April 22, 2021
The Matthew 25 invitation from Matthew 25:31–46 calls all of us to actively engage in the world around us, so our faith comes alive and we wake up to new possibilities.
We recognize Christ’s urgent call to be vital congregations and worship communities, where God’s love, justice and mercy shine forth and are contagious. Faith comes alive when we boldly engage God’s mission and share the hope we have in Christ. This Earth Day, the Presbyterian Hunger Program is again reminded of the 277 Earth Care Congregations (ECCs) and all the ways in which they turn their commitments into caring for God’s Creation into ministry that rejuvenates, restores and revitalizes their own communities.
The Rev. Elizabeth Deibert, pastor of Peace Presbyterian Church, which is both an ECC and a Matthew 25 church in Lakewood Ranch, Florida, shares about the Peaceful Path, a natural space in the wetlands part of their campus that provides opportunity for reflection and contemplation for their entire community.
Having escaped a troubling situation at home, a woman found peace on a path in the woods, where the people of a congregation named Peace have developed beautiful “forest art” in a place set aside for connection with God and neighbor via the natural world.
One family came to the Peaceful Path for relief from the dread of chemotherapy for their preschool child with a malignant brain tumor. They rejoiced in discovering painted rocks along the path with messages of hope, peace and kindness.
It began when a Presbyterian congregation chartered in 2009 was blessed with a 24-acre site, half of which is a natural wooded forest, adjacent to protected wetland area. With a blessing grant from Peace River Presbytery, the church was able to live into their vision for a meditation pathway to benefit the surrounding community, as well as the congregation, in part fulfilling the overall mission to make God known by growing as disciples of Jesus Christ, building a community of peace and caring for the needs of others.
When COVID-19 isolation left members feeling stir-crazy at home, they got outside and created beautiful things in the path with God’s help. Cut palmetto branches with red berries became a Christmas tree. Dried palm tree sheaths formed into circular flower shapes. Inner layers of dead tree trunks were gathered in circles as if at a campfire. Having been certified as an Earth Care Congregation in the PC(USA), this commitment moved beyond discussions of recycling, sustainability and environmentally friendly policies to a vigorous enthusiasm for the natural glory of God’s Creation!
Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
let the field exult, and everything in it.
Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy
before the Lord; for he is coming,
for he is coming to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
and the peoples with his truth.”
Children and others add painted rocks along the path, which are joyfully claimed as pets or messengers of hope with their fruit of the Spirit words on the back of painted gnomes, hearts and woodland creatures. O come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! (Psalm 95:1)
Word gets out in the community, and soon there are many guests on the Peaceful Path. A woman, new to the area, grieving the loss of two sons, comes to walk with her young grandchildren for whom she is now mother, and the family connects with the Peace congregation.
As the sun goes down, the resident deer family appears, along with a pair of hooting owls, as if to say with their presence what the PC(USA) Study Catechism states with words:
“God not only preserves the world, but also continually attends to it, ruling and sustaining it with wise and benevolent care. God is concerned for every creature: ‘The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand, satisfying the desire of every living thing’ (Psalm 145:15–16).
Jessica Maudlin Phelps, Associate for Sustainable Living and Earth Care Concerns, Presbyterian Hunger Program
Today’s Focus: Earth Day
Let us join in prayer for:
Let us pray:
In our lives, as it is along the Peaceful Path, old vines and dead branches, frustrations and grief are bent and twisted into good forms of art, healing us with “the peace that passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). No matter what unfolds along the way may you, Oh God, be our constantly present reminder that in life and in death we always belong to you.