I signed up to become an EcoAmerica climate ambassador. Honestly, it seemed like a good way to get a free training and maybe pick up some ideas to use for preaching during the Season of Creation. I had signed up by e-mail, so I started getting reminders: you haven’t completed your training. If you don’t complete it by such-and-such date, you’ll be removed from the list. Accountability has come knocking.
So I set a time in my schedule and in that first hour of training, in the very overview of the course, the expectation is set: by becoming a climate ambassador, we expect you to commit to three peer-to-peer speaking engagements per year, as well as three public engagements to advocate for the climate, and to participate in the online network of climate ambassadors across the United States.
Doesn’t everything sound like a good idea until…that moment when you’re asked to commit? Like, OH, this isn’t theoretical support; you want me to DO STUFF. Like talk to people, or advocate for climate goals. Isn’t it enough to care, to aspire to do something useful in helping the environment? Now you’re telling me I’ve gotta change my habits too?
What if I have to give up my time to show up for some public event for the climate? What if I have to change my habits, like walking more instead of driving my car? Or what if I have to be the one to advocate for using washable plates and mugs or—gasp—cloth napkins and then I can’t just dump on other people and create more jobs for them, what if I have to wash the cloth napkins OR what if I have to learn to use the ginormous dishwasher in the kitchen in the basement which, by the way, I don’t even know how to use and to be honest, I like it that way and I kinda wanted to keep it that way!!!
Following Jesus is all fun and games—teachings and healings and freedom and stuff—until the cross comes along to wreck everything. Give up your life, Jesus says, and the Greek word for life in this passage is psyche, which is like soul or mind but references the outward-facing part of yourself, like your reputation or what you want people to see. Give up your shiny social-media persona. Give up your status. Give up your sense of security that comes from a strong social network. Give up your inherited wealth.
Get okay with disappointing people sometimes, even people you deeply love. Get okay with asking the hard questions. Get okay with dismantling systems that deal in death. Get okay with rooting your humanity in the truth of God. Get okay with accepting your life as a gift of grace. Get okay with dying to the things that get in the way of serving God.
Following Jesus will cost you your life as you know it; you might as well count the cost. A pastor colleague calls this a “cross-benefit analysis.” Why would you give up your life? Well, first of all, are you being honest about why you would keep your life as it is?
Why work so hard that your body is shutting down? Does it help your humanity or your sense of connectedness in society to shut people out? Why hoard your possessions when you already have much more than you can even hold? Why keep your viewpoint on your own family when others are starving? Why diminish your relationship with the earth by ignoring your impact? Does any of this bring a sense of life satisfaction, like “whew, I made it”? Or does it just increase your anxiety and your scarcity mindset because someone else always has more so for you, there’s never enough?
Jesus begs us to reframe our worldview, to notice life differently. Jesus is not about making us happy—the cross is not a happy thing. But what does it mean to live a life that matters? How do you frame your own life, your own impact on the world, the way you use the gifts God has given to you? And when your earthly life is over, what’s the legacy you will leave?
These are the some of the big questions that Jesus invites us to—how can we see our lives differently? How can we value our lives the way God values life? How can we value creation the way God values creation? Can we see ourselves as belonging to God’s creation in ways that help us live in harmony with creation, rather than taking and using creation for our own enjoyment in ways that reduce resources for others, particularly those who will come after us? Can our sense of wonder be restored?
I read a fascinating interview with Tom Blue Wolf, a descendant of the AniCoosa, which means “peaceful people,” who are also known as the Creek Tribe, a part of the Muscogee Nation. Tom Blue Wolf is a Native American spiritual guide. He is a beekeeper in relationship with the bees. Just listen to how he talks about bees:
“When [bees] locate their flower, they sing to that flower. They know exactly what song to sing to each flower. When they sing to it, the flower opens up and gifts the honeybees with the pollen—the dream of the future. So we’ve been learning some of these songs from the bees, to sing to the flowers. When they get back to the hive, they dance. That dance tells the guards where the flowers are. One bee could visit two hundred fifty thousand flowers over six weeks, just for a spoonful of pollen. One teaspoon of pollen is equal to the dreams of one million flowers. Bee pollen can be thought of as nutritional “freeze-dried starlight” coming to us from the stars in the form of energy and information.”
I never considered pollen as information. I never even regarded pollen as important, except that I have allergies to pollen, so pollen is frequently making me miserable. But I also have pollen and bees to thank for most of the food that I eat. I’m in relationship with bees, whether I choose it or not.
Reframing our worldview may also ask us to reframe our sense of history and how we look at our values. I remember learning the history of early America as people traveling from Europe and finding empty land that no one lived on, but we know that isn’t true—millions of indigenous peoples already lived here. There were many different cultures represented among these peoples, but they lived with respect for the land itself and creative ways to harvest food. Corn, for example, doesn’t grow wild but requires human attention.
And consider how Native Americans had meat in their diet—how did they harvest meat in a time when there was no refrigeration? Creative thinking. I’m reading from “An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States” by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz:
“Rather than domesticating animals for hides and meat, Indigenous communities created havens to attract elk, deer, bear, and other game. They burned the undergrowth in the forests so that the young grasses and other ground cover that sprouted the following spring would entice greater numbers of herbivores and the predators that fed on them, which would sustain the people who ate them both.”
Closer to here where we live in Missouri, Dunbar-Ortiz writes:
“When Lewis and Clark began their trek up the Missouri River in 1804, ethnologist Dale Lott has observed, [Lewis and Clark] beheld ‘not a wilderness but a vast pasture managed by and for Native Americans.’ Native Americans created the world’s largest gardens and grazing lands—and thrived.”
When Joni Mitchell sings, “We’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden,” I wonder if this is the garden she’s singing about, something like the Garden of Eden.
These days, there’s no denying the effects of climate change, and there are many. Extreme drought in some places and torrential rainfall in other places, will affect human migration patterns and shape economies for many years to come. Right here in St. Louis, there’s still plenty to clean up after flooding a month ago.
But we’re not people without hope. We’re not disconnected from the earth. Our voices, our actions do matter. It matters who we listen to—what if we listen a little more closely to the stories of Native American nations? I wonder what we could learn from the people who were so good at caring for the earth that Europeans arrived on this continent and assumed there was no one here. There is hope for restoration, for reconciliation between peoples and reconciliation with the earth. It matters to creation, and it matters to God.
Over the next few weeks in worship, we’ll continue talking about creation, about the Season of Creation as celebrated by Christians throughout the world. This isn’t meant to be a list of things to that we have to do, but a way of thanking God for all that God has provided for us in creation, and expanding our worldview as stewards and caretakers of this creation.
Even when that means setting goals and holding ourselves accountable. So I’ll say it here so that everyone who hears can hold me accountable: I will learn to operate the dishwasher in the church kitchen. I did not say I’m doing all the dishes at every event for the rest of time; but I will learn how to help in this way. And I’m going to invite myself to view this as obedience to Jesus, joyfully serving my neighbors and caring for the environment in the best way I know how to do.
Guess what comes next? I invite you into this same discipline: what goals will you set for yourself as a steward of creation? How will you invite accountability? How will you experience your blessedness as a child of God in this creation, precious and valued, here and now?
In a few moments, we will welcome in baptism Amara Lucille as our sister in Christ, and we’ll make promises on her behalf, including a promise to teach her to “care for others and the world God made, and work for justice and peace.” She may be only a few months old right now, but I suspect that in several years, when she’s older and wiser and has more to say, she may just be the one holding all of us accountable.
 Frederica Helmiere, “We’re All Just Walking Each Other Home: An Interview with Native American Spiritual Guide Tom Blue Wolf,” Presence, Volume 27, Number 4, December 2021, page 5.  Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, An Indigenous People’s History of the United States, Boston, Massachusetts: Beacon Press, 2014, Page 16.  Page 28.  Ibid.  Holy Baptism, Evangelical Lutheran Worship.