The Wealth in our Wallets instead of the Well-being of the World

This afternoon I watched the United States join two nations… Syria and Nicaragua… in being the only three nations in the entire world that are no longer signers of the Paris Climate Accord.

As I listened to the justifications, what I heard over and over again was the mention of a few economic sectors that will be impacted negatively and are disadvantaged because we are choosing to prioritize a different future for the world.  Our President spoke about a drastic and unfair “redistribution of wealth” through the International Green Fund and how instead we need to put America First. His focus is solely on the wealth and wallets of the few, instead of the well-being of the many.

Well, if we are really going to put Americans first, perhaps we should think about all of these ways that Americans will be impacted if we do not make drastic changes to halt climate change.  The link is the official report of the National Climate Assessment and includes data from thirteen different U.S. government agencies.  The impacts include health, agriculture, energy, coastal migration, extreme weather, and are broken down by sector, region, and show the risks if we do nothing.

One of the most disheartening aspects of the argument to withdraw is that we need to stop worrying about other people and focus only on ourselves and what is best for ourselves. And yet, as I understand the Christian faith and my calling to live our the love of Jesus Christ in the world, my duty is to love my neighbor and to set free the oppressed and to care more for the well-being of others than I do myself.  Even if we stick with the idea that we, as Americans, are leaders in protecting the environment, the thought that we can just take care of ourselves without helping to bring others along doesn’t even find a home in scripture.  For as Jesus teaches the disciples in the gospel of Luke, we have been given this world as a gift and we are called to be its stewards.  “Much will be demanded from everyone who has been given much, and from the one who has been entrusted with much, even more will be asked.” (Luke 12:48)

In this chapter filled with parables, we are called to remember the worth of even the sparrows, to guard ourselves against all greed, to sell our possessions and give to those in need, and to make wallets that won’t wear out.  And then, ironically, Jesus lifts up the fact that the crowds “know how to interpret conditions on earth and in the sky” (12:56).  We know when its going to rain or when a heat wave is coming.  Except, it appears that our government can’t see the conditions on the earth and in the sky.  We refuse to acknowledge our impact on the world around us.  We are willing to put our own personal gain above the well-being of the world.

“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be too.” – Luke 12:34

Lord, have mercy on us.

Two Texts: Pope Francis, the Environment, and Relationships

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This summer, Pope Francis issued a letter to the world, “Laudato Si’” or Praise be to You which calls upon all people to care for our common home, our sister, Mother Earth.

And while it made the news this summer, one of the first thoughts I had was that, as United Methodists, we had a letter of our own like this about six years ago. In 2009, a pastoral letter was issued from the United Methodist Council of Bishops called: God’s Renewed Creation: Call to Hope and Action. (

If you would like to see or have a copy of our letter, you can pick one up at the table in the back as you leave today.


In both, we are reminded of the relationship between living organisms and their environment… that we need to understand our ecology: the interconnected system of water, air, soil, plants, animals, and ourselves.

From the fight over water rights in California, to our own conflict here in Iowa over nitrate levels, this summer has been full of stories about how the environmental choices we make in one location impact the whole of creation in another. And I’m not just talking about the decisions of a farmer. Each of them is simply responding to the demands of the market, which is impacted by our choices as consumers. We do not always appreciate how precarious the balance of our ecologies can be, until the weather and climate change.

As our Bishop’s letter states, “we no longer see a list of isolated problems affecting disconnected people, plants and animals… the threats to peace, people, and planet earth are related to one another.”

Or as Pope Francis writes: “the human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together; we cannot adequately combat environmental degradation unless we attend to causes related to human and social degradation…”

Everything… from the availability of quality water, to the loss of biodiversity, to the inequitable distribution and consumption of energy, violence, warfare… is interrelated.


And rather than debating the merits of specific proposals or policies, Pope Francis points us towards the foundation for a different way of being.


It all boils down to three relationships

  1. Our relationship with God
  2. Our relationships with our neighbors
  3. And our relationship with creation itself.

So today, aware of the multitude of articles and stories this summer on climate change, water, drought, and the environment, let us explore the text in our scriptures that lays the groundwork for our ecology… Genesis One.


We learn in this story of a creative and life-giving God. Everything has a purpose. Everything is connected to another. The sun, moon, and starts give light and determine the seasons. The plants provide food for the animals, who provide sustenance for humanity.

Everything is a gift and nothing was made by our own hands.

Therefore, the foundation of our relationship with God should be one of gratitude.

Gratitude for every breath we take, every drop of water we drink, every creature in the multitude of this diverse, beautiful planet.


Our relationship with our creator is also fundamentally related to our relationship with the creation, because we are called to take care of this earth. Historically, we have heard verse 28 as the call to “be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, over every living thing that moves on the earth.” We look at this image of the creation and our central image in it and believe the world revolves around us.

The language of dominion and subduing has led us to believe we are called to control and use and have power over the world. It is ours to do with it whatever our hearts desire.


But when we really look at these verses in context, I think we have been sorely mistaken.

The Hebrew word in this place is not so much the idea of dominion or rule, but rather that of holding sway over… influencing… guiding. Pope Francis holds both the Genesis 1 and 2 accounts together, reminding us our call is to “till and keep” the garden of the world…. We are to cultivate and work this creation… while at the same time caring for it, overseeing it, protecting it.

In my organic ministry class this summer, I have been reminded over and over again that any good farmer cares for the soil as much as they do what is planted in it. One must protect the earth in order to work it. And one must listen and pay attention to what the environment demands and respond accordingly if you ever want to influence what might grow there.

That is far different than a more domineering perspective…. a stubborn resolve to use the earth and grow whatever your heart desires whenever you want to.


I learned about this in my own garden this summer…. (talk about tomatoes)

Even if we stick with the language of dominion, the root of dominion is in the Lordship of God. We are to be lords as God is Lord over creation… in love, in creation, in fostering diversity, in nurturing life.


This earth does not belong to us. It is a gift. As we remembered two weeks ago when we recalled the Jubilee in ancient Israel, God tells us that the land is not ours… it is God’s and we are merely strangers and sojourners upon it.

Yet in God’s gracious and loving spirit, we are allowed to take and use what we need for sustenance. We are allowed to care for this earth, and pass its gifts down generation upon generation.

Because this planet belongs to not only Adam and Eve, but all descendants, all humanity, then our relationships with one another are intertwined with the gift of creation.

Just as every plant and animal, microbe and molecule is a gift… so too is every person on this planet. The very idea of Sabbath calls us to let the earth and its workers rest, so that all be renewed. And the promise is that even if we rest and cease working, there will be abundance and plenty. God will take care of us.

The gifts of this planet are to be shared. Not only with people of today, but future generations as well.

So that all might find joy. So all might be at peace.

Pope Francis begins his letter with a description of the type of lifestyle that people of faith should aspire to… a tribute to his own namesake, Saint Francis. “He is the patron saint of all who study and work in the area of ecology… he was particularly concerned for God’s creation and for the poor and outcast. He loved, and was deeply loved for his joy, his generous self-giving, his openheartedness. He was a mystic and a pilgrim who lived in simplicity and in wonderful harmony with God, with others, with nature, and with himself. He shows us just how inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society, and interior peace… Francis helps us to see that an integral ecology calls for openness to categories which transcend the language of mathematics and biology, and take us to the heart of what it means to be human.”

May we be people who are concerned for nature.

May we be people who always seek justice for the poor.

May we be people who are committed to society and work towards its common good.

And may we be people who find inner peace as we do so.



paying attention

Today, in my devotional reading this thought from The Spiritual Life struck me:

To be human is to pray… prayer is the disciplined dedication to paying attention.

As I sit here and try to write this morning, I must admit I am distracted.

Distracted by the remnants of water in our basement (our backup sump pump failed to switch on, leaving some standing water in the unfinished areas).

Distracted by the squirrels and birds fighting with one another on the fence.

Distracted by the pings from Facebook because I left the tab open in my browser.

Distracted by the waiting and anticipation for a SCOTUS decision.

Distracted by the garbage trucks making their way up and down the streets in my neighborhood.


What if instead of being distracted, I focused on paying attention in prayer.


Gracious God, be with my husband and I and help us to be patient and wise as we clean up the water and as he fixes the pump.

Holy One, thank you for the creatures of this world who play and bring joy to our lives.

Blessed Redeemer, be with my friends and family and acquaintances.  Help them to know your grace and mercy.  Be with them in their struggles.

God of Grace, you teach us that love is patient and kind. You teach us that love is sacrificial.  You teach us that your love has no boundaries.  Be with us today as so many of us wait and dream of a nation that recognizes the many kinds of love and families that bring joy and support and stability and hope and companionship to our lives.

Almighty Savior, be with those who serve us today. And help each of us to think carefully about the waste in our lives. Help us to treat this world and its possessions with respect.  Help us be less wasteful with the precious gifts we have been given.  Help us to focus more on relationships and less on things.  Forgive us for our reckless use of resources others are dying without.


Westerhoff and Eusden write in The Spiritual life that “unless our identity is hid in God we will never know who we are or what we are to do.”  It is when we pay attention, maybe especially to the things that distract us, that we discover God’s longing for our lives, we hear the still small voice calling us to a transformed life, and we see our neighbors through new lenses.  Prayer is the foundation of our faith, the beginning of change, the roots of justice, and the core of our belief.


A fellow pastor has a blog entry entitled “keepers” for this week.  My blog post will be nothing like his. Although, his made me think about the fact that it was about time for me to write this post.

If you are not a woman, you might want to skip this post.  Just come back in a few days and read about something completely different.

If you get grossed out really easily, you might want to do the same.

Because, I have a completely different type of “keeper” to talk about.

About once a year, I like to do my own public service announcement about the joys and benefits of menstrual cups.

Yes, you read that right. 

In college, I began to learn about being eco-friendly.  I was about a decade behind my friends who went to the other elementary school in our district.  They put on this awesome musical called, “Recycle It” in 2nd grade or something.  They continued to sing the songs through high school… but I never really got into the whole recycling and environment thing.  I was a republican, after all.  And we lived in the country.  And we burned our own trash.  It was just how we did things.
But in college… wow – my whole world turned upside down.  In a thousand different ways.  And perhaps the best way was this amazing group of men and women who cared about the world and the people in it and continually challenged me to make a difference – even in the small things that we do.
We served at the Catholic Worker House.  We protested.  We reduced, reused, and recycled.  We lived in community (most of the time successfully!).  We slept outside in winter to raise awareness about homelessness.  And we had lots and lots and lots of conversations.
One of the conversations that personally impacted me the most was the one about menstrual products.  For years, I had done what most women in the United States do.  I went to the store every month and plunked down my dollars for pads and tampons.  I had no idea that there was any alternative.  Suddenly as a result of that conversation though, keepers, and lunapads and natural sponges were on my mind.  I was intrigued.  I was curious.  I decided… what the heck!  I’ll try it.
It has now been seven years since I purchased my first lunapads and my keeper.  I spent a grand total of $65 and since that time I have spent NOTHING on disposable pads and tampons.  My keeper is my go-to for my menstrual cycle, but I like the flexibility of having the lunapads if I want to use them overnight. 
My first major traveling experience with my keeper was a two week European trip, and it got me through all sorts of different kinds of bathroom experiences.  The best part was that I could empty it in the morning and when we got back at night and never worry about it during the day when we were unsure about the bathrooms we would find.  It works wonderfully for swimming, it is comfortable, and most days I don’t even notice that it is there.

My husband never has to run to the grocery store to stock the cabinets with feminine products.  And for that he is grateful.  We don’t have heaps of trash to deal with. (For a REALLY stunning picture of the difference for the environment this switch can make check this out!)

I really feel like it is one of the best decisions that I have made for myself and for the environment.  And if you have any questions, feel free to ask me!

Good Dirt

(a sermon for Earth Day, Stewardship Week, and in response to a youth auctioned sermon on the theme “soil conservation”)

It seems like everyone and their brother is talking about “going green” these days. We can buy “green” organic food at the Big G. We can get rebates and incentives for buying “green” appliances and lightbulbs for our homes. “Green” cars are now a commonplace site, even on the streets of Marengo. With all of this recent emphasis in the world on the environment, you might get the impression that this protecting the Earth idea is a new one. But it’s not. From the very beginning of time – in fact, from the first pages of our bible, care for this world that we live in has been the core of our Christian tradition.

We already heard the familiar story of the creation with our kids this morning. This world was made by our God – and God declared it good. And then, that very same God formed us from the dust of the earth and gave to us a precious task… to care for the world God had made. From the ancient Israelites to the early followers of Christ, caring for the Earth was an important means of offering thanks and praise to God.

The General Board of Church and Society for the United Methodist Church has put out some wonderful resources for churches to us as we celebrate God’s Creation. They remind us that the “ancestors of our faith lived amid cultures that worshipped many different gods who were thought to control all aspects of nature, from fertility of the land to ferocity of the seas. Communities celebrated local gods that tended to their own particular climate systems and conditions.

But as the Ancient Israelites moved throughout the land, they encountered many climates, many different communities and religions. And as they saw the connections between all of those different environments, they began to realize that “the natural world was controlled not by many competing gods, but by one God who could be revealed through the unity of nature.”

“Along with their insights about God, the Ancient Israelites observed the ways in which interdependent systems work well when they are cared for and fail when they are damaged or neglected. In response to their understanding of God and the natural world, they created an ethos for living in healthy relationship with God, the Earth, and one another. People of the church today often refer to this ethos as ‘stewardship.’”

In the wider world, stewardship of the earth is also seen as just good old common sense. In fact, the National Association of Conservation Districts has established a National Stewardship Week – this year beginning on April 26th – in order to celebrate and remember the importance of protecting our natural resources.

According to the NACD resources, many people believe that had farmers and landowners “chosen to band together and implement proper agricultural practices, demonstrating good land stewardship, the devastation of the Dust Bowl in the 1930’s could have been somewhat diminished. The good news is that Americans have learned from the past, and since the 30’s there have been severe droughts, but the same devastation has not been repeated because good stewardship practices have been taught, learned and implemented on the land.”

The goal is good soil. And good soil isn’t just something that farmers and gardeners care about. Soil makes our lives possible. How many of you slept on soil last night? Well, where do you live? What is your home built on?

How many of you are wearing soil today? Cotton grows in soil! Just check the label on your clothing.

What about eating soil? Just think about all of the foods that you have eaten this week that were grown in the soil, or medicines that were taken from the ground, or water that we have drank that has flowed through and been cleansed by the soil.

When the Ancient Israelites noticed that everything in this world is interdependent, this is what they are talking about. The dirt and the air and the sun and plant life and our lives are all interconnected and this beautiful system God created works – as long as we take care of it.

Jesus knew this too – and he used many parables that talked about the earth because they are grounded and real. Everyone can touch the ground and feel the dirt between their fingers or toes. Everyone knows what Jesus was talking about when he talked about the soil.

Our challenge is to figure out what it means to protect the soil and make it good. And in doing so – we might learn a little bit about what it means for this little plot of ground that is our church to also be good soil – ground in which we all can put down deep roots to grow and produce fruit.

First: good soil needs to be protected by roots (strength to tell stories)

This is the number one thing that we can learn from the Dust Bowl. With all of the vegetation stripped away due to the drought, and without roots to hold the earth in place, the wind blew away an estimated 850 million tons of topsoil in the Southern Plains alone. Roots hold the soil together and help prevent erosion and they also loosen up the soil so that oxygen can filter through the ground.

Basically, roots are like fingers. They dig down deep into the ground and give the earth the support it needs.

In the church – we need roots too. Without roots, we will be tossed to and fro by the winds of change and the latest fad. But we have plenty of things within our tradition that ground us and help us to find the stability we need. In the United Methodist tradition, we especially think of four deep running roots: the scriptures, the tradition of the church, well-thought reasoning, and the experiences of the saints. As we gather together and share all of these stories, we find ourselves firmly rooted in the past, and yet also able to grow and mature into our future.

Second: good soil must be abundant and unified (strength to accompany, convene)

This is not something that we often think about, but one little clump of dirt can hardly do much. All by itself, that clump of dirt would become dry and would not have the room for anything to take root within it.

But when one clump of dirt is surrounded by millions of other little dirt particles, then, it is something to be reckoned with! We know that the outermost layer of our planet is soil… but did you know that five tons of topsoil spread out over an acre of land would only be as thick as a dime? We need soil and lots of it to have abundant life.

In the same way, Christians can’t go it alone in the world. We need one another to help us create abundant life. That is the message that we get from so many of our scripture readings from this morning. In Acts especially – it was when the believers came together, with one heart and one soul sharing what they needed that tremendous fruit came forth.

While this may sound cliché – people need people. We were created to be in relationship with others. And as the church, we are invited to walk along with others through the difficult and the joyous situations in their lives. We accompany one another through times of illness, injury, death, birth, marriage, loss of jobs, and marital problems… and together – together – we can have life and life abundant.

Third: good soil is alive (strength to bless)
We think about dirt as dead matter, but in reality it is organic – full of both living and dead organisms. Fungi and bacteria help break down matter into soil and animals such as earth worms churn and nurture the earth. Without all of that living and breathing of the soil – life as we know it would cease.

In the same way, our congregations are alive and they are living and breathing things. In a world that is so damning and critical, the church is a place of blessing and acceptance for all. The diversity of silt and clay and minerals within the ground all have a purpose, and within the church, we can only be the living body of Christ if we affirm the gifts that every single one of us bring to the table. Some of us are teachers, some of us are prophets, some of us are evangelists – and all of us are needed within the body.

Fourth: good soil needs nutrients and moisture ( strength to connect – sharing resources)

Good soil cannot give life to plants without being full of nutrients and minerals and moisture. In fact, 25% of our soil is water, while only 5% is organic matter… which means that it has a lot to give to thirsty plants and hungry critters. But when the waters dry up and the nutrients are taken out of the soil, then the ground is not good for growth. Just ask any farmer who employs crop rotation in order to keep vital nitrates in the soil!

Our church too needs to be filled up before it can be poured out. The Holy Spirit brings us the refreshing waters of new life through baptism. We are fed by the bread of heaven and the cup of salvation – grain and grapes from the land. We are nourished by the Word of God. And as we find ourselves blessed and strengthened, we can share of our abundance with the world. The church has the ability to bring together the resources of our communities and peoples to help life to come forth out of the darkest places in people’s lives.