Please join me in the Prayer for Illumination
Open our hearts and minds, O Lord, by the gift of your Holy Spirit, so that as the Word is read and proclaimed, we may hear what you have to say to us today. Amen
Our scripture today is taken from the Good News Bible… Genesis 1: 20-31
Then God commanded, “Let the water be filled with many kinds of living beings, and let the air be filled with birds.” So, God created the great sea monsters, all kinds of creatures that live in the water, and all kinds of birds. And God was pleased with what he saw. He blessed them all and told the creatures that live in the water to reproduce and to fill the sea, and he told the birds to increase in number. Evening passed and morning came – that was the fifth day.
Then God commanded, “Let the earth produce all kinds of animal life: domestic and wild, large and small” – and it was done. So, God made them all, and he was pleased with what he saw. Then God said, “And now we will make human beings; they will be like us and resemble us. They will have power over the fish, the birds, and all animals, domestic and wild, large and small.” So, God created human beings, making them to be like himself. He created them male and female, blessed them, and said, “Have many children, so that your descendants will live all over the earth and bring it under their control. I am putting you in charge of the fish, the birds, and all the wild animals. I have provided all kinds of grain and all kinds of fruit for you to eat; but for all the wild animals and for all the birds I have provided grass and leafy plants for food”- and it was done. God looked at everything he had made, and he was very pleased. Evening passed and morning came – that was the sixth day.”
What a wonderful world we have been given, what a gift! God has asked us to care for the fish, the birds and the wild animals. As stewards of God’s creation, we have a deep moral obligation to lovingly take care of what we have been given. This is the only planet we have. We, the plants and animals are all interrelated and we depend upon each other for our very survival.
Sadly, for hundreds of years, this Scripture has often been used as a justification for dominating and exploiting people, plants, animals and the earth. The words, “bring it under your control and I’m putting you in charge” have been taken to mean I can do whatever I want…I have power over others, over the plants, over the animals. I am in control.
But when I hear this scripture, I hear something very different. I grew up listening to the phrase, “To whom much has been given, much is expected in return” I found the origin of those words in Luke 12:48: “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.”
In that passage, Jesus was sharing the parable of the faithful servant. The faithful servant who has been put in charge of the household is expected to be responsible and carry out what the master has asked of them. The servant doesn’t own the household. The servant “in charge” is not expected to exploit the resources, but instead is expected to care, love, preserve and protect the household for when the Master returns in the future.
So, what has been given to us? A beautiful earth! Are we not servants of our earth? Isn’t it up to us to be alert and ready? Are we not then responsible to do everything we can to care, love, preserve and protect our home, the Earth?
I answer … yes!
So, from here I’d like to share with you some thoughts about my own personal stewardship journey. Let me take you back to the summer 1968, the end of my freshman year at Beloit College. As I sat on the steps of the dining hall, life was good. We’d just folk danced for hours around the quad to the Greek Miser Lou and the Israeli Hine ma Tov. We were sitting catching our breath after the last dance, when someone brought out a magazine article that said, “Our oceans are dying. We are overexploiting our resources. The fish are going to disappear! I scoffed, “Oh come on, there’s no way!” I couldn’t believe that that could ever happen. Now 50 years later I’m scared. Why am I scared?
I see footage of seals and whales tangled in fishing gear, sea turtles who have died from swallowing too much plastic, albatrosses dead from a stomach full of bottle caps, juvenile clams whose shells are dissolving in the acidic mud flats and suffocating from the algal mats caused by the nitrogen run off in our own Mill Cove right here in South Portland. I see pictures of beaches completely littered with trash and I say to myself, “we have to do something, now!”
I’m not alone in that fear:
Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist, is telling me to panic, to act like “our house is on fire”. She says, “We need to act immediately to stop the emission of greenhouse gases before we run out of time to turn things around and set off an irreversible chain reaction that is beyond human control.” She believes that there is time to turn things around, but that we must act now!
And another activist, Marjory Stoneham Douglas. Marjory was known for her staunch defense of the Florida Everglades. She fought to halt the effort to drain the Everglades and reclaim the land for development. She is fondly remembered in Florida, “as the woman who saved the Everglades”.
I had the pleasure of meeting Marjory many years ago. She was a remarkable woman, petite with a fire in her eyes. She said, “Be a nuisance where it counts. Do your part to inform and stimulate the public to join your action. Be depressed, discouraged, and disappointed at failure and the disheartening effects of ignorance, greed, corruption and bad politics— But, never give up!”
So, between the young Swedish activist Greta asking me to panic and the wise old woman Marjory encouraging me to “never give up” I move forward with hope. When Carrie Newcomer sang to us in concert here last month she said, “hope is holding in creative tension, everything that is and could be and each day doing something to narrow the distance.”
Our earth is in creative tension. Humanity is in creative tension, too. To support our modern lifestyle, we are exploiting and spoiling the very resources that make life on the planet possible: oceans, forests, fresh water sources, the atmosphere. But we want the oceans, lakes, forests, animals, birds, fresh and salt water creatures and ourselves, our children, and our grandchildren all to survive. To have food, clean air and clean water, to live in harmony and with abundance.
So, what can we do each day to narrow the distance between everything that is and everything that could be? How can we preserve our precious earth? How can we put hope into action and make the world a kinder place for us all?
Let me take you back in time again, to June of 1978. By now I had two degrees, one in Elementary Ed and one in Marine Science. I’d come to South Portland to work for the Gulf of Maine Aquarium Project. I knew that teaching about the ocean was what I wanted to do.
So, when my husband Jeff and I started our work together as Mr. and Mrs. Fish our goal was to educate children about the ocean by dressing up as the sea creatures and making the ocean come to life. We knew that we wanted to affect the children not just cognitively, but attitudinally. We knew that we could teach them lots of facts and figures, but we also knew that if we didn’t win over their hearts what good would the facts and figures do.
We found that by using creative dramatics and dressing up as the sea creatures, using a lot of humor we’d capture the children’s imaginations and get them to laugh as they learned. It was an amazing formula and it worked. So much so that we found ourselves being invited all over the world to share our brand of marine education. We did programs in Japan, England, Scotland, American Samoa, Israel, Palestine, Indonesia, and all over the Caribbean. Often, we’d find ourselves doing teacher workshops. I remember distinctly one workshop in England in the late 1980’s when an educator asked, “You are teaching solid science but, don’t you think it’s important to teach environmental messages too?” Our thought at the time was that the ocean was magical! We wanted to inspire and excite our audiences by teaching them about the ocean and the sea creatures not depress and discourage them with environmental problems to solve.
But environmental issues kept coming up… and we were challenged to write a show about water conservation. We were handed a list of 10 don’t do’s: don’t let the water run while brushing your teeth, don’t let your water sprinkler run all night, … We asked ourselves, … how are we going to teach these things and not turn the audience off? So, we designed a show called, “The Water Carol”, a take-off on “The Christmas Carol”. Jeff became Ebenezer Sewage who didn’t care about clean water and I became the 3 spirits. With humor and costumes we laughed and learned about how to do things differently and why it is important to do so.
Little by little we found ourselves adding in more environmental messages. We have a show that turns children into a waste water treatment plant. It shows them how the city recycles the water that we use and cleans it up so that when it returns to Casco Bay it’s as clean as our machinery can get it. We have another show that teaches about our storm water system, encouraging the children to be aware of keeping trash and waste out of the catch basins in the streets.
As with the Sea Turtle, we found, if we congratulate them for the positive actions that they may or may not be doing, such as, “Thanks for throwing your trash in the trash barrels so that it doesn’t accidentally blow into the ocean and be harmful to the sea creatures.” They’ll hear a positive message and will remain open to listening to us instead of tuning us out if we scold them for being unaware and irresponsible. Instead by being positive in our message our hope is that they’ll feel good about themselves when they throw their trash in the trash barrel in the future.
Our work has been a blessing and our hope is that we have inspired many children to grow up and become stewards of our environment. However, as proud as I have been in my role as Mrs. Fish, what about beyond my job, what about me as Deb Sandler…What can I do as an individual? How can I lower my carbon footprint to help with acidification? How can I help the sea creatures? How can I help Mother Earth?
Well, I can be active in my home by buying a Prius, by reducing, reusing and recycling, by walking as often as I can.
I can be active in our church by exploring the idea of installing solar panels on our church roof and determining that first we need to replace our bulbs with LED lights, which Tom, our building manager, has actively been doing.
I can be active in my community by supporting the South Portland City Council as they work on an ordinance to ban chemical fertilizers. I can vote in every election.
I can be active in my state and let my voice be heard, by marching, by going up to Augusta to testify on environmental issues. I can celebrate when I read about both the Maine House and Senate voting to ban foam food and beverage containers from restaurants, coffee shops and other businesses. And the 7-year-old Sea Turtle activist who recently convinced L.L. Beans to serve only 100% biodegradable straws. Towns, communities and businesses around the world are voting to make changes. How awesome!
And what can I do daily in my life? I can try different ways of being a human “in control” of God’s creation and think of myself instead as a servant, a steward, who is a part of and dependent on the natural world. I can be humble and walk lightly upon the Earth, I can be grateful to God for the gift of the Earth and life itself, I can have compassion for myself and for others, I can begin each day with love in my heart, I can take care of myself physically, mentally and spiritually. I can try something new, open the door to new challenges. I can congratulate people, recognize and acknowledge their actions by thanking those who have installed solar panels on their homes, and those who have bought all-electric cars, and those families who carry reusable straws everywhere they go, thus cutting down on plastic waste and today, I can thank our Sunday School children and the Climate Justice Team, a part of the Social Witness Ministries for putting together the Earth Day Fair to show us ways that we can conserve and protect our environment…And last of all…I can pray that it’s not too late for our planet. Trusting God, trusting Mother Earth…I can listen to what she has to say.
We have been given an incredible home. We need to take care of it in as many ways as we can by conserving energy, conserving water, keeping our waters clean, preserving our fish stocks, lowering our population growth, caring for our lawns in a responsible way, cutting down our carbon footprints.
I do believe we each need to take action, one step at a time, one day at a time, in any way that we can imagine … teaching our children, our grandchildren how they each can make a difference … in our homes, in our communities, in our state, in our country and in our world.
So, I invite you to join our children down in Guptill Hall after church this morning to experience some of their ideas and suggestions of what each of us can do in our daily lives to be responsible stewards. And then, come join us this afternoon for a community clean-up at 1 o’clock at Bug Light Park.
I leave each of you with the question, “How can I best be a steward for this precious Earth that God has given to all of us?”
I’d like to end with a song that I sing whenever I work with the earth:
Thank you, Mother Earth, thank you Sister Water
Thank you for my birth, thank you from your daughter.
I am free, I am free, I am free to be me. I am me, I am me, I am me to be free.
Thank you, Father Sun, you put us all in motion
Thank you everyone, Earth, Air, Fire and Ocean
I am free, I am free, I am free to be me. I am me, I am me, I am me to be free.