Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
April 23, 2017
“Earth Day: Partners in Creation”
John 20: 24-25 (The Message)
But Thomas, sometimes called the Twin, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples told him, “We saw the Master.”
But he said, “Unless I see the nail holes in his hands, put my finger in the nail holes, and stick my hand in his side, I won’t believe it.”
Before there was anything there was God, a few angels, and a huge swirling glob of rocks and water, in no particular order. The angels asked God, “Why don’t you clean up this mess?”
So God collected rocks from the huge swirling glob and put them together in clumps and said, “Some of these clumps will be planets, and some will be stars, and some of these rocks will be… just rocks.”
Then God collected water from the huge swirling glob and put it together in pools of water and said, “Some of these pools of water will be oceans, and some will be clouds, and some of this water will be… just water.”
The angels said, “Well, God… it’s neater now. But is it done yet?” God answered, “Nope.”
On some of the rocks God placed growing things and creeping things, and things only God knows what they are. And when God had finished doing all this, the angels asked, “Is it done yet?” “Nope.”
God made some animals for the rocks and some swimming things for the water and then some humans by combing some water and stardust and told them, “I’m done. Please finish up the world for me. Really, it’s almost done.” But the humans protested: “You have the plans. We can’t do this alone.”
“Yes, you can,” said God, “but I’ll agree to this. You keep working on it and I’ll be your partner.”
The humans asked, “What’s a partner?” God explained, “A partner is someone you work with on a big thing that neither of you can do alone. If you have a partner, it means you can never give up because your partner is depending on you. On the days you think I’m not doing enough and on the days I think you’re not doing enough, we keep working together. That’s my offer. And they all agreed to the deal.
The angels asked God, “Is it done yet?” God answered, “I don’t know. Go ask my partners.”
In honor of Earth Day I thought we should remember all the commitments we have made as a church and fulfilled in the last couple of years to practice environmental stewardship, including energy consumption, water usage, and putting our money where our mouth is.
1) Solar Power: This is the biggest example. Thanks to a diligent team of our members, including Ray Allen, David Conger, Guy Harris, Blake Chambliss, Tim and Candace Johnson, Larry Ricketts, and I know I am forgetting others… thanks to this team who spent years researching and planning, we added solar panels to our roof in 2015. They were turned on in January 2016 and in the first year alone, we saved 250 trees, drove 40,000 fewer miles, and realized thousands of dollars in savings. We went from a budget for gas and electric three years ago of $11,000 to $8,500 two years ago to $6,400 last year.
We took out a line of credit to pay for the installation of our solar panels over time – it would probably take at least decade. But less than two years into it, 90% has been generously contributed and we only have $4,000 left to pay of the original $40,000 cost. With a few additional gifts from people who believe in our environmental commitment, that number could be zero by the end of the year. Heck. It could even be zero by the end of the service today!
A little aside: we received a check for $12,000 toward the solar panels a few weeks ago from a couple who said that their stock market portfolio had experienced a “trump bump” and they didn’t want to profit from it. So they gave it to the church for a cause they believe in.
So first, electricity from solar. Second, the use of less natural gas. A huge part of our energy savings for gas and electric was made possible because of a $103,000 grant from Energy Outreach Colorado – the result of a years’ worth of work by Ray Allen. We were eligible for that grant because of our Women’s Homelessness Initiative – led by Karen and Karen and dozens of us – and because we had already demonstrated a financial buy in through our capital campaign. Therefore, since we had, they invested in us too.
And thanks to that grant:
* We replaced all of our boilers, furnaces and air conditioning units to the most energy efficient option available. Boilers alone would have cost us $50,000.
* Every light fixture in the entire building has been changed out for LED. Some of those fixtures were original to the 1950s.
* Weather stripping was added around doors and windows
* We added motion sensors to light switches
* We had previously added insulation to the chapel roof
There’s more than I can even remember.
The boilers were replaced exactly one year ago so we still don’t know the full extent of our savings, but it will be significant.
Electric. Gas. 3) Water: Over the years we have replaced all our toilets to low flow – thanks to the Mile High Youth Corp and Denver Water. Notice all the partners we’ve had?
And as part of the capital campaign we replaced our wildly inefficient sprinkler system with a new one that even includes a rain sensor. A few years ago our group came back from our Pine Ridge trip late. It was after midnight and the rain was coming down so hard, the streets were barely passable. Our sprinklers were merrily running at full blast.
We also changed to a more xeric landscape. A significant amount of our lawn is now covered with drought resistant plants fed by a drip water system- watering less grass. This summer we hope to begin work on a labyrinth on the lawn outside the sanctuary. When it is finished, along with the playground and these other improvements, we will be watering only 50% of the original design.
4) We have all of our financial investments in a United Church of Christ fund called "Beyond Fossil Fuels." It is a fund which screens out gas and oil companies, along with other corporate social responsibility issues such as guns and private prison corporations. It puts our money where our mouth is.
5) We have planted trees in a Denver park. We use mugs to wash after coffee hour instead of disposable cups. We recycle. We have provided education and encouragement for our members to practice environmental stewardship in their own homes. The mission partners who receive our monthly offerings have included Eco-Justice Ministries, Clean Energy Action, and Interfaith Power and Light.
But of course beyond the congratulations, good job!, comes the question – what else could we be doing? And the partnership side of that – what more could each of us be doing in our own homes and with our individual resources?
Beyond the practical, however, first lies the question – why? The God question. The theological answer seems obvious to me. It’s simple stewardship, in Christian terms, of all things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small, all things wise and wonderful. The Lord God gave them all. We are the careful stewards.
Or as Muslims call it – Khalifah: we are trustees. “We are not masters of this Earth; it does not belong to us to do with as we wish. It belongs to Allah who has entrusted us with its safekeeping.”
Buddhists speak of the interconnectedness of human beings, society, and Nature. But the Dalai Lama added, “taking care of the earth is nothing special, nothing sacred, and nothing holy. It’s like taking care of our own house. We can’t just pick up and move to another planet.”
Hindu tradition also understands that “man is not separate from nature, that we are linked by spiritual, psychological, and physical bonds with the elements around us.”
Poetically, I love how His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew 1 of the Eastern Orthodox Church puts it: “Everything that lives and breathes is sacred and beautiful in the eyes of God. The whole world is a sacrament. And humankind stands as a priest before the altar of creation, as microcosm and mediator.” Humans are like priests at the altar of creation – mediating for its good.
From different perspectives, all of our religious traditions come to the same conclusion of care and protection for the earth.
So maybe a better question is why any person of faith, or more specifically, any Christian would not be on the forefront of protecting the environment? The fiercest champions of the earth should be those who believe it was created by God, right? So why not?
Well, for some, the earth is a sinking ship. A Titanic. It’s going down so the role of the church is to give people life vests. Saving souls. To get us off of here. Think of the images from books and movies like Left Behind. The saved are taken up in a rapture, leaving a despoiled earth behind for the heathen.
Yet, 500 years ago Martin Luther is said to have remarked, "If I knew Jesus would return tomorrow, I’d still plant a tree today."
But, as you know, somehow climate change and the extent of the cause by human activity often depends on your political party. More Christians identify themselves by one party – led by climate deniers who believe it’s all a hoax – and so the platforms of that party become the issues most important to their churches. I’m grateful for the young evangelicals who are bucking this trend.
The others remind me of doubting Thomases. Prove it. Thomas said, “Unless I see the nail holes in his hands, and stick my hand in his side, I won’t believe it.” And yet, instead of complaining about his lack of faith and saying “Get behind me Satan,” Jesus simply said, “Here. Take your hand and stick it in my side. Take your finger and examine my hands.” If that’s what it takes, ok. Patience and understanding for him to get. And then, Thomas exclaimed, “My master. My God.” And from there they went on – Thomas took Christianity to India and is considered the founder of the faith there. Thomas demonstrates that it’s never too late for those who don’t believe now to get on board and accomplish amazing things.
One conservative Christian Republican former climate change doubter now calls himself an “evangelical environmentalist.” Scott Rodin describes how he had been taught to feel about people who care for the environment:
1) They’re all left-wing, socialist, former hippies who have no job and hate those who do.
2) They’re all alarmist, scare-mongering activists who chain themselves to trees and, annoyingly, always claim the world is coming to an end.
3) They’re all shame peddlers, always wanting to make everyone feel guilty for the way we live and for not caring about the rain forest, polar bears, and spotted owls.
4) And worst of all, they’re all atheists who worship nature and hate Christians.
So, he said, don’t be surprised if Christians don’t want to partner up if that’s all you’ve ever been told about environmentalists.
He’s been converted, it’s a longer story how, but he now drops off his recycling on the way to Bible study. And uses electricity generated from solar panels to show films about Jesus. And he proudly displays a Save the Whales bumper sticker next to the emblem of a Jesus fish on his car. It starts small. But he also preaches the gospel of creation-care to what he calls his “baseball loving, apple-pie eating, patriotic, Bible believing, church attending friends.”
And in the meantime, climate change doesn’t care if you believe in it or not. It’s going to keep happening. So while the Thomases work on their doubts, we can keep lessening our own environmental impact. Although, really, to make a dent in the problem, it has to be done on a scale such as companies and governments have. As much as we can do alone, people of faith have to join the advocates of the earth in the same way as what gets attention – marches, rallies, calls, letters… bigger picture changes of the technical sort, partnerships with scientists.
But among the news stories during another chaotic week, there was a small heartening and hopeful story: a Kentucky coal company is refurbishing an old mining site with a massive solar farm, generating 5 to 10 times more than the next biggest site in Appalachia. And generating clean energy jobs. They’re not going to stop coal mining – yet. But with some prayer and encouragement from Bible believing Christians, they just might one day.
So, congratulations on the steps you’ve already taken. Remember why. The God question. And ask yourself: what else we can do together as partners?
 Rabbi Marc Gelman, “Partners” from Does God Have a Big Toe, Harper Collins, 1989
 For excerpts of these statements and more, see www.greenfaith.org
If you enjoy these sermons, please support the work of Park Hill Congregational UCC
My three loves are being the Pastor of Park Hill UCC in Denver, Hiking in the Colorado Foothills and Mountains, and Travelling around the world