For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.
Good morning! This Sunday is week two of our Summer Road Trip sermon series, where our congregation is traveling together through 8 of America’s National Parks. Last week we visited Yellowstone National Park and talked about how God works through us so that the worst thing is never the last thing—there is always hope to be found even in the darkest of places.
This morning we are visiting Olympic National Park, which spreads across 73 miles of the Pacific coast in the state of Washington. The amazing thing about this park is that it has 4 different and distinct ecosystems! First, there is the coast. It is made up of beaches, some easy to access by car and others you are quite hike to get to…but all are home to aquatic wildlife. We saw some of that wildlife in our video just a few moments ago—seals and sea otters, sea lions and whales. I don’t know about you but watching that killer whale doing flips in the water at the end of our video this morning made my day.
If you go inland and head to the East, you will find the lowland forest with 200 year old trees reaching up to the sky and rich plant life along the forest floor. In a clearing surrounding by these trees and plants, you can find Lake Crescent which was formed by glaciers and is home to much of Olympic National Park’s wildlife.
If you head to the west, you’ll find a temperate rainforest, blanketed by moss and ferns. The trees in this part of the park are some of the largest on our continent, reaching as high as 250 feet into the air! The rainforest is populated by many animals including deer, elk, and otter. All of this is made possible by the heavy amounts of rain that fall in this section of the park, which traditionally measures to somewhere between 12 and 14 feet annually.
And as if all this wasn’t enough, the central section of the park is made up of mountains! The most notable of which is Mt. Olympus, which stands at 7,980 feet tall. These mountains are home to wildlife like bears and mountain goats. If you venture on a hike up one of the mountainsides depending on which direction you look you can see the ocean and forests down below.
If you were with us last week or watched the sermon video on Facebook, you know that the inspiration for this sermon series is the book America’s Holy Ground: 61Faithful Reflections on our National Parks by Brad Lyons and Bruce Barkhauer. In their reflection on Olympic National Park, they describe its complexity this way:
“Astute observers will quickly become aware of how fragile is the web that knits all of this life together. None of this is capable of existing without the other seemingly unrelated and distant parts of the whole. There are life lessons taught in the created order that we would do well to learn. There is a high concentration here of exceedingly diverse life living interdependently, resulting in unrivaled beauty. It is abundance and sufficiency that allows this environment to flourish, a delicate balance that should not be confused as excess. Nothing is wasted, as even that which falls to the forest floor in time becomes the renewing energy for growth to be sustained.
To see all of this is to come face-to-face with the knowledge that life itself is a gift and that your own life is connected in some marvelous and mysterious way to all other life on earth.”
We worship a God that is dedicated to the interconnectedness of creation. From the diversity found in nature, to the diversity found among God’s people we can see that God values our differences and our unique gifts. Which brings me to our scripture from Romans this morning.
When we read Romans, it is good to remember the context that it was written in. Paul wrote Romans to the early Christian church, a small scattering of communities that were trying to figure out what it meant to be a follower of Christ. They were divided with debates about traditional Jewish law and the new freedom found in Jesus. They questioned if there was space for enslaved peoples, Gentiles, women, and children in this new community? And if so, what did that look like? Did the social groups that once divided them change with this new way of thinking?
Paul addresses the church by saying that all followers of Jesus are members of the same body. I’ll make a quick note here to say that even though our scripture from this morning was written specifically for the community in Rome, I say the church as a whole because Paul references this idea in multiple letters to various churches. Most of us have probably heard these words from 1 Corinthians 12:
For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
In Romans, Paul takes this concept a step further by saying, not only are we each part of the same body, but each of us has unique gifts to share with the whole body. The more diverse we are and the more welcoming our community is of people from all different walks of life, the more blessed we become as we all share our unique gifts and strengths with one another.
Here in our church, we welcome and celebrate every person who joins us in worship and in our community. We believe that God calls us to love one another, to care for one another, and to be united with one another. We are stronger together, and our community is uniquely blessed by each person that is a part of it. But to truly value and respect the perspectives and gifts of all people, we also need to be willing to stand up for justice for all people. The intrusion of prejudice, systemic discrimination, and injustice is dangerous for our body.
We can see it happening in our National Parks. According to the National Park Service, human behavior is affecting the delicate ecosystems of Olympic National Park. Visitors to the park venture off the hiking trails and stomp over the plants. They leave trash behind, which hurts the natural environment. Campers and Hikers feed human food to animals, which makes them dependent on humans for food and less able to forage for their own. Globally, the rise in worldwide temperatures causes glaciers to melt which affects the mountains and wildlife, and the introduction of chemicals into the park affects the water quality which can poison the animals.
There is hope though- people who love Olympic National Park, and people who care about the environment are standing up for environmental justice. For example, the Center for Outdoor Ethics has introduced the Leave No Trace initiative. This program encourages visitors to Olympic National Park to leave the wilderness as they found it, or better. Some of the ways we can do that is to reduce the amount of trash we generate and bring it back out of the park when we leave. We can hike on existing trails rather than off-trail, inspecting campsites for trash, spilled foods, and to ensure that fires are put out safely. For more ways you can protect the National Parks when you visit them, I recommend that you visit the Center for Outdoor Ethics’ website and read through their list of suggestions.
People who love the National Park System have taken a look at what damage is being done to its body as a whole and then are addressing each individual issue with initiatives that can help reverse that damage. In the same way, we need to be paying attention to the ways that damage is being done to parts of our communal body, and target individual systems of oppression and violence to help reverse issues like racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia.
If we aren’t paying attention to the ways our society is unjustly targeting immigrants, people of color, lgbtq people, women, and other marginalized groups and then working to combat that oppression, then we are letting our entire body down. Each of us is called to do our part to help reverse some of the damage that is being done! If you want a few ideas about things you can do right now to help, I suggest you look into what supplies are needed by some of the groups our church supports (like the Navajo Nation or the HIV/AIDS food pantry that is housed in our church building) and make contributions to those organizations. You can join our book club which is meeting every other Thursday to discuss issues of racial justice and white privilege. You can join the local Black Lives Matter movement, or commit to feeding people living in poverty at El Cadito, or join our Faith Action Committee on one of the other projects they are working on.
The ecosystems of our church, our community, and our world are beautiful and richly blessed by the diversity of people in them. Our body cannot function properly as long as people within it are being treated unjustly. Let us do what we can to make these systems better, more inclusive, and more just.