Earth Day 2024

What Then Must We Do?

Link to Service

Tomorrow, we will celebrate Earth Day, a day filled with both wonder and sorrow. Earth Day was first celebrated on April 22, 1970 as a day to honor the Earth and to participate in environmental teach-ins. Since then, the environmental movement has grown in this country and environmental awareness permeates much of our society.  At the same time, the problems we face have grown as climate change —which had already begun in 1970 but was barely recognized — has had deeper and graver impacts on our beautiful planet Earth. Problems with consumption and other environmental degradation have continued to grow, along  with the world’s economy and population. This morning, we join together to hold our hope and our pain, to honor the Earth, and to recognize how deeply our relationship with Earth and our work for environmental justice is intertwined with ALL of our spiritualities. This is not the work of one day, and on this day we honor Earth. Let us pray, O Holy One, you have created this universe as something beyond our imaginings and you have created the earth as a place where living things might thrive.  Please guide us at this time, enlighten us and strengthen us as we seek to preserve the beauty of all creation for our children and their children and all the generations to come.  Amen.

When I was a child, our parents took us camping every summer.  This was a way both for us to travel as a large family in a more affordable way but to also teach us about their love for the mountains and the oceans, the brooks and streams, and the beauty of the land.  And when we went camping, we often stayed in National or State campgrounds where there was plenty of space between sites and we could roam freely.  And perhaps like many of you, we spent many summer days barefoot at the beach or in our yard.  As I think back now, I realize that we were walking on Holy Ground and that there was something important in the way we were able to enjoy the beauty of nature which surrounded us that would emphasize our responsibility in caring for our earth so that others might enjoy the wonder as well.

There are promising signs, too. Alongside these problems, people have begun working for solutions. In the process, we’re healing some of the other hurts of our society.

Recently, a number of folks from our church have been reading a book entitled The Great Transition by  local author, Nick Fuller Googins.  Nick will be one of the featured speakers for the Summer Speaker Series this year.  As I opened the book, the first thing that struck me was his dedication.  On that page, he dedicated the book to a long list of names,  and as I know he is an elementary school teacher in Saco, I imagine those are the names of his students.  It was very touching because this book is about a family who ends up in Greenland after the climate collapse.  People there had created a more climate-friendly community where they may now live but we look back through the stories of this family to the destruction and suffering that came before.  The story is told through the eyes of each member of the family. Their teenage daughter, Emi, is a compelling character because she struggles with terrible anxiety.  She continues to ask why more wasn’t done to prevent this collapse. Even though her parents spent years trying to help rebuild communities after devastating floods and fires, she wonders why far more people didn’t wake up and prevent the damage which unfolded while they still could. 

Those are the critical questions for us today, are they not? What do we know and what must we do?  Many people I’ve spoken with in recent years, like me, were thinking this was still sometime out in the future, that the real effects of global warming were not going to be realized perhaps or hopefully within our lifetimes, but here we are and it’s very real.  It has really hit home for so many of us in recent months when we have had to cancel church several times because of the rising tides flooding the roads to our church.  Some of our members have had major damage to their homes both from the ocean and the high winds.  The reality of climate change is truly at our doorstep.

Many faith communities across our country are grappling with how best to respond.  In the reading from 1st John this morning,  we hear, 3:17 “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?  3:18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”  We belong to one another, not just our families and neighbors, but we belong to our sisters and brothers throughout the world and we are responsible for one another, especially those whose lives are already being affected by the change upon us.  We belong to all of creation.  

Our Lenten reflection booklet invited us to explore more deeply our responsibility in caring for our planet which God has entrusted to us.  They presented an important definition of politics that is at the heart of how we must consider our action.  Politics refers to how communal life requires effective cooperative strategies for getting things done on behalf of the community as a whole.  The word ‘politics’ as many of you know comes from the Greek word Polis, or city.  In this light, we may understand that faith and non partisan politics have always been connected, because God calls us to create healthy, just, beloved communities.  Caring for our climate is central to this, because without a healthy climate, no beloved community can exist.  

Earth Day of course should be every day and I know that several of you are already very  active in various ways to consider how best to act.  Like so many important issues of our day, we have to find a way to work together because this affects all of us.  We have to imagine ways to have an impact both on the macro and the micro level, on the global and national level as well as in our own lives.  I think we all understand that while our personal efforts make some small difference, the matter is too urgent and all of our voices are needed to insist to those in decision making positions that things need to change now.  We need to have response on the national and international level because we are all connected ultimately.

The good news is that we do not need to do this alone.  There are wonderful local and international organizations who can provide excellent resources. One of the resources I have been consulting is from Creation Justice Ministries who counts among its members a large number of religious traditions and denominations.  They have been active for 30 years in an effort to unite people of faith in caring for God’s creation.

I included information about them  in our bulletin this week so that you may take a look at their resources.  This year, their theme is  focused on reducing plastics which they call Real faith in a Synthetic World.  They provided materials on how best to respond.  As they write, “Everywhere we look in our culture you will find plastic. It surrounds our food, it makes up our technology and it is a standard element in our household items. Unfortunately, it is also overflowing from our landfills, floating in our waters and polluting our soil. More and more, you can even find it in our own bodies and those of other living creatures. There have even been traces of plastic found in breast milk. Despite the fact that we have learned the harms of plastics, we are steadily increasing our production of the material and integrating it into more and more items. Plastic is everywhere!”

So where do we begin?  How might we as a church community and in our own lives embrace the idea of zero waste both with food and with other items, especially single use plastics.  How might we eliminate plastics at home.  I know it isn’t easy to do; we’ve been trying to figure out the best ways to stop buying anything plastic but we know it is in so much of the packaging.  We have returned to using bar soap in our bathrooms and laundry powder in cardboard boxes.  Most of us have eliminated the use of plastic water bottles but too many have not broken that habit.  

We are now in the beautiful Easter season of springtime, new life, resurrection.  As we enjoy the beauty of these days, let us recommit ourselves to doing what we can, when we can to ensure that the health of our planet is protected so that those who live in future generations will not have to look back and ask why we did not do more.  We know that we are running out of time.  This is the most important issue of our time and all of creation is at stake.  We will need to change; we will have to buy less and be more intentional in our consumption; we will have to reflect upon what we can do in our own lives and on a broader level to demand the changes necessary to protect this precious gift from God.  Let us begin by committing to do one thing in our own lives, in the life of this community, and on a national level to move this conversation forward.  

We give thanks for those who are already hard at work imagining new ways of addressing these issues.  Let us join our hearts to the work of the younger generations who understand the urgency of now.