I am sure many of you have heard about Greta Thunberg, the sixteen-year-old environmental activist. She has been very vociferous in her desire to call the attention of world leaders to do something about climate change. She sailed in a yacht across the Atlantic Ocean, and actually spoke to world leaders about the effects of climate change. Her many supporters believe in her vision of a world where efforts are being made by our leaders to respond to what many believe to be the impending crisis of climate change.
Of all the seasons of the year, my favorite is fall. I love to see the leaves change color. I do not particularly like the leaves falling and making a lot of mess, but I love to see the color change. My first experience with the real beauty of fall was in Western Massachusetts. I couldn’t believe the breathtaking beauty. Sometimes I wish I could simply drive up to New England and soak it all in - God's footprints. It is amazing. If you haven’t as yet experienced it, I suggest you do.
I talk about the beauty because we can all attest to nature’s beauty. The awareness that Greta raises is this: that which is beautiful can also be destroyed. Secondly, it is our responsibility to be better stewards of all that with which we have been blessed. Stewardship is about taking care of that which isn’t ours, but has been entrusted to our care.
As many of you know, I grew up by the Atlantic Ocean. I could see the ocean right in front of my house. When I was growing up, I got to know about a cultural norm that the fishermen observed, and I then later learned that farmers observed a similar practice. This cultural norm prohibited fishermen to go out to the sea on Tuesdays, and farmers to go out to farm on Thursdays, because those were the days when the gods also came out to fish and farm. In addition to this, farmers were not supposed to cut down certain parts of the forest because that was where the gods inhabit. As spurious and superstitious as these may sound, the real reason was to honor both the sea and the earth as life-giving and, more importantly, to provide a day of rest for both farmers and fishermen. It was a different kind of stewardship - one of taking care of the earth and the sea - and those humans who ploughed the fields and fished the sea knew they had to protect the ecosystem.
Stewardship is about leaving footprints - those that last more than a lifetime. That is where I agree with Greta- that in so far as the earth is the one home we know, we owe it to ourselves, our children, and their children to be good stewards of it. Indeed, Genesis admonishes us with these words “And God blessed them, saying, "Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the sky, and over all the livestock, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over all the creeping things that creep on the earth.” For many, the issue isn’t the power God gave humans to fill, subdue, and have dominion over creation, but that this power encompasses stewardship of all that over which we have dominion. If we are absent of any restraint and accountability, our dominion then proves counterproductive. And so the question is, can we subdue and have dominion, and yet still be good stewards? I believe that we can and we should, because stewardship is about footprints.
Someone once said, "When I was growing up, we were told when visiting the country that we should ‘Leave nothing but footprints and take nothing but photographs.’" There are many similar versions of this saying, but the original quote was from a Native American, Chief Seattle who, in a famous speech around 1854, said ‘Take only memories, leave nothing but footprints’ - those that last a life time.
That injunction to leave nothing but footprints seems even more relevant given the climate crisis that the world is facing and the appalling pollution that we witness. Twice each week, when we put out our green bins and blue recycle bins, we are painfully reminded of our own impact on this fragile globe. It’s clear that we each have more that we can do - and not only that, we each believe that a little step goes a long way.
It is in that spirit of a "little step going a long way" that we reach out to you. Last Sunday, I shared with you that you will be receiving Stewardship letters and Pledge Cards. We mailed them out, and I hope that you have received yours. If not, please let me know and I would be very happy to mail one to you. Beginning this Sunday, we will hear testimonies of God’s marvelous work in our lives, the footprints that God leaves in our lives, and the extent to which our stewardship of all that we have been blessed with can make a difference in our lives, and in others' lives.
As I reflected on this piece, I was reminded of the words to the hymn Almighty Father, Lord Most High. The last stanza of this hymn, which was influenced by Psalm 84:9, reads thus:
God’s gift of grace and life is about the footprints in our lives that tell the larger story of our value for all that we love and cherish, and all that God has blessed us with. This stewardship season is about celebrating those footprints.
In the words of Chief Seattle... if we can only leave footprints, then, may those footprints tell of God's love for us and of our love for God, our love for God’s creation, and our love of God's church - Christ Church - in this part of God’s kingdom.