“Inherit the Earth”

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Rev. Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer

April 22, 2018 — Earth Day

Matthew 5:1-12


When I was a little girl, my grandparents lived in a cottage on a lake in New Hampshire.  When we visited them in the summer, we would swim, and canoe, and pick the wild blueberries that grew all around their house.  When we visited them in the winter, we would shovel off the ice to make a skating area, or hold our shovels up like sails and let the wind blow us along the lake for a while before trudging back to do it again.

And summer or winter, I would always spend time looking at all the beautiful things my grandma kept in the house—tapestries from her childhood in China, and napkin rings carved like fishermen, and little figurines and tinkling bells and pretty candy dishes.  If you picked up a figurine and turned it over, or if you looked on the bottom of a bowl, you would often find a piece of masking tape stuck there.  And on the tape, in my grandma’s unmistakable spidery handwriting, you would see a name.

This was her strategy.  If someone admired one of those pretty things, my grandma would pull out her masking tape and stick on a label, an indication of who should inherit that item when my grandma eventually died.  It made a lot of things easier for those of us who were tasked with determining the destiny of her possessions as she and my grandpa gradually downsized and divested themselves of all that stuff.  No arguments over who got what—just see whose name was on the label, and that was that!

But simplifying things for her descendants wasn’t her only motive, I don’t think.  We never really discussed it, but by the look on her face as she added a label to something that I, or another grandchild or other visitor, was admiring, I think she derived great pleasure from contemplating the delight that those items would bring to us in years to come, from imagining us enjoying the things that she, too, had enjoyed, even after she could no longer appreciate them herself, even after they had long since passed into other hands, even after they had long since been inherited.


Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”

I wonder, how often do you think about the earth as something to be inherited?  Something we receive as a gift from those who have gone before us, back through the ages, back through the generations whose feet have walked in the same places where ours do.  Something we hold in trust for a time, acting as stewards of that which does not belong to us but is entrusted into our care.  Something we will pass on to those who come after, on down through the generations and off into the future.

The North American indigenous Iroquois nation, the oldest living participatory democracy on earth, has a principle in its constitution that calls its people to make decisions with the welfare of the seventh generation in mind.  Every choice that is made must take into account not just the cost and benefit to those who are alive in the present, but also the impact that the choice will have on those yet unborn, yet unimagined.  Not just the children and grandchildren you might know, but the ones who will live long after you, and all whom you know, are gone.


If you could somehow hold one of the sparrows that flies around the eaves of our church building, whose name would you see on its breast, written in the unmistakable handwriting of one of your ancestors?

If you turned over the bulbs of the daffodils on the south side of our sanctuary, whose name would be written there?

If you looked among the roots of the maple whose leaves soon will shade the very lawn where you sit this morning, who would be indicated as its inheritor?

If you could see the underside of the continent on which we dwell…

If you could read the writing below the deposits of oil and natural gas and coal and various ores…

If you could see the microscopic names on the grains of silt at the bottom of the river…

If you could read what was written underneath the polar ice caps…

If you could decipher the name on each molecule of carbon in the atmosphere…

If you could know whose name used to be written on the dodo, and the passenger pigeon, and the West African black rhinoceros, and the great auk… and whose name is still there, in faint writing that you almost can’t read, on the Galapagos tortoise, and the gorilla, and the orangutan…

If you imagined this earth as an inheritance, would it change how you feel, how you think, how you act?  If we contemplated the seventh generation—or the seventieth—as the ones who would receive whatever it is that we pass on, would it make a difference?


Here’s what I believe.  Of course there is no one name written on the underside of every leaf, or stone, or feather—except for the name of God, which is written all over every bit of creation.  Everything that walks or creeps or crawls or flies or swims bears the marks of God’s fingerprints.  Everything that grows or blooms or fruits bears God’s byline, God’s signature.  Every atom and molecule, every accident of genetics, every stage of evolution—everything that was or is or ever shall be will, eventually, return to God.

With God as our Source and our Fulfillment, our Creator and our Inheritor, our Alpha and our Omega, our Beginning and our End—we humans, then, are both beneficiaries and benefactors.  We receive that which falls into our hands as a gift from God and from our ancestors.  We pass it on—all of it—to our descendants and back to God.  And for now, we hold it in trust; we are entrusted by the Divine to hold it all.



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