MUSIC Stormy Weather Arden & Koeler
The Lion Sleeps Tonight Weiss, Creatore,& Peretti
WELCOME and ANNOUNCEMENTS
LIGHTING THE PEACE CANDLE Barbara Donohue, liturgist
Nothing wants to suffer. Not the wind
as it scrapes itself against the cliff. Not the cliff
being eaten, slowly, by the sea. The earth does not want
to suffer the rough tread of those who do not notice it.
The trees do not want to suffer the axe, nor see
their sisters felled by root rot, mildew, rust.
The coyote in its den. The puma stalking its prey.
These, too, want ease and a tender animal in the mouth
to take their hunger. An offering, one hopes,
made quickly, and without much suffering.
The chair mourns an angry sitter. The lamp, a scalded moth.
A table, the weight of years of argument.
We know this, though we forget.
Not the shark nor the tiger, fanged as they are.
Nor the worm, content in its windowless world
of soil and stone. Not the stone resting in its riverbed.
The riverbed, gazing up at the stars.
Least of all, the stars, ensconced in their canopy,
looking down at all of us — their offspring —
scattered so far beyond reach.
Danusha Laméris, “Nothing Wants to Suffer”,
after Linda Hogan
PRELUDE The Moldau Smetana
CALL TO WORSHIP Chief Dan George, adapted
We bless God
For the beauty of the trees
The softness of the air
The fragrance of the grass
We bless God
For the soaring of the skies
The rhythms of the earth
The stillness of the night
We bless God
For the freshness of the morning
The dewdrops on the flower
For the twinkling of the stars
We bless God
For the taste of good food
The trail of the sun
And the life that never goes away
MUSIC Willow HKJ
Let us prepare ourselves for the word of God as it comes to us in the reading of Holy Scripture. Our hearts and minds are open.
For the word of God in scripture, for the word of God among us, for the word of God within us. Thanks be to God.
MODERN READING –Reredos Euros Bowen, 1904-1988, Welsh
SERMON All Creation Rev. Kim P. Wells
“One time as [Francis] was passing through the Spoleto valley, he came upon a place near Bevagna, in which a great multitude of birds of various kinds had assembled. When the holy one of God saw them, because of the outstanding love of the Creator with which Francis loved all creatures, he ran swiftly to the place. He greeted the birds in his usual way, as if they shared in reason. Since the birds did not take flight, he went among them, going to and fro, touching their heads and bodies with his tunic.
“Meanwhile his joy and wonder increased as he carefully admonished the birds to listen to the Word of God: ‘My brother and sister birds, you should greatly praise your Creator and show love always. Your Creator clothed you with feathers and gave you wings for flying. Among all the creatures, you were made free and given you the purity of the air. You neither sow nor reap, but are provided for without your least care.’
“At these words, the birds gestured a great deal, in their own way. They stretched their necks, spread their wings, opened their beaks and looked at St. Francis. They did not leave the place until he blessed them, made the sign of the cross, and gave them permission. On returning to the monastery he began to accuse himself of negligence because he had not preached to the birds before. From that day on, he carefully exhorted birds and beasts and even insensible creatures to praise and love the Creator.” [From Thomas of Celano, The Treatise on the Miracle of Saint Francis, (1250-1252), ed. Regis J. Armstrong, OFM Cap, J.A. Wayne Hellmann, OFM Cov, William J. Short, OFM, The Francis Trilogy of Thomas of Celano (Hyde Park: New City Press, 2004), 329-330, adapted. Accessed at https://www.humanesociety.org/resources/st-francis-assisi]
So, here is this saint, known for his love of animals, preaching to the birds and the beasts. Now preaching is often thought of as a way of helping people to recognize their sin and turn their lives toward God. Had the birds sinned? Had the rabbits sinned? Had the squirrels and deer sinned against God? Of course not. Animals can’t sin and they can’t choose to turn their lives to God. They can only live from their natural, innate instinct. Well, pets that have been domesticated and been influenced by relations with humans may be an exception! But St. Francis was not preaching to the animals to set them straight. He was preaching to them to celebrate their sacredness, their worth, their holiness. He was preaching to them to honor that they are part of the self-disclosure of Divine Love, of God.
Creation shows us the universality of Divine Love. It shows us the comprehensive scope of God. John of Damascus, writing in the 8th century, tells us,
“The whole earth is a living icon of the face of God.”
[Quoted in The Green Bible]
Nature shows us, teaches us, about God, about ourselves, about balance, about mutuality and interdependence. It teaches us of adaptation and beauty and praise. Creation teaches us of our utter dependence upon nature for food, shelter, water, marking time, cycles, and seasons. We are completely supported by nature. We cannot live without nature. There is no abundant flourishing life without the natural world. “God writes the Gospel not in the Bible alone,” Martin Luther tells us, “but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars.” [Quoted in The Green Bible]
Our tradition teaches that the glories of creation have been given to us, to sustain us, out of love. Pure gift. Nothing we have earned or deserved. There is no transaction involved. We are simply given this life, and sustained in this life, by creation. By the natural world. Which provides for our physical needs, our emotional needs, and our spiritual needs. Nature gives us life and teaches us how to thrive. It shows us our place and our need. We are taught to honor the powers beyond us and within us. It is the remarkable revelation of Love, mystery beyond our comprehension. “Reading about nature is fine,” says George Washington Carver, “but if a person walks in the woods and listens carefully, he can learn more than what is in books, for they speak with the voice of God.” He continues, “I love to think of nature as an unlimited broadcasting station through which God speaks to us every hour, if we will only tune in.” [Quoted in The Green Bible]
Now this morning we listened to part of the third ending of the gospel of Mark. We heard these verses on Easter. Today what I want us to hear is the charge that Jesus gives to his followers in this story. He tells them to, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Good News to all creation.” Notice that. The whole world. And all creation. Jesus’ followers are to bring good news to all people and all of creation. Not just to my part of the world. And my people. Our kind. This command is universal. And it is not even limited to humanity. Tell the good news to all of creation. That’s the rocks, the rivers, the seas, the sky, the mountains, the trees, the beasts, the fish, the worms, the grass, the birds. Seems like St. Francis took Jesus at his word about this, too! Proclaim the good news to all of creation. No exceptions.
Is this because the animals and plants need to be corrected? Of course not! This is a way of expressing the full scope of the goodness of God. It includes everything, everywhere, every kind, everyone. Every place. Every time. Beyond space. Outside of time. It is a way of talking about the amazing, astounding love and scope of God, beyond our wildest imaginings. Divine Love is not just about one random species on one random planet. This is a universal message of love for all that was, is, and is to be. Jesus is celebrating the fullness, the scope, the immensity, of Divine Love.
And of course, we see the manifestation of divinity in nature throughout the Bible. Scripture tells us over and over again about how God is experienced as not only being in relationship with humanity but as having control over the natural world. Our holy book starts with two creation stories. God imagines, speaks, creation into existence. Including humanity. A garden, paradise. And our scriptures end with the image of a garden. Paradise. And in between, the power of Divine Love is seen in creation over and over. The flood. The burning bush. The locusts and frogs and river of blood. The dying cattle. Everyone beneath a vine and fig tree living in peace and unafraid. The complicity of the big fish that swallowed Jonah. The lions that don’t eat Daniel and his friends. The star over the stable. The stilling of the storm. The withering of the fig tree. The darkening of the sun at the crucifixion and the earthquake. All of these images and many more are intended to convey that creation is of God. Sacred. Holy. Evidencing of the power and purposes of Divine Love. “The heavens are telling of the glory of God and the firmament proclaims God’s handiwork,” we are told in the Psalms. [Ps. 19:1]
And since all that is working in such perfection, we, the human species, would do well to follow the dictates of God, because if God can run the universe so beautifully, surely God knows what is best for us! So Psalm 19 continues,
“The law of the God is perfect, reviving the soul;
the decrees of God are sure, making wise the simple;
the precepts of God are right, rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of God is clear, enlightening the eyes;
the fear of God is pure, enduring forever,
the ordinances of God are true and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold!
Sweeter also than honey, and drippings of the honeycomb.” [Psalm 19:7-10]
But, unlike the plants and animals and planets, we humans tend to detour from our courses. To make faith all about us. To put the focus on humanity. On our group. Our species. And it becomes about our need. Our sins. Our salvation. Our next life. Our own good. Often at the expense of one another and of nature. We diminish the glorious gospel to a human-centered self help tract. Of course the gospel teaches us how to live a good life, an abundant life. We are schooled in selfless living, forgiveness , service, generosity, forgiveness, love of self, neighbor, enemy. And this is all good. But the gospel is so much more. It is good news for all creation. And when we limit the good news to us, people, our lives, we deny ourselves the whole gospel, the good news to the stars and lakes and trees and rocks and birds. And we distort our proper place in the context of the all of it and we diminish the grandeur of God.
The current environmental movement and the perils of global warming and climate change are bringing us back to a more wholistic world view. The rights of nature movement which started in South America is promoting legal rights for rivers, land, animals, and plants. This movement is gaining strength here in southwest Florida where advocates are working to gain legal rights for the Caloosahatchee River and other bodies of water.
Our degenerating situation is forcing us back to a sensitivity to our place in all of creation. It is reminding us that we are dependent upon the earth. And we have been biting the hand that feeds us. We are seeing the ravages of our sins of greed and pride and gluttony.
I am listening to The Swamp: The Everglades, Florida, and the Politics of Paradise by Michael Grunwald. And like The Gulf, by Jack Davis, a natural history of the Gulf of Mexico, the writer tells of the decimation of the bird populations of Florida, entire rookeries, thousands upon thousands of birds, killed, for their plumes. Feathers. To adorn hats. That were probably worn to church. The greed and callousness is sickening.
And here we are in this season of new life, of resurrection, of Good News, of coming out of the tomb. We need it! I am thinking about how the church, entrusted with the gospel, needs to move beyond anthropocentrism. We must move beyond the perspective that humanity is the center of God’s universe. We must follow the dictates of Jesus and put all creation, the complete, infinite disclosure of the Divine at the heart of our message. So I am trying to be part of fostering an expression of Christianity that is not anthropocentric. And to do that involves moving beyond our exclusive attachment to the anthropomorphic God of our own making. So I would like to be part of a church that is intentionally committed to Good News for all of creation. A church that does not make the world and the word revolve around humanity as if it was a privileged, spoiled, entitled, elite, heterosexual white man! I want to be part of a church that promotes the gospel that is good news for all of creation by moving beyond almost exclusively human language for God, for what God is and how God is imagined. To me, that is how we can proclaim the good news to all of creation. We need to move beyond some of the old concepts and language and embrace new imagery that conveys more closely the intent of the gospel in ways that are suited to our situation.
The gospel is about good news for all creation. Yes, all kinds of people, holy and beloved, but this also extends to the the actual physical world – land, air, water, space, animals, plants, fungi, protista, and monera. Jesus’ message is good news for all of it, not just some of it, and certainly not just us, our kind, or our species.
And when we celebrate the gospel that is good news for all of creation, we are not only respecting and honoring creation, we are also, well, saving ourselves. Because we cannot live without creation. Creation can go on without us, but we cannot go on without nature. We need creation to give us life, to help us thrive and flourish. To feed us. To teach us. To make us human. Hildegard of Bingen, writing in the 1100’s saw this. She says, “All nature is at the disposal of human kind. We are to work with it. Without it we can not survive.” [Meditations with Hildegard of Bingen, Gabriele Uhlein, p. 71] She was preaching good news to all of creation.
Jesus’ instruction to proclaim the good news to all of creation is really more for us than it is for creation. It is a message that will help to save us. It teaches us of God, of our own place, it teaches us of balance and interdependency and adaptation and the proliferation of all life. We need to listen to nature to hear the voice of God teaching of Divine Love. Remember how loud and joyous all of the birds were during the covid lockdown? Remember the raucous chatter? Maybe they were preaching to us. Sharing good news with us. Maybe we need to pay attention. And listen. Amen.
A reasonable effort has been made to appropriately cite materials referenced in this sermon. For additional information, please contact Lakewood United Church of Christ.
UNISON PRAYER Pat Mathes Cane
We join with the Earth
and with each other,
With our ancestors
and all beings of the future,
to bring new life to the land,
to recreate the human community,
to provide justice and peace,
to remember our children,
to remember who we are. . .
We join together
as many and diverse expressions
of one loving Mystery,
for the healing of the Earth
and the renewal of all Life. Amen.
MUSIC The Cherry Tree Ireland
The mission of Lakewood United Church of Christ, as part of the Church Universal is to:
- Celebrate the presence and power of God in our lives & in our world.
- Offer the hospitality and inclusive love of Christ to all people.
- Work for God’s peace and justice throughout creation.
Morning offerings may be brought forward and placed in the plates on the altar.
Offertory Les oiseaux et les sources (the birds and the springs)
Prayer of Dedication Ray Simpson
Glad Bringer of brightness
Day’s blessing, rainbow’s embrace
Teach our hearts to open as the buds open
And to welcome in your grace.
Teach us to dance with the playful clouds
And to laugh with sun’s smile on our face.
The earth is yours, may it bring forth its produce
The birds are yours, may they bring forth their songs
Our work is yours, may it bring forth its yield. Amen.
MUSICAL CALL TO PRAYER Le cygne (The Swan) Camille Saint-Saëns
COMMUNITY PRAYERS – SAVIOR’S PRAYER
Eternal Spirit, Earth Maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver,
Source of all that is and that ever shall be,
Father and Mother of all people, Loving God in whom is heaven:
The hallowing of your name echo through the universe!
The way of your justice be followed by all peoples of the world!
Your heavenly will be done by all created beings!
Your commonwealth of peace and freedom sustain our hope and
come on earth!
With the bread that we need for today, feed us.
In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us.
In times of temptation and testing, strengthen us.
From trials too great to endure, spare us.
From the grip of all that is evil, free us.
For you reign in the glory of the power that is love, now and
*POSTLUDE Baby Elephant Walk Mancini
In May, services will begin at 9:30a.m.