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Sunday, July 15, 2018
Scripture: Psalm 24 & Ephesians 1:3-14
Guest Speaker: Brigette Kemink, Seminary Student

Today it seems as if we live in a time and place when many are telling us that we must pick a side in everything, that you can’t be for something without being against its opposite. Our Scripture for today reminds us the Gospel says we are unified with creation through our common creator, God, and as Christians we are not called to be either/or but both/and. This unity requires that we care for and protect one another, the creatures who live here, the land we walk upon, and the water we depend on. When we fail to care for creation, we are failing ourselves and disrespecting what God has lovingly and generously created. The closer we come to embodying God’s will for the world, as an individual and as a community, the truth about what it means to be a Christian becomes clear ­ to love.

Many of us can appreciate the beauty of the world around us, but do we understand how we are connected to it? Scripture tells us we come from the ground and the way in which we were formed links us to the earth, and the earth to us. God’s earth is a living and breathing thing. It may not breathe the way we do, but it breathes. It may not rest the way we do, but it rests. It may not get fed the way we do, but it gets fed. Just like us, if any one of those things is compromised, the earth suffers. And just like us, sometimes it can repair itself and other times it needs the skills of another.

I recently read an article from the New York Times that shared how six people became believers in climate change. Much of what I read was not a surprise, but one story opened my eyes to an impact of climate change that I hadn’t considered before. This story was about a woman who grew up in and lives in a poor area of Miami. Rather suddenly, homes and buildings in her neighborhood were being bought up by developers and transformed into premium living spaces. These spaces were not for the people who already lived there, they were for wealthy and affluent people whose homes were being swallowed up by the ocean because of climate change. As a direct result of climate change, this woman’s neighborhood, two miles from the beach, was now being advertised as future ocean front property. The people who can’t afford to move are being pushed out of their homes. Who sitting here wants to be pushed out of their home? I doubt there are any. Taking care of creation not only impacts our physical environment, but it has a social and economic impact as well. Displacing one person to serve another does not align with our beliefs as Christians and represents disunity instead.

When we prioritize material gains over caring for creation it can result in negative impacts to humanity in unexpected ways. Because we are Christians and are called to care for creation, when we are faced with problems that we have created, we have a responsibility to do something about them. Our reading in Ephesians tells us that God chose us “in Christ before the foundation of the world,” let me say that again ­ “God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world.” This tells us that we have always been God’s people, and as God’s people, we are called to care for God’s creation and the people who live in it. As a church, First Presbyterian lives out this calling through Hand2Hand Backpack Ministries, First Sunday food collection, by supporting multiple local missions, organizing mission trips at home and abroad, and participating in worldwide fundraising to relieve injustice. These are just a few of the ways we show our Christian faith, our commitment to God, and our belief in living out a life similar to Jesus. However, it is difficult to turn on the television, read the newspaper or a magazine, log on to social media or listen to the radio without hearing the divisive and hurtful messages being said about God’s children. We can’t just live out our Christianity on Sunday or where it is acceptable ­ we need to do this everywhere. Fear is a big business right now. However, being in fear is not the truth of the gospel and as Christians, we confess to believe the gospel over all other voices. There are those who wish you to believe that there isn’t enough to share, but doesn’t our God tells us not to worry? Doesn’t our God tell us there is enough for all? Doesn’t Jesus prove this through feeding thousands with just a few scraps of bread and fish? Why do we find it easier to believe a loud voice instead of the gospel? In fact, the gospel reminds us repeatedly to freely give and to freely receive. Now, this isn’t a promise that if you give away $100 you’ll get $100, but it is a promise that if you give you will receive. We have so much to give, and it’s more than money. It’s time, patience, listening, helping, caring, and loving. I learned about giving and receiving this past year while working at Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Hospital as a chaplain and in the beginning, I was scared. I remember my first day of orientation and we were asked where our anxiety level was and mine was at the top. When asked why, I said, “these are people’s lives and I just don’t want to screw them up.” Over time and with guidance, I became comfortable with what I was doing, but I never lost touch with the importance of the lives of the people I was meeting. These are God’s people, even if they don’t know God or know what to think about God, they are still loved by God. It is my job to show them the compassion and respect that God does because they are God’s children and so am I. Many days I spend my time listening and empathizing with depression, addiction, abuse, and trauma. I don’t “do” anything measurable. I don’t produce anything, instead, I create space. I create space where they can be themselves, free from judgment or condemnation, free from funny looks or sarcasm, free from expectations or unwritten social rules…I create space for them to be who they are. I discovered this was the most precious gift I could give. Sometimes I would wonder if I had accomplished anything in my day and then I would remember this wasn’t about me, but about them and God. Sometimes a person thanks me for my time, or for listening, or for being open­minded, or for sitting with them, and I know then I had done my job. More often I walk away from an interaction and remind myself that the time that I spent with a person or a group of people was not mine to use, that it was God’s. I believe that God uses these interactions for a divine purpose and I accept that I won’t always know how it will turn out. Sometimes we show our union with others through financial means and sometimes we show it through giving others what they need. As Christians, this is how we respect and care for God’s creation, by respecting and caring for all of humanity.

This care extends beyond the earth and people to animals as well. Do any of you have pets? Do you experience a connection with God through animals? I do. I have animals in my home, too many by some standards, but they are truly an expression of unconditional love. If you have a pet, you know what I am talking about. I can come home in the worst mood and my dogs are always happy to see me. They don’t care what I look like, what I am wearing, what I have accomplished in the day, or what kind of purse I carry – every time I come home they are full of excitement and happiness. And I know that I have a responsibility to these pets of mine, I have to provide a good place for them ­ not just food and water, but shelter and love. And my responsibility to God’s creatures extends beyond the ones that live in my home, I need to respect those animals who live outside, on God’s earth. There is no shortage of documentaries, charities, and private organizations that seek to improve the well­being of animals. Sometimes it’s because we have infringed on their habitat, sometimes it’s because we place a lesser value on their lives, and sometimes it’s because our decisions to advance and grow at all costs has caused them to be pushed out of their homes. In any case, as a group, we have not always treated animals with the respect they deserve. Even when it comes to the animals we source for our nourishment, we can become conscientious in our practice of where we buy our meat. We do not have to choose convenience over conscientiousness. Any time we can make a positive impact ­ from buying from a local farmer, purchasing responsibly sourced products, buying products that are fair­trade,

we make a positive impact on the world. It’s the little things that count. In fact, many schools, universities, and organizations are committed to recycling and composting over throwing things in the trash. Are you, or can you, do this in your own home? It’s a simple and effective way that as Christians we can show our honor and respect for God’s creation and our commitment to its survival.

So, you may be saying to yourself ­ yes, Brigette, I know this, or Brigette ­ I’m not sure I agree with you, or huh ­ I never thought about it that way. Wherever you are with this, I’m here to tell you that doing it will bring you closer to God, and isn’t that what we say we want? Unfortunately, sometimes we struggle with making these choices that reflect our Christianity or voicing that is the reason we have made a decision. Other voices can make us fearful instead of confident. One of the things that holds me back is when I hear reported “Christians believe……” because many times those statements don’t reflect my beliefs. I get nervous that when I tell people I am a Christian,  that they will think that’s what I believe. This calling to be a Christian is amazing and frightening. A friend of mine told me when she accepted the call to ministry and entered seminary, she was excited and scared because she knew she would change. She wasn’t sure if she would recognize the person on the other side. She knew she would be different, but would she still have the same friends ­ would people still like her, would her husband and kids recognize her, and would anyone listen to her? She told me, that each experience she has entered into since starting seminary has challenged her to live deeper into her Christian identity. These experiences weren’t found in the academic work but came through spiritual practices, interaction with other people, and the intentionality of living a life that is closer to Christ. She said to me, “you don’t have to go to seminary to have these experiences, they are accessible to all of us, every day of our lives. Often it means doing or saying something other than what society tells us to do or care about. Many times it means setting aside any personal benefit I might gain for myself and instead making a decision that honors God and creation. When I have to make a decision, I always try, and I say try because I’m still working on this and probably will for the rest of my life, but I always try to frame it within my Christian identity and ask myself does this decision reflect what I believe. Sometimes it’s easy ­ like deciding to sponsor a child, but other times it’s harder.” I relate to this because, sometimes I am confident in my decisions, and other times I have to be flexible. Sometimes I make the right ones and sometimes I make the wrong ones, but here is the gift that I have and all of us do ­ God already knows I am going to make mistakes, God already knows that we are not going to get it right every time, and God loves us anyhow.

We are a fortunate people, the gospel and our scripture verses for today remind us that we have a mighty and powerful God who has battled death and overcame it through Christ for our benefit. We have a loving and caring God who infuses us with the Holy Spirit to live in a way that is pleasing to God. God has already promised us our inheritance of eternal life and our job is clear. It’s easy to care for God’s creation when we live out the words Jesus said when he was asked what is the greatest commandment, and Jesus said, “to love God and to love others.” When we live our life with love, we are being the most like Christ. We honor God when we care and provide for the needs of humanity, plants, and animals. In this way, we are closer to God than anything the material world can give us. In this way, we worship God and respect God’s creation. In this way, we honor God and we honor one another. In this way, we are united with God and all that is in God’s world. Amen.