretaker role, try to use it; and maybe even step out of one’s comfort zone and become a public advocate for that method. The social principle introduction for the natural world adds to this:
Therefore, let us recognize the responsibility of the church and its members to place a high priority on changes in economic, political, social, and technological lifestyles to support a more ecologically equitable and sustainable world leading to a higher quality of life for all of God’s creation.
This Sunday morning, we begin with praise. We acknowledge all the glory God provided us in the creation of this world. Then we pay attention to all that we do to fulfill the position of caretaker. Maybe we take Friday, April 24, and plant a tree in honor of Arbor Day. Maybe we go out and find a recycling facility that will work to take our plastics, glass and paper. These are the personal steps we can take to be caretakers in our own little corner of the world.
What can the church do? That may be a tougher question, but the first thought that pops into my thoughts is to become a recycling center. Maybe it means considering our heating and cooling practices, or do we share information around the neighborhood. It is not an easy question to ask and even a harder problem to find an appropriate way to become active caretakers. The challenge begins with making a commitment to support the social principles of our church, then make a plan to move into action, and finally, do it. We can be caretakers. We can be leaders in our community. We can demonstrate simple steps that can make a huge difference right here in our own community.
Dear Gracious Father,
We sing our praises for the glories you created.
We open our eyes and see beauty around us.
We listen to the music of nature as birds sing.
We breathe in the aroma of rain, sun, and blooms.
We feel warmth in the sun and the brush of a breeze.
Thank you for sharing all these wonders.
As spring continues to refresh our world,
Guide us in our responsibility as caretakers.
Guide us in finding ways to do all we can.
Guide us to care for our space and for all spaces we can.
May we be the caretakers your designed us to be.
May we lead others, too, in taking care of the earth.
May we demonstrate how to love you by loving the earth. –Amen