Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sermon: Welcoming Children into God's Creation (The Rock Run Sermon)

Sermon, The Rev. Leah D. Schade
United in Christ Lutheran Church, Lewisburg, PA
Sept. 23, 2012
“Of Lambs and Limbs” Part One:
“Welcoming Children into God’s Creation”
Texts:  Jeremiah 11:18-20; Mark 9:30-37  
“Jesus loves the little children.”  We sing that at the time of our children’s sermon.  Because it’s true!  Just in the Gospel of Mark alone, children have a prominent place in 5 different stories.  Why do you think this gospel focuses so much on children?  Well let’s think about children a little.  What do we know about kids?

Helpless; Without status; Vulnerable; High mortality rate; Small view of the world, but big imagination; Inquisitive, curious; Know nothing but have everything to learn; Love affection, love to be held; Freedom to explore without fear.

So why does Jesus care so much about us welcoming children?  Certainly, all these things we listed are true.  But there’s another reason.  Jesus says that when we welcome children in his name, we are actually welcoming God into our midst. 

Remember Jesus is all about having God’s kingdom established on earth.  And God’s kingdom is all about caring for those most vulnerable.  They say you can tell a lot about a society by the way they treat their oldest and youngest members.  So if we are like the disciples - so concerned with who is the greatest that we ignore the needs of our children - then we are not following God’s will. 

And I would add that it’s not just how we treat the most vulnerable in the human society that reveals our values.  It’s also how we treat the most vulnerable in God’s creation.  How we treat fragile ecosystems, how we treat God’s earth in general, says a lot about how we treat our fellow humanity.  For example, if we look at a beautiful forested mountain, and only value it for the coal or gas or oil beneath its surface, and are willing to sacrifice it for our short-term needs, then we are, in fact, not following God’s will for ourselves or our children. 

The well-being of children and the well-being of God’s creation are fundamentally linked.  And throughout the next several weeks, that’s what our sermons are going to be exploring.  The preaching series is entitled “Of Lambs and Limbs” and will address the need for justice for children, trees, and other living things.  Today I want to make a specific connection between the need to welcome children into God’s creation, and the need to protect one particularly beautiful and fragile part of God’s creation right here in Pennsylvania.

There’s a book I love called The Last Child in the Woods by child advocacy expert Richard Louv.  He writes about “nature deficit disorder,” where he directly links the lack of nature in the lives of today's children to some of the most disturbing childhood trends, such as the rises in obesity, attention disorders, and depression.  We keep kids inside, wired to their computers and televisions, which not only deprives children of important relationships with nature, but will result in generations of humans who have no interest in protecting or caring for God’s creation.  Because “children will not save what they do not love,” he writes.  And so he encourages giving children direct exposure to nature because it’s essential for healthy childhood development and for the physical and emotional health of children and adults. 

Where this connects with our land right here in Pennsylvania is in a place called Rock Run.  [start video:]  Rock Run is an enchanting, beautifully wild area of Pennsylvania tucked away in the Loyalsock State Forest just north of Williamsport.  And it is under threat to be destroyed by natural gas drilling.  An oasis of 20,000 acres surrounds a 27-mile hiking path called the Old Logger’s trail.  All around the area drilling is proceeding at full force.  But Governor Tom Corbett could direct the DCNR to protect this still pristine area from natural gas development.

Now what does this have to do with you and me?  What does this have to do with the church?  Well if we do not speak up for the land and speak out for the needs of our children to be able to inherit this land as citizens of Pennsylvania unsullied by the drilling industry, then we will be shirking our responsibility both to protect God’s creation, and preserve the very land into which God wants to welcome them.
As one blogger wrote:  “It is an area which, once encountered, leaves a lasting impression of serenity, unspoiled nature, and tranquil other-worldliness that is almost unknown in our modern world. To despoil this paradise with gas drilling or any other industry would be nothing short of ungodly. The surrounding area has suffered enough, leave the people some refuge.”

As a Christian, I would add:  How can we welcome the children into these places God has created if there is nothing left to welcome them into?  Or if we have turned these sacred places into industrialized zones that are no place for children to play?  Or if we have so poisoned, and compromised the integrity of the area, that we have left our children with nothing but a memory and an internet video reminding them of what it used to be like? 

I invite you after the service today, to sign a letter to our governor, the head of the DCNR, and the company that wants to drill in this area urging them to protect Rock Run and the Old Logger’s Path.  This is one way to put our faith into action.  We have an opportunity to witness to our faith, and make our voices heard, reminding our leaders that the despoiling of the Rock Run area would be nothing less than the degradation of God’s gracious gift of creation. Scripture witnesses to God as creator of the earth and all that dwells therein (Psalm 24:1). Our leaders need to know that we, as Christians, believe all of creation is worthy of protection, especially those areas that are particularly sensitive and whose ecosystems are fragile.  Rock Run is one of those areas.

The Holy Bible gives us several examples of mountains and waterways being special places in which God reveals God’s self.  This area of Loyalsock State Forest is a place where God’s presence in creation is experienced deeply by those who hike, swim, and fish there.  A natural area such as this is not a domain to be conquered and exploited for short-term gain, but to be enjoyed, preserved, and explored as a wondrous, sacred trust.

Do we really want to cut down the tree with its fruit, as we heard in the Jeremiah text?  Or do we want to uphold what Genesis 2:15 puts forth as our role within creation: to serve and to keep God’s garden, the earth? 

The letter will be downstairs with a sheet for you to add your name if you wish remind our leaders that they have an opportunity to leave a legacy for this state and future generations that preserves the pure water, native fish populations and unparalleled beauty of the forest.  It is their responsibility as leaders in government and industry to protect this ecologically and aesthetically sensitive area.  And it is our responsibility as Christians to ask that they do so.

God’s presence is infused in all of creation.  And when we take our children into God’s outdoor cathedral – into the woods, the river, the streams, the meadows, even just the backyard, and show them the wonders of what God has created, that it is God who made all this, and that it is our job to love and protect what God has created – we are indeed following Jesus’ example.  We take our children in our arms, by the hand, and welcome them into this beautiful sacred world, and we do it in Jesus’ name.  And when we do this, we are, indeed, welcoming God.  Amen.

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