Over the course of the week, whenever I can throughout the year, I make time to walk around the church. Each time I do, my experience is unique. There is always a slight shift, something new, from the walk before. A different sound. A different song. A different color. A new branch arching out over the path. A scooter laying out on the grass. A Spiderman ball in the back garden.
When I first came to Memorial UCC as pastor, it was clear that good stewardship of the environment was an important ministry in this faith community. Creation care. Nature is intimately woven into everything this congregation does. And… I can usually tell when there is a cardinal, or a squirrel, outside the sanctuary windows while I’m preaching because… well.. I see you as you watch what is happening beyond these walls!
This is a beautiful part of who we are as we Be the Church. From the Memorial Trees that embrace the perimeter of the church that have the names of members and friends of this faith community who have died etched on plaques, to the monitor in the gathering space that digitally tells the story of our commitment to Solar for Good, to the newly planted Community orchard and beautifully tended gardens, our connectedness with God and with the earth is intimately woven into our DNA.
This week, as school got out for the summer, the kids began to show up. Neighbor kids. Smiling. Riding their bikes. Playing basketball. Sitting on the bench outside the front door playing on their tablet. One mom drove into the parking lot with her daughter and a small bike in the back of their SUV. They parked, and then with the hatch open, Mom sat inside the SUV, holding a cup of coffee, as the young girl pedaled about. The child was beaming, as she had just learned to ride her bike—and the wild, joyful freedom and excitement in her voice as I talked with her was priceless. This was a moment of outdoor ministry. Hospitality. Unexpected interconnections.
These are the spaces to which we as Church are stewards. And I stand here today, feeling a little like I am preaching to the choir.
Because this morning we begin to explore how we Be the Church through the lens of 9 focus topics. You may have noticed the large, colorful banner hung just outside (and above) the sanctuary doors. This theme, Be the Church, from the United Church of Christ encourages us to embrace the movement of the Spirit that is stirring in our congregation today. For it is clear in this moment in time the Spirit is doing something new. But where is She leading? From topics such as today’s Protect the Environment, to Care for the Poor, Embrace Diversity, and Love God, we will be both celebrating “who” we are as Church and challenging ourselves to hear God’s Word in the complexities of the world around us.
Thus we start our journey by reading the creation story in Proverbs. The narrative delights in the cosmos: formed by Love, working collaboratively with Wisdom, filled with rejoicing and delight. In this narrative of the Holy Play between God and Wisdom, we learn the first creation was Wisdom. Wisdom—formed by God out of the primordial chaos. Wisdom—crafted by and for this God who is soooo very relational. Wisdom—A personification of the Spirit that has feminine characteristics. Wisdom—that is inseparable from God.
“(God) created me at the beginning of God’s work, the first of God’s acts long ago.” Proverbs 8:22
Kathleen Farmer notes that the book of Proverbs, “reflect(s) the social cultural conditions, the opinions, and experiences of (the people of Israel) in their own particular locations in history,” around 700 BCE.
God spoke, and Wisdom burst forth from the chaos.
So what does it mean to us in our own particular location in history to Be the Church and “protect the environment?” It seems to me that Wisdom continues to cry out to us in our own turmoil. She shows up in the busiest intersections of our lives, calling out to us at those space that are the gateways of our time: our main streets and malls, movie theaters and schools, and social media squares.
Wherever we are, She cries out—“to you my people, I call.”
And… we are here. There is a facet of theology, or the study of the nature of God, based in place. Using a wide lens, our “place” is the planet we call earth. Locally, “place theology” is the generative, living theology of how a place shapes a people, how a people shape a place—and how the people, and place interact with God—and are shaped by God. How Israel was shaped by place, a land woven with strips of dryness and tillable soil between a sea and desert, is different than the way in which we are shaped by this place with lush rolling hills, greenery, and plentiful water.
Through the 100+ years of the history of his congregation, the people that have gathered here have essentially developed our own “place theology”. It is reflected in this building and parcel of land on which the church stands. Our place, our “here” is Fitchburg, expanding out to Verona, Oregon, Stoughton, Madison, and greater Dane County. We even stretch beyond the spaces we live and work in each day, into places such as Israel and Palestine through our connections with Bright Stars of Bethlehem.
It is in that milieu Wisdom cries out— “to you my people, I call.” From the very earth, skies, and water, remember that we are inseparable from this playful God and creative Wisdom. This is relational. This is Church. This is us. This is our Holy Commission. Karoline Lewis describes this relationship as “an intimacy you can’t really pull apart.” Love and Wisdom. Rejoice and Delight! This is our place.
However, all too often it seems that is just what we as human creatures have tried to do—we seem to be working as hard as we can to pull apart this intimacy. To live as if we are not interconnected, with nature, with each other, with God.
Of course, we cannot pull apart that in which God delights. Of which Wisdom speaks. But as I read reports about the “… toxic lead and manure pollution are contaminating water supplies throughout our state… (and how) Water pollution affects people in both urban and rural communities… (with an understanding that) Infants and children are especially at risk for serious illnesses and long-term developmental disabilities,” and all of the environmental concerns around global warming, climate change, it seems to me that our human attempts to pull apart this world that sustains us is everywhere. Some people would label this pulling apart Satin. Evil. Systems that are draining the earth’s resources, polluting the air we breathe, poisoning the water we drink, and killing the creatures and plants God has created.
It is at these intersections that Wisdom cries out, and we are called on to respond.
What might our responses look like? In their book, Church on Earth, Jeff Wild and Peter Bakken write that a “congregation’s social and environmental ministry and advocacy in and for its community is its witness to the good news of God’s love for humanity and the earth.” Our coalition partner, the Wisconsin Council of Churches suggests that, “As people of faith, we know we are called to be caretakers of our precious home, God’s good Earth, (and that we) can respond in many ways:
- In worship, we can praise and thank God the Creator for the gifts of creation;
- In our daily lives, we can take responsibility for how our actions impact the creation and our fellow creatures;
- As church members, we can make our congregations models of environmental awareness and responsibility;
- As citizens we can support laws and policies to maintain ecological health and secure sustainable livelihoods for all people.”
So what is next for us? How do be Be the Church in this creative milieu? I think that it is important to name the “who we are” as a congregation has a long history of being passionate about environmental concerns. THIS is good news! And… maybe… just maybe … we could consider becoming a Creation Justice Church. Within the UCC this is similar to becoming an Open and Affirming Church. If you, as “church,” are interested in this option, there are 6 easy steps… many of which we are already doing. Becoming a Creation Justice Church would primarily entail creating a covenant with each other and affirming publicly who we already are.
But wherever the Spirit leads, this is our place—Let us rejoice! We are immersed in God’s Love. May we delight in Wisdom. This is relational. This is our call: To protect the environment in all of the many ways it interconnects with our lives. To embrace the Holy Intimacy we cannot pull apart.
God speaks. Wisdom calls out. This is the beginning of God’s work.
~ Pastor Kris
Reflection on Proverbs 8:1-4; 22-31 offered on June 16, 2019
 Kathleen Farmer. The Discipleship Study Bible: New Revised Standard Version, including Apocrypha. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008. 861-62.
 “People of Faith United for Justice – Advocacy Day.” People of Faith United for Justice – Advocacy Day | Wisconsin Council of Churches. Accessed June 15, 2019. https://www.wichurches.org/advocacy/people-of-faith-united-for-justice/.
 Wild, Jeff, and Peter W. Bakken. Church on Earth: Grounding Your Ministry in a Sense of Place. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2009. 80.
 “Care for Creation.” Care for Creation | Wisconsin Council of Churches. Accessed June 13, 2019. https://www.wichurches.org/programs-and-ministries/care-for-creation/.
 June 14, 2019 At 4:00 PM, and 2019 At 8:00 AM June 14. “How It Works: Becoming a Creation Justice Church in Six Steps.” United Church of Christ. Accessed June 13, 2019. https://www.ucc.org/how_it_works_becoming_a_creation_justice_church.