Happy 4th of July everyone! As we celebrate the birth of our country it’s a great time to name what we love about our nation. One thing I appreciate about the U.S is our commitment to National parks, which started with our commitment to preserving the beautiful and diverse landscapes and waters of our country. A brief history lesson. In March of 1872 Congress established Yellowstone National park in the territories of Montana and Wyoming “as a public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people” The National Park System of the United States now comprises more than 400 areas covering more than 84 million acres in 50 states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, Saipan, and the Virgin Islands. One of our very own families, the Portengas, are taking an epic road trip out west. Steffanie Portenga posted this picture of their stop at the Grand Canyon (one of our most celebrated national parks) with this quote from Theodore Roosevelt. (slide) “Keep this great wonder of nature as it is. Do nothing to mar its grandeur, for the ages have been at work upon it. Keep it for your children, your children’s children, and all who come after you” – President Theodore Roosevelt, 1903 I’m glad our nation decided to preserve these areas of natural beauty. In fact a recent study showed that “Research conducted in national parks found that listening to uninterrupted natural sounds can be calming and have health benefits, too, including improved mood, lower pain and decreased stress. Why do the sounds of wind, falling rain and bird chatter, and even distant rolling thunder have such a calming effect? One theory is that, when we’re safe inside, sounds such as these are less threatening than human-made noise. Since they don’t require our direct attention, they allow us to tune out and relax. Every week we’ve been exploring the theme of Sabbath and what can we “delight in” on the Sabbath that ultimately leads us to delighting in God. Last week Troy talked about delighting in one another. To take a sabbath with someone whose friendship is life giving. This week we are exploring the act of “delighting in nature” as an act of Sabbath. At first glance 2 Corinthians passage does not seem to directly address the Sabbath, but so let’s take the time to unpack it a bit. What is God doing in this passage? This is a good question to ask with whatever passage of scripture you may be reading. By looking at any passage of scripture we can know who God is by what God does. In this passage:
God supplies what we need to sow
God supplies bread
It is God who increases the harvest
And it is God who enriches us in every way, which produces thanksgiving
Thanksgiving points us to Jesus Christ
If I could sum up this passage in one sentence it would be this: Everything good is from God. As it says in James, every good and perfect gift comes from God. This includes the gift of nature. Another way to look at it to say that the source of all that is good is Jesus Christ. I think sometimes when we are reveling in nature we tend to focus on the beauty of nature and forget to thank God for God’s beautiful creation. When that happens we end up worshipping creation and not the one who created it. Now this isn’t to say that being out in the great outdoors is not a good way to commune with Christ. Nature should point us back to Jesus Christ. Being in nature should produce a thankfulness in each of us that brings us back to Jesus Christ. That’s the point of any Sabbath practice Going back to our 2nd Corinthians passage, when we recognize that God is the one who supplies all that is needed for a plentiful harvest it leads to a spirit of thanksgiving to God. In the same way when we recognize that God is behind the beauty and awesome wonder of nature that too leads us to a spirit of thanksgiving to God. God could have made this world dull, boring and grey But instead we have mountains, lakes, rivers and the ocean. In nature we see that God is a wonderful artist. I get some amusing responses when it comes out in small talk that I’m a pastor with people I’ve just met. Many feel they have to defend why they no longer have faith or justify why they’re still Christians, but don’t attend church. During a flight I sat next to a gentleman who when he found out I was a pastor got a surprised look on his face and said: “That’s so great that you’re a pastor. I don’t go to church, however, because I see God most clearly when I’m in nature.” I get that. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest where there is a deep affinity for the great outdoors. It’s comments like these, however, that make me wonder “What do you mean by seeing clearly” and who do you mean by “God?” Where we see God most clearly is actually in a person. That person being Jesus Christ. As Christians we believe that the fullest picture we have of God is in Jesus Christ. We see glimpses of God everywhere, but the most complete picture we have of God is in Jesus. Whatever we do as a Sabbath practice, whether that is taking a hike or spending time with a friend, we have to make sure that that particular practice doesn’t take the place of Jesus Christ himself. That we aren’t worshipping that sabbath practice instead of Jesus Christ himself. The way we ensure that this doesn’t happen is to see the Sabbath as the vehicle that helps us intentionally spend time with Jesus Christ when we have little to no time to do so in the busyness of our daily schedules. Whether it’s the act of having lunch with a friend or spending time with nature, whatever Sabbath practice we are engaging in we need to make sure that the result of that practice leads to engaging with Jesus Christ. Sometimes we get stuck in reveling how good that sabbath act feels (which is great) we forget why we did that Sabbath practice in the first place. To remember who God is. What God did for us in Jesus Christ. That Jesus is our comfort and strength. To be reminded that whatever burden we carry, whatever mistake we’ve made we are forgiven and redeemed in Jesus Christ. That when we feel hopeless or overwhelmed by what is happening in our world, Jesus promises to never leave or forsake us. As with any of God’s gracious gifts it’s easy to focus on that gift than on God. Especially because we have the privilege of living in such a beautiful place with so many opportunities to enjoy God’s creation we can easily fall into focusing on creation rather than on the one who created it. Our children’s ministry went on their first ever Creation Care Walk last Monday. They met up at Duncan Woods and began with the story of how God created the world out of love from the Story Book Children’s Bible. The kids and adults gathered then prayed a prayer of thanksgiving to God for creating this world to be so beautiful. The kids and adults then took buckets and picked up trash around Duncan Woods to remember that we have the privilege of being God’s stewards over creation. Creation is for us to enjoy, but it’s also for us to take care of. The next Creation Care walk is Tuesday July 27. 6:30 pm at Mulligans Hollow:) Kudos to Abe Overway for planning the last one! I love the rhythm of how this event took place. They started in scripture to be reminded of how generous and loving is the God who created everything including us. Then they moved to praying together thanking God that this is the case. They were then moved to action by God’s love by cleaning up this small corner of God’s magnificent creation. But it all started with spending time with God by being in God’s word. This week I encourage you to spend time in nature as your act of Sabbath practice. And as you take time to delight in Jesus Christ by delighting in nature as your sabbath practice I’d encourage you to start with God’s word like our kids and their families did on their Creation Care Walk. Suggested passages are the creation story or Psalm 19:1 (slide). By starting with God’s word before or during our time in God’s beautiful creation our focus will be on God. And we will appreciate God’s beautiful creation even more. No matter what your time in nature looks like I pray we all find the rest and rejuvenation we need that is only found in Jesus Christ.