Sunday, April 24, 2022

Earth Day Sunday

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INTROIT
All Things Bright and Beautiful
by Derrol Sawyer

CALL TO WORSHIP       
The world is alive with the grandeur of God.
God rules with a guiding hand, Hallelujah!
Praise God, all the earth! Christ is alive!
All creation is a song of praise to God. 
Those who contemplate the beauty of creation find reserves of strength
that will endure a lifetime.
Give thanks to God and rejoice!

PRAYER OF INVOCATION
God of New Life and New Beginnings, we give you thanks for the world and everything in it. Jesus is not dead. Jesus lives, and we live in him. Thank you for calling us to such a glorious ministry. You call on us to love our neighbors and neighborhoods – our farms and forests – our streams and oceans. Help us to remember we are caretakers of your creation. May we recognize the holiness of every living thing and strive for its care and protection, the way Jesus cares about us. We pray in Christ’s name. Amen.

PRAYER OF CONFESSION
God of Compassion, teach us how to live in communion with your saints in heaven and saints on earth. Help us to live in harmony with the creatures of the earth. You have entrusted us not only with sharing your love with the world but also the stewardship of your creation. Too often, we settle for the tarnished glow of selfish pursuits.

WORDS OF ASSURANCE
Hear now these words of assurance:
In Christ, God has forgiven our sins, and the sins of the whole world. Rejoice in the light and peace of the Holy One. Rejoice in the blessings of our God.

GLORY PATRI
Glory be to the Father, and to the son, and to the Holy Ghost.
As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.


All readings are from the New Revised Standard Version bible.

OLD TESTAMENT LESSON …………………………………….. Exodus 3: 1-5
Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.  There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed.  Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.”  When the LORD saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.”  Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”

PSALTER LESSON ………………………………………………….. Psalm 150
Praise the LORD! Praise God in his sanctuary;
   praise him in his mighty firmament!
Praise him for his mighty deeds;
   praise him according to his surpassing greatness!
Praise him with trumpet sound;
   praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with tambourine and dance;
   praise him with strings and pipe!
Praise him with clanging cymbals;
   praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that breathes praise the LORD!
   Praise the LORD!

GOSPEL LESSON ……………………………………………. Luke 13: 6-9, 18-19
Then Jesus told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”

He said therefore, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what should I compare it? It is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.”


SERMON ……………….… Holy Ground …………………….Rev. Mike Daly
Do you like to go barefoot? Around the house? In the yard? As we think about and celebrate Earth Day is there anything more earthy than being barefoot in nature? Maybe when you were younger?  Did you like going barefoot around water? Maybe at the pool, you liked the feel of that hot cement on those scorching summer days? Some of you might have grown up near a lake.  I did. I liked that sand or even the muddy feeling between my toes. 

I remember my grandfather liked to go barefoot, but that was because shoes were very uncomfortable for him. He grew up poor, very poor.  He told me that he and his sisters only had hand-me-down shoes. Unfortunately, they were donations from an older cousin and too small for his feet. As a result, his feet formed abnormally. Being in just socks or barefoot was more comfortable.

Writer and preacher, Will Campbell recalls having to go barefooted while growing up in rural Mississippi. In his book, Brother to a Dragonfly, he tells of a contest among children in the early summer to see whose feet had toughened enough to be able to run across a patch of nettles without limping and whimpering in pain. In his culture, it was a sign of becoming an adult to wear shoes year-round.  But for children, the beginning of summer seemed to announce a command to “take off your shoes and go barefooted.”

In today’s lesson from the book of Exodus a voice tells Moses to remove his shoes and go barefoot. He hears the words, “Remove your sandals–you are on holy ground.” It is interesting to note that the first time such a thing as sacred space is mentioned in the Bible is with this passage. In Genesis, the first “sacred thing” mentioned in the Bible is time – the Sabbath.

The passage in Exodus, we heard today comes when Moses is a fugitive. He is on the run – hiding out. You will remember that Moses, while born a Hebrew, was raised by a daughter of the royal court in Egypt. As he grows up, he begins to identify more and more with his biological origins and his Hebrew traditions. He reclaims his heritage and his people. So, when he sees an Egyptian beating on his Hebrew kin, he gets upset. In the act of protection, he kills the Egyptian. To save himself, he must flee.

One day while in the desert around Mt. Horeb, he sees a bush out in the middle of nowhere burning.  The strange thing is that the bush does not burn up; the branches do not turn to ash; the leaves – look fine.  It is just glowing like a campfire in the middle of the desert. It keeps burning. 

Moses goes to take a closer look at this potential miracle. Then God speaks to him from out of the burning bush, calling him by name – Moses – and then telling him to take off his shoes. He does not run. He follows the directions.

By the way, Moses means: drew out or drawn out. At birth, Moses’ life is saved because he is drawn out of the waters of the Nile. Now, God will draw him out of exile – out of his “displacement” – and save not only his life but the lives of his people.

Moses is a key figure in the Bible. We can identify with him. How many times a week do you feel a little displaced (or a lot)? Have you ever felt overwhelmed? Overwhelmed, but still having a sense that God is there – somewhere. Maybe even sensing God’s presence in something ordinary. Faith is about God drawing us closer. Pulling us closer to draw out our best and to turn us loose. God tends to do that – draw us to those places to “save” us from that which would alter or destroy our true selves. In turn, we are asked to live (as best we can) in holy service and holy ways.

The familiar – most traditional – interpretation of this command “take off your sandals” is to not only show appropriate respect, but also to avoid defiling a holy place. If you visit a Muslim mosque, you are expected to remove your shoes. If you visit a Buddhist temple – the same thing – you are asked to remove your shoes.  You can keep your socks on though. Several religions require the removal of shoes as a gesture to recognize that you are in a special, sacred place. 

Perhaps there is another way to look at this passage. Perhaps this command is more like an invitation to draw even closer to God, and all God has created. An invitation to make contact with God by making symbolic contact with the earth. “Take off your shoes, Moses. Take off your shoes and come into direct contact with me. Sit and stay awhile. Feel the presence of the Holy through the soles of your feet so that your soul may be nourished by my presence.”

As people of faith, we keep a certain respect for space and time. We are asked to keep them sacred. When we have deep respect for the land and all things on it and in it and above it, we create sacred space. Our homes, the church, local parks, backyards, etc. The gardens and the fields. How can we get even closer?

One way might be in how we understand holiness (sacredness). This idea of putting God first – of having and maintaining a sincere reverence. How do we treat something that is special to us? It draws us in – and the closer we get, the more we care. Proximity matters.

A gardener feels this way. In the Luke passage, we hear a story about a fig tree that hasn’t produced fruit in three years, so the owner says to the gardener, “Cut it down. Why should we let it waste the soil?” That is logical. In a world – our world – of cause and effect, and two plus two equals four – bring it down.

But this gardener isn’t not standing in that world. He is standing instead in God’s world. And in God’s world – God’s creation and everything in it is holy. He knows he is standing on Holy Ground.

By starting in a place of reverence, this story does not end with the chopping down of the fruitless fig tree and the planting of a new one. The story ends instead with a citizen of the Kingdom of God pausing and saying, “Sir, let’s give it more time. Let’s give it another year.”  Let us give it sacred time and sacred space. Maybe there will be more fruit to come. In God’s world, it is certainly possible.

I remember as a kid I really loved picking blueberries. On those hot August afternoons, I walked through the woods with my cousin to pick wild blueberries. These blueberries are native to New England and easy to find. They are quite small berries and grow on small blueberry plants. They do not look like bushes but they are called lowbush blueberries. They are small and scrawny.

Being a bit of an entrepreneur, one year, I thought it would be a good idea to pull these lowbush blueberries out of the woods and plant them in our yard.  Easier to find, pick, and sell! Unfortunately, this was a disastrous idea. It did not work. Transplanting the fragile plants created a bad outcome for the blueberry plants. Their root system run deeper than I realized, and the roots interwove with other plants around it causing even more damage to them.  I was only a kid but in essence, I ran with an idea without considering the holiness of what I was doing or the sacredness of the plants. When I think about it now, I see that they were in the exact right place to grow and do well. My actions displaced them.

The following year, with some council from our grandmother, we identified the dense places in the woods where these blueberries grew. We made notes and maps. We waited until August for the harvest. We left them in their natural space and give them time. Then, we baked blueberry muffins and sold those to the neighbors. I think we made $2.65, which back then wasn’t bad! 

We learned an important lesson about native plants. For one thing, when you leave them in their natural setting, they are low maintenance, because they have adapted and know how to thrive where they are. For another, native plants are a benefit to other creatures –wildlife – because in addition to providing habitats they provide a source of nourishment – nuts, seeds, and fruits produced by these plants offer essential foods for all forms of life.

And I cannot help but think about our relationship with God in much the same way.  When we are where we are meant to be, with God, we thrive in a completely different way. In God, we are low maintenance, and we are a source of nourishment – emotional support, a helping hand, affirming words… to others. Away from God, we can survive. But it is usually not a place where our roots can dig down and grow deep.

Today and every day, take some time to reflect on Holy Ground. It does take an Earth Day to reminds us that as we walk through the prairie grasses or amid the abundance of blooms all around us, that time and space are sacred. Let us keep working together to tend to and protect Mother Earth, our common home. And may we think of our relationship with God in much the same way.
AMEN.

THE LORD’S PRAYER
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day, our daily bread, and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.

SPECIAL MUSIC
Now the Green Blade Riseth
by Steve Winwood

DOXOLOGY
Praise God from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him all creatures here below;
Praise Him above you heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen

Benediction
May the Lord watch between me and thee, while we are apart one from the other, Amen.

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