Wednesday, August 4

Finding God at Mt. St. Helen: A Sermon

Preached today, 4/21/2013, at Rainier Beach UMC by Terri Stewart
Scripture: Genesis 1:1 - 2:3

Today I'm going to speak about creation. Tomorrow is International Earth Day and we wanted to take a moment and remember God's creation, our role in creation, and a quick PSA to remember to recycle when you are here at the church!

I remember several years ago when I was in college at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, I went to my very first Earth Day event on campus. There was sun, crowds of young adults, and bands. All I could think of was the immense amount of litter that was being created. That seemed a bit ludicrous!

Earth Day began in 1970 and was primarily a response to a massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California. It was created by US Senator Nelson as a national "teach-in" day. Both Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor, urban and rural residents, business leaders and labor leaders came together in agreement. And from this, the Environmental Protection Agency was created and the Clean Air, Clean Water act passed.

Earth Day has seen its ups and downs. It started out with massive demonstrations in every part of the US, then grew to become a global force. Yet by the year 2010, the community was in a bit of a conundrum. People were actively working against Earth Day. A loud minority was denying the fact of climate change, oil companies were lobbying congress for access to protected lands, and frankly, I think we are all tired of what seems to be constant crises coming from Washington DC. But even with these challenges, in 2010, Earth Day brought 225,000 people to Washington DC for a Climate Rally.

But, what I don't see, are people in the streets now talking about protecting the earth, the creation.

In today's scripture reading, we heard one of the creation stories in the Bible. This one is particularly beautiful as it poetically recounts God's action in the cosmos bringing our world into existence. I love this story. When I recall it in my mind, I hear the phrase over and over, "God created…and it was good." Then, on the sixth day, God surveys everything that was made and says, "It was very good."

It is very good.

I think our approach to the environment and things like Earth Day depend entirely on our Image of God.  There are three primary ways of thinking about God.

  1. There is the God who created the universe and set it into motion and sits back and watches everything unfold. This is often called the "unmoved mover."
  2. There is the God who created the universe and steps in to provide punishment and reward. God is often called "master God."
  3. There is the God who works with us to create together a future that is dependent on our decisions. God is often called "co-creator God."

I have a little chart that may help you think about these different kinds of images of God.

Images of God
Images of God

In the first image of God, God does not interact with humans. The earth was created and whatever happens is because of that first, initial act of creation. God just sits back and watches.  In the second image, God as Master, God steps in during the course of history and does things like causes earthquakes, bombings, wealth, and rewards. In the third image, God issues an invitation to humanity and the person has the choice whether to respond to God's invitation or to ignore the invitation.  I want to give you five minutes to discuss what image of God you believe in.

Over the past week, I was on vacation, but I was also reading a book Seasoning the Soul. In this book, I ran across a description of God that I thought was quite beautiful. First, it said that in the Bible and in nature, we have everything we need to understand God. And that in nature, all of Jesus' teachings are present. It then goes on with a poem that asks these questions: When a crimson-red Maple Leaf falls down to the ground off of a tree, is that not Christ's reflection? When an Aspen tree sheds all his leaves in fall and then grows them back in the spring, is that not resurrection? Can we find the trinity in a leaf of clover?

Maybe it was the poetic quality of the writing that caught my imagination, or the fact that I was camping near the Cowlitz River facing the beauty of creation every day, but I can find the face of God in earth, in the cosmos, and within.

Nature tells Christ's story if we would just listen! And the story we receive from Genesis 1 tells Christ's story too! In the beginning…  Those words are found in Genesis 1, the very beginning of the Bible and in the Gospel of John. I have a quick chart showing how intimately tied together Genesis 1-creation and John 1-Christ are.


First, we have the beginning, God, creates the heavens and the earth and the Word was there in the beginning with God and the Word was God. Second, We have wind which in Hebrew is ruach and could be translated spirit-another face of God. And in John, we have "him," another face of God. Then in the last section, we see the mirroring of light, that the light is good, the light is for all people, and that the darkness will not overcome it.

A quick note about this word, Word. In Greek, it is Logos which means wisdom. In Proverbs 8, wisdom is described as being with God at the beginning of God's work. Creation is intimately tied with Christ. And most important, the resurrection of Christ which saves humanity is witnessed day after day in the resurrection cycles of the earth.


Last week, we went to Mt. St. Helen. What were you doing when Mt. St. Helen blew in 1980? Some of you weren't born, but have you heard the stories? Even I remember when the mountain blew and I lived in North Carolina! Mt. St. Helen devastated the area. Molten lava mud snapped trees like matchsticks and the land was destroyed as devastation flowed down the Toutle and Cowlitz River. It simply picked up homes and carried them away.


When people who lived there for their whole lives returned to the area, they couldn't recognize anything. It was all gone.

Within three days, bunnies were returning to the land.


Now, 30 years later, there are new lakes, new trees, new life. That is resurrection. God's creative energy calling forth something new. Long ago, there was one primary lake, Spirit Lake, now there are four lakes. Spirit Lake that is entirely different, Silver Lake that is a beautiful wetlands area, Castle Lake, and Coldwater Lake.


Without the devastation of the eruption, this new and beautiful creation would not have happened.


So, the question is what do we do with the idea of creation intimately tied with Christ and intimately tied with each other? What saving action is God calling us to? How is Christ speaking to you through scripture when he says, "consider the lilies of the field…" or "in the beginning was the Word and the Word was God…" or in the unfolding resurrection story we see evidenced in catastrophic events like Mt. St. Helen and in the simple rhythm of life such as the rebirth of the Aspen tree every spring?

Now, our image of God has everything to do with how we approach the question of earth care. If we have no freedom to affect creation because God has total control, we will make different choices than if we believe that we are creating our future by freely choosing and responding to God's grace.

One final question: what will you do to honor and respond to God's creation?


In closing, I'd like to read you the poem I referenced questions from earlier:

Mother-Father God,
We ask the following questions
knowing full well that you have
already provided the answers:

When Sister Maple Leaf pirouettes down
Resplendent in her crimson gown
And then lies prostrate on the ground,
Is not that Christ's Reflection?

And when Brother Aspen, tall and bold,
In autumn sheds his cloak of gold
Then in the Spring green leaves unfold
Is not that resurrection?

You see, all of the tales that the scriptures tell
Are told in nature just as well.
Here on earth are both heaven and hell.
It's a story told over and over.

So, Mother-Father here is our plea:
May you bless this family
And help us each find the Trinity
In every leaf of clover.

Shalom and Amen.

Poem by David Garner as printed in Seasoning the Soul, a compilation edited by Eileen Knoff, D. Min. I took the liberty of changed the line "May you bless this family" from "May you bless Brigid's family."

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