Renewing Our Covenant with God by Pastor Randy L. Johnson

Psalm 8; Matthew 25:31-46

Do you remember the first time you felt overwhelmed by the wonder of God’s creation? I do. It was on a family vacation when my parents and brother and I traveled in our 1952 blue Plymouth sedan from the flat lands and cornfields of Iowa to the foothills and Rocky Mountains of Colorado. I will never forget how amazed I was to realize that what appeared from a distance as low lying clouds upon closer view magically turned into high mountain peaks. At age eight I fell in love with mountains, feeling a connection to God’s creation in a way I had never before experienced.

I suspect that most of us have our own story of when we came to love God’s wondrous creation. For some it may have been the first time on a Central Minnesota lake or up in the boundary waters; for some it may have been the first trip to the East or West coast and seeing the endless expanse of the ocean; for others it may have been camping out under the night sky and, like the Psalmist, feeling small when gazing up to heavenly canvas of the moon and all the stars.

The Psalmist not only voices our shared wonder at the majesty and glory of God as made visible in all creation. The Psalmist also asks a simple question that, depending on how we answer it, can help guide our lives still today. “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established, what are human beings that you should be mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?”

In other words, when we consider how small we are in the vast expanse and grandeur of creation, why does God bother to think about us or to care about us? The Psalmist answers this question by declaring that God has made human beings “a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.” This affirmation of the God-given worth of human beings is immediately followed by the Psalmist identification of the unique role of human beings: God gave us “dominion over the works of God’s hands.”

How we understand this role of having dominion over the rest of creation is critical. Unfortunately this role has been misinterpreted over the centuries to justify abuse and exploitation of the earth and its resources. In contrast, our own United Methodist Social Principles have correctly interpreted our role as caretakers or stewards of the gift of creation. Dominion is not a blank check for our personal use but a responsibility to exercise God’s care over all that God has made.

This meaning of dominion is like the concept of “power of attorney.” Like some of you, in recent years I was given the role of managing my parents’ finances. Through signing over “power of attorney” my parents entrusted to me the care of all their finances in a way that would honor their years of labor and maintain their world as best as possible. The Power of Attorney document is a legal contract and a moral covenant that makes clear my role, its responsibilities and limitations.

In a similar way, when God granted us dominion over creation, we human beings joined in covenant with God and with one another to be responsible caretakers, stewards of this earth and all the works of God’s hands. As our United Methodist Social Principles declare: “All creation is the Lord’s and we are responsible for the ways in which we use and abuse it. God has granted us stewardship of creation. We should meet these stewardship duties through loving care and respect.”

Today as we look back to the past year and look ahead to the new year, we stand at a crossroads when it comes to care of God’s creation. As we look to the past we recognize the growing evidence of the global impact of humanity’s disregard for this God-given home we call “earth.” As we look forward we fear how dramatic changes in the earth’s climate will impact future generations along with the costs already born by those who are often the most vulnerable and the least responsible for these devastating changes.

Even as we renew our covenant with God today as people of faith to care for God’s creation, we call on those in positions of power in business and government to promote policies which protect the earth and reduce the growing threat to the human community as we know it. One way we have the privilege of doing this is through the United Methodist Earthkeepers ministry. Over the next seven years, this ministry aims to commission 500 Methodists across the United States to focus on creation care. This past year, one of our own church members, Rick Miller, was commissioned as an Earthkeeper and led us in our community garden project. During 2018 Rick will continue to provide leadership and help provide opportunities for us all to participate in community projects, educational events and advocacy efforts with the greater community for creation care.

Along with renewing our covenant to care for all God’s creation, today we gather to renew our covenant to care for all God’s children.

In the gospel of Mathew, Jesus calls us to care for all people, especially for those he calls “the least of our brothers and sisters.” Again, as we look back today to the past year and look ahead to the new year, we stand at a crossroads when it comes to care of all of God’s children, especially those considered the least. Along with the rollback of creation care by our nation in 2017, we also witnessed the rollback of civil rights and care for those most vulnerable as the mask was removed from the face of human hatred. What some have called “the mainstreaming of hate” was demonstrated time and again as hate-filled members of the so-called “alt-right” spread their hatred and violence across our nation. They identified and targeted “the least among us,” particularly people of color, immigrants, religious minorities, and members of the LGBTQ community. The chilling scene of neo-Nazi white supremacists marching with torches in Charlottesville this summer was just one demonstration of how emboldened the members of hate groups have become during 2017. But perhaps just as disturbing was the reported rise in schools of harassment and bullying of children whose races, ethnicities and religions are targeted by classmates and their parents as un-American and unacceptable in our nation.

One of the alt-right leaders is a man named Andrew Anglin, who runs a neo-Nazi website called The Daily Stormer, taking its name from a famous 1930’s Nazi tabloid. There is no mistaking Anglin’s cause: he recently wrote that he is doing his part “to accomplish the goal Adolf Hitler set out to accomplish.” Men such as Anglin are dangerous because they capture the attention of hundreds of thousands of people who are energized by calls to intimidate and destroy those they hate, justifying their violence by blaming the victims for all of our nation’s and their personal problems.
As we move into the new year, the well-respected Southern Poverty Law Center is tracking over 900 hate groups in the United States that each day seek to enlist more members to join their movement.

This is why we as a church must continue to stand with all of our neighbors who are targeted and torn apart by people and policies aimed at destroying their freedom and civil rights. This past year I was so proud to see members of this congregation actively present at the St. Cloud City Council meeting to protest when one of the council members sought to pass a resolution to temporarily ban from St. Cloud the future re-settlement of all refugees. I was also proud of Pastor Leah when she invited a young Muslim teacher, Ayan Omar, to co-lead a community educational series at our church promoting religious tolerance, mutual understanding, civility and respect.

We have a great opportunity in the new year to introduce others to Ayan and to help turn strangers into friends through the Green Card Voices videos that are available on-line and at various community centers across our region. Let’s watch the video now in which Ayan shares her story:

Jesus calls us to visualize him in the face of strangers. As we begin the comng new year, the equal or greater challenge may be whether strangers will see Christ in us.

Yes, today on this last day of 2017 we stand at a crossroads. It’s up to us, standing together, to renew our covenant with God to care for creation and for all of God’s children. Silence, inaction, is not an option for those who call Jesus, “Lord.” To follow Jesus means to lift up our voices and to act, to not allow silence or inaction to lend further aid to the devastation of the earth or to the hatred of our neighbors. To follow Jesus means to see God’s majesty in all creation and to see the face of Christ in each and every child of God. Thank you for joining together to renew our covenant with God and with one another to care for creation and for all of God’s children. I invite you now to read and to join in the response found in the Companion Litany to our United Methodist Social Creed:

God in the Spirit revealed in Jesus Christ, calls us by grace to be renewed in the image of our Creator, that we may be one in divine love for the world.

Today is the day God cares for the integrity of creation, wills the healing and wholeness of all life, weeps at the plunder of earth’s goodness. And so shall we. Today is the day God embraces all hues of humanity, delights in diversity and difference, favors solidarity transforming strangers into friends. And so shall we.

Today is the day God cries with the masses of starving people, despises growing disparity between rich and poor, demands justice for workers in the marketplace. And so shall we.

Today is the day God deplores violence in our homes and streets, rebukes the world’s warring madness, humbles the powerful and lifts up the lowly. And so shall we.

Today is the day God calls for nations and peoples to live in peace, celebrates where justice and mercy embrace, exults when the wolf grazes with the lamb. And so shall we.

Today is the day God brings good news to the poor, proclaims release to the captives, gives sight to the blind, and sets the oppressed free. And so shall we.