Celebrating the Gift of Creation
Lake Oswego United Methodist Church
Kip Ault, April 19th, 2015
And God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. (Genesis 1:31)
The Earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it. (Psalm 24)
The whole Earth is full of God’s glory. (Isaiah 6:3)
Lake Oswego United Methodist Church is a place to connect — to God, to each other, and to the world. We seek to live reverently as stewards of God’s creation, now and for the future of all forms of life. We believe that we should study and learn to practice and advocate for sustainable living. (LOUMC Sustainers Vision Statement)
Good morning! In back of the church on a hill surrounded by pavement there is a small, rocky cliff. The rocks are a humble home to mosses, liverworts, and lichens, a few of our daily companions on the journey of life. When raindrops fall on tiny pixie cup lichens, the splashes launch new generations from rock to rock.
Look closely. The mosses are living clouds of moisture hugging the ground, a rain forest in miniature. It’s dry and breezy at the top of the bed of moss and wet and still below. Capsules fly like kites above the bed to cast their spores to the wind. Within the web of shoots humidity rises. The mat immobilizes air and concentrates carbon dioxide released by decomposing vegetation. It’s a rich place for growth and a host of creatures dwells in the moss forest. Along the branchlets slowly creep the larvae of crane flies, clinging sloth-like to the greenery. Primitive, ghostly, wingless insects, the springtails, jump about.
Salamanders crawl through the moss in search of prey, and, yes, even beneath the moss’s arch enemy, English ivy. Salamanders eat the creatures that eat the decomposing vegetation on the forest soil. In doing so, they steady the rate at which the soil releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Matthew Collins, the naturalist at Tryon Creek Nature Center, tells me that the cover of English ivy reduces the population of salamanders. In caring for them we express our gratitude for their humble work.
Look closely. The lichens have seized the most arid and barren sections of rock. Lichens are fungus and algae that embrace each other to mutual advantage and yield in humility to the harsh conditions of life on a rock—or tree bark, their other favored habitat. Sometimes it’s hot and dry. Sometimes it’s wet and cold. Each lichen partner plays its role in making this world hospitable. The fungus grows a protective crust with pores for breathing. The algae surrender their cell walls to take up residence in their fungal home. Colorful pigments soak up sunlight to power the manufacturing of sugar. The algae nourish themselves and their fungal partners.
We have much to learn from the humble forms of life that abound around us. The rock wall, like our church, is a place to connect and to learn gratitude for the gifts we receive without asking. From humble forms of life, we receive the soil and air.
We are called to love God with all of our heart, our soul, and our mind. Faith teaches that Creation is a part of God and an expression of God’s loving goodness. It is ours to use, to enjoy, to steward—but not to defile or destroy. . . . “One does not act rightly toward one’s fellows if one does not know how to act rightly toward the earth,” wrote Liberty Hyde Bailey one century ago.i
Our congregation has undertaken a modest project in our church’s backyard. We have cleared a small area of impenetrable Himalayan blackberry, toxic spurge laurel, and English ivy, which suffocates diversity and ultimately topples trees. Dozens of you have labored in this effort. Clackamas County has girdled the massive ivy vines choking trees throughout the church property. Our aim is to promote a habitat supportive of native life. We have already planted a few shrubs of Pacific ninebark, bald hip rose, and snowberry.
Our stewardship of a small parcel of land is important, of course, in its own right. More importantly, we should recognize that “the project is not really the project.” Through our commitment we make connections to each other and between ourselves and Creation. Our hearts, minds, and souls are the true project. Working in our backyard is the means of appreciating our connections to more ambitious efforts: restoring the productivity of coastal marshes at the mouths of the Coquille and Nisqually Rivers, for example.
There is wildness within a crust of lichen or a stem of moss. They pioneer some of the most inhospitable habitats on earth. Life has reservoirs of resilience and our work is one expression of that resilience. We are helping our fellow travelers thrive because we value their company and their service. Equally importantly, we are engaged in a symbolic act of connection, humility, and gratitude.
Each time I drive by the Oswego Lake dam on McVey I look to see if two turtles are sunning themselves. Their presence gives me great satisfaction. Native Western pond turtles face severe threats. Their population has declined by 99%. It is comforting to know that the Oregon Zoo operates a turtle hatchery where young turtles are raised until too big for a bullfrog to swallow, then released.
It is also satisfying to think that the restoration of an ecosystem proceeds one hatchling, one seedling at a time—whether in our backyard, in the Tryon Creek watershed, at Gotter Bottom along the Tualatin River, or in the marshes adjacent to Luscher Farm where I’ll be walking after church with some of you.
Creation is ongoing and we are God’s instruments of that continuing creation. Abundant life is the promise. “Whatever our gift,” writes Robin Wall Kimmerer, a member of the Potawatomi nation, “we are called to give it and to dance for the renewal of the world in return for the privilege of breath.”ii Thank you!