Blessing of Gardens & Gardeners Service

Spring has sprung!  Come gardeners and farmers! This service, originally created to celebrate Earth Day (22 April), lends itself to multiple multi-age voices.  This all-age service of celebration and blessing has been shared in the UK and the USA and is easily adaptable for a new location.

IMG_9667You will need:

  • Coconut
  • Bowl of sunflower seeds
  • container of soil
  • Envelopes of seeds, or bulbs or just more sunflower seeds
  • Watering can of water
  • Trowel
  • Gardening gloves

Join me in our responsive Call to Worship, inspired by the words of Psalm 148.  [This can be read dividing the responses left/right or male/ female or using three readers.]

Praise the Eternal One!
Who will praise God from the heavens?

  1. We are the sun, the moon and all the stars; we will praise God!
  2. We are the clouds, the thunder, the rain; we will praise the Eternal One!

Who will praise God from the earth?

  1. We are the beasts of the sea and land; we will praise God!
  2. We are the seeds that grow in the fields, the trees that cover the mountains; we will praise the Eternal One!

Who will praise the Creator of all Life?

  1. Young and old, rich and poor, we will remain faithful and praise the Eternal One!
  2. Together we will worship and serve the Giver of Life!

Whoever you are and wherever you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here at ______________ Church. Honoring Earth Day which was not so long ago on 22 April, we gather today to celebrate the earth– planting, weeding, tending God’s garden.

Sing a favourite of the congregation.  Or try a new one, such as George Stuart’s “In each and every process.”  

IMG_3703Springtime Jesus by Joy Cowley, New Zealand; 51 in Aotearoa Psalms.  Another reading may be used if this is unavailable.


Joel 2:21-24  (for 1-4 readers)
21 Do not fear, O soil.
Be glad and rejoice,
for the Eternal One has done great things!
22 Do not fear, you animals of the field,
for the pastures of the wilderness are green.
The tree bears its fruit.
The fig tree and vine give their full yield.
23 O children of Zion, be glad
and rejoice in the Eternal One your God.
For God has given the early rain for your vindication.
God has poured down for you abundant rain,
the early and the later rain, as before.
24 The threshing-floors shall be full of grain.
The vats shall overflow with wine and oil.

Here ends the reading.

May God bless our hearing with understanding.

Children’s Message or Object Lesson if no children are present:
Patience with the coconut tree!

Why do we plant vegetables?
— to eat them. They taste good! They nurture our bodies.
Why do we plant flowers?
— to look at. They are beautiful. They nurture our souls.
What’s this? — a coconut
Who plants coconuts? Do you know anyone who plants coconut trees?

The coconut tree is amazing.
• It can grow 100 feet high – 10 floors high!
• It can live for as long as 100 years!

BUT…
• you have to wait up to 10 years before you get the first coconut from it!
• And you have to wait 20 years for it to be producing fully.
You have to be very patient to be a coconut farmer.

So, if we planted a coconut tree today, it would produce its first coconut in 10 years. How old will you be in 10 years?

That is a long time to wait for one coconut.
Coconut farmers have to be very patient.

That is something God wants us to learn as Christians… how to be patient,
how to wait for things that take time.

Let’s pray.
God thank you for vegetables and fruit, and for coconuts.
Help us be patient and hopeful and do good things for the future.
Amen.

Choose a song related to creation, e.g. All Creatures of our God and King (vs 1-4)

Sower of all life, in this joyous spring season of hope and beauty, we offer our heartfelt thanks for the seeds of promise you have sown in the soil of our lives. Bless our gifts to the service of your people, that all may know abundance and joy. Amen.

Sower of all life, in this joyous spring season of hope and beauty, we offer our heartfelt thanks for the seeds of promise you have sown in the soil of our lives. Bless our gifts to the service of your people, that all may know abundance and joy. Amen.

Have children distribute a sunflower seed to everyone.
As the intercessions are prayed, ask people to focus on their seed and its potential to grow and produce fruit.

As people of faith, we unite our hearts in prayer for those in need. [Join me] / [ ____________ , will lead us] in our prayers of intercession. The prayer response is printed in your notice sheet:

With hope we plant seeds for the future.

Thank you God for the cycle of life.

Jesus said that unless a seed falls to the earth and dies,
it cannot bear fruit.

With hope we plant seeds for the future.

Thank you God for the cycle of life.

We pray for our church,
thanking God for those things that are flourishing.
We ask God to show us what needs to die
in order for new things to grow.
Give us the strength and courage to try new things.

Encourage us – and even push us – to let go of ourselves and old ideas

so we can fully embrace what is best for our church community to flourish and grow.

With hope we plant seeds for the future.

Thank you God for the cycle of life.

We pray for our community,
thanking God for those places where people are thriving.
We pray for those in need, the unemployed,
the housebound or in care facilities, the lonely, those who are ill.

Show us how to plant seeds of reassurance in their lives.

With hope we plant seeds for the future.

Thank you God for the cycle of life.

We pray for our nation, thanking God for the abundance of
food, water and wealth we enjoy.
Forgive us, God, for over-indulging, for using more than our fair share.

Plant in our hearts seed of generosity and a delight in sharing.

With hope we plant seeds for the future.

Thank you God for the cycle of life.

We pray for the world, your garden of creation.
We pray for those parts of the world that are at war,
and especially for refugees and for prisoners…
Show us how to plant seeds of peace, how to cultivate reconciliation,

how to encourage understanding in diversity.

With hope we plant seeds for the future.

Thank you God for the cycle of life.

We pray for ourselves,
thanking God for those who love us, and those we love.
May the prayers of our hearts be seeds of love,

growing into a garden of caring action reaching out to those we love,

and to all whom you love, though they may be strangers to us.
Like our brother Jesus, show us how to shed tears as seeds of compassion, bringing us ever closer to your eternal garden, where love overflows.

With hope we plant seeds for the future.

Thank you God for the cycle of life.

Creator God, as we hold these tiny seeds, show us what needs to die in our lives for new fruit to grow.

Make us mindful of the need to act with kindness and truth in your world, to tread softly on your creation,

and to plant the seeds of goodness wherever we go.

Burn into our hearts Jesus’ words: ‘Unless a seed falls to the earth and dies, it cannot bear fruit.’

With hope we plant seeds for the future.

Thank you God for the cycle of life.

Amen.

IMG_9589Reader 1:
Our reading this morning includes selected verses
from the first creation story
recorded in Genesis chapter 1.
It is written:
Then God said,

Reader 2:
‘Let us make humankind in our image,
according to our likeness.
Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea,
and over the birds of the air,
and over the cattle,
and over all the wild animals of the earth,
and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’

Reader 1: So God created humankind in God’s image,
in the image of God they were created,
male and female God created them.
God blessed them, and God said to them,

Reader 2: ‘Be fruitful and multiply.
Fill the earth and subdue it.
Have dominion over the fish of the sea,
and over the birds of the air,
and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’

Reader 1: God said,

Reader 2:
‘See, I have given you every plant yielding seed
that is upon the face of all the earth,
and every tree with seed in its fruit.
You shall have them for food.
And to every beast of the earth,
and to every bird of the air,
and to everything that creeps on the earth,
everything that has the breath of life,
I have given every green plant for food.’

Reader 1: And it was so.
God saw everything that God had made,
and indeed, it was very good….
The Eternal One took A-dam
and put him in the garden of Eden
to till it and keep it.

Here ends the reading.
May God bless our hearing with understanding.

Choose a song related to creation & nature, e.g. For the beauty of the earth (verses 1-4)

Amrita Devi, India

Sermon for Earth Day Sunday – Blessing Gardeners & their tools,
Salisbury United Reformed Church, UK
Joel 2: 21-24, Genesis 1&2 selected verses

Friday 22 April was Earth Day.
• What are some things you would like to do for our earth/environment?
• What are some things you would like to see our country and the world do for the earth and the environment?
Take a moment to think those things over and then share your thoughts with someone near you.

Pray with me. God may the word of my mouth and the thoughts of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight. You are our creator and sustainer, from you all blessings flow. Amen.

‘Look! There they are! They are coming!’ cries the Khejare village watchman.

Fifteen-year-old Amrita drops her washing and joins others climbing the village high point. Reaching the top of the small rise Amrita looks in the direction that the watch man points. With her sharp eyes she sees the line of men with their axes and saws. She sees the horses pulling the wagons which will soon cart away the timber when the Khajare Forest falls.

A fortnight ago, one of the king’s messengers arrives. He reads the royal decree. ‘In the name of the king, the forest of Khejare will be cut. The king will use your forest timber to build his new palace.’ The king’s messenger takes no questions. He asks for no comments. He rolls up his scroll, mounts his horse and returns to the distant king.

The royal decree stuns the Khejare village people. Their simple village sits on the edge of a great desert. The nearby trees of the forest form an oasis on the desert edge. The trees shelter the village from the harsh desert winds. The trees hold soil and water that the village needs for their delicate environment. The trees provide habitat for birds and animals valued by the village. And besides, fifteen year old Amrita and her friends grow up playing amongst the forest trees. Amrita cannot imagine life without the nearby forest. Yet, if the king cuts the trees, life will change for Amrita, for her parents, and for all the villagers of Khejare. But, what can fifteen year old Amrita do?

With her sharp eyes Amrita sees the line of men in the distance. She sees their axes and saws. She sees the horses pulling the wagons which will soon cart away the timber when the Khajare Forest falls. Fifteen year old Amrita wrings her hands and wonders: What can I do? Pause…

And God saw that it was good… where do we hear these words over and over and over again in the Bible? And God saw that it was good—in Genesis. Chloe shared it in this morning’s reading. Into this ‘good creation’ God places man and woman. God instructs the man and woman to have dominion– raw-daw’ is the Hebrew word— raw-daw’ dominion over creation. Raw-daw’ means: to rule over, to subjugate.
One can see where people might read this passage and say, ‘Hey, this means we can do anything we want with creation, because God gives us permission to subjugate, subdue, prevail against creation—cut down the trees for our palaces.

But then… we read and remember that second story of creation, in the next chapter of Genesis. The LORD God planted a garden in Eden. And God took Adam and put him in the garden to till it and keep it. The Psalmist reminds us: The earth is the LORD’s, and the fullness thereof; the world and they that dwell therein… God may have placed us in the garden to till and keep, but the garden still belongs to… God.

This is all Old Testament stuff, and as Christians we seek much of our instructions for how to live from the New Testament. In the Gospels we find the stories of Jesus. In the Gospels we seek to learn how to be good followers of Christ. As we seek to follow Jesus, we place an emphasis upon justice issues that impact humanity: race relations, equality amongst all people, care for children and elderly, care and compassion for the immigrants and aliens in our midst. These are the sort of issues that the Great Commandments encapsulate as we seek to love the Lord our God with all our hearts mind, soul and strength and to love our neighbours… as ourselves.

But seeking to follow Jesus in this day and age, when a growing world population crowds the planet, we need to extend our mindfulness regarding justice beyond our human sisters and brothers, we need to extend our mindfulness to all of God creatures great and small and to all of creation.

Jesus knows his Bible. He knows that scriptures laud God’s creation, scriptures uphold the beauty of the earth. And these very holy words tune Jesus’ heart to that beauty. Jesus would have heard Psalm 19: The heavens declare the glory of God. Jesus would know Isaiah 55: all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. And even the Book of Job: But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish of the sea inform you. Which of all these creatures does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this? In God’s hand is the life of every creature.

Jesus may not speak directly of environmental issues, as he does not talk directly about racism or gun control or nuclear weapons. Environmental issues…they were few and far between for him. Yet, clearly, Jesus holds an appreciation of God’s creation which surrounds him. We hear this confirmed when Jesus declares: Consider the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap, nor gather into barns; yet God feeds them.

Of course, we see vast changes to the world since the time of Jesus. Population soars. Humanity shifts from an agricultural base to an industrial base. The burning of fossil fuels pumps tons and tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. I remember fifty years ago being told by science teachers that pollutants can cause of climate change. Yet, we still have some leaders who naively claim humans could not possibly make a difference. But most scientists agree, burn enough fuel, put enough carbon dioxide into the air, and the climate will…change.
The National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration—NOAA, reports rising temperatures of seas and oceans around the world. Polar ice melts. Sea waters rise threatening to flood small islands and coastal communities. A little more than a year ago Cyclone Pam engulfed Vanuatu. Vanuatu’s prime minister called the storm, ‘a monster!’

On 22 February this year, Cyclone Winston slammed into Fiji. Do you recall the images from the media? These cyclones destroyed decades of development across these island nations. Climate change?

The world has changed since the time of Jesus. I believe his message of Good News about the love and justice of God includes the environment today. Yet many of us still wring our hands, like Amrita in the village of Khejare, and wonder, ‘What can I do?’ Pause…

Back with Amrita in the village of Khejare, from the village high point Amrita with her sharp eyes, sees the line of men approaching. She sees their axes and saws. She sees the horses pulling the wagons which will cart away the timber when the Khejare Forest falls. Fifteen year old Amrita wrings her hands and wonders: ‘What can I do?’

Amrita’s youthful mind thinks of the one thing she can do to change the fate of her forest. She races down the little hill. She calls out to her friends and the village children, ‘The king’s men are coming to cut the forest! Come with me! Gather round the trees. We must protect our trees.’

Amrita’s friends join her as do all the people of the village. Arms outstretch, they surround the trees. When the woodcutters arrive they find human shields protecting each tree, and indeed the entire forest. They can neither swing their axes nor pull their saws for fear of hurting the villagers themselves. Frustrated, the men leave. When the king hears of the resistance from the villagers his anger burns. In a rage, he gathers his warriors. He will return to Khejare! He will cut the trees and take the timber by force.

When they see the army approaching, Amrita and the villagers race to the forest. Once again they form human shields around their beloved trees. The king finds them, impudently, treasonously, hugging the trees of the Khejare Forest. Just as he prepares to give the order to take the trees by force, a fierce wind comes blowing from the desert. Everyone, king and peasant, soldier and child, woodcutter and tree hugger, everyone dashes into the forest. There they shelter from the stormy blast, in the one place that can protect them – amongst the trees of the Khejare Forest.

When the storm abates, when the sands settle, everyone is safe. The king looks with new eyes at the world around him. The king realizes that he and his men would have perished without the protection of these trees. The Khejare villagers– men, women and children – need the trees to survive.

The king asks, ‘Who decided to defy me and save the trees?’

With one voice the villagers declare, ‘It was Amrita Devi.’
The king says, ‘Amrita Devi, and all you villagers of Khejare… I commend you for your courage and wisdom in protecting this forest. Yes, I want wood for my new palace, but this forest that stands at the desert’s edge is more important to you than a new palace for me. Long may the Khejare Forest stand!’

Amrita Devi’s story is an old story. She lived in India more than 300 years ago. Yet her story and that of the tree-huggers of the Khejare Forest lives on. Today, in India’s on-going struggle to protect their environment, one of the most dedicated groups is the Chipko Movement.

Chipko means: “Hug the Tree”—honouring Amrita and the people of Khejare. Members of Chipko support nonviolent resistance to the cutting of trees. In 1987, the Chipko Movement received the distinguished Right Livelihood Award (the “alternative Nobel”) for “dedication to the conservation, restoration, and ecologically responsible use of India’s natural resources.”

Around the world we see people and governments concerned about the environment. They may first wring their hands and wonder, ‘What can I do?’ But then they, like Amrita and the villagers, act! People’s behaviour is changing! Ecological conservation legislation is being enacted!

On Friday 22 April, people around the world observed Earth Day, an event which strives to raise awareness of the fragility of the garden that God planted and our responsibility to care for it—till it and keep it, as it says in Genesis.

We can all learn to shut off lamps and turn off power points to cut energy consumption. We can learn to use less paper to keep our green forests lush. But we need more. The Australia government has ended incandescent light bulb use. The New Zealand government has ended the distribution of plastic bags at shops and grocers. European governments are instituting legislation to reduce carbon emissions. But we need more. We need governments to deal aggressively with questions about fracking, alternative energy supplies, deforestation. In Genesis God gives Eve and Adam the mandate to care for God’s glorious garden and that mandate is passed on to us.

Today we celebrate gardeners, like many of you, who continue to till the soil, sow the seeds and care for God’s garden. Each seed planted celebrates the hope, the love and the abundance of the garden. As we work for change, let us be committed to both the big picture of environmental care, and the little picture: the plants on our window sills, the gardens around our homes, and our allotments.

Prayer:
God, on this Earth Day Sunday we give you thanks for this beautiful garden. This is your world and we acknowledge your sovereignty over it and over-all. Thank you for those who, like Amrita, commit themselves to care for it. Bless all who remind us that we must embrace, hug, your creation with a passion that will not let go.
Give us courage to stand up to those who would abuse and misuse creation, courage to make our voices heard and our votes count. Give us strong hearts, strong arms, legs and backs to plant new seeds of life. Remind us to use resources, including energy resources, wisely and not wastefully. What others have passed to us may we preserve and pass on to others. This we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Note: There are at least two versions of Amrita’s story.  In the original version Amrita and hundreds of the villagers are killed.  I have used the story version by Deborah Lee Rose, The people who hugged the trees: an environmental folk tale.  It is available through a Google search as a download.  She writes:

Amrita Devi, IndiaIn the original legend, Amrita Devi and several hundred villagers gave up their lives while protecting their forest, nearly three centuries ago. The Indian government has commemorated their sacrifice by naming the Rajasthani village of Khejare as India’s first National Environment Memorial.

Today, the people of India still struggle to protect their environment. One of the most dedicated groups is the Chipko (“Hug the Tree”) Movement, whose members support nonviolent resistance to the cutting of trees.

In 1987, the Chipko Movement received the distinguished Right Livelihood Award (the “alternative Nobel”), for “dedication to the conservation, restoration, and ecologically responsible use of India’s natural resources.”

Liturgy for blessing gardens and gardeners 

(hold seed or envelope of seeds aloft): If you have brought seeds or bulbs, hold them at this time.

Reader 1:

Creating God,

you have given seed for the sower.

Nourish,

protect,

and bless

the seeds and bulbs

which are sown in hope.

May they bring forth

bountiful fruit and beauty.

Amen.

(hold container of soil aloft)
READER 2:

Giver of life,

thank you for soil

in which nature awakens new life.

Thank you for the smell of freshly tilled earth,

the beauty of a cleanly cut furrow,

and a well-ploughed field.

Help us to be good stewards of the land.

Amen.

IMG_9667(hold container of water — watering can — aloft)

READER 3:

Sustaining God,

thank you for water.

Thank you for the way it cools the earth,

and hydrates the land.

Thank you for the smell of the earth

after the rain has fallen.

We ask that the rain come

as often as it is needed,

so that crops and gardens

may flourish.

Amen.

(hold gloves & trowel aloft)

If you have brought gloves or garden tools, hold them at this time.

READER 4:

Working God,

thank you for our hands

and the tools we use

to till the soil,

to plant the seeds and bulbs,

to weed our gardens and allotments.

May our efforts be to your glory –

providing food for the hungry,

beauty for our souls,

and gardens of calm

in our busy world.

Amen.

IMG_9447READER 5:

Creator of all things and giver of all life,

let your blessings fall upon our seeds and bulbs,

our hands and tools, our soil,

our potted plants, our gardens,

our allotments, and our coconuts.

Bless our labour with rain and sunshine,

that new life might spring up,

that we might be truly at one

with the integrity of all creation.

Convict us as stewards

of your magnificent garden

to cry out when it is being abused and misused,

to stand firm in our conviction

to be your appointed custodians.

This we pray

as your humble servants

and stewards of this amazing planet.

Amen.

Choose a song related to planting, e.g. We plough the fields and scatter

And now may the blessings of life
be upon us, and upon our communities.

May God’s law be written on our hearts.

May we nurture the seeds of life given to us by God, that they may be blessed with life and growth in our world. Amen.

 

20150830_164854The worship items included in this service have been compiled over many years from various sources (unfortunately not cited), so if you recognise anything as yours, please let Worship Words know so that credit can be given where it is due.  Thanks, Ana & Tod Gobledale, UK.