Eco-Justice Ministries
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Worship Resources for Earth Day Sunday
April 21, 2002

Theme: Having All Things in Common


These resources developed for congregational use by Eco-Justice Ministries. © 2002. Permission is granted for non-commercial reproduction.
Call to Worship   |   Scripture Text   |   Sermon Outline   |   Quotations   |   Other Sources
An Earth Day Prayer   |   Suggested Hymns   |   Bulletin Insert

CALL TO WORSHIP
  One: Hear the proclamation of faith: Christ is risen from the dead! The Spirit is poured out. Lives are transformed.
All: God is active in our world. God brings hope and healing.
One: Hear the call of God: The Spirit of God invites us into community. We are called to see beyond ourselves, and to join in loving care for all those around us.
All: We accept God's call, and we rejoice in the gift of community.
One: Hear a challenge for today: The Earth is stressed by the heavy impact of human use. The whole of God's creation is groaning, crying out in pain.
All: We name the Earth as part of our community. We extend our love to all of God's creation.
One: People of faith, gather now to worship God the creator and redeemer of the world. Gather now to be transformed by God's compassionate love.
All: We praise with joy the world's creator, God of justice, love and peace!

 


AN EARTH DAY PRAYER
This prayer uses times of silence in which members of the congregation are moved by the Spirit into a personal engagement with several kinds of confession, discernment and hope. It is important that these moments of silence be long enought that people can enter into genuine prayer.

While this outline could be the core of a pastoral prayer, it could also be presented in other ways. For example, a series of readers could be used, each presenting a paragraph.

We offer you our thanks, Creator God, for this wondrous planet that is our home. We are moved to awe when we are touched by the beauty, complexity, diversity, abundance and enormous scale of this world -- this one small corner of your creation.

On this Earth Day weekend, we join with people from all around the world. As part of a global community, we lift up our heartfelt hopes for the health and sustainability for your Earth, and for all that dwells within it. We have read the news, O God, and we have seen the evidence of environmental problems ranging from local to global. We are deeply concerned, and we do want to find paths to healing. Move within us, O God, in a time of silence. Call us to compassion at the state of the Earth.

We lift up, too, our grief and our confusion in the face of these difficult problems. We feel pain and loss at the extinction of species. We feel anguish at spreading health problems that spring from environmental causes. We are anxious about diminished resources and demolished habitats. We hear mixed messages, and feel divided loyalties. We want to do the right thing, but it can be hard to find truth, and hard to know what to do. Move within us, O God, in a time of silence. Receive our troubled emotions and our confused thoughts.

We name and confess our personal involvement in the Earth's distress. Knowingly and consciously, we each engage in actions and behaviors that take a toll on our planet, and that degrade our community. Move within us, O God, in a time of silence. Receive our confession of hurtful acts.

We also name and confess our lack of engagement, our lack of action. We have not made practical choices or taken realistic actions that would have made us agents of help and healing for the Earth. We have been silent and distant when we could have spoken and been engaged. Move within us, O God, in a time of silence. Receive our confession of inaction.

We know, O God, that many of the environmental problems that so concern us are not driven by personal choices alone. The state of the world is shaped by governmental policies, economic institutions, corporate deeds, social values, and diffuse cultural trends. While these are not matters of private choice, we do admit to our participation in these broader powers. Move within us, O God, in a time of silence. Receive our complicity and involvement in the powers and principalities.

These are difficult and changing times. The very rules of life and ethics are changing around us. We live in a world with an exploding human population, and with astounding and powerful new technologies. We take heed of new scientific discoveries, and discover fresh wisdom in ancient truths that were once thought stale. We are coming to realize that the very things we have held close to our hearts as normal, good and right are now at the core of what brings death, destruction and instability. Move within us, O God, in a time of silence. Receive our fear and confusion in this time of change.

Gracious and loving God, God of the Exodus and Spirit of the prophets, God made flesh among us in Jesus our Christ -- be with us. Do not allow us to turn away from the pain and confusion that surrounds us. Call us now, as you always have, to be engaged and relevant to this moment in history. Call us to new visions, new understandings and new relationships. Fill us with your deep forgiveness and lead us into life-giving hope. Grant us courage to face the challenges of this day. Move within us, O God, in a time of silence. Receive our commitment to faithfulness.

Spirit of God, we rejoice that you have moved within us and enriched our prayer. By your grace and power, we are forgiven and made new. By your love, we find healing for our hurt, and we are called to bring healing to your creation. With hope and joy, we raise these prayers in the name of Jesus. Amen.

 


SCRIPTURE TEXT:  Acts 2:42-47
        This is one of the texts for April 21 from Revised Common Lectionary used by many Protestant churches

 


SERMON OUTLINE:

Proclamation: The faithful calling to live in community provides the values and perspectives that are needed to live in an ecologically sustainable world.

Introduction:

Begin with the story from Acts. The followers of Jesus were moved to have all things in common as a gift of the Spirit. This Earth Day weekend, be aware that caring for what we have in common is at the heart of what we need to save the planet.
This story from Acts comes immediately after Pentecost. Inspired by the Spirit, the followers of Jesus were transformed. They no longer thought of possessions as "mine" and "yours," but built their lives around a sense of "ours." They took what they had, sold it, and used it for the good of the community.

Apparently, this sharing was a voluntary arrangement -- families could decide whether or not to be part of the communal group, but the decision was all or nothing. Acts 5 tells the story of a couple who hid some of their personal wealth while also trying to draw on the community's shared resources. It did not go well for them!

Those early Christians held all things in common as a matter of faith. The Spirit led them to see how their lives were interconnected, how they were all blessed by living in community. Their resurrection faith led them to make dramatic choices about sharing their wealth and property.

This Earth Day weekend, as we look at the great threats to our local and global environment, we will do well to look at the spiritual wisdom of the early Christians. Their awareness of common goods for the sake of the community is an important lesson for our modern world.

I. The Commons:

The issue for us today is not about moving to a commune, but in recognizing the common resources we share. Define a "commons" and point out both the gifts and challenges. Refer to the theory of the "Tragedy of the Commons" and how the collapse of a commons is inevitable without intervention.
Today, we are becoming increasingly aware of living in a world where many things -- many essential things -- are already held in common. The question that we face in not about sharing the things that we own, but of caring appropriately for the things that we already share.

We are coming to a realization that we live in a global commons. A "commons" is any resource shared by a group of people. That sharing can be a wonderful and stable arrangement. For tens of thousands of years, indigenous people have shared rainforests, prairies and streams with neighboring people, and with wildlife. Families are an intimate example of people living successfully in a setting of shared work, resources, love and support.

The commons can also be a challenge. Picture a kitchen in a house shared by college students (or maybe your church kitchen!) -- everyone needs to "play by the rules" to keep it clean, not steal other's food, doing their share.

A 1968 article, The Tragedy of the Commons, pointed out how shared resources can be damaged and even lost when they become scarce or are over-used. In medieval England, many villages were built around a plot of common grazing land. Frequently, that common land was over-grazed as population grew and people tried to maximize their family wealth with more livestock. Putting more animals there benefited each family in the short term, but doing so eventually ruined the space for all. The article developed the idea that common resources -- without management and controls -- almost always will be exhausted or abused. (For more information on The Tragedy of the Commons and options to it, see a helpful set of articles.)

Earth Day, and the modern environmental movement, emerged more than 30 years ago when people became aware that many of our "commons" were reaching or exceeding their limits. The "tragedy of the commons" is being revealed all around us.

II. Today's commons:

Getting specific. Look at the wide range of resources that we hold in common, and point out the blessings and problems with each.
Where do we live in the commons? There are many areas where we share resources that are not -- cannot -- be privately owned. (Touch briefly on many of these, and develop in some detail a few of the following examples that ring true to your setting, knowledge and experience. Look for vivid stories, local connections, and headline news.) The commons work well in a lightly populated world. It is a challenging arrangement in our over-populated, highly technological world. But the challenges can be addressed.

III. Positive examples:

Commons don't need to collapse and can be sustained with cooperation, limits and management. Examples from hunting and fishing, ozone hole.
There are good examples, where the realization of a need to manage the commons has brought good results.

Conclusion:

Loop it back to the early Christians. The Spirit moves them (and us) to see beyond selfish, short-term, to recognize that we are part of the larger whole, and to live within community. They took the idea to the extreme and held all things in common. Today, we are aware of the fragile resources that we hold in common. Caring for those resources is both practical and in keeping with the highest ideals of our faith. Holding things in common is not a call to foolish, idealistic, or the impractical. To care for the commons is the path to survival.
An important realization of the last 40 years for scientists, politicians, and all of us: living carefully in the commons is not an option that we can accept or reject. It is a necessary matter of survival.

Historical lessons and modern experience both show clearly that at a certain level of use, as demands increase, a commons without management and controls will fail. But with cooperation and careful management, communities that depend on shared resources can be healthy and sustainable.

Early Christians chose community not because of an economic or environmental crisis, but because of love for each other. They held all things in common because it was a good reflection of their faith.

Faith constantly calls us to become aware of our connections and relationships with others. We are called to serve the common good and not our own selfish goals. True for the early church and for us.

God is still calling our world to hold things in common: air and water, energy sources and fisheries, land and minerals. A call to cooperate, accept limits, to plan and to manage is not a call to a foolish and ineffective lifestyle. It is a call to the only lifestyle that can sustain us and sustain the planet.

The early Christians chose to hold all things in common. In our love for God and all creation, may we be inspired to do the same.

 


BULLETIN INSERT

We have prepared a bulletin insert that provides depth and relevance to the worship theme of Having All Things In Common. Preachers using the sermon outline above can refer to the bulletin insert as an example of "today's commons" in section 2. The insert is also suitable for use in congregations that are not using the Having All Things In Common theme.

The insert is titled "The Oceans: a threatened part of our global commons." The front side gives information about the importance of oceans for life on this planet, and describes problems related to over-fishing and poor stewardship. The back side lists sources for more information, lists reputable ocean conservation groups, and details ways of taking action, both politically and personally. The insert reveals how issues about oceans and fisheries are important to all people, not just those living in coastal areas.

You can download a PDF file with the graphical layout for the insert. (You will need to have the Adobe Acrobat Reader installed on your computer to view and print the document. That free software is available from the Adobe website.) If you need to have a copy of the insert mailed to you, please contact us as soon as possible.

The insert was prepared for Eco-Justice Ministries by Rev. Deborah Streeter, the Director of Upwellings Ministry of Environmental Stewardship, Monterey, California. She is a volunteer guide at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, a member of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council, and a UCC minister. We are deeply grateful to Deborah for sharing her extensive knowledge and insights.

 


SUGGESTED HYMNS

The Earth Day weekend is an appropriate time to use hymns that celebrate God as Creator, and humans as stewards and caretakers of creation. Songs that point to the ways in which people are creatures, part of creation and entwined within it, are certainly preferable to those which depict humanity as outside of nature, and as controlling it.

The hymns suggested here are drawn from four denominational hymnals. It is not a comprehensive list of "eco-justice" hymns, but provides some suggestions that are appropriate for Earth Day and the theme of Having All Things in Common. If you do not use one of these songbooks, it is quite likely that the hymnal you do use will have several of these titles.

In addition, a new hymn by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette, The Earth Is the Lord's, which is set to a familiar tune, may be copied from this website and reproduced for congregational use.

Lutheran Book of Worship

#126 - Where Charity and Love Prevail
#364 - Son of God, Eternal Savior
#527 - All Creatures of Our God and King
#554 - This is my Father's World
#561 - For the Beauty of the Earth
#563 - For the Fruit of All Creation

New Century Hymnal

#273 Praise with Joy the World's Creator
#399 When Minds and Bodies Meet as One
#402 De Colores
#557 Pray for the Wilderness
#563 We Cannot Own the Sunlit Sky
#566 Heaven and Earth and Sea and Air
#569 Touch the Earth Lightly

 
The Presbyterian Hymnal

#135 - God is One
#267 - All Things Bright and Beautiful
#268 - God, Who Stretched the Spangled Heavens
#272 - God of the Sparrow
#273 - O God the Creator
#386 - O for a World
#455 - All Creatures of Our God and King
#473 - For the Beauty of the Earth

The United Methodist Hymnal

#62 - All Creatures of Our God and King
#92 - For the Beauty of the Earth
#122 - God of the Sparrow
#147 - All Things Bright and Beautiful
#150 - God, Who Stretched the Spangled Heavens
#425 - O Crucified Redeemer
#437 - This Is My Song
#439 - We Utter Our Cry

 


QUOTATIONS -- for sermon or bulletin use

Our dependence on the general integrity of the whole realm of life is absolute.
Paul Taylor
 
The world has been created for everyone's use, but you few rich are trying to keep it for yourselves. For not merely the possession of the earth, but the very sky, the air, and the sea are claimed for the use of the rich few. The earth belongs to all, not just to the rich.
St. Ambrose of Milan (340-397)
 
That nature is a community is the scientific discovery of the twentieth century. That earth, human society included, is also a community has not yet registered with us. At least how to sustain it as a community has not.
Larry L. Rasmussen
Earth Community, Earth Ethics
 
The dramatic threat of ecological breakdown is teaching us the extent to which greed and selfishness...are contrary to the order of creation.
Pope John Paul II
 
We all live downstream from somebody. We all live upstream from somebody, too. We can be kind to our neighbors downstream. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Song verse from Downstream by Joyce Rouse

 


OTHER SOURCES

Other helpful worship resources for Earth Day (and/or other worship occasions) can be found on-line at the sites of some of our good friends and colleagues.


Eco-Justice Ministries   *   400 S Williams St, Denver, CO   80209   *   303.715.3873
Home Page: www.eco-justice.org   *   E-mail: ministry@eco-justice.org