Sermon: “Listening to the Trees” (9/28/14)

Play video: We Made History, about the People’s Climate March  (  One of the people in that crowd of 400,000 was my new friend from songwriting camp, Doug Hendren.  We’ll see a video and hear a song by Doug during the Offertory.   A friend of Doug’s—a college professor—returned from the march and asked a class of 250 students:  How many are aware there was a big climate rally in New York this weekend?  (3 hands went up)   How many are aware that climate change is a problem?  (7 hands)  How many are worried about it?  (5 hands)  Doug is happy for us to use his video in worship today.  He said:  “Spreading the word a handful at a time seems to be very worthwhile.”  Indeed.

A few years back, a new season was added into the liturgical calendar:  the Season of Creation.  It was an audacious move.  The liturgical calendar was set hundreds of years ago.  Its purpose:  to retell the Christian story each year.  It does that by guiding us through the seasons of Advent, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost.  Why retell the Christian story each year?  We do it to see how our personal and communal stories connect with God’s story.

The calendar has worked well for 1700 years, give or take a century. Why change things now?  I suspect the folks who introduced this new season recognized that a key connection between our stories and God’s story is what’s happening with creation, especially in the face of climate change and all that entails.  I don’t know how the Season of Creation was birthed…but I can imagine the initial idea coming after someone heard today’s passage from Romans.

The book of Romans is very dense. We don’t have time to figure it all out in one little sermon.  What we can do, is listen to part of today’s passage and take note of the ways in which the author weaves together the stories of Creation and human beings.  Listen.

Creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God;20for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.  (Romans 8:18-23)

Did you hear it? Even without understanding all the theology of the passage, the author’s message is clear:  our salvation and Earth’s salvation are inextricably intertwined.

I don’t know about you, but the idea that our salvation and Earth’s salvation depend on each other depresses me.  Two years ago—after preaching four sermons on the dire state of planet earth—I sank into a depression that lasted several weeks.  If we’ve already passed the point of no return –350 ppm of greenhouse gases in the air—what’s the point?  What possibly can be done to save the earth?  Do you ever slip into that kind of hopelessness?

The songwriting camp where I met Doug was led by folk singer John McCutcheon.  In a session on music and social issues, he addressed the issue that many of us were writing songs about:  climate change.  In that conversation John said this:  “Statistics always will depress you.  They’ll always scare you.  You want to do something for creation?  Get out and play in it!”

Then he told us about Pete Seeger who, at the age of 50, began directing all his energy to cleaning up the Hudson River, which was in his own backyard. THEN he sang this song that mostly was written by 3rd graders with a little bit of help from him. “Our own Backyard.”  (   Sometimes adults do forget.  We also make things complicated; we overwhelm ourselves with statistics.  As those third graders John worked with said:  “It really isn’t very hard.”  All we have to do is love creation, recognize that our stories and Creation’s story are inextricably intertwined, then begin acting Earth into well-being “in our own backyard.”

John’s comment about doing something for creation by spending time in it resonates well with the quote by Hildegard on your bulletin cover:  “If we fall in love with creation deeper and deeper, we will respond to its endangerment with passion.”

I’m guessing everyone here would say they’re in love with creation.  Who wasn’t smitten by all that gorgeous fall weather this week?  Yes.  We love creation.  But how well do we really know it?

Writer Barbara Brown Taylor thought she knew creation.  She even wrote a book called, An Altar in the World. Then she read the memoir of blind Frenchman, Jacque Lusseyran.  In it, he talks about learning to identify trees by their sounds.

“Why had I never paid attention to the sounds of trees before?” Taylor asks.  “Surely the leaves of an oak made a different sound in the wind than the needles of a pine, the same way they make a different sound underfoot.  I just never bothered to listen, since I could tell the trees apart by looking.  When a sighted friend told me that she had been to a workshop where she learned how to listen to trees, I was taken aback.

“’What do they say? I asked.  “You don’t want to know,” she replied.  Acid rain, pine beetles, clear-cutting developers—what did I think trees talked about?”

Sight, remarks Taylor, “attends to the surface of things…We let our eyes skid over trees, furniture, faces, too often mistaking sight for perception.”  (Learning to Walk in the Dark, 105)

Yes, we love creation, but do we really know it?  Have we fallen in love with creation itself?  Or have we fallen in love with think creation is after one brief glimpse?

I saw some beautiful places this summer.  I took pictures!  I want to share some of those pictures with you.  I share them, not to wow you with my photographic skill.  As you’ll see, these are pretty much like any vacation photos you’ve ever had to endure.  J  I share these photos because I want to share with you my experiences of these places, places I fell in love with.  If I could take you with me to all these places, I would…and we could listen to the trees together and spend time outdoors and fall in love with creation all over again.

In the meantime, we can listen to creation by viewing these pictures.   (Slide show from sabbatical:  Listening to Creation)

What did you hear? How is your story connecting with Creation’s story these days?  Not sure?  Then here’s your homework assignment:  Go outside and play!

In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.

Kimberleigh Buchanan © 2014















About reallifepastor

I'm a pastor who's working out her faith...just like everyone else.
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