This week Elaine has decided to start a sermon series about the national parks.
Her inspiration for this decision has come from the fact that as long as humans have been on this earth, we have been striving to understand where we belong.
Nature teaches us how to be holy and how to grateful for the beauty of this world whether we fully understand it or whether we fully understand where we belong in it. Nature teaches us how to have respect for God for the majesty that He is and, in turn, brings us closer to Him.
Many of us don’t get to travel as often as we would like and a lot of us haven’t been able to visit these national parks, so Elaine decided to bring these parks to you. We will spend the next few weeks admiring these parks from afar and with the help of individuals who have been.
Our first guest is Ray Daniels who visited Yellowstone National Park last year, our first national park that we will be learning about this summer series. He starts by giving us a brief history about the park and how it was the first national park in the world.
He explains how national parks were originally an American idea because of our lack of national treasury. Other Eastern countries had great architectural beauties like Greece and Rome and they had other wonders of the world like the Seven Wonders of the World, which America lacked. What we did have, though, were great nature scenes that the Native Americans deemed sacred.
And what makes Yellowstone so special is how diverse it is in the amount of wondrous features it has alone. There are grasslands, there are untamed waterways. There are geysers and there is a volcano. Most national parks are defined by one feature like a mountain or a cave, but Yellowstone has a variety of scenes to witness.
The first feature he got to witness were the wild and untamed rivers. They weren’t allowed to get too close because you have to be a wilderness survivor to be able to get in it, but he was able to snap a picture as they were driving into the park. (Picture) One of the wild rivers that Ray and his family passed as they were driving in from the southern end out of Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
Then, he goes on to mention another main feature of the park – the Yellowstone lake that is formed by the rivers. His favorite part about the lake is how clear and blue the water is, how you can see the bottom of the lake through the water and how you could see the snowy peaks of the Rocky Mountains miles off into the distance.
What else is completely unique to Yellowstone is the wildlife. The variety of the wildlife, from the deer, the elk, the bison, the wolves, the birds, and to all the different types of bears, are all sacred to this park. He goes on to explain that when you visit these parks, you are simply a guest. They weren’t able to visit Lamar Valley because of flooding but they were able to snap a picture of this bison eating grass in some grassland. (picture) A bison near the road they were driving on.
Another defining feature of the park is the grand canyon of the Yellowstone with the yellow limestone cliffs, which is how they actually named the park. It made Ray think about God’s hand in creation. He describes that it reminds him of how an artist paints a picture and how each stroke is carefully and wonderfully placed and he mentions how much closer it all made him feel to God and His creation. (Picture) upper falls of the Yellowstone River going into the canyon.
The other feature that Ray brings our attention to are the “painted pots” of the park that were formed by the volcano that blew about 640,000 years ago. These are sulfuric waterholes that are constantly boiling from the geothermal heat bubbling beneath the surface of the park from the volcano. These “painted pots” are beautifully vibrant colors that come from the color of the bacteria that live and thrive in such conditions. (picture) The Grand Prismatic Spring
The last, but most defining feature of the park is the Old Faithful Geyser that goes off about every 90 minutes that really exhibits all the magic that is happening beneath the surface of the park. He said he found that seeing Old Faithful in action and going on the whole trip, in general, made him feel a much deeper appreciation for God and what He has done for us. (Picture) Ray’s son, Parker, in front of Old Faithful going off.
He said he got a great deal of solitude and peace from this trip without all the phones, noise, and distractions. There’s a lot of silence at the park besides the chirping birds and the rushing waters, which made it easier for Ray to feel this sense of peace and solitude. He also says he felt fear, respect, wonder, and hope. It left him understanding that things and people change, but as long as we protect the park and take care of each other, there will be hope for generations to come.
He explains that visiting the park made him closer to God – like the park was a sanctuary of God’s love for us where Ray could feel the touch of the Lord.
Elaine then comes to the pulpit to talk to us about Eugene Peterson, the author of the translation of the Bible called The Message. He once told a story about walking through Yellowstone Park when they saw a child picking flowers from a meadow to which he yelled at to stop doing so.
The child dropped the flowers and began to cry.
Eugene’s children, though, began chewing him out. They told him that what he did was “far worse” than what the little boy did.
And Eugene finally realized that his children were right. “You can’t yell people into holiness. You can’t terrify people into the sacred.” He realized that his yelling was more disruptive to the holiness of the park than the little boy picking the flowers.
Eugene writes that he realizes he does that a lot – where he tries to scream and yell at people on behalf of God’s presence. What his encounter with the child picking flowers taught him was that simply being an example of what adoring the Lord should look like will illicit better responses.
He notes that everything we do in the Christian life should come from a sense of adoration, wonder, and worship. Elaine says we spend a lot of time talking about what we believe and why we believe it, but she asks, “do we spend enough time being grateful for our many blessings?” God has carefully constructed our world and we have a lot to learn from each scene.
She goes back to the geysers that Ray showed us and explained to us and how they are the most defining feature of the park. As the heat simmers below the surface, water seeps into the cracks and begins to boil which creates the hot springs, the “painted pots,” and geysers that go off with or without warning.
Elaine says that the geysers are what attract her attention the most. The eruptions are always different and most of them do not have any set schedule – “they erupt when they’re ready.” Except one geyser, Old Faithful. This geyser erupts every 90 minutes no matter the season, no matter the weather.
She says we have a lot to learn from these geysers: where all the work happens underground. Most of the work God does in our lives seems to happen “underground,” where not everyone sees everything that He does for us. Sometimes we don’t know when we’ll ever be ready to “erupt” and other times God’s work comes to us surprising and obvious.
`She explains, though, that we need to trust in God so that we can be ready when the holiness happens. We need to be the person that is always waiting to witness God’s sacred creations, to remain steadfast in our faith, and to bring others along with us. Because all of the geysers, except Old Faithful, are not on any set schedule - just like God’s work in our everyday lives – we need to be ready for when the holy work does bubble up and erupt for those that are present to see.
But the fact that there is a geyser that is so reliable is a reminder that God doesn’t always hide his work from us. She says “God wants to create opportunities for us to find Him. He wants us to know where to go and where to be to witness His holiness.” Where, who, or what, in your life, is your Old Faithful? Do they make you, every time you are in their presence, make you feel closer to Him?
Elaine then goes on and brings our attention to a pile of dead trees in the middle of the park. She explains that those trees are there because, at one time, the soil was fertile and the environment was stable enough for them to survive. But, one day, an earthquake happened and shifted one of the hot spring pools up on a cliff above the trees. This then caused the boiling hot water to pour down the slope and then scalded the trees which left them “frozen in time.”
She explains that these trees are an example of why you need to be careful of where you put your roots because change is the only constant in the wilderness. We don’t like change, especially the unexpected kind that shifts our foundations and leaves us “frozen in time.” But there is one guiding figure that will always nourish our roots and protect our kind and that is God and His love for us.
“Everything changes except God and God’s faithfulness.”
So, what are you doing to deepen your faith in God? What are you doing to prepare yourself for change when it inevitably comes?
Here are some things to do to deepen your faith in Christ: going to church, reading a book about faith, studying your Bible, praying regularly, deepening relationships with friends at church.
She then turns our attention back to Yellowstone and its’ wildlife. She tells us that Yellowstone has the densest wildlife population in the Continental United States. But at one point, there was an imbalance in the ecosystem – there was an overpopulation of deer.
To solve this problem, there was a notion in 1995 to introduce a pack of 14 wolves to the forest to push the deer further into the forest. And when they did, the wolves did exactly what they were supposed to: the vegetation that the deer had devoured began to grow back, the rivers became healthier, and other wildlife that had been forced out began to return.
Elaine tells us that this shows us that small things can illicit big change and that, as Christians, what we do and believe matters. Making space for love, courage, and forgiveness can make big change in a matter of time.
Change comes from one person and one step at a time and we need to have faith that we can build a beautiful world together. But Elaine reminds us as she closes the day’s worship to, in the meantime, “stop and smell the flowers,” – to be grateful for God’s wondrous creation – and to invite other’s to join. Make time for that friend you’ve been meaning to meet for lunch, go get ice cream with your family, or walk your dog at the local National Chattahoochee Park for a change to make time to admire God and His wondrous Creations.
She ends thanking God for Yellowstone National Park, “for in this beautiful landscape we remember that God is faithful to us and we are called to spend our lives in thanksgiving and praise.”