On June 12th 2022, CCA Director Sarah Ogletree visited The Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration in Saluda to welcome them as our newest covenant partner. During her visit, she preached during their two services and also offered a discernment workshop to help the congregation identify their first step in the creation care journey they are embarking on. It was a beautiful and wonderful experience! To learn more about covenant partnership and other ways to get involved with CCA, go here: https://creationcarealliance.org/get-involved/. Above, you will see a photo of Rev. Chip Broadfoot and Sarah after she presented him with the congregation’s certificate of covenant partnership. Below you can read Sarah’s sermon from the day. The sermon comes from Psalm 8 : 1-9.
I am here this morning to speak about creation care–what it means to care for the fullness of this world that God loves and how this is the work of faith that we are invited into through our baptism. I’m excited to broach these questions with you, and I’m further grateful for the chance to enter this conversation through the door provided by Psalm 8. Because this hymn offers a clear path.
You see, in this passage, we encounter a series of ideas. First, the psalmist marvels at the sheer majesty of God and the vastness of the universe shaped by God’s hands. Then, they consider our role in creation, stating, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are humans that you are mindful of them… that you have made them a little lower than God… and given them dominion over the works of your hands…” Despite what the psalmist understands as a relatively unimportant existence, we humans are made in God’s image. God saw us and said we were good. And more than that, our role in creation is active. God has charged us with the task of caring for that which God loves–articulated here in the text as “dominion.”
As people made in the image of God, we wield a power that has long been misunderstood. Generations of leaders have burned land and poisoned water because of it. But destruction has never been condoned by God or the concept we know as “dominion.” Instead, when we look to biblical commentaries, we find that God’s offering of dominion to humankind, this newly created being made to mirror God’s likeness in the world, was ultimately an offer to share power. This was never an invitation to domination or destruction. Instead, God was, God is, inviting humankind to share in God’s own dominion, God’s own power, God’s own ability to care for, and be in the world. The commentators go as far as to say that this is God’s democratizing effort. Friends, this is the dominion that we are called to in Psalm 8. We are called to responsible, compassionate, co-creative power that does the work of love God believes we are capable of–no matter how insignificant we may feel.
Psalm 8 reminds us why we are here in the vastness of God’s world–why we have been created. Friends, we are here to love God. We are here to be moved by wonder and awe like the psalmist. We are here to be the image of God to each other. We are here to be God’s hands by caring for what God’s hands have made. You, me, the monarch, the bear, the star, the fox, the stream–all of us. We are all the work of God’s hands, and caring for all of us–that is what dominion entails, and that is what the calling to creation care is all about.
So, how do we do it?
How do we, like the psalmist, remember our calling? How do we use the power shared with us by God to act as God’s hands? How do we, as the image of God in this world, act as a blessing to all we encounter? How do we live like our lives matter and have the ability to create change for the better? Because they do.
Thankfully, we are not alone in asking these questions. People of faith worldwide, and many here in western North Carolina, are striving to walk this path. They are striving to love God, the world, and each other and recognize their place within the web of creation. And let me tell you, these folks have a lot of beautiful ideas. In my work with the Creation Care Alliance, I am privileged with the opportunity to get to know some of these communities and the people coming together to ensure that our prayers have legs. Folks who are doing the work of love and are committed to continuing to learn how to do that work better. Folks like you. As we welcome you formally into the Creation Care Alliance as a covenant partner, I want to share with you some of the work that congregations in our network are leading–work that makes wonder come alive, that exercises the power we have been given by God, and help us see God’s image in the faces of each other.
First, there is Way in the Wilderness. Located in Black Mountain, this congregation offers outdoor opportunities to help their congregants and community connect with God outside of church walls. And they do so beautifully. In fact, when I think about the movement of Psalm 8 from awe to our active role in the caretaking of creation, the approach of Way in the Wilderness immediately comes to mind. Through the use of Celtic liturgies and a reclaiming of nature spirituality, Way in the Wilderness is helping people see the sacred in the world and ultimately, remember who they are as both creatures and caretakers within the Christian tradition.
One of their offerings that sticks out to me the most is their “Wild Eucharist” service. These services, which sometimes happen on the top of a mountain following a hike or beside a river after a picnic, rely on the simple, ordinary stuff of the world–stripping this ritual of its gold and silver, and reminding us that all we need for this miracle is bread and wine. The stuff of Earth. Grain grown in soil. Grapes from the vine. Accompanying liturgies remind us that it is through the effort of others–people who nourished the vineyard and bees who acted as pollinators–that we are able to participate in this holy moment. It is through the efforts of others, human and non-human, that we are able to taste God’s love on our lips. In recognition of this and our deep connection to one another, whatever wine is left over is poured into the soil, while the bread is left for the squirrels, ants, and other members of God’s family we so often forget.
Through this radically open table, the fullness of creation is invited to celebrate. And I believe that just in witnessing this kind of openness, something transformative and powerful happens within us. Perhaps, it’s that we see a glimpse of what the kin-dom of God can look like when we let go of our understanding of dominion as destructive ownership and instead, embrace relationship and responsibility. Perhaps, that feeling of joy is because things are right for a moment… Through the Wild Eucharist and services like it, Way in the Wilderness affirms that we are all “the work of God’s hands,” and all worthy of the love of God and its expression in all its many forms. This deeply theological and imaginative act invites us to move through the world differently. To go from that space with more reverence and awareness for how God shows Godself to us through a stream, or a chattering bird, or a farmer of grain. This work of wonder is one example of the work that we can help lead as caretakers of creation.
Then, there is Cruso United Methodist Church (UMC). Last August, Tropical Storm Fred devastated the community of Cruso. Six people died. Countless others lost their homes. In response, the community came together. During the storm, they invited each other to higher ground—opening their doors to strangers during a global pandemic. When the storm passed, they strapped on their boots and went searching for survivors. They raised money to rebuild, they shared their clothing and their food, they knocked on doors to find out how they could be most helpful, they sorted and dried family photos found in the debris, and they offered comfort to those grieving. Cruso UMC served as a place to receive hot meals and other supplies. And now, nearly a year later, they are still working–but on a different project. These days, the emphasis is climate resilience.
Due to the impacts of climate change, it’s likely that we will experience more extreme weather events in the coming years, and in the southeast United States, flooding is of particular concern. But there are ways to help our communities meet these challenges. One of those ways is working to increase the health of our rivers and streams. When rivers are unhealthy, their banks are easily eroded. And when you have a significant weather event, that erosion can become fatal. But by caring for riverbanks, ensuring that there is adequate vegetation along the water’s edge, we can help mitigate this concern. And that’s exactly what Cruso UMC is doing. Together with the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church, youth volunteers, partner congregations from throughout the region, and secular environmental organizations, Cruso UMC is leading an effort to clean up the river and make sure that flood plains and necessary riparian buffers like river cane are protected and preserved.
They are looking to the needs of their community beyond this moment. They are thinking long-term. They are considering what it means to love their neighbor into the next decade, and the decade after that, and the decade after that. They are exercising that co-creative power of dominion by holding the river in their hands and bringing it back to life–back to health–for the good of us all. Again, this work of tending the river and meeting our neighbors needs, both today and tomorrow, is the work that creation care invites us into.
Lastly, there is Grace Episcopal Church in Waynesville, North Carolina, and their Grace Giving Garden. This garden feeds both people and pollinators in Haywood County. As a part of the church’s mission to do the work of creation care and the broader work of love, congregational volunteers dedicate long hours to tilling the soil, weeding the plots, and bringing forth the harvest. By growing food organically, they care for the life of the soil and the lives of those who will consume the fruits of their labor. Many of the crops planted here become offerings to food-insecure members of the community while a wildlife habitat provides nourishment to the non-human animals that frequent church land. Because of the Grace Giving Garden, more of God’s children are fed–both physically and spiritually. Whether through a meal, fresh food, or restorative time spent with neighbors outdoors, this ministry offers people a place where they can know that they are loved–where they both experience the image of God and be it to another.
Like many congregations, Grace Episcopal is loving creation in more ways than one. They have a monthly prayer service dedicated to prayers for creation. They are a collaborative community partner working to lessen the use of single-use plastics in the region. This summer, they’re organizing a day retreat alongside another covenant partner congregation, First United Methodist of Waynesville, to help reconnect people to land, God, and the healing we find in nature. All this is happening as FUMC Waynesville is busy hosting workshops on energy efficiency, preparing for a series of children’s camps on the care of creation, and looking ahead toward their annual “Concert for Conservation” in which they’ll raise money for an endangered species through a community gathering that celebrates art, music, and all of God’s miraculous creatures.
Each of these congregations is doing their part to repair the sinful misinterpretations of dominion that have separated us from the inherent goodness of creation. By living in awe and practicing compassion and justice for this world, each other, and the patch of Earth they steward, these communities are showing us how we can make a difference by using our God-given power to build the kin-dom of God here and now.
Today, we will be discussing what gifts and resources you all hold as a congregation entering this work. There are so many paths that you can take to live this calling, and I am excited to walk alongside you as you discern what your offering will be. In the meantime, I invite you to begin thinking about what living in awe and practicing your power might look like individually. Perhaps it’s cultivating a patch of milkweed in your backyard. Perhaps it’s stopping and helping the turtle cross the road. Perhaps it’s choosing the aluminum can over the plastic bottle. Perhaps it’s simply not squishing the spider. Whatever it is, know that every step you take brings us closer to the love God envisions for us. And when you feel insignificant, remember that we have been born for such a time as this.