When it comes to caring for creation, undoubtedly one of the most influential Americans ever was a man named John Muir.
Muir lived in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and spent the last nearly 50 years of his life living in Yosemite Valley in the Sierra Nevada mountains communing with the Creator.
He explored the region and wrote books and articles about his adventures, and it was those writings that led him to national prominence. In his articles he advocated for the preservation of the wilderness.
In 1906, because of this advocacy, president Theodore Roosevelt visited Yosemite with John Muir and asked him to take him backpacking into the mountains.
Apparently this trip deeply moved Roosevelt, and it played a part in him going on to establish the National Parks System.
Today, the National Parks include 84 million acres of protected land – all natural land that was under threat just 100 years ago.
Many today would argue that their existence at all is thanks to the influence of this one guy: John Muir.
His passion for God’s creation literally changed the world.
Welcome back to Hope Month at Grace. We’re talking about the biblical call to care for our planet.
This is actually the final message in the series because next weekend is Weekend of Service. We’re closing the doors of the church and going out to worship God by serving together.
We as a church are going to care for creation, and I couldn’t be more excited!
If you haven’t signed up yet, now’s the time, especially if you’re wanting to serve with a family or small group, because many of the projects are already full. Go to gracechurch.us and follow the links.
So let’s recap a bit about where we’ve been in this series.
Throughout the month we’ve been asking some big questions about caring for creation. First, why should I care?
Why, if there are so many other problems in the world, should I lift a finger to care for the planet?
Well, the answer, as we saw from Psalm 104 and other passages, is that God cares for his creation. He is active and involved in nurturing life and caring for his creatures. It’s his creation, after all.
And so, if God is so actively involved in helping creation thrive, why would we work against that? No. Instead, as Christ-followers, we should be leading the way in this because we serve the Creator himself. We should
Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children.
If God is caring for his creation, we should too.
Last week we then asked the question, if I am going to join God in caring for creation, what should I do?
For this we looked back at the Genesis creation accounts and talked about the original vocation of humanity - to be the stewards of the earth.
The shepherds, the gardeners, the caretakers… the ones who represent God’s intentions for creation.
But we saw how at the fall of man in Genesis 3, things fell apart. The Curse broke the relationship between humans and the earth (Adam and adamah in Hebrew).
But through Christ, God ended the Curse and now that relationship can heal.
We can become the stewards of creation again by learning how to pay attention to the world around us, by caring for the little patch of Eden God has entrusted to each of us, and by stepping into our unique, God-given passions.
Whether our passion is pursuing clean energy, or organic farming, or biodiversity, or animal welfare, or sustainability, we can heal this world in Jesus’ name by becoming again the stewards we were created to be.
So, today we’re going to ask our final question for the series. What if it’s not enough?
I mean, we see the headlines every day and they’re pretty discouraging. Ecosystem collapse, species extinction, environmental catastrophes…
What if the creation care work I do is just a drop in the bucket? What good is it for me to care for my little patch of Eden when the rest of the world is going up in flames?
I mean, I’m no John Muir, right? I don’t have a national platform for my advocacy. I don’t have the ear of the president of the United States.
What’s the point of all of this – individually and as a church - if at the end of the day our measly efforts don’t really make a dent in the problem at all?
Good question. Let’s get into it.
As I’ve been thinking and praying about this question over the last few months, I’ve found myself thinking a lot about my time before I was a pastor because I asked “what if it’s not enough?” a lot.
My job before Grace involved traveling the world and spending time in some very, very broken places. Injustice, terrible pain, poverty, tribalism…
This is grim, but I just realized this week that I’ve stood at the foot of multiple mass graves. Mass graves of people who’ve died from disease, from genocides, from natural disasters, and from institutional neglect…
Believe me when I say the decay of our planet is not the only broken place that’s made me ask “what if it’s not enough?”
With all the brokenness I saw, it was very tempting to give up hope. To throw in the towel. To say, “what’s the point?”
But I never did. And I want to talk about why.
I’ll tell you right out of the gate that it wasn’t because I was cut from some different cloth. It wasn’t because I had the gift of faith.
No. The reason I never gave up hope is because of what I saw at work alongside the brokenness I encountered.
I saw something that changed the equation of despair for me. And I believe that same thing is at work with the broken place of decay.
Let me show you what I mean. Grab a Bible and turn to Ephesians 3:14.
In this passage, the Apostle Paul has just finished talking about what he calls “God’s mysterious plan” - how he worked through Jesus to heal the world and bring all people back to himself. And then he says this,
When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.
Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.
Let’s look a bit more closely at what he says here.
In verse 16, Paul prays that his readers would be empowered “with inner strength through his Spirit.” That as they trust in Christ, their roots would grow down into God’s love and keep them strong.
I love that imagery. I picture a huge tree with its roots woven deep into the ground. But in this case they’re woven deep into the love of God.
That’s where strength comes from. When storms come and winds blow, the tree stands tall because of how deep its roots go. What does it mean to be rooted into the love of God?
Paul prays in v.18 that his readers would understand “how wide, how long, how high, and how deep [God’s] love is,” even though, as he says in v.19, that love “is too great to understand fully.”
Literally in the Greek it says that the love of Christ “surpasses knowledge.”
That’s what our roots are growing into. Just like a tree’s roots expand to get more and more water and nutrients, our roots should expand to grasp more and more of the love of God. Even though our brains literally cannot comprehend it. It surpasses knowledge.
Here’s why this is important when we’re asking, “What if it’s not enough?”
If we want to hold on to hope, it matters where we put down roots.
If we put our roots down into the soil of cultural expectations, or the ground of good intentions - if we are rooted in the idea that human effort alone can fix the brokenness of our world - then when the winds of discouragement or hopelessness start to blow, our tree is going to fall.
But if we are rooted into the love of God - the love that surpasses knowledge - that’s when we can stand strong. Here’s what that means:
It means being rooted into the idea that God cares about these issues way more than we do…
That God has been working to heal this broken world long before we were on the scene…
That God’s love for his Creation is wider and longer and higher and deeper than we could ever understand…
That is when we are empowered with inner strength (v.16).
This is what I began to grasp as I traveled the world. My roots were growing into his love.
When I saw poverty, I saw God radically identifying with the poor. When I saw injustice, I saw God blazing with a passion to make things right. His love and compassion goes far, far deeper than mine will ever will.
That’s true for injustice and pain, and it’s true for healing decay.
I may have a passion for animal welfare, but God notices every sparrow that falls. I may care about biodiversity, but God is watering every tree (Psalm 104). His love surpasses knowledge.
If we want to hold on to hope, we must root ourselves in the love of God.
But that’s just the first key. The second is in verse 20.
“Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.”
I want you to notice two things here.
First, it’s “his mighty power at work within us.” When we are doing the “good things he prepared for us long ago,” as Paul says in Ephesians 2:10, it is not our power at work. It’s his.
When we are working to heal this world, it has nothing to do with our own abilities or resources or strength. It has everything to do with our faithfulness.
Are we willing to faithfully do what God has put in front of us? Big or small. Are we willing to be an instrument of God’s purposes in the world?
Because how much can God’s power can accomplish through you? “Infinitely more than we might ask or think.” Infinitely more.
God can accomplish more through our small efforts than we can even dream.
This is what I saw again and again as I came face to face with the brokenness of our world.
I saw God working through humble, faithful people to do things that I couldn’t believe. Story after story of God taking tiny acts of faithfulness and multiplying them into world-transforming movements.
For example, I heard the story of Mary, a 69-year old widow in Cleveland who recycled trash along a highway in the 80s to make a few bucks to send a young Rwandan man to seminary.
Because of her, that man, Celestin, through the Rwandan genocide went on to form a ministry that today is establishing peace and reconciliation in 8 countries across East Africa.
That’s how God works. He works through uneducated, under-resourced, humble nobodies to do more than we could ask or imagine.
It even happened with me. I wrote a little blog post in Ukraine that God used as one piece of a puzzle which led to a number of boys being adopted out of orphanages in Eastern Europe a movement of de-institutionalization starting and dozens of young adults developing a passion for ministry.
While we’re playing checkers with our little acts of healing the world, God is playing 4 dimensional chess! His love and power surpass knowledge.
My point is, as I saw injustice and hatred and mass graves, I did not despair, because I saw with my own two eyes that God can accomplish more through our small acts of obedience than we could ever ask or imagine.
God is healing our broken world. We are just his instruments to do it.
If you don’t remember anything else I say today, remember this:
We are faithful in the small things. God is faithful in the big things.
This is true for all six of the broken places, including the decay of our planet.
Do you think John Muir left a legacy of conservation because of his own innate abilities?
No! He was just kind of an odd guy who loved talking to rock formations about this history of glaciers and who climbed up into pine trees during a thunderstorm to know what they experienced swaying in the wind, and who would hike alone into the mountains with nothing more than a tea cup and a couple of biscuits.
John Muir was just kind of an oddball in the woods.
He left a legacy because he followed the passions God laid on his heart. And God took care of the rest.
God helped Muir’s writings get discovered by an influential magazine publisher. That’s when things took off.
God brought John Muir to the attention of a college professor who wanted to form a group of mountain lovers. It turned into the Sierra Club, one of the first environmental preservation organizations in the world.
When the president of the United States visited John Muir in the mountains, he just shared with him his God-given passion. I believe God’s Spirit did the rest.
We are faithful in the small things. God is faithful in the big things.
Yes, our measly creation care efforts may seem like a drop in the bucket. Next weekend for Weekend of Service we may feel like we’re barely making a dent.
But God can do infinitely more with our small acts of obedience than we can ask or imagine. What matters is not our success; it’s our faithfulness.
His love surpasses knowledge. Let’s root ourselves into that.
The next time you find yourself asking, “What if it’s not enough?”, remember: It’s more than enough for him…
With all that said, and even with this whole month talking about creation care, I know there are some of you who are still feeling a bit discouraged right now, so I want to get personal for a moment.
Maybe you’re just now figuring out where to start and you’re completely overwhelmed.
Maybe you’ve been working at this for a long time and you’re just feeling burnt out. Like all your efforts are a drop in the bucket.
Maybe you just feel embarrassed because the things you care about seem ridiculous to everybody else.
Regardless of where you are, I want to end these messages with a final encouragement for you in light of what we just talked about.
Earlier this week, on the day I was going to write this sermon, I woke up with a phrase stuck in my head.
The phrase I heard was “do not despise small beginnings.” And I wondered, what is that from? Is that from a movie? Was that a Lord of the Rings quote?
I couldn’t remember, so I looked it up. Lo and behold, it’s from the Bible. From the prophet Zechariah.
And when I looked it up and saw the context, I felt compelled that the Holy Spirit wanted you to hear this.
Zechariah lived at a time when the Israelites were rebuilding Jerusalem after exile in Babylon. It was slow going, it was humiliating, and one of the only things they’d managed to build was the foundation of the temple.
Presumably Zechariah was discouraged, because Jerusalem used to be a mighty city with a majestic temple, and now all they had were these rocks.
So God encourages Zechariah with these words.
“Do not despise these small beginnings, for the LORD rejoices to see the work begin…”
Do not despise these small beginnings.
When you look at the brokenness of our world and see creation groaning, it can be so easy to get discouraged and think your efforts couldn’t possibly be enough.
But remember. God’s love surpasses knowledge. Put your roots into that truth. His power is within you. And he can accomplish infinitely more through you than you might ask or think.
Do not despise the small beginnings of your efforts to heal the world. Because, remember: We are faithful in the small things. God is faithful in the big things.
And the Lord rejoices to see the work begin.
So my friends, Grace Church, let’s begin…