Home Sweet Home: They Are Still Here

We’re getting into the summer months. I remember growing up, we’d be out playing until the lights came on. Sometimes it’d be until 9:30 in the height of summer.

We had a hill close to the house. We used it in every season. In summer, we’d run around in the woods on the hill. The hill once was strip mined, so it had old roads and paths all over the place. There were rocks to turn over to see what was underneath. We’d play capture the flag and king of the hill.

In the winter, we’d sled down the grassy slope. The spring would have that same slope covered in dandelions. Higher up would be a grove of tulips that someone must have planted. The fall would be an explosion of autumn color.

That hill was an all-season playground for my friends and me. We could discover ourselves and nature up there. No adults telling us what to do. Freedom until the lights came on. Maybe you’ve had a similar place growing up.

A place you could ride your bike to. A place that was run by the rules of childhood. It might be a field, a hill, a sandlot. A place you could find yourself. Somewhere you would meet with your friends and spend all day outside. These places are sadly in decline. There are a lot of factors that contribute to this, including the rise of videogames, safety concerns,  helicopter parents and grandparents Also where we live has a lot of factors. I grew up in a small town, Kate was in the suburbs on a busy street. Kids in NYC aren’t exploring nature on their own, I’d imagine.

According to the Toledo Zoo’s curator of education, Mitch Magdich, several studies show that play time in nature promotes physical and emotional well-being and healthy social interaction, stimulates higher level thinking, enhances connectedness to nature and encourages environmentally friendly attitudes.[1]

This is not only good for kids, getting out in nature helps adults, too. From a stroll through a city park to a day spent hiking in the wilderness, exposure to nature has been linked to a host of benefits, including improved attention, lower stress, better mood, reduced risk of psychiatric disorders and even upticks in empathy and cooperation. Most research so far has focused on green spaces such as parks and forests, and researchers are now also beginning to study the benefits of blue spaces, places with a view of water.[2]

May is Mental Health Awareness month, and nature is good for our mental health. A few reports state that just 15 minutes in nature is all it takes to see a chemical drop in stress hormones in our blood stream. Nature is good for our mind, body, and spirits. Yet we choose to be in nature less and less. We often forget our agency. We shrug and say, “Well, kids these days.” It’s not just kids, we are seeing this with adults. Be honest: How much time do you spend staring at a screen each day?

I think we’ve chosen this. Data shows that every generation from GenZ to the Boomers, all are addicted to screens.[3] I am no exception to this. My phone is how I keep informed and connected to all y’all. There’s this feeling I get, it’s a little bit of a shock to the system when I leave my phone somewhere. It’s a bit of a mild panic. I need to challenge myself to lean further into that feeling. Leave the stupid black mirror on the counter, on my desk, in my car and learn to be fully present to you. To my family. To my friends. To nature and notice the gorgeous world around me. Screens just give me more stress with their headlines and dizzying array of apps. Yet I can choose to be out in nature. I can choose to live differently. You can, too. So, church; I politely remind you of your agency. Like Miss Stacie said, “It’s about the choices we make.”

The late Rev. Dr. William Sloan Coffin stated that, “Most church boats don’t like to be rocked; they prefer to lie at anchor rather than go places in stormy seas. That’s because we Christians view the church as the object of our love instead of the subject and instrument of God’s. Faith cannot be passive; it has to go forth—to assault the conscious, excite the imagination. Faith fans the flames of creativity altogether as much as it banks the fires of sin.”

Jesus is constantly calling on his disciples to be active and to choose a different way of being in the world. Faith for Jesus is a verb. He expects us to live our faith, to live differently in this world and we have to choose it. Just looking through the Gospel of John, I see:

John 1:35-51 – Jesus calls his first disciples and invites them to follow him. A choice.

John 4:27-38 – Jesus tells his disciples to look at the fields and see that they are ripe for harvest, urging them to participate in spreading the gospel.

John 6:1-15 – Jesus feeds a multitude with just five loaves of bread and two fish, and his disciples help distribute the food. They choose to feed their neighbors with Jesus’ help. We continue that with Garfield and our support of CUPS Café, Feeding Medina County, and more.

Also John 6:66 helps me sleep at night. “Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.” Jesus didn’t get 100% of the people. Some folks walked away. I’m at least 75% worse than Jesus. Yet I mourn all the people who have left our church and have gone somewhere else. It hurts. Yet if Jesus didn’t get 100%, why would I or you hold any pastor to this standard? People come and go. They have a choice. They have agency. We have agency. We choose to be here. We choose to follow Christ and live in his image and example. By the way, thanks for being here. You could be doing WORDLE at home and reading the paper over a cup of coffee. But you’re here (you’re reading this), thanks for being the church in your own way. It was lonely trying to do this back in 2020. We put your faces on the pews. We’re so thankful you’re here.

John 11:16 – Thomas said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” A choice to follow Christ.

John 12:3 – Mary anoints Jesus. Messiah means anointed one and Mary The Tower is the one who does it! Her choice and Jesus accepted it. Happy belated Mother’s Day.

John 13:1-17 – Jesus washes his disciples’ feet, modeling a servant’s heart and urging them to follow his example. This culminates in our Maundy Thursday… or COMMAND of John 13:34 that Meghan preached on last Sunday, “Love one another just as I loved you. By this everyone will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

John 14:12-14 – Jesus promises that his disciples will do even greater works than he has done, as they continue his ministry.

All of these instances lead up to John 17:1-11, where Jesus prays for his disciples and asks God to protect them as they continue to be active in spreading the gospel and fulfilling his mission. I am coming to you, Father, but they are still in the world. They are we. WE are still in the world.

We the church, the body of Christ. We the church, the covenant promise of God for the forgiveness of sin.

Christ is reflecting on his death. So is Mary Oliver. Jesus takes a moment to pause and reflect on his mission and the work he has done with his disciples. Similarly, in “The Summer Day,” Oliver encourages us to pause and reflect on the beauty of the world around us. To remember those summer days as a kid of spending all day outside. To consider how we might live in a way that honors the beauty of life.

Both John 17 and “The Summer Day” emphasize the importance of living intentionally and with purpose. Jesus prays for his disciples to be protected as they continue to live their faith, and Oliver encourages her readers to live their lives with a sense of wonder and curiosity, and to ask themselves important questions about their own purpose and meaning. In both cases, there is a call to action. Whether it is to continue the work of living as Christ did and loving our God and our neighbor as ourselves or in a way that honors the beauty and wonder of the natural world. Or both. Both can be done, as honoring the beauty and wonder of the natural world honors the one who shaped it and created it.

Honor is not a passive thing. It cannot be. Otherwise, it’s just lip service. I can’t stand lip service.

My dear church, as we enter into the summer months, let us not be content with lip service or just talking about our dreams and goals in the future. Let us be like Mary Oliver, taking a moment to pause and reflect on the beauty of the world around us, and asking ourselves important questions about our purpose and meaning. Let us be like Jesus and his disciples, actively participating in spreading the kingdom to all people and fulfilling his mission to love our God and our neighbor as ourselves.

Honor is not a passive thing. It is an action. As we honor the beauty and wonder of the natural world, we also honor the one who shaped and created it. Let us be intentional in our actions, living our lives with purpose and meaning, and spreading the love and message of Christ wherever we go. May we be the subject and instrument of God’s love, actively going forth and making a difference in the world. Let God’s people rise up! For we are still here. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Works Cited

[1] https://www.toledo.com/news/2017/08/03/keeping-up-with-kids/get-outside-and-play-in-toledo/

[2] https://www.apa.org/monitor/2020/04/nurtured-nature

[3] https://time.com/6174510/how-much-screen-time-is-too-much/

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