Care of God’s Good Earth

Trinitarian Congregational Church                                                                    Scout Sunday

Anthony S. Kill                                                                                           February 4, 2018

Texts: Genesis 1:11-30; Psalm 104:24-30


James Custer chose the theme for this year’s Boy Scout service, and the theme he chose was the appreciation of creation, and the care of God’s good earth. This theme is not only tremendously relevant for our time, it is also deeply embedded in the DNA of the Boy Scouts and the scouting movement.

Since 1910, conservation and environmental studies have been an integral part of the Boy Scouts of America. Scouts have rendered distinguished public service by helping to conserve wildlife, energy, forests, soil, and water. Past generations of Scouts have been widely recognized for undertaking conservation action projects in their local communities. Through environmental explorations, Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Venturers, and Sea Scouts visit the outdoors and discover the natural world around them. Many natural resource careers are born in Scouting.

Since its first appearance in the 1948 edition of the Boy Scout Handbook, the Outdoor Code has reminded Scouts to be conservation-minded.

This is The Outdoor Code:

As an American, I will do my best to—

Be clean in my outdoor manners.

Be careful with fire.

Be considerate in the outdoors.

Be conservation minded.

I also know that the love of nature and the outdoors is very central to James’ own experience as a Boy Scout. In addition to many other hikes and camping trips, just last August James and his troop backpacked over 50 miles, and his mom Cindy was one of the adults who hiked that whole trip with them.

A sign you often see in parks and national monument areas is “Take only pictures, leave only footprints.” That reminds me of a twentieth century hymn by Shirley Erena Murray. It’s in your hymnal at number 38, but I didn’t choose it as a hymn for today because I wasn’t sure if people knew the tune. But the words are:

Touch the earth lightly, use the earth gently, nourish the life of the world in our care: gift of great wonder, ours to surrender, trust for the children tomorrow will bear.

We who endanger, who create hunger, agents of death for all creatures that live, we who would foster clouds of disaster — God of our planet, forestall and forgive!

Let there be greening, birth from the burning, water that blesses and air that is sweet, health in God’s garden, hope in God’s children, regeneration that peace will complete.

God of all living, God of all loving, God of the seedling, the snow and the sun, teach us, deflect us, Christ reconnect us, using us gently, and making us one.

In the past century or so, the truth has come home to us how much we hold the Earth itself in trust. The earth and its creatures and its natural resources do have claims on us as elements of a common fabric or system of life. We are ourselves part of a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts. We are keepers of the Earth. And in fact, this concern for the welfare of our mother planet is not so new. The British Anglican priest and poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote these lines way back in the 19th century:

The world is charged with the grandeur of God, It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;

It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?

Generations have trod, have trod, have trod; And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil; And wears man’s smudge and shared man’s smell: the soil Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent; There lives the dearest freshness deep down things; And though the last lights off the black west went

Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs — Because the Holy Ghost over the bent World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

What does it mean to be “Earthkeepers?” To “keep” is to take care, to be careful. To keep something is often to hold it in trust, to preserve and conserve something precious — a “keepsake.” In Medieval fortified castles, the innermost part — the place of the final defense, — of preservation of all that was precious — was called the “castle keep.”

In our biblically based prayers and benedictions, we ask the Lord God to “bless us and keep us.” The Psalmist says, “the Lord will keep your life.” But we must keep something for God in return. We must be protective, responsible keepers of the precious gift of life we have been given on planet Earth — all life on planet Earth.

As the reading from Genesis 1 reminds us, the world of nature is the canvas for God’s artistic handiwork, created in God’s own image; God is still creating it, day by day, year by year, century by century, eon by eon, creating it and proclaiming it good.

Ours is not to interfere with or short circuit or exploit that creation. We are here because and only because we are being created too. created out of nothing, and God’s creative love.

And if we have a special role in this created order, if we have a special charge as a beloved and favorite creature of God, then surely that role is to be tenders of the garden and keepers of the fruits of the Earth,  protecting and renewing as best we can the treasures that have been and are being created. What greater or more satisfying role could we have as human beings than to be keepers and restorers of God’s own Masterwork?

 And so today we especially honor and celebrate that role and mission of the Boy Scouts of America, training generation after generation of protectors of the environment and conservators of the earth.

Let me close with one more poem. The one poet I know of who has the most profound appreciation of the world of nature, with a most keen and reverent eye for the smallest detail, is Mary Oliver.

This is her poem, The Summer Day

Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean-the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields, which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?