Earth Day Sunday 2020

Here are the elements of our worship service today – April 19, 2020 – where we celebrated the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day.

 

CALL TO WORSHIP

LEADER: Easter affirms that Jesus’ death was not the end of the story – and that it is our story now. Thus we continue in our time what Jesus began in his – a ministry of justice and compassion in a world of inequity and indifference. Inherent in the struggle is hope for the future.

PEOPLE: We are called as co-creators of the future. Together we live toward a more just and inclusive society and planet. We affirm the unity of all creation; that we are all sisters and brothers in one human family.

LEADER: Our faith cultivates the perspective that what we have in common is more important than our differences, and that our differences can be a source of wisdom and strength. In the face of cynicism and brutality, we align ourselves with those who would affirm rather than tear down, with those who would think and act rather than capitulate, with those who choose hope over despair.

PEOPLE: In the midst of pain and opposition, we are called. In a world addicted to enmity and violence, we are chosen. Bathed in the light of Easter, we are summoned to join with those of good will from every circumstance, uniting our hearts and energies in the cause of love.  Amen.

 

“Earth Sunday 2020,” Susan Ryder

READING

Genesis 1:20-28
And God said, ‘Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.’ So God created every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.’ And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.

And God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.’ And it was so. God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good.

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”

REFLECTION
In 1970, the first Earth Day gave voice to an emerging public consciousness about the state of affairs on our planet. According to the Earth Day website, “In the decades leading up to the first Earth Day, Americans were consuming vast amounts of leaded gas through massive and inefficient automobiles. Industry belched out smoke and sludge with little fear of the consequences from either the law or bad press. Air pollution was commonly accepted as the smell of prosperity. Until this point, mainstream America remained largely oblivious to environmental concerns and how a polluted environment threatens human health. However, the stage was set for change with the publication of Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring in 1962. The book represented a watershed moment as it raised public awareness and concern for living organisms, the environment and the inextricable links between pollution and public health.” (https://earthday.org/)

Earth Day provided a spotlight for this emerging environmental consciousness, “channeling the energy of the anti-war protest movement to put environmental concerns on the front page. Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson, a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, came up with the idea for a national day to focus on the environment after he witnessed the ravages of a massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California in 1969. Senator Nelson realized that if he could infuse the energy of anti-war protests with an emerging public consciousness about air and water pollution, it would force environmental protection onto the national political agenda. On April 22, 1970, 20 million Americans — at the time, 10% of the total population of the United States — took to the streets, parks and auditoriums to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable environment in massive coast-to-coast rallies. Thousands of colleges and universities organized protests against the deterioration of the environment. In 1990, Earth Day went global, mobilizing 200 million people in 141 countries and lifting environmental issues onto the world stage. Earth Day 1990 gave a huge boost to recycling efforts worldwide and helped pave the way for the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. It also prompted President Bill Clinton to award Senator Nelson the Presidential Medal of Freedom — the highest honor given to civilians in the United States — for his role as Earth Day founder.” (https://earthday.org/)

When the first Earth Day was observed in 1970, the global population was 3.684 billion. Fifty years later that number is more than doubled, as the count now stands at 7.8 billion.

Creation Justice Ministries (formerly the National Council of Churches Eco-Justice Program) has adopted a theme for Earth Day 2020 “The Fierce Urgency of Now – A Prophetic Christian Understanding of the Climate Crisis.”  Creation Justice Ministries represents the creation theology and environmental justice policies of major Christian denominations throughout the United States. “The Fierce Urgency of Now” is a phrase employed by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his address at New York’s Riverside Church when he articulated his opposition to the Vietnam War.  Quoting Dr. King from that address…

“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked and dejected with a lost opportunity. The ‘tide in the affairs of men’ does not remain at the flood; it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is deaf to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residue of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: ‘Too late.’”

We are now living at the brink of such a time. Quite separate from the coronavirus pandemic, which necessarily dominates our attention for the moment, we are living at the edge of a climate crisis. King’s words resonate for those who are aware of the situation: now is the time for decisive action – before it is too late. The phrase speaks to how people of faith are called to confront critical dangers and possibilities in a time of urgency.

The traditional Christian assumption is that the earth was created by an outside agent as a gift for human enrichment, with which we can do as we please having been granted “dominion” in the creation story of Genesis. This interpretation could not be more willfully ignorant and self-serving, and has led over the past few centuries at the very least to withering indifference and at the worst to catastrophic abuse in our relationship with the planet upon which our lives, the lives of future generations, and the lives of all our fellow creatures absolutely depend.

Professor Ellen Davis of Duke University Divinity School explains, referring to the original Hebrew text of Genesis 1… (From Speaking of Faith with Krista Tippett)

“The first thing that stands out is that the rhythm of the passage changes when we get to the creation of the dry land. Up until that point, Genesis 1 is very terse. “Let there be light: And there was light” – “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters … and it was so.” But when the dry land begins to be furnished for habitation, suddenly blessings enter the world. So the creatures are blessed [and called good]. Of course we know human beings are blessed on the sixth day, but we often overlook the fact that the creatures of sky and land and sea receive exactly the same blessing. And so we are living amongst creatures who are blessed before we even come into existence. I think that’s an important thing to recognize. The Hebrew word [usually translated as dominion] is a strong word – I render it “exercise skilled mastery amongst the creatures” because I think the notion of skilled mastery suggests something like a craft, an art, of being human without taking away the fact that humans do, from the perspective of almost all the biblical writers, occupy a very special place of power and privilege and responsibility in the world. But the condition for our exercise of skilled mastery is set by the prior blessing of the creatures of sea and sky. So whatever it means for us to exercise skilled mastery, it cannot undo that prior blessing. Looking at Genesis this way acknowledges the oneness and interdependency of all creation, our commonality, as well as our shared blessing. It helps us see all of creation as our partners and moves us from the dualistic perspective we have developed in our modern society to a non-dualistic one, acknowledging the oneness and interdependency of all creation.”

One of the benefits of the global “shelter in place” orders is that nature is getting a modicum of respite from human domination. We aren’t driving or flying as much, so the skies are noticeably clearer. Reuters reports that while restrictions related to COVID-19 have roiled financial markets, they have also given residents in some of the world’s most polluted cities something not experienced in decades: clean air. NASA reports that air pollution has dropped by as much as 30% in the northeastern US, and 20% in southern California. Gardens are flourishing as people have time to plant and tend them, and people are unplugging from their devices to enjoy time outdoors – appreciating the beauty of their own neighborhoods as we walk our dogs, or six feet away from friends, and get some fresh air and exercise.

For better or worse, this 50th anniversary Earth Day coincides with COVID-19 and world-wide quarantine efforts by some to minimize threats posed by the pandemic. In one sense, obviously, each event distracts attention from the other. The pandemic has massive consequences for healthcare and the economy both short and long term, and it inevitably floods our consciousness. Yet part of that awareness includes recognizing how people around the globe are summoning a spirit of cooperation and creativity to meet the challenges. As we noted last week, the origin of the word “crisis” suggests a turning point. With that reality etched indelibly on our minds, we can transfer the same perspective to the environmental crisis. We can adopt the challenges of carbon emission, plastic pollution and the need for clean renewable energy sources as an opportunity to summon that same sense of responsibility, creativity and cooperation. It is still possible – even now it might not yet be too late for collective human behavior to preserve and enhance the environment for ourselves, other species and future generations. May this Earth Day make us mindful of the fierce urgency of now, inspiring us to become skillful scientists, artisans, and technicians proceeding with reverence for the only home we will ever know. Amen.

 

CALL TO COMMUNION

LEADER: The words “something is not right” echo within our souls: The cry of Creation. The voice of God. Recognition that “these are not ordinary times” may be the path toward our resurrection.

PEOPLE: So we bathe in courage, grasp for community, leave the comfort of “business-as-usual” to “shelter in place,” and stare into the face of this unknown future.

LEADER: We leave our little boxes and cast off our blinders, and the bright light of Creation’s pain nearly blinds us, and grief nearly chokes us … but not quite.

PEOPLE: Because when there’s enough of us trying to make things better, sooner or later we’ll begin to connect, and the power of that connection will explode in hope, and a different way can be made.

LEADER: As we share this simple meal of broken bread and a common cup, we affirm that life can flourish in new and extraordinary ways. Do you believe? Do you dare? Let us share the feast.

CLOSING BLESSING
“Hold your hands out over the earth as over a flame. To all who love her, who open to her the doors of their veins, she gives of her strength, sustaining them with her own measureless tremor of dark life. Touch the earth, love the earth, honor the earth, her plains, her valleys, her hills, and her seas; rest your spirit in her solitary places. For the gifts of life are the earth’s and they are given to all, and they are the songs of birds at daybreak, Orion and the Bear, and dawn seen over ocean from the beach.” 

Henry Beston, The Outermost House: A Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod