on the road. They don't recognize Jesus, until he takes the bread and breaks it. The disciples hightail it back to Jerusalem to tell the disciples that Christ is alive.
1 A sermon on Earth Day Preached by the Rev. Jay Sidebotham on Sunday, April 22, 2012 at The Church of the Holy Spirit, Lake Forest, Illinois. I just returned from a meeting of 25 colleagues, rectors of large Episcopal churches who gather annually to compare notes. In the past couple years, the theme has been the same from churches around the country. Flat is the new up. Flat or declining attendance. Flat or declining giving. All reflective of well studied cultural trends that say that people are looking for spirituality in new places, and not necessarily in places like this. Which of course, leads me up the road, across the train tracks, to one of my alternative places of worship: Starbucks. According to the vision of its leadership, it is a place that does more than sell coffee. Its founder, Howard Schulz, says it’s about creating community. Those ubiquitous stores (There’s one spot in Manhattan where you can stand on a street corner, you can see four separate stores) function as the village church used to, and perhaps ought to. It provides a safe place, hospitable to fellowship. It sometimes does the work of local parishes, with a mission to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time. Lord knows, it is a place where I’ve offered time and treasure. So perhaps it should have come as no surprise last week to see a banner in Starbucks that spoke about environmental stewardship. For me, stewardship has always been a church word, erroneously limited to fund-raising. Here, in a secular context, was a broader vision of stewardship, implying that what we have in our beautiful world is a gift for which we have responsibility. Starbucks was proclaiming truths many faith communities fail to proclaim. The preacher is told to have the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. On this third Sunday in Easter, which is also Earth Day, I want to explore what it means to live in the intersection of the message of Jesus’ resurrection and our culture’s call to care for creation, a call that has gained in urgency since the first Earth Day 42 years ago, and maybe in this winter marked by weird and violent weather. We’ve shaped today’s liturgy with an eye on that intersection, noting that our tradition has for centuries recognized stewardship of creation as a faith issue, or in the language of our parish, an issue of spiritual growth. Today, we use hymns from the hymnal used each week, prayers from the Prayer Book shaping our worship, ancient words from Scripture to think about what it means to live faithfully in this world, in our own day, giving thanks for creation by caring for creation. Because I’m limited in time and intelligence, I’m not going to advocate a particular political agenda or program. There are others who can do that better, many in this parish, liberals and conservatives who care for creation in their work, paid or volunteer. Folks young and old, red and blue, make environmental stewardship a spiritual practice. Instead, I want to invite you to join me in thinking about what it means to be a person of faith living in our beautiful and broken world, this fragile earth, our island home. We each have to figure that out. I can’t do it for you. Maybe the best I can do is indicate that care of creation is something God cares about. John 3:16 tells us: “God so loved the world.” Because of that, it is something God’s people care about. Said another way, our care, our stewardship of God’s creation is a spiritual practice, a moral issue. Some have said the greatest moral issue of our time because it has to do with what we hand on to our children, and affects the poorest among us. You
2 may think there are greater moral issues. If so, use this discussion as a way to consider how your faith informs those issues, how your reading of the bible and the newspaper intersect, how you will be steward of the concern of your heart. But join me in moving from the idea that faith is totally private, without effect on our common life. The season of Easter informs the discussion, as a season to celebrate growth and new life, as the beauty of creation surrounds us. It’s a season including rogation days when for centuries, people have marched in procession around parish bounds asking God to bless their crops, noting the relationship of creation and creator. The season of Easter, with seven Sundays, offers seven chances to tell the story of the resurrection. It’s a story about disciples and others on a journey to see more clearly who Jesus is. Today’s reading from the Gospel of Luke follows a story about two disciples walking with Jesus on the road. They don’t recognize Jesus, until he takes the bread and breaks it. The disciples hightail it back to Jerusalem to tell the disciples that Christ is alive. At that moment, Jesus appears to the group, showing he is very much alive. As time goes on, people grow in their understanding of Jesus, with an ever clearer vision, until in today’s reading from the letter to the Colossians we see that the Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ present at creation. As John’s gospel says: In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God. All of which is to say that the more we get to know Christ, the more we come to see who he is, present in the marvel and mystery and miracle of creation. The message of Easter: the risen Christ brings about a new creation. As Christ’s hands and feet, we are part of that process, part of creation, not apart from creation, endowed with a call to stewardship. It has to do with spiritual growth. In our journey as a community, we have expressed spiritual growth as a deepening of our relationship with God, with neighbor, with ourselves and with the world. We have talked about freedom and responsibility for our own spiritual journey. We have been given a gift. We have responsibility to care for it. A great group here at the church is seeking to explore that: It may not be something you are called to, but it is something many are called to, in this church and outside of the church. Join this group as together, we pastor the community, a mark of a vital congregations, by caring for creation. It is important to note that these issues are important to the growing number of folks who describe themselves as spiritual not religious, who do more worshipping at the beach or at Open Lands, than in a space like this. These issues are important to our children. At a recent meeting of our Faith and the Environment group, a participant said she was there because her grandchildren told her she needed to pay attention to these concerns. These issues are important to the poorest among us, who will be most deeply affected by changes in the world brought by impact of our lives. The issues raised on a day like today call us to a broader vision of stewardship. For me the call sounds like this, an invitation to do 3 things: First, to give thanks for the beauty of the earth. Make it part of your spiritual practice to note, on a daily basis, the miracle of the gift we’ve been given. Maybe that’s why God put us so close to the lake. Second, pray daily for what you can do in your own life to preserve that grace, that gift. Let that prayer be the desire of your heart. And third, let your prayer be some concrete action, like switching out light bulbs, or picking up trash, or recycling at the Spring Fair, or working to keep our lake clean, or writing representatives to advocate, for the love of our planet, for the love of neighbor, for the love of God our creator. Wherever you are in the journey, see how you can grow in caring for the gifts God has given you, so that all of life can be offered
3 to God: your gifts, your time, your talent, your treasure, your experiences, your joys, your pain, your dreams for a new creation. Mark’s gospel tells us that after his resurrection, Jesus told his disciples to preach the gospel, not to all people, but to all creation. Consider how you will do that. It’s your call. A good friend of mine used to run a discernment class at his church, to help people figure out what they were called to do. He called the class: What in God’s name are you doing? We might go for a corollary class title today: What on earth are you doing? Or what on earth day are you doing? What are we doing with what we’ve been given, as we seek to worship not only with your lips but with your lives.