My Tree-Huggin’ Sermon: Psalm 19

Late last year, a few of us from Cross & Crown set out to hike part of the Appalachian Trail. Getting on the trail had been a bucket list item for me for some time and I was so excited to do it. Unlike our very own Ralph Goodenough, who in just a matter of weeks is about to set out on what is known as “through hiking” the trail, meaning you hike all 2,200 miles, starting in Springer Mountain, Georgia and finishing up in Mount Katahdin, Maine. 6 months of straight hiking, through a variety of terrains and weathering multiple seasons. Well it might come to a shock to you but this body was quite happy with just a weekend on the trail. That was good enough for me.
But I was thrilled to escape the hustle and bustle of life and immerse myself in the splendor of nature. I was excited to join the thousands of hikers before me on this epic pilgrimage- if only for a segment of it- to travel where so many had traveled, participating in the folklore of the great AT (the Appalachian Trail for you newcomers). On the hike I would be able to contemplate the wonders of creation. I could marvel in the thrift of living off only supplies I was able to stuff into my pack, and satisfied with the realization of how little I needed. Hiking is a meditative act; an exercise in reflection. I was exploding with joyful anticipation.
Well, as Susan, Wayne, and Jared could testify, that first day—well, it wasn’t quite the vision I had anticipated. It rained—downpour rained- the entire day. ENTIRE DAY. We slogged mile and after mile through the cold, windy rain hoping for the skies to clear up and for the sun to warm and dry out our cold, soaked bodies. That was not to be. Having a flair for the dramatic I imagined myself an explorer in the new frontier, an attempt to positively reframe the disappointment of the experience.
Once we arrived at our halfway point, we decided to call it and returned to Lutherock to thaw and dry out by the fire and rest up, hoping that the next day would bring better weather.
And boy did it ever. The next day brought glorious sunshine. We returned to the trail with a renewed vigor. And it was everything I had dreamt it would be. The views were extraordinary—the colors were incredible. My disappointing experienced had been resurrected. Every single step was invigorating. At one point, which truly was the climax of the adventure, we climbed to the top of a hill- the highest point in a series of ridges- in the center of this extraordinary vista to have lunch. I slipped off my boots and leaned against a rock and soaked in this view. From every angle you could see for miles. The greyish blue ridges seemed to go on and on forever. The sky above was crystal clear and piercing blue-and the lush green hills rolled along forever. I truly was waiting for Julie Andrews to come spinning around at any moment. It was remarkable. I was blown away.
It was one of those moments where you couldn’t deny the existence of God. And not just some ordinary God, but an extraordinary, creative, artist of a God. And in this creation God was being revealed to me in a way nothing else really could. It was in this majesty that I could comprehend the majesty of God. It was in the power of this experience where I could comprehend the power of God. It was in this beauty that I understood that our God is a loving God; that God is beautiful. God longs to touch our souls with beauty and speaks to us in beautiful ways.
“Heaven is declaring God’s glory; the sky is proclaiming his handiwork.”
We comprehend God’s glory by noticing the work of God’s hands. Paul speaks to this in Romans when he states “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”
One of the best ways to receive God’s message is through nature!
And as the psalmist writes, “There is no speech, nor are there words;
their voice is not heard”
But so often, we miss these powerful messages. In these uncertain times, we are anxious and distracted. We are so fearful of missing out on something, we occupy every single second of our lives with productive activity. We get caught up in our busy, hectic lives that we not only neglect to read or study our bibles, but we barely step outside to soak in the warmth of the sun or the brisk refreshment of the cold air. We stay trapped in the stale, manufactured air of our office buildings and neglect ourselves of the energizing elements of fresh air. We remain captive to our computer screens and our houses and forget to get outside to be greeted by the inspiring colors of the grass, the trees, the flowers, and the sky.
Many kids are growing up this way- busy with schoolwork, tutors, video games, and scheduled indoor activities that they are missing out on the critical benefits of the outdoors. In his book, “Last Child in the Woods” child advocacy expert Richard Louv names the lack of nature in our wired world as “nature deficit disorder”. He draws from loads of scholarship to make the case that direct exposure to nature is critical for a healthy development in children. In fact, some experts connect the link to an increase in childhood allergies to the absence of the microbes in dirt. That’s right- kids are getting sick because they’re not getting dirty.
We are all God’s children and as God’s children, God knows us and loves us. And in this love God gave us all we needed to thrive through creation. This planet for which God plopped us down is teeming with all the resources we need for life.
But just like a good parent, God commands us to care for it.
Genesis 2:15 “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it.”
And the Hebrew words for “work” and “keep” are actually better translated as guard, protect, and cultivate.
Numbers 35:33“You shall not pollute the land in which you live”
Over and again God in the Bible commands us to keep and care for the earth because God knows it’s not only one of the best ways for us to know God loves us but all because we need it for survival.
Wendell Berry writes in his poem, The Gift of the Good Land,
To live, we must daily break the body and shed the blood of creation. When we do it knowingly, lovingly, skillfully, reverently, it is a sacrament. When we do it ignorantly, greedily, destructively, it is a desecration.
So what are we doing with this gift? How do you think we’re treating these invaluable resources?
Breaking news: we’re not doing so hot.
We continue to destroy the land, denude the forests, strip-mine the hills, and burn through the resources. Rather than protect and cultivate the earth, as Scripture mandates, we abuse it.
Perhaps in these uncertain times we are panicked about time and as a result look to making our lives more convenient without taking into consideration how it impacts the future. We are pressured to do more and we are tempted to consume more. But these practices are coming at too great of a cost. Our addiction to plastic is compromising the Earth’s ability to sustain life as we know it. Our addiction to fossil fuels is polluting the very air we breathe. We are systematically choking ourselves. This is not of God. Like a good parent, God wants what’s best for us.
I can’t imagine God rejoices when we destroy natural habitats and acres of life-sustaining resources to simply widen our highways and pave another parking lot.
Its unlikely God thinks polluting our rivers and streams with wrappers and bottles is a good exchange for making our already hectic lives more convenient.
This planet is the only home we have. It’s been entrusted to us so we need to take care of it.
No advancement, no understanding of progress is worth this cost.
So we should heed the ordinances of God to resist these habits which are hurting us and impeding our connection with God. We should protect that all-important lifeline to our Creator.
This challenge might seem overwhelming but we’re all in it together. None of us are perfect, but God has entrusted us to take care of what we have been given. But s human beings, are part of God’s creation too so we can be part of the solution. We can reverse the damage we’ve done to the earth by making simple changes. By taking just a little extra time; by being a little more thoughtful, we can begin to care for the gift God has given us. Jesus says in Luke 12:48, “to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.”
So where can we start?
Some simple tips:
Of course, first of all we can recycle and buy products made with recycled materials. Check.
We can also reuse things. We live in a disposable world but not everything has to be single use.
Instead of buying all that bottled water, use a reusable one and fill it up. Instead of getting that mug at Starbucks in the morning, take your own. They’ll even save 10 cents off your price.
These are just some easy things to dip your toe in the water.
It has been said, “how one treats creation says a lot about how it view its creator”.
These are uncertain times. But what is certain is God’s loving care and communication through creation! To God be the glory. Amen.