At one time, Arbor Day celebrations were held all over the state of Nebraska on April 22. Long before Earth Day, Arbor Day was a distinctly Nebraska tradition. It was, back then, an observance of J. Sterling Morton and his efforts to plant trees.
I can remember one particular Arbor Day celebration. I was attending Dodge County District #50 at the time. Our teacher and the whole student body—probably about eight of us—left the school building and took off across the section through cultivated fields to Dead Timber State Park. At the park, there was a tree planting ceremony and an opportunity to explore the park. It had a lot of trees, a stream flowing through it, park benches, fishing holes, and a winding road through the park.
On that day, we were most excited that we got out of school to go to Dead Timber. Looking back on it now, I realize it was truly an Earth Day celebration, too. Walking through the cultivated fields, dodging sand burrs, smelling the soil, feeling the furrows beneath our shoes, hearing the birds chirp, and sensing the warmth of the spring sunshine on our faces was a real encounter with the creation that God has made.
In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus said to his disciples, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.”
Many times, we only see humans as the intended audience for God’s Word. However, many times in the Bible, God and Jesus treat all of creation (and its individual parts) as objects of divine concern. Like we humans, the soil, the trees, the water, the plants, the animals, and all creatures are vulnerable. All of creation is to be respected and protected. All of creation should be treated as a creation of its Creator. God made the soil—we should protect it and use it for Godly purposes—helping others and protecting life. God made the water—we should protect its quality and use it to support life. God made the trees—we should use them to provide shade and to support their place in the biological processes.
In our culture, there seems to be a lot of “chatter” about what is good for God’s creation, whose responsibility it is, and the financial benefits of the different view points. Jesus makes it very clear in his commission to his disciples. The Gospel is for all of God’s creation. All of God’s creation is to be valued, protected, and used for God’s glory. It is our responsibility, as disciples of Jesus Christ, to proclaim the Gospel throughout all of creation.
The book of Genesis states it another way, “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and 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.’” Human beings, who bear the image and likeness of God, are the ones who are to care, respect, and protect the creation of the Creator.
On April 22, let us give thanks to God for people like J. Sterling Morton. And, let us remember our calling to regard the earth, sky, and water around us as the creation of the Creator.