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Thank You, God, for Water, Soil, and Air: Four services celebrating creation

The Albany Synod of the Reformed Church in America (RCA) presented a conference in October, 1994, entitled "The Earth Is the Lord's: A Creation Celebration." The conference began Friday evening with a worship service, and continued all day Saturday with an address by Loren Wilkinson, several workshops, and three worship times—morning, noon, and afternoon. Rev. John Paarlberg, from the Office for Social Witness for the RCA, prepared the four worship services.

The Friday evening worship set the theme of the services. For the Saturday services, Paarlberg took the theme from the first line of Brian Wren's hymn: Thank You, God, for Water, Soil, and Air." PsH 437, PH 266, RL 22, SFL 97

CREATION CELEBRATION

[Please be in prayerful silence in preparation for worship.]

The First Account of Creation: A reading from Genesis 1:1-2:3 (1)

Responsorial Psalm (148 adapted) (2)

Psalm Prayer:

God Most High,
by your Word you created a
wondrous universe,
and through your Spirit
you breathed into it the breath of life.
Accept creation's hymn of praise from our
lips,
and let the praise that is sung in heaven resound
in the heart of every creature on
earth,
to the glory of the Father, the Son, and the
Holy Spirit, now and forever.

Anthem: "In the Beginning" PsH 151 (3)

Message (4)

Anthem: "All Things Bright and Beautiful" PsH 435, PH 267, RL 15, SFL 90, TH 120

A Litany for Creation (5)

Hymn: "God in His Love for Us Lent Us This Planet" RL 23

Charge and Blessing

THANK YOU, GOD, FOR WATER

Thank you, God, for water, soil, and air, large gifts supporting everything that lives.

Call to Worship (from Psalm 29) (6)

Hymn: "We Sing the Mighty Power of God" PsH 430, RL 10

Prayer:

Creator God,
whose Spirit moved
over the faces of the waters,
who gathers
the sea into their places,
and directs
the courses of the rivers,
who sends rain upon the earth
that it should bring forth life:
We praise you for the gift of water.
Create in us
such a sense of wonder and delight
in this and all your gifts,
that we might
receive them with gratitude,
care for them with love,
and generously share them with all your
creatures
to the honor and glory of your holy name.

Scripture: Psalm 65

Sermon: "Water Music" (8)

Psalter: (from Psalm 104)

Canticle of Creation: "All Creatures of Our God and King, " st. 1,3 PsH 431, PH 455, RL 4, SFL 86, TH 115 (7)

Prayer

THANK YOU, GOD, FOR SOIL

Thank you, God, for water, soil, and air, large gifts supporting everything that lives.

Call to Worship (from Psalm 95)

Hymn: "Joy to the World!" PsH 337, PH 40, RL 198, SFL 137, TH 195

Prayer:

Creator God,
who lifted up the mountains and formed
the dry land,
whose hands have shaped us out of
the dust of the earth,
who has formed the soils and made this earth
a place of beauty and abundance:
We give you thanks for the gift of soil.
Create in us
such a sense of wonder and delight
in this and all your gifts,
that we might
receive them with gratitude,
care for them with love,
and generously share them with all your
creatures,
to the honor and glory of your holy name.

Scripture: Leviticus 25:1-7, 18-24

Sermon: "Earth Tones" (9)

Psalter (from Psalm 104)

Canticle of Creation: "All Creatures of Our God and King," St. 1,4 PsH 431, PH 455, RL 4, SFL 86, TH 115

Prayer

THANK YOU, GOD, FOR AIR

Thank you, God, for water, soil, and air, large gifts supporting everything that lives.

Call to Worship (from Psalm 19)

Canticle of Creation: "All Creatures of Our God and King," st. 1, 2 PsH 431, PH 455, RL 4, SFL 86, TH 115

Psalter (from Psalm 104)

Prayer:

Creator God,
who sets the stars in their places
and directs the courses of the planets,
who has robed this earth with a thin garment
of air,
making it a haven of beauty and life,
who has breathed into each of us
the breath of life:
We thank you for the gift of air.
Create in us
such a sense of wonder and delight
in this and in all your gifts,
that we might
receive them with gratitude,
care for them with love,
and generously share them with all your
creatures,
to the honor and glory of your holy name.

Scripture: Job 38:1-13, 19-21, 31-36

Sermon: "Air for a Planet" (10)

A Litany for Creation (5)

Hymn: "God Who Stretched the Spangled Heavens" PH 268, RL 29

Charge and Blessing

SERVICE NOTES

1 The service began in darkness and silence. As the reading of Genesis 1 began, slides were projected on a screen to coordinate with the reading. The account from Genesis 1 was read by seven readers, one for each day of creation. Each day followed the same structure: the reading from Genesis 1 followed by Psalm 148: "Let them praise the name of the LORD, who commanded, and they were created." After each day, a soloist sang the following refrain:

2 Now that the congregation had heard the refrain several times, they sang it. Only the words (not the music) were printed in the worship folder.

Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the
heavens;
praise the Lord in the heights!
Praise the Lord all you holy angels;
praise the Lord, all heavenly host!
Let them praise the name of the Lord,
who commanded, and they were created.

Praise the Lord. Praise the Lord.
Praise the name of the Lord.

Praise the Lord, sun and moon;
praise the Lord, all you shining stars!
Praise the Lord, you highest heavens,
and you waters above the heavens!
Let them praise the name of the Lord,
who commanded and they were created.

Praise the Lord. Praise the Lord.
Praise the name of the Lord.

Praise the Lord from the earth,
you sea monsters and all deeps,
fire and hail, snow and frost,
stormy wind fulfilling God's command!
Let them praise the name of the Lord,
who commanded and they were created.

Praise the Lord. Praise the Lord.
Praise the name of the Lord.

Mountains and all hills,
fruit trees and all cedars!
Wild animals and all cattle,
creeping things and flying birds!
Let them praise the name of the Lord,
who commanded and they were created.

Praise the Lord. Praise the Lord.
Praise the name of the Lord.

Kings of the earth and all peoples,
princes, and all rulers of the earth!
Young men and women alike,
old and young together!
Let them praise the name of the Lord,
whose name alone is exalted;
whose splendor is over earth and heaven.

Praise the Lord. Praise the Lord.
Praise the name of the Lord.

3 "In the Beginning" and "All Things Bright and Beautiful" were sung by choir of about fifty children from all over the synod.

4 The message that evening was presented by means of slides and narration.

5 The litany consisted of reading the text of Brian Wren's hymn "Thank You, God, for Water, Soil, and Air" (PsH 437, SFL 97). Every stanza was read by two readers, each taking two lines, followed by everyone singing the refrain at right:

THANK YOU, GOD, FOR WATER, SOIL, AND AIR

Thank you, God, for water, soil, and air,
large gifts supporting everything that lives.
Forgive our spoiling and abuse of them.
Help us renew the face of the earth.
Refrain (no. 96)

Thank you, God, for minerals and ores—
the basis of all building, wealth, and speed.
Forgive our reckless plundering and waste.
Help us renew the face of the earth.
Refrain

Thank you, God, for priceless energy,
stored in each atom, gathered from the sun.
Forgive our greed and carelessness of power.
Help us renew the face of the earth.
Refrain

Thank you, God, for weaving nature's life
into a seamless robe, a fragile whole.
Forgive our haste, that tampers unawares.
Help us renew the face of the earth.
Refrain

Thank you, God, for making planet earth,
a home for us and ages yet unborn.
Help us to share, consider, save, and store.
Come and renew the face of the earth.
Refrain

Words: Brian Wren, 1973.
© 1975, Hope Publishing Co. Ail rights reserved. Used by permission. For permission to reproduce this song, contact Hope Publishing Co., Carol Stream, IL60188, (800) 323-1049.

6 The prelude consisted of a recording of actual water sounds that continued during the Call to Worship, which was a responsive reading from Psalm 29 printed in the worship folder. The Psalter reading from Psalm 104 was also printed for responsive reading. The same structure was also followed in the other services.

7 Each brief service concluded with two stanzas from "All Creatures of Our God and King," the hymn based on the "Canticle of Creation" written so long ago by St. Francis of Assisi. The first stanza was followed in turn by the stanzas dealing with water, earth, and air.

THE SERMONS

8 Sermon: Water Music
"If there is magic on this planet it is contained in water," writes Loren Eiseley in The Immense Journey. "Its least stir even, as now in a rain pond on a flat roof opposite my office, is enough to bring me searching to the window. A wind ripple may be translating itself into life."

And who hasn't shared Eiseley's fascination with water? Splashing in a puddle as a child; standing with awe before some thundering Niagara; letting the gentle lapping of waves on a beach soothe the soul and calm the mind; peering, with bated breath, through the dappled and rippling reflections of a mountain stream, trying to discern a trout rising to a fly.

What would our world be like without water? It's a stupid question of course. There would be no one here to ask the question if there were no water.

Eiseley, who was a paleontologist, goes on to tell how, while doing scientific investigations along the Platte Paver in western Nebraska, he suddenly had the urge to wade into the river and float with the current. The Platte begins its journey high in the mountains of Colorado, crosses the plains of Nebraska, joins the Missouri and then the Mississippi, and eventually empties into the Gulf of Mexico. Eiseley tells of feeling the cold needles of the alpine springs at his fingertips and the warmth of the Gulf pulling him southward as he floated with the current.

"I was water", he writes, "and the unspeakable alchemies that gestate and take shape in water, the slimy jellies that under the enormous magnification of the sun writhe and whip upward as great barbeled fish mouths, or sink indistinctly back into the murk out of which they arose. Turtle and fish and the pinpoint chirpings of individual frogs are all watery projections, concentrations—as we ourselves are concentrations—of that indescribable and liquid brew which is compounded in varying proportions of salt and sun and time. It has appearances, but at its heart lies water, and as I was finally edged gently against a sand bar and dropped like any log, I tottered as I rose. I knew once more the body's revolt against the emergence into the harsh and unsupporting air, its reluctance to break contact with that mother element which still, at this late point in time, shelters and brings into being nine-tenths of everything alive."

The ancient Hebrews got it right long ago: "The Spirit of God moved over the face the waters." And the Spirit of God still moves over the waters—over, under, in, through, and amidst the waters—as the Spirit moves and enlivens all of creation. And the ancient Hebrews had it right again: "God said, 'Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures. . . .'" And you can almost see them come, bubbling out of that precious liquid, the home of so much incredible, diverse, wonderful life.

So the next time you
dip a canoe paddle into a lake,
or cast a fly to a rising trout,
or step into the shower,
or bend your head toward a drinking fountain,
or watch the rain fall softly on the grass,
or shed a tear,
or contemplate the incredible liquids
now coursing through your own body,
or abandon all dignity,
strip yourself naked,
wade into a river and go with the flow,
then by all means give thanks to God for the gift of
water.

9 Sermon: Earth Tones
We all know Charles Darwin as the nineteenth-century scientist who wrote The Origin of Species and proposed the theory of evolution. But do you also know that Darwin spent forty-four years of his life, on and off, studying earthworms? He was fascinated by them. He kept them in jars in his apartment. He and some of his contemporaries calculated that on average there were 53,767 earthworms in each acre of land. In many parts of England, he figured, the worm population swallowed and brought up 10 tons of earth each year on each acre of land. Earthworms were not only creating the planet's thin layer of fertile soil; they were constantly turning it inside out. They were burying old Roman ruins; they were causing the monuments of Stonehenge to tilt and topple. Darwin (in a marvelous understatement) concluded: "Worms have played a more important part in the history of the world than most persons would at first suppose."

And earthworms are by no means the only fascinating creatures beneath our feet.

Charles Kingsley once wrote to a friend whom he was planning to visit. "Don't be anxious to entertain me," he said. "Put me down under any hedgerow and in two square yards of mother earth I can find mystery enough to keep me occupied for all the time I stay with you." But we do not need even two square yards of earth; much less will do:

In the top inch of forest soil, biologists found an average of 1,356 living creatures ... including 865 mites, 265 springtails, 22 millipedes, 29 adult beetles and various numbers of twelve other forms. . . . Had an estimate also been made of the microscopic population, it might have ranged up to two billion bacteria and many millions of fungi, protozoa and algae—in a mere teaspoonful of soil.
—Elizabeth Achterneier, Nature, Cod and Pulpit

These creatures are not only fascinating, they are creatures whose lives sustain so many other lives on this planet, including our own. Harvard entomologist E. O. Wilson reminds us: "The very soils of the world are created by organisms. Plant roots shatter rocks to form much of the grit and pebbles of the basic substrate. But soils are much more than fragmented rock. They are complete ecosystems with vast arrays of plants, tiny animals, fungi, and microorganisms assembled in delicate balance, circulating nutrients in the form of solutions and tiny particles. A healthy soil literally breathes and moves (The Diversity of Life, p. 308).

"Let everything that breathes, praise the Lord," said the psalmist. Which means that the very soils beneath our feet are, in their own way, choirs of creatures singing their insect hymns, microbial chants, and fungal anthems in praise to the God who made them.

And how dependent, how absolutely dependent we are upon these creatures! They could live very well without us, but we would perish without them. Last spring I was digging in the garden with my son. I picked up a handful of soil and held it up and said, "Look, David, everything you are or ever will be; all the books that you will ever read, all the music and art in the world, your teachers, your family, your friends—it all depends on this.

Gary Paulsen said it even more vividly:

[Everything we are, all that we can ever be, all the Einsteins and babies and love and hate, all the joy and sadness and sex and wanting and liking and disliking, all the soft summer breezes on cheeks and first snowflakes, all the Van Goghs and Rembrandts and Mozarts and Mahlers and Thomas Jeffersons and Lincolns and Ghandis ... , all the Cleopatras and lovemaking and riches and achievements and progress, all of that, every single... thing that we are or ever will be is dependent on six inches oftopsoil and the fact that the rain comes when it's needed and does not come when it's not needed; everything, every ... single ... thing comes with that...
—Gary Paulsen, Clabbered Dirt, Sweet Grass

What a wonderful, precious gift is the soil beneath our feet! And how good it is to know that ours is a God who loves and cares for the soil. "The land that you are crossing over to occupy," says Deuteronomy, "is a land of hills and valleys, watered by rain from the sky, a land that the Lord your God looks after. The eyes of the Lord are always on it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year."

You and I are not able to keep our eyes always on the soil—but I hope we can hold it close to our hearts. May we learn to love and to care for the land, as our Creator loves and cares for it. And may we never forget to give thanks for this very precious gift.

10 Sermon: Air for a Planet
"Wild air, world-mothering air
Nestling me everywhere
That each eyelash or hair
Girdles; goes home betwixt
the fleeciest, frailest-flixed
Snowflake; that's fairly mixed
With, riddles, and is rife
In every least thing's life;
This needful, never spent,
And nursing element;
My more than meat and drink,
My meal at every wink;...
I say that we are wound
With mercy round and round
as if with air...."

—Gerard Manley Hopkins, "The Blessed Virgin Compared to the Air We Breathe"

Air is one of the gifts of God we most easily and most readily take for granted. You and I have taken a breath hundreds of times today. Yet few, if any of us, have given it a thought. In the Old Testament creation story it is the breath of God breathed into the nostrils of man that gave him life. But humankind is not unique on that score. According to the Old Testament everything that breathes, breathes by the Spirit of God. "When you send forth your Spirit (your breath), they are created" (Ps. 104). Job speaks of having the Spirit of God in his nostrils (Job 27:3). Elizabeth Achtemeier reminds us "As you [hear] these words your lungs are being sustained in their regular pumping by God's breath which keeps you alive" {Nature, God and Pulpit). That is a pretty awesome and wonderful way of thinking about breathing. And that kind of thinking prompted Joseph Sittler to write: "Reason says that destroying clean air is impractical; faith ought to say it is blasphemous."

Think for a few moments about the gift of air. High in the atmosphere is a thin layer of ozone. So thin that if one were to collect all this gas and place at sea level pressure and at 32 degrees Fahrenheit, it would be only enough to form a one-eighth-inch-thick envelope around the earth (Calvin DeWitt, Earth-Wise, p. 15). This thin layer of ozone allows the warmth of the sun to reach the earth but filters out much of the sun's harmful ultra-violet radiation— radiation which otherwise would break chemical bonds, break molecules apart, cause living tissue to be destroyed, and cause changes in DNA, the "language of life," as someone has called it. Without that thin layer of ozone the earth would likely be a burned and lifeless piece of rock.

Not quite so high in the atmosphere, up to six or seven miles above the earth, are the gases of nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide and others. Those gases, especially carbon dioxide, allow light and heat from the sun to reach the earth, but trap some of that heat which would otherwise be radiated out into space. Without that six miles of atmosphere, the earth would be a cold and lifeless piece of rock.

Bill McKibben reminds us that six or seven miles is not a great distance. If you took that six miles of atmosphere and laid it on its side, you could walk the distance in an hour and a half. It's a twenty-five-minute bicycle ride. "Into that tight space and the layer of ozone just above it is all that is life and all that maintains life" (The End of Nature).

Does that give us a sense of how precious and how wonderful is the gift of air?