Sunday morning’s reflection below….
THIS WEEK (Fifty-Eight)+ of pandemic restrictions
WEDNESDAY April 21
—Prayer Soup supper, 5:30 PM @ parsonage
–Welcome Class Bible study, 7:00 PM by Zoom
–Chiming choir practice, 7:00 PM in church dining hall
–Welcome Class Bible study, 7:00 PM by Zoom
–Chiming choir practice, 7:00 PM in church dining hall
THURSDAY April 22 Earth Day
SUNDAY April 25
Meeting for Worship-Sharing, 10:00 AM, both in person at the meetinghouse and online via Zoom
MONDAY April 26
–Ministry & Oversight, 7:00 PM by Zoom
BULLETIN BOARD for APRIL 18, 2021
TODAY IS APRIL’s COMMUNITY FOOD PANTRY SUNDAY at Winchester Friends when everyone is encouraged to donate a staple food item to help area families who struggle to afford adequate nutrition. If you forgot but would like to contribute, you may drop a dollar or two into the Quaker Oats tin on the southwest parlor table.
TRUSTEES WILL MEET this (Sunday) afternoon at 3:30 PM, online by Zoom. The MISSIONS & SOCIAL CONCERNS COMMITTEE also will meet today by Zoom at 4:30 PM.
EASTER MISSIONS OFFERING, MEMORIAL “FLOWERS”: Over $530 has been received in special Easter contributions to support local and global benevolent outreach in Jesus’ name. The first $500 of those donations has been matched with a Best Special Projects grant. This special offering will be totaled after today’s service. In addition, Friends who would have contributed $7 to provide a memorial chrysanthemum to decorate the sanctuary for Easter have been invited instead to give the $7 (and the names in whose memory it is donated) to the Easter Missions Offering. The list of memorials hopefully will be printed for next Sunday April 25. Thank you to everyone who has contributed thus far!
WELCOME CLASS BIBLE STUDY: The Welcome Class will study Lesson 7 “The Power of Queens” (drawn from I Kings 1:11-21 and 21:5-16) in the Illuminate quarterly this coming Wednesday April 21 at 7:00 PM by Zoom.
READ THROUGH THE BIBLE IN 2021: This week’s chapters are Psalms 25-45.
PANDEMIC GATHERING: For Friends’ health and safety, combined in-person and online Meetings for Worship-Sharing (utilizing Zoom video/phone conferencing) will be held at 10:00 AM each Sunday until further notice. In case of increased COVID-19 cases, M&O may at any time instruct returning to online-only Sunday services. Those gathering in person should arrive no earlier than 9:30 AM, and practice hand sanitizing, facemask wearing, and physical distancing to help prevent COVID infection. If you would like a link, please email <firstname.lastname@example.org>
APRIL 18, 2021 Reflection for Sunday Morning Worship Sharing on Zoom and in the Meetinghouse-
The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters. Psalm 24:1,2
We bring you good news, telling you to turn from worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them. In the past, he let all nations go their own way. Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.
Barnabas and Paul to a crowd at Lystra – Acts 14:15-17
….what may be known about God is plain to people, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made…. Romans 1:19,20
The Earth is the Lord’s…..
Three months ago for Epiphany, I wrote briefly about the camel herd Pam and I “babysat” in Kenya for five or six months in late 1987 and early 1988. We lived in central Kenya as caretakers of a Mennonite Central Committee project concerned with social and environmental justice. The semi-arid area where we worked west of Mt. Kenya received minimal rainfall. Nomadic livestock-keeping tribes had inhabited the area for centuries, moving their cows and goats around the vast unfenced region to wherever the rains supported enough grass and vegetation for grazing their animals. As the tribes’ human and livestock populations increased, and as climate change altered seasonal rain patterns, additional stress was placed on the already-marginal land. MCC established a demonstration herd of camels to show the local tribes that they were easier on the fragile grazing grasses in the area than were their hooved animals.
The social justice component of the project had to do with the central government’s need for tax revenue. In other more fertile parts of the country populated by farmers instead of “ranchers,” land was demarcated, often fenced, and owned by individuals for growing crops. That meant that the government could assess property taxes on those parcels in order to pay for schools, roads, and other basic services. In the huge semi-arid parts of the country used by the nomadic tribes, no one “owned” the land so no one paid property taxes on it. At the time we lived there, the government (composed mostly of the farming tribes) was attempting to survey and fence the grazing land, then “give” parcels of it to individual nomads so it would be owned and thus could be taxed. If successful, that program would significantly alter (if not totally destroy) the nomads’ ancient culture and way of life.
That struggle had interesting ramifications and consequences. Older nomads who valued their communal culture tended to resist the forced ownership of land. Younger ones who’d been to school were more open to modernization and liked the idea of owning something. They also could see the inevitability of what was being done in a rapidly changing world. Part of the discussion at the time was about stewardship. In general, when the whole community’s survival depended on not overgrazing an area, the group together made the decision to migrate to a new place in order to let the former one rejuvenate. Once individual ownership was imposed and taxes were levied, the “owners” of the land felt they had paid for the right to exploit their property for personal profit, even if it turned it into a desert within a few short years.
Jubilee As we have read earlier this year through the Bible books containing the Law of Moses, we have seen that these same concerns were of major importance to the Israelites as they returned to the Promised Land and settled in the areas assigned to them by Moses and Joshua. Despite being a land “flowing with milk and honey,” much of Palestine was semi-arid terrain that required careful management if it was to support the large influx of Hebrew settlers. Leviticus 25 gives detailed instructions for giving the land a “Sabbath rest” in every seventh year, meaning no crops were planted on it in that year. After seven of those seven-year cycles, the Israelites were to return to their family’s original land in the 50th year (called Jubilee), even if they had expanded their farms into other clans’ land during the previous 49 years. When new land was acquired from a neighbor, the price was calculated based on how many crop years remained before the next Year of Jubilee when all land would revert to its original assignee. As God stated in the Law, “The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is Mine, and you are but aliens and My tenants” (25:23).
52nd Earth Day Even without explicitly spiritual motivations, humans who have paid attention are increasingly alarmed by the speed with which Earth’s climate is being altered, extreme weather events are occurring, polar ice is melting and ocean levels are rising, and plant and animal species are disappearing. In 1970, scientists and other concerned people in the US held two events to call attention to the looming crisis. The first one, affirmed in a proclamation by the UN Secretary General, was held on the first day of spring “to honor the Earth and the concept of peace.” Then on April 22, a US Senator and a young activist collaborated in a nationwide environmental “teach-in” and demonstration of concern which they called Earth Day. Over 20 million people went to the streets in what many believe is the largest single-day protest in human history. For twenty years, Earth Day was a relatively low-key American event. In 1990, environmental leaders took the event global, forming the Earth Day Network and mobilizing 200 million people in 141 nations to elevate environmental issues to the world stage. In 2021, EarthDay.org includes one billion people in 193 countries who engage in rallies, advocacy and education, environmental protection and cleanup, and other activities.
Both/And, Not Either/Or On concerns like this one, many Christians shy away from taking action saying it’s all political and secular, and they’re going to just focus on spiritual things. Jesus’ disciple John addresses that posture in I John 3:17,18, writing “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” Jesus’ half-brother James concurs in writing “faith without deeds is dead” (James 2:26). Spiritual concern for the right care and use of God’s Earth requires both belief and actions. I give thanks to the Lord for the great efforts of secularly-motivated scientists and activists to protect and preserve the planet and its inhabitants. When I learn about their work, I also pray that in the process of doing it, they will discover the spiritual foundation that can make their efforts even more energized and impactful, more meaningful, and more rewarding because it is done “for the Lord, not just for people” (Colossians 3:23). Those of us led by the Spirit to take action to care for the Earth will find the following traits (and others) of that spiritual foundation deepened and strengthened in ourselves when we obey that leading.
Knowing God People working to protect the environment are confronted daily by the complexity, beauty, and majesty of the natural world. In Romans 1:20, Paul states that God’s invisible complexity, beauty, and majesty can clearly be seen in what has been made, leaving no excuse for unbelief. In Psalm 8:1, David proclaims, “How majestic is your name in all the earth!” In Psalm 19:1, he writes, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” The important thing to note is that as the Psalmist studied the wonders of nature, his greater focus was on the power and kindness of the One who created those wonders for the benefit of humankind who were made in God’s image. That was the message of Paul and Barnabas to the people of Lystra in Acts 14:17. Imagine the greatest feats of engineering, space travel, medicine, construction, and other disciplines that humans have ever accomplished. Then go outside and have a look at the night sky, or consider Earth’s oceans and mountains and forests and canyons and compare the scale of humans’ work and God’s. The ultimate goal of studying and protecting the natural world is the privilege of knowing more deeply the God who somehow spoke it into being for our benefit and holds it in his hand.
Loving Our Neighbor The climate crisis and the need for environmental stewardship present Jesus’ followers opportunities every day to obey the new commandment he gave his disciples just before returning to the Father, to love one another as he had loved them. With violent weather and natural disasters causing harm to people all around us on a regular basis, we are unlikely ever to be without requests for the sharing of resources to help victims recover. I am humbly proud of our church for its consistent awareness of and generosity to such opportunities. David writes in Psalm 15:3 that only those who “do their neighbor no wrong” may dwell in God’s presence. Perhaps more urgent is the need to do what we can to prevent the degradation of Earth and the harm that causes. Scientists are consistently finding that many products sold for people’s convenience are polluting air, cropland, waterways, and oceans and ending up in people’s blood and making them sick. Humans’ encroachment into animals’ habitat is very likely a significant factor in the pandemic that has wreaked havoc on the world now for over a year. Loving our neighbor now, and the ones who will come after us, may mean taking intentional unselfish steps now to change or reduce what we consume – plastics, fossil fuels, toxic chemicals, questionable land – in order to protect others from being harmed by our ease or pleasure.
Bearing Witness As mentioned above, David opens Psalm 19 by stating “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” He goes on to say that God’s wonders in nature are relentlessly unceasing, night and day, to the ends of the earth in that witness for their Creator. As the crowning piece of creation (Ps. 8:4-6), human beings ought to be leading that chorus of praise to God. Even when threatened by the authorities of their day for their words about Jesus, Peter and John answered that they could not help but speak about what they had witnessed (Acts 4:20). Encountering the Lord’s power, beauty, provision, and protection should evoke no less from us today.
Spreading Hope The Psalmist expressed in Psalm 20 his confidence in God’s loving response “from his holy heaven with the saving power of his right hand,” greater even than a military’s chariots and horses, when David sought help in a time of trouble (20:6,7). From his New Testament perspective, Paul saw that “the whole creation groans as in the pains of childbirth,” but it also “waits in eager expectation…. in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Romans 8:19-21). Amidst the steady stream of bad news about Earth’s environment and climate, Christ’s followers can be messengers of hope with the word that God will not allow this world to end one moment before his new heaven and new earth are ready for us, and that the Lord can equip us with the knowledge, resources, and unselfishness needed to reverse the present downward trend.
For many years (until Friends ran out of yard space), our Missions & Social Concerns Committee provided tree seedlings to plant on Earth Day. We tried to obtain redbud seedlings for this week, but the state nursery had sold out clear back in late February. So instead, we ask Friends on Earth Day 2021 to seek to know the Lord more deeply by reflecting on the beauty of Creation, to actively love your neighbor by living unselfishly and helping others, to bear witness to others of God’s goodness expressed through Creation’s provision of all we need for satisfying life, and to spread hope in this dark time.
–Ron Ferguson 18 April 2021
Queries for Worship-Sharing and Reflection:
1) Where is the place that provides you the most vivid experience of God’s majesty and power, of Jesus’ beauty?
2) In 2021, what are the most important environmental ways for Jesus’ followers to love their neighbors?
3) What do you think are the biggest spiritual drivers of human environmental harm in our time? What might they have been in Bible times? Do you believe those drivers are the reason that Jubilee was never successfully implemented?
4) How has involvement in caring for the Earth nurtured your spiritual life and deepened your love for the Lord?