Isaiah 55:6-12; Psalm 24:1-2
The Rev. Tom Herbek
April 24, 2016
We have been given the opportunity in our time to do things that will cause the trees to clap their hands. God goes far beyond our expectations in creating our beautiful world. And God has created us to be the guardians of this world, the caretakers of our earth, the stewards of these natural wonders. Taking care of the earth is not only our responsibility; it is our opportunity to leave a lasting impact on this earth. The beauty of the earth is one of those opportunities where we find the “thin places” of the universe, those places where heaven and earth seem to be closer, where the boundaries between the spiritual life and the physical life seem to be more porous.
The “thin places” are where we meet God and experience wonder and joy and peace in deeply moving ways. We must guard these moments and these special opportunities to meet God face to face. How often have you felt God’s presence in a special way-
- On the shore of Canandaigua Lake?
- At the top of one of the hills of Bristol?
- In the sky at a beautiful sunset?
- Or a spectacular moonrise?
These are places where the boundaries between heaven and earth seem especially thin. These are the places and the times when we often feel especially close to our creator God. In the beauty of the earth, how can we not experience the presence of God?
God has given us a responsibility here on this earth to be the caretakers, the guardians, the stewards of all that God has created. We must especially take this responsibility- this opportunity- seriously today. We are caretakers here, not owners of the earth. We must remember that we do not own the earth. Our generation must be especially careful, especially diligent, in our caretaking. We have moved to a point, with industrialization and the advance of technology, where we can impact our earth to a greater extent and more rapidly than any prior generation of people. But we must ask ourselves if our power has been used to allow us to be better caretakers, or have we created what Thoreau described many years ago: “Improved means to an unimproved end.”
I do not need to tell anyone here of the dangers of environmental destruction. I believe that, because of the spectacular presence of that beautiful lake at the end of this street, the people of Canandaigua are as much in touch with the fragility of our natural world as any group of people I have met. The beauty of the Finger Lakes has the power to transform even the most hard-hearted anti-environmentalist into a “tree-hugger”, even if just for the time that he or she is here. But we must find ways to convince others of the extraordinary opportunity that we have to be caretakers and guardians of this beautiful earth. We are at a critical juncture, a point where inaction may mean that we cannot reverse the damage to our earth.
We must take steps now to protect the beauty of the earth. Our generation must take this opportunity to exercise our guardianship, to demonstrate decisively our caretaking ability. We must especially do this for our children and our grandchildren. As Cynthia F. Bearer, once wrote: “For a variety of reasons, special consideration should be given to protecting children in formulating environmental policies: Children are less able than adults to protect themselves, more vulnerable to particular toxins, and are not responsible for pollution.
Crafting environmental policies responsive to the special needs of children requires a thorough consideration of their special needs and an understanding of how these needs may change as children grow and develop.”
Our children and grandchildren are begging us to do more, to protect this beautiful creation that God has given us. We have done well locally, but we must expand our efforts, as well as our horizons, because we are all impacted by earth events that happen in our region, our nation, our world. Just as we try to be good guardians of our Finger Lakes, let us raise our voices to those who set national and global policies, who make decisions that will impact our children and our grandchildren.
There is an old Portuguese saying that is found on signs throughout the forests of Portugal:
“Let no one say
And say it to your shame
That all was beauty here
Until you came.”
Let us put up such signs in our homes and on our lakeshore, and on the hills, and all over the earth. Let us be the people who protect and guard the “thin places” on earth, the places where we experience God’s presence, where the beauty is overwhelming. May we take the opportunities in front of us for our children and grandchildren to be good stewards, responsible caretakers, guardians of the earth.
Most of us now believe what Adlai Stevenson once said: “We travel together, passengers on a little spaceship, dependent on its vulnerable supplies of air and soil; all committed for our safety to its security and peace, preserved from annihilation only by the care, the work, and I will say, the love we give our fragile craft.”
The problem now is that many people, having begun to understand the issue, have been overwhelmed by it and said, “It is so big there is nothing that we can do.” They believe that the economic and political forces are far too powerful for us to be able to make any difference.
We’re hearing more and more about tipping points, or points where everything moves much faster, just like when a dump truck gets its bed raised to the point where the dirt begins to really move quickly and there’s no stopping it. Global climate systems are booby-trapped with tipping points and feedback loops, thresholds past which the slow creep of environmental decay gives way to sudden and self-perpetuating collapse. Curbing global climate change may be an order of magnitude harder than, say, eradicating smallpox or putting a man on the moon. But is that a reason not to try?
We must try to heal our planet. We have great power and great responsibility as stewards of the earth. For the sakes of our grandchildren and great-grandchildren we must begin. As overwhelming as it is, we must not give up. We must each do what we can. Perhaps it is most important that we understand that we are called to do what we can in this place at this time.
An adult daughter persuaded her mother to take a drive with her to see some daffodils. They had been driving for some time and the mother described what happened next:
“We turned into a gravel road, and I saw a small church. On the far side of the church there was a hand-lettered sign that read, ‘Daffodil Garden.’ I followed my daughter down the path toward the sign. We turned a corner. I looked up, and stopped dead in my tracks.
“Before me lay the most glorious sight. It looked as though someone had taken a great vat of gold and poured it down over the mountain peak and slopes.
“The flowers were planted in majestic, swirling patterns, great ribbons and swaths and flowing rivers of all shades of yellow. There were five acres of daffodils. In the midst of all this glory was a modest A-frame house, the home of the gardener. On the patio was a poster headlined, ‘Answers to the Questions I Know You are Asking.’
“The first answer was a simple one: 50,000 bulbs. The second was: One at a time, by one woman. Two hands, two feet, and very little brain. The third answer was: Begun in 1958.”
The mother went on to reflect on the impact that this had on her life on that day in 2001:
“For me, that moment was a life-changing experience. I thought of this woman whom I had never met, who, more than forty years earlier, had begun, one bulb at a time, to bring her vision of beauty and joy to an obscure mountaintop. Just planting one bulb at a time, year after year, had made something of indescribable magnificence, beauty, and inspiration. One bulb at a time had changed the world.”
The mother said to her daughter, “It makes me sad, in a way. What I might have accomplished if I’d thought of a wonderful goal thirty-five or forty years ago, and had worked away at it ‘one bulb at a time’ through all these years. Just think what I might have been able to achieve!”
“Well then,” her daughter replied: “Start tomorrow!”
When faced with seemingly overwhelming obstacles, what can we do? We can take one step at a time. We too can start tomorrow.
One bulb at a time can make a difference. One letter at a time to a policy-maker can make a difference. One walk to the store instead of driving can make a difference. One gallon of gas saved each day can make a difference. One degree lower on the heat or higher on the air conditioning each day can make a difference. One gallon of water saved each day can make a difference. One telephone call a day urging someone else to get on board can make a difference. It is up to us, but it is not all up to us. We are on this spaceship together, and when we begin working on this together, there is no telling what we can do.
As William Sloan Coffin once said: “Let us dare to see that the survival unit in our time is no longer an individual nation or an individual anything. The survival unit in our time and henceforth is the whole human race and its environment.”
For the survival of our race and our environment, we have no time to waste. It is time to start planting daffodils. It is time to really be stewards of God’s earth, for “The earth is the Lord’s, and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it.”
We are the hands and feet and voices God has to use. Let us be God’s stewards, and raise our voices, and use our hands and our feet to make a difference every day.
And who knows? As we do what we can, one step at a time, one day at a time, perhaps we might hear the trees clap their hands, in thankfulness for each of us and the courage and the determination we have shown- even in the face of great odds against us- to protect and preserve this beautiful earth!