It’s always dangerous for a preacher to arm the congregation with stones before the sermon. Let him or her who is without sin cast the first one. We’ll use those stones in a minute.
One movie currently showing in theaters is Noah. Russell Crowe plays the lead character in an environmental parable that pits Noah’s family, who cares about creation, against a warlord bent on exploiting all natural resources for gain. The warlord represents parts of humankind that have gutted and burned creation. God’s response in the film, of course, is to start over through the great flood.
God spares Noah who is encouraged to build an ark with the help of 50-foot tall angels made of rock. These stones in the film are called Watchers and they are actually mentioned in the Book of Enoch, an ancient Jewish religious text traditionally believed to have come from Noah’s great-grandfather and written down in 300BC. The book of Enoch is not in our Biblical cannon except is used in some Ethiopian churches, but was known around Jesus’ time.
The Watchers are tasked with watching over humanity. They aren’t really rocks in the book of Enoch, but in the movie Noah, it’s only fitting that the environmentally conscious characters, Noah and his family, are helped by those huge stones of nature to escape when God and nature respond to the mistreatment of nature through the flood of water.
Water of course plays a critical role throughout the Bible. Water was there are the point of Creation in Genesis. The sea consumed Pharaoh’s army after the exodus.
Jesus’ work around and on the Sea of Galilee was critical. Jesus used water for miracles and Jesus went to John in the River Jordan. Our entrance into the covenant community occurs through the waters of baptism.
Given the importance of water in the Bible we must take seriously our opportunity and responsibility to care for it.
In his book, Sacred Thirst, our adult education speaker this morning, John Wennersten, shares about the importance of water conservation.
Because of climate change and increasing population, there is a critical need for water conservation at home and safe clean water abroad.
The availability of safe clean water is becoming a major humanitarian and environmental problem with national security implications. Hundreds of millions of people lack access to a clean water source. More than 3.4 million people die each year from water and hygiene-related causes. Melting glaciers raise sea levels and lead to violent competition for water and to disease.
It’s not only water we should be concerned about. The Bible takes seriously humanity’s opportunity to steward all of God’s creation.
The Psalmist proclaims that the “earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it” and that all of creation praises the Lord.
Our theological and literary tradition takes it seriously too.
St. Augustine wrote, “There is a great book: the very appearance of created things. Look above you! Look below you!”
Martin Luther explained, “God writes the Gospel, not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars.” Henry David Thoreau said, “My profession is to be always on the alert to find God in nature.”
Emily Dickenson penned,
“The Hill—the Afternoon—
Squirrel—Eclipse— the Bumble bee—
Nay—Nature is Heaven—“
I love how John Calvin put it, “Creation is quite like a spacious and splendid house, provided and filled with the most exquisite and the most abundant furnishings. Everything in it tells us of God.”
Creation is like a splendid house. This building our church is like our home. The sacred stones that make it watch over us and allow us to live out our lives in faith.
In Luke’s Gospel we hear about Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem. When Jesus entered Jerusalem the disciples and others cheered him, as we celebrated on Palm Sunday.
However, the Pharisees told Jesus to rebuke the disciples, to reject their cheering him as the one who came in the name of the Lord. Jesus responded by saying that if they silence them the very stones around them will cry out.
This is a prophetic calling from Jesus. He is quoting the prophet Habakkuk from the 7th century b.c. who criticized the nations saying “You have gained evil again for your house and in your nest the very stones will cry out from the walls.” Jesus harkened back to the twelve stones as the Israelites crossed the Jordan, freed by the hand of God.
Jesus looks to John the Baptist’s statement in Luke 3 “God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.”
Later Jesus would say in Luke, “They will not leave without you one stone upon another because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God. “ In Luke 19, what Jesus is referring to with the stones crying out is first that the Pharisees would be judged. Much as Habakkuk and John the Baptist were speaking to peoples who had follow fallen short of God’s vision and would be judged harshly, so too the Pharisees would be judged harshly for their opposition to Jesus and silencing voices. Secondly, that the will of nature and of God would not be stopped. Even if the disciples were to be kept quiet, the cheering for Jesus would come from somewhere, even if the very stones beneath and around them were to do the shouting. Finally, that their habitat has a voice and can respond. The stones in Jerusalem are strong and powerful and are the city. It’s a city of stone walls and narrow stone streets. The stones are all around the people. They were believed by some to hold history and secrets and strengths, and to have voices.
Likewise, if we do not protect God’s creation we will be judged. We will pay the prices of storms and violent disagreements over resources. There are some changes we can make while we have time but some forces once they get going the processes will continue and it will be too late to change. We too must listen to the voices of nature as they cry out for help and support.
On Easter Monday we went hiking as a family and my daughter picked up some stones. I found myself carrying them back and she added these stones to her current collection. She said that the stones are her friends. And indeed the stones are our friends.
Jesus said to his disciple Peter, “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church.” As I mentioned a few weeks ago, Jesus uses a play on words here. The Greek word for Peter is “Petros” and the Greek word for rock is “petra.” So Jesus says, “You are Petros, and on this petra I will build my church.” Jesus is saying that the future of Christianity is built on two rocks.
First, the personal rock. Petros, Peter, a person, whose faith in Christ leads to future ministry. Secondly, the ministry is built on a physical and spiritual rock. St. Augustine argued that the petras, the physical rocks which would support church structures, were built on the spiritual rock of Christ himself. Much like Petros and petra have the same root, the physical rocks that build a church are connected to the spiritual rock on which our faith is based. The personal faith through which the church is constructed is built on the personal God who is our rock and our redeemer. In declaring his faith, Peter became the first righteous rock, the first stone of the church Christ was building. When we live out our faith through caring for the church and all God has created, we too become another stone in its foundation.
The rocks around us include this building. They are our watchers.
We have a chance to do something for our rocks here at Bradley Hills that is unique. In 2011, we commissioned a study that showed we are wasting far too much energy through our building. We have no insulation on our roof, we have outdated, porous windows. We have many original items in our infrastructure. The study showed that stewardship begins at home; that we need to upgrade our facility to protect the environment.
Our Building Our Future campaign is the best chance we have collectively at Bradley Hills to do something significantly positive for the environment. If the campaign is successful will can dramatically improve our carbon footprint, lower our utility bills and make our building a model for our community.
We have an important legacy in this space. Shirley Briggs, a long time church member- worked with Rachel Carson and took over her environmental efforts after Carson died. We are a certified Earth Care congregation.
With a successful campaign we will take our congregation into a new place in environmental leadership by renewing our sacred space so that the witness of the very stones around us can cry out in praise and support of God’s creation.
On this 2nd Sunday of Easter we recognize that we are called to be a new creation as people, resurrected and renewed by our Lord.
How we care for our physical stones says something about our spiritual well-being. One task of a righteous rock in the church of Jesus Christ is to steward the physical and spiritual rocks that are Christ’s church.
One of our spiritual life committees has brought these stones for us that we have shared in worship.
They remind us that Jesus said, “On this rock I will build my church.” They remind us that there is a connection between nature and ourselves. Around us are both the spiritual stones and the spiritual people upon which God has built God’s church at Bradley Hills. They remind us that nature was here before we got here, watches us along the way, and will be here after we gone. They also remind us that nature can cry out in prophetic protest. They remind us of our responsibility to steward what we have been given in creation. Let us take up that challenge, starting with our own facility here at Bradley Hills. They remind us that what the stones would have been asked to cry out with is hope. The Pharisees tried to silence the people from crying “Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” That is a hope that Jesus would be their salvation.
At the beginning of this service I asked you to think as you went through it, of a hope for the future. A hope for the earth, for your family, for the church, for your life. Let us take a moment in silence write that hope down on your stone.
If you haven’t done so take one of the markers and write down a one word hope for the world on the stone. After the hymn we’ll share those thoughts out loud. You are encouraged to take the stone home with you. Pray on that idea on the stone this week. These stones help us remember the sacred stones around us at Bradley Hills. Remember our responsibility to care for all creation. Remember the Easter love of Christ who is our rock and our redeemer.
Let us think now on our hopes for our world and when we are done, our stones will cry out as we, like the Psalmist, lift up our words to God in a chorus of hope and praise. May it be so. Amen.