A New Earth

Sabbath Day Thoughts: “A New Earth” Isaiah 65:17-25

When it comes to climate change, the Adirondacks may not be at the top of our list of regions most impacted by our warming earth.

We are more likely to think of island nations like the Maldives, an archipelago in the Indian Ocean that rises only 2.4 meters above sea level at its high point.  As sea level rises with the melting of glaciers and polar ice caps, the Maldives are in peril.  In 2015, the charismatic young President of the Maldives drew world attention to his nation’s plight by holding his first cabinet meeting underwater.  According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), by 2010, sea levels will potentially rise 100 centimeters, covering almost the entire nation.

When it comes to climate change, we think of polar bears, the poster-child for the impact of global warming on our animal species.  Climate projections anticipate that, before mid-century, we could have a nearly ice-free Arctic in the summer.  Polar bears rely heavily on sea ice for traveling, hunting, mating, resting, and in some areas, for dens where cubs are birthed and nurtured.  Studies have linked the demise of sea ice with a 40% decline in the number of polar bears in northeast Alaska and Canada.  Will the bears survive a warming Arctic?

In the lower forty-eight states, we tend to think of the south when it comes to the impact of global warming.  Our warmer, wetter world has caused a surge in powerful tropical storms that have pounded the Gulf states and beyond.  Hurricane Ida made landfall in Louisiana in August, second only to Hurricane Katrina as the most damaging and intense hurricane to hit the U.S., with maximum winds of 150 mph.  As Ida moved north, so did its destructive power.  The storm caused catastrophic flooding across northeastern states.  Ida caused $50.1 billion in damages.  In the storm’s aftermath, 95 Americans had been killed—33 deaths in Louisiana and 9 more across the southland, 30 in New Jersey, 18 in New York, and 5 in Pennsylvania.

Island nations sinking into the sea, polar bears threatened with extinction, massive storms inflicting heavy property damage and loss of life.  This is often the face of climate change on the evening news.  Yet we might be surprised to learn that the Adirondacks are being profoundly affected by our warming world.

Researchers at SUNY Plattsburgh report that the Adirondacks are warming at a rate that is twice as fast as the rest of the planet.  The global average temperature has increased 1.8 degrees over the past 30 years, but in Lake Placid, that increase has doubled to 3.6 degrees.  That means that our fall is longer than it once was.  Our spring comes earlier.  We have more winter warm-ups.  Ask anyone who grew up in Saranac Lake and they will tell you that winter isn’t what it used to be.

The Adirondacks sit at the southern edge of the great boreal forest that stretches north across Canada to the Arctic.  As our weather warms, that boreal forest will creep north as native plants and trees can’t take the relative heat.  It’s already happening.  It’s already having a big impact on our wild creatures.  The National Audubon Society reports that we are seeing a dramatic decline in our northern boreal birds, like gray jays, Bicknell’s thrush, spruce grouse, and the black-backed woodpecker.  We are also seeing a decline in fish.  Brook trout, lake trout, salmon, and round whitefish all need cold water to thrive.  An EPA report anticipates that brook trout fishing could disappear from the Adirondacks by the year 2100.  As the Adirondacks continue to warm, the animals of the boreal forest will migrate north in search of habitat.  Can we imagine the park without moose, bobcats, fishers, pine martens, and loons?  Unless there is collective action to limit the amount of carbon in our atmosphere, that will be the Adirondack Park that we leave to our children and grandchildren.  It’s a sobering possibility.

In our scripture lesson, the Prophet Isaiah shares God’s promise of a new heaven and a new earth.  The people who first heard Isaiah’s prophecy were likewise living with the impact of their actions upon the good land that God had entrusted to their care.  The Israelites had returned home from decades of captivity in Babylon.  Their land, which had once flowed with milk and honey, had been devastated by foreign invasion and decades of war.  When the Babylonian army had rolled across Israel, they had destroyed everything in their path.  Every fortified city from Dan in the north to Beersheba in the south had been conquered and flattened.  Jerusalem was hardly recognizable: its protective walls breached and pulled down, its homes in ruins, its Temple burned to the ground.  The reality was so overwhelming, that people didn’t know where to begin.  That may be how we feel about the reality of climate change.

In the midst of the people’s despair, God spoke a vision of hope.  God, who had created heaven and earth, would create again, a new world of harmony and abundance.  God’s word to the Prophet Isaiah is a sweet and joyous promise of long life, rebuilt homes, fruitful vineyards, simple abundance, and good health.  God anticipates a healed relationship between humanity and the holy: before we even begin to pray, God will hear and respond.  God anticipates a healed relationship between humanity and all creatures, great and small.  All will dwell peaceably, free from harm and the threat of destruction.  Isiah’s promise is so sweet, that we hear it and we want it for ourselves.  We want it for the generations to come.

It’s a promise that reveals God’s best hope for us.  Indeed, in the Book of Revelation, John of Patmos described God’s coming Kingdom as Isaiah did, as a new heaven and a new earth, a new Jerusalem in right relationship with God.  Humanity gets things so wrong.  The ancient Israelites bring death to the land by exploiting its bounty, oppressing one another, and waging endless wars in pursuit of wealth and national greatness.  We, with our unbridled consumption and short-sighted pursuit of prosperity, pump the atmosphere full of greenhouse gases that trap ultraviolet rays and turn up the heat.  Our world is suffering.  Creation is groaning.  And in the middle of the mess that we have made, God dares to dream that things can be different.  There can be a fresh start, a new earth.

What might it look like for us to claim Isaiah’s vision, to begin living in ways that give us a foretaste of the coming Kingdom that God will one day bring to completion?  Jerry Jenkins, the leading expert on climate change in the Adirondacks, says that we can personally start to mitigate climate change with simple thrift.  Don’t buy new stuff: reduce, re-use, recycle.

We can make changes at home.  If we dial back the thermostat by two degrees, we can not only reduce our household carbon emissions, but also save as much as 5% on our heating bill.  We can turn off un-needed lights.  We can replace energy-wasting lightbulbs with high-quality LED bulbs that last a long time, consume less electricity, and save lots of money, year in and year out.  We can use native plants in our flower gardens to attract pollinators, like bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.

We can change our habits.  We can bring our own re-useable bottle or mug wherever we go.  We can drive less—plan our trips into town, walk to nearby destinations, or ride our bikes instead of hopping in the car.  We can cut down on food waste by eating leftovers.  We can eat less meat—those concentrated animal feeding operations, where cattle and pork are warehoused in close proximity and force-fed, are massive emitters of methane, a greenhouse gas.

If we are in a position to make big ticket investments, we can consider purchasing a hybrid car.  We could add a solar array to our homes to begin moving off the grid.  We could invest in a renewable heat source.  Burn wood pellets.  Go geo-thermal. 

These are simple steps that each of us can embrace.  You can give them a try, even if you deny the truth of climate science.  What’s to lose?  These simple actions are good for us, good for the planet, and they save money.  Who doesn’t want to save money?

William Janeway of the Adirondack Council envisions a day when the Adirondack Park will be “energy neutral.”  We’ll preserve our wild beauty and ecological integrity.  We’ll be a world-class natural resource and a premier tourism destination.  We’ll be a model for the world to see of a “climate-smart, public-private conservation landscape.”  The stakes are huge.  Our failure to take action could have dire consequences for our children and grandchildren.  Jerry Jenkins cautions that if we do not slow the course of human-caused climate change, “We may be the last generation to see the big bogs and the boreal creatures.”  Would our children ever forgive us?

May we find in Isaiah’s vision of the new heaven and the new earth the holy will to make a better future for our park and our planet.


Resources

–. “Peril and Promise” on Mountain Lakes Journal, May 21, 2019.

Craig, Gewndolyn. “Adirondacks Affected by Warming Climate in a Number of Ways” in The Post Start, October 13, 2018.  Accessed online at www.poststar.com.

Foderaro, Lisa. “Savoring Bogs and Moss, Fearing They’ll Vanish as the Adirondacks Warm” in The New York Times, Dec. 11, 2011.  Accessed online at www.nytimes.com

Kerlin, Kat. “18 Simple Things You Can Do about Climate Change” in UC Davis: Science and Health. January 8, 2019.  Accessed online at www.climatechange.ucdavis.edu

Mann, Brian. “Effects of Climate Change on the Adirondacks” on North Country Public Radio, Feb. 25, 2019.  Accessed online at www.ncpr.org

Rivera, Nelson. “Homiletical Perspective on Isaiah 65:17-25” in Feasting on the Word, Year C, vol. 4. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010.

Johns, Mary Eleanor. “Pastoral Perspective on Isaiah 65:17-25” in Feasting on the Word, Year C, vol. 4. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010.


Photo by David Keindel on Pexels.com

Mushrooms Galore!

A wet July has made for an explosion of mushrooms. A walk in the woods can dazzle the eye with a bold assortment of mycelial life underfoot. According to Dianna Smith, a New Hampshire-based naturalist and mushroom enthusiast, mushrooms and trees have symbiotic relationships. Trees give mushrooms the sugars that they need to survive while mushrooms release valuable nutrients from the materials they decompose. The mushrooms that we spy along the trail are a bit like flowers, emerging from a vast underground network that has been compared to the Internet (aka the Wood-wide Web). This underlying mycelium can be long-lived and massive. A colony of Armillaria solidipes mushrooms in the Malheur National Forest of Eastern Oregon is believed to be 2,400 years old and spans an estimated 2,200 acres. I’m not sure how old or vast the mycelial network is here in the Adirondacks, but these trailside finds made for a fascinating walk. The heavens may sing the glory of God, but on a warm August day, so can the forest floor.



Mushrooms

by Sylvia Plath

Overnight, very
Whitely, discreetly,
Very quietly

Our toes, our noses
Take hold on the loam,
Acquire the air.

Nobody sees us,
Stops us, betrays us;
The small grains make room.

Soft fists insist on
Heaving the needles,
The leafy bedding,

Even the paving.
Our hammers, our rams,
Earless and eyeless,

Perfectly voiceless,
Widen the crannies,
Shoulder through holes. We

Diet on water,
On crumbs of shadow,
Bland-mannered, asking

Little or nothing.
So many of us!
So many of us!

We are shelves, we are
Tables, we are meek,
We are edible,

Nudgers and shovers
In spite of ourselves.
Our kind multiplies:

We shall by morning
Inherit the earth.
Our foot’s in the door.

from Sylvia Plath’s first collection: The Colossus and Other Poems, published by Vintage, New York (1998, ed.)

“Come Away”

Sabbath Day Thoughts — Genesis 2:1-3 and Mark 6:30-34

This message was shared at the Island Chapel, an ecumenical summer church on an island in Upper Saranac Lake.

Is anyone here on vacation today?  Is anyone retired, in that delightful, ongoing state of quasi-vacation?  Does anyone wish they were on vacation this morning?  We can all affirm the goodness of coming away to a quiet place to rest and renew.

When it comes to vacation destinations, the Adirondacks are about as good as it gets.  We love the cool evenings when the magic carpet of the Milky Way stretches across the night sky and the sleeping is good.  We delight in the clear waters, whether we take a skinny-dip, test our favorite fishing hole, or explore the back country in the kayak.  We rejoice in the mountains: the thrill of downhill skiing, the accomplishment of climbing the 46, the alpenglow of summits set ablaze by the last rays of the setting sun.

I have read that the American use of the word “vacation” derives from the Adirondacks.  The English go “on holiday,” but here in the states we “take vacations.”  In the 19th century, residents of New York City and Boston vacated their hot, urban homes for the cool splendor of the Adirondacks.  All that vacating coined the term vacation.  Take a look out the window.  Apart from the rain, it doesn’t get much better than this.

In our reading from Mark’s gospel, the disciples could have used an Adirondack getaway.  Jesus had entrusted them with his power and authority.  Then, he had sent them out in pairs, with meager resources, to minister to the villages of the Galilean countryside.  Their mission had been even more successful than their best hopes.  As they returned to Jesus, they told stories of sermons preached and prayers shared.  They talked about miracles worked.  The lame had walked.  Blind eyes had found sight.  Those troubled by oppressive spirits had found peace.  There was great rejoicing.

Yet as Jesus listened to his friends, he saw the need for rest.  They had been going flat-out for weeks now.  Their voices were shot.  They were sleep deprived.  They were beginning to get on one another’s nerves.  They couldn’t concentrate, and they weren’t making good decisions.  The crowds pursued them.  Longing for wholeness and healing, everyone wanted time with Jesus and his friends.  It was so frantic that they couldn’t eat or attend to their bodies or hear themselves think.

Jesus knew exactly what was needed.  He stopped his friends mid-story and said, “Come away with me to a quiet place and rest awhile.”  Then, Jesus stood up and invited them to follow him.  They walked down to the breakwater, climbed into the boat, cast off, and hoisted the sail.

We are all familiar with the toll that overwork and chronic busyness can take.  Science tells us that it effects our bodies.  Our stress level rises, increasing our heartrate and blood pressure.  Our bodies are flooded with the stress hormone cortisol which makes us ready to fight or flee and piles on the belly flat.  We are at increased risk for heart attack, diabetes, and stroke.  Our brains don’t work as well when we are work-weary and stressed out.  It’s hard to focus.  Our creativity and resourcefulness plummet.  It becomes difficult to make wise choices.  Our feelings can be on edge.  We are more likely to suffer from anxiety or depression.  It’s easy to cry or lose our cool and blow up.  Does any of this sound familiar?

To be whole and healthy people, we need vacation; we need rest.  In fact, time set apart, free from work, is an essential part of God’s plan for creation.  It’s right there in Genesis, in the foundational story of Judaism and Christianity.  God spent six days creating everything.  God launched the Big Bang and coalesced the stars and planets, shaped the continents and gathered the seas.  God coaxed life out of the raw material of God’s very self, jellyfish and blackflies, elephants, octopi, and corgis.  God brought humankind into being with the awareness of God and the task of caring for creation.  Then, as the crowning achievement of creation, God chose to rest, not because God was weary—we are talking about God here—but because it was right and fitting to have a day set apart to savor and delight and be.

This keeping of sabbath is echoed in the fourth commandment, “Remember the sabbath day—to keep it holy.”  Our sabbath rest honors God’s work in creation.  It reorients us and reminds us who is really the boss.  For Christians, our sabbath days and sabbatical times remind us that God creates and re-creates us.  The sabbath is the day of resurrection, a celebration of the new life we find in Jesus, who called himself the Lord of the Sabbath.  Bible scholar Walter Brueggemann teaches that when we enter into this intentional practice of observing sabbath and taking rest, we choose to participate in the tranquility of God.  We return to the foundational rhythm that God ordained in the structure of creation.  We live into the image of God in which we were made.

The science supports the scripture.  Times of rest restore us and make us healthier people.  All those critical numbers that shoot up with work-stress fall with rest.  Blood pressure, heart rate, cortisone levels, all drop.  Our brains function better.  In fact, the spontaneous activity of a rested brain can suddenly solve problems that we thought were impossible.  Our ability to concentrate is renewed.  Even our emotional health finds healing and new possibility.  Dr. Sarah Mednick, in her TED Talk “Give it Up for the Down State” says that the GDP would grow, businesses would thrive, and workers would be happier, healthier, and more productive if we incorporated more sabbath rest into our lives.  An ideal work week would feature an intense Monday-Tuesday, a Wednesday half-day with an afternoon of rest, and a busy Thursday-Friday, followed by weekend downtime.  Sign me up!

Finding time for a weekly day of sabbath or an afternoon of rest or a weeklong vacation isn’t always easy.  We think we are indispensable.  If we don’t do the work, who will?  We aren’t crazy about giving up control.  We find it hard to walk away.  In fact, most Americans do not take the vacation time that they are allotted.  I suspect that when Jesus called the disciples to come away, there were some foot-draggers.  They looked back, wishing they could heal one more leper.  They were afraid they would lose the direction of that killer sermon they were planning to preach.  But when we refuse to rest, we deny the sovereignty of God, we reject the example set for us in creation, and we do our world a disservice as our gifts are dimmed and diminished by the fatigue and impairment that come with stress and overwork.

I hope I have made my case about the importance of rest.  I also hope that your sabbath time includes some intentional God-time.  Sing a song of rejoicing for the lotus that rises from the mucky lake bottom to bless your paddle.  Take Jesus along on your trail walk.  Tell him all your troubles and thank him for sabbath.  Commune with God on the mountaintop, savoring the mystery and magic of the world spread out at your feet.  Go to church.  Every vacation, every rest, every time apart is an opportunity to be re-created in the hands of the ultimate Creator.

As I close, I’d like to return to Mark’s gospel.  The way Mark tells it, it doesn’t sound like the disciples got much rest.  They got in the boat.  They crossed over.  They found crowds of hurting people waiting on the other side.  But I did a little research.  If you have a favorable wind, sailing from Capernaum to the Gentile coast of the Decapolis takes a good six hours, longer if the winds are variable, longer still if you have calm.  That means the disciples had a whole day of sailing with Jesus.  How good would that be?  They soaked in the quiet.  They allowed the horizon to delight their eyes.  Peter relaxed at the tiller and allowed his mind to roam.  James and John stopped bickering.  Andrew threw in a line and caught dinner for everyone.  They all began to breathe with the rhythm of the breeze and the waves.  At some point they realized that it wasn’t just Jesus in the boat with them.  At one point, they knew that they were somehow sailing on, with, and into God.  Someone sang a doxology of rejoicing, thankful for the wholeness that is found when we come away and rest awhile with the Lord.  Amen.

Resources:

Thompson, Marjorie.  Soul Feast: An Invitation to the Spiritual Life. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995.

Bryant, Robert A. “Exegetical Perspective on Mark 6:30-34, 53-56” in Feasting on the Word, Year B, vol. 3. Louisville: John Knox Press, 2009.

Hasel, Gerhard. “Sabbath” in The Anchor Bible Dictionary. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

Cherry, Heather. “The Benefits of Resting and How to Unplug in a Busy World” in Forbes Magazine, Jan. 15, 2021.  Accessed online at Forbes.com.

Mednick, Sara. “Give It Up for the Down State” in TEDx Talks, June 4, 2013.

Pyramid Lake Wilderness

The Playground

Zephaniah 3:14-20

“Sing, Daughter Zion;

    shout aloud, Israel!

Be glad and rejoice with all your heart,

    Daughter Jerusalem!

The Lord has taken away your punishment,

    he has turned back your enemy.

The Lord, the King of Israel, is with you;

    never again will you fear any harm.

On that day

    they will say to Jerusalem,

‘Do not fear, Zion;

    do not let your hands hang limp.

The Lord your God is with you,

    the Mighty Warrior who saves.

He will take great delight in you;

    in his love he will no longer rebuke you,

    but will rejoice over you with singing.’

I will remove from you

    all who mourn over the loss of your appointed festivals,

    which is a burden and reproach for you.

At that time I will deal

    with all who oppressed you.

I will rescue the lame;

    I will gather the exiles.

I will give them praise and honor

    in every land where they have suffered shame.

At that time I will gather you;

    at that time I will bring you home.

I will give you honor and praise

    among all the peoples of the earth

when I restore your fortunes

    before your very eyes,” says the Lord.


Playground.  That word may evoke a swirl of memories: the first time you braved the slide, the creaking of the swing set as you pumped your legs in pursuit of altitude, the bone-jarring thump of the teeter-totter when your friend dismounted and you plummeted earthward.  A number of years ago, I did community organizing in a hard-hit, diverse community.  The playground spoke volumes about the marginal status of the community and its people.  Seats were missing from the swings.  Plastic horses had been stripped from the toddler rides, leaving behind sharp springs, rising up from cracked blacktop like a curious and dangerous crop.  Hypodermic needles lurked beneath the slide.  I never saw a child play there.  Nowadays, I live just a few blocks away from a newly refurbished neighborhood park.  Mornings might find young mothers parked on the benches, scrolling through social media feeds while their wee ones explore.  Evenings welcome teens for pick-up basketball, shirts against skins, trash talk flying.

In her meditations on the twelve months of the year may i have this dance, Joyce Rupp suggests that July is the playground of God.  Adirondackers might be inclined to agree.  Hummingbirds hover in the garden, sipping nectar, bickering at the feeder, competing for sugar water.  Fawns rise up on feeble legs to follow their mothers.  They nurse, tails wagging with joy, like puppies.  The cat sits on the screened porch, singing a throaty song to the birds outside and dreaming of the mischief that could be had if the door were left ajar.  People get playful.  They hike mountains to savor the view from the summit.  They paddle canoes amid water lilies, hearts jumping at the slap of a beaver tail.  If July is God’s playground, then we are all-in.  All of creation—the two-leggeds, the four-leggeds, the finned, the feathery, the slithery—plays, delights, and rejoices in the goodness that is all around.

Have you ever thought what God might do on a playground—or what might inspire God to delight and rejoice like a child in Legoland?  The Prophet Zephaniah invites us to imagine God singing and rejoicing over us.  It’s right there in Zeph. 3:17, “The Lord your God is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; God will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will rejoice over you with loud singing.”  A different translation of verse seventeen puts it this way, “God will rejoice over you with happy song . . .  God will dance with shouts of joy for you as on a day of festival.”  Picture that.

When Zephaniah wrote those words, the Israelites didn’t have much to celebrate.  In the early days of the reign of King Josiah (640-609 BCE), before the king grew up and enacted reform, violence and corruption were rife.  Justice was sold to the highest bidder.  The widow and orphan hungered.  False gods were worshipped in hilltop shrines.  Indeed, for three and a half chapters Zephaniah’s word of the Lord imparts a blistering tongue-lashing for a people who have lost their moral center.  It hardly sounds like a day in the park—or on the playground.  Yet God holds out hope for the people, the promise of the coming day when holy judgment will end, enemies will be turned away, and the disaster we seem hellbent on making will be averted.

It’s a paradox.  We get things so wrong, and yet we are beloved and deserving of celebration and delight.  It’s the truth proclaimed by Jesus.  When Jesus told Zephaniah’s story, he described a son who treated his father as if he were as good as dead.  After debasing himself in a profligate life, the son decided to try his luck with the father again—perhaps out of self-interest, perhaps in remorse.  When the prodigal got within sight of home, he saw his father running down the road, tunic hitched up, legs flailing, a dust cloud in his wake.  The lost son was welcomed, with hugs and tears and great rejoicing.  In the party that followed, we can imagine the loud singing and the joyous dancing.  Even so, God sings and dances over you.  How good is that?

In an Adirondack summer, it is easy to imagine God singing and dancing in creation.  Those raspberry sunsets are like celestial fireworks.  The flowers shimmy on the verge in the morning breeze.  Waves driven by the wind send whitecaps to rush your boat toward shore.  The drama of a thunderstorm ignites the night and rattles the window panes.  It’s a sensational, dazzling, sensory overload of a playground out there.  In the midst of it, God sings and dances over us, delighting in us, simply because we are her children – in all our beauty, in all our frailty.  She sure can throw a party.  Let’s get out there on the playground and celebrate.  Thanks be to God.


“The Playground of God”

by Joyce Rupp

“If I could share my treasures with you

I would constantly send you blessings

from the depths and beauty of each day.

I would seal your smile with sunshine;

I would leaf your walk of life

with the tenderest of greens

and the deepest of autumns.

I would catch at least three rainbows,

and set a seagull on each one

to sail you constant hellos

from the heart of the Transcendent.

I would whisper wonderings

from silent nooks of mountain tops

and the humming heart of the sea.

I would call for the deer

and all the tender animals

to run with you in happiness.

I would ask each tree

in her most majestic mood

to cover you with constant care.

I would breeze in billowy clouds

to share their rainy wanderings

when you need to feel washed new.

I would take you by the hand

and hold your heart near mine,

to let you hear the constant love

bounding forth from me.

and most of all

I would join my heart with yours

and have you share the path of love

that God has caused and carved

in the shadows of my soul.”

Rupp, Joyce. may i have this dance? Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 1992, 2007.

Photo by Alexandr Podvalny on Pexels.com