Genesis 1: 27-31; 2:1-15 and Colossians 1: 9-11, 15-20a
In A Hopeful Earth, Bishop Sally Dyck tells this parable:
A man spent years building a beautiful and structurally sound home. “The roof and walls protected the house from the elements, and the foundation was solid, even against an earthquake.
Inside the home, he put a lot of care into choosing the floor coverings, curtains, appliances, furniture and art. Everything was to be functional as well as beautiful. Simplicity was the standard of beauty. Windows let in a lot of light. The house was powered by solar energy.
The man put as much care into the surrounding gardens as he did into the house. There were gardens of flowers, vegetables, and fruit trees – everything good to eat. He even installed a swimming pool for the enjoyment of those who came to visit him.
When the house was finished, the man decided to ask his son to watch over it while he went away for a while. He encouraged his son to use it fully, enjoying himself and offering it as a gift to others. He told his son to ear from the gardens, swim in the pool and “make yourself at home because it is yours for as long as you’d like.”
The son enjoyed the house and all it offered him. He invited his friends over and they enjoyed it too, but they weren’t very careful about the way they treated the gardens, the swimming pool, and even the house itself. They left food and papers around, and the garage began to pile up, smelling and looking terrible. There were holes in the walls, the results of punches thrown by people who had gotten into fights. All the furnishings were filthy, torn, or smelly because the son didn’t take care of them and his friends kept misusing them.
The son let the garden get overgrown with weeds because tending it was inconvenient. He never cleaned out the pool and algae grew all over it, so no one wated to swim in it anymore.
The son hadn’t invested in its upkeep. The utilities were shut off and the bills were in the hundreds and thousands of dollars. How would he ever be able to catch up on the expenses of repairing and restoring the house when he couldn’t afford to care for it in its current condition?
Then the father came home – and saw his beautiful house totally ruined.
We are living this parable as we live on earth today.”[i]
We bear the responsibility for the world in which we live. That is part of what Genesis creation stories are about. GOD made the world and everything in it: the skies and seas, the land with growing plants and trees, the animals that walk the ground and the birds that soar in the air. GOD created all things including human beings – and then entrusted it to the human ones to care for.
The word ecology comes from the Greek oikos, which means “house.” The planet Earth, on which we live, is our house– entrusted to us by God. It is our responsibility. It’s odd that caring for the planet has seemingly become a political issue. Earth Day began in 1970 with genuine concern about what was happening to the environment – by President Nixon. But now, concern for the environment has become a political cause that takes a backseat to concerns for multiplication of wealth, convenience and the well-being of the fossil- fuel companies.
All of the ecological systems of our planet are exploited for profit to great detriment of us all.
- Famine is caused by soil erosion due to deforestation.
- Floods are caused by deforestation.
- Air quality deterioration is caused by the expansion of fossil fuels and deregulation of air quality controls in favor of industry
- Water safety. We saw in Flint how the city’s officials knowingly put public health behind profit and endangered the health of their constituents
- Renewable energy doesn’t get as much support or press as it did in the 1970s because some of our leading officials have their fortunes tied to oil companies
- Native peoples are forced off their greatly diminished lands for huge oil pipelines that contaminate both land and water
- And the people most affected by the highest levels of toxins in the environment are the poor
We are not in right relationship with God because we are not in right relationship with God’s creation. We have turned our back on our responsibilities and the world suffers. Our house, entrusted to us by God, is dying.
It would be odd if your attention weren’t wandering right now. We don’t want to hear this. We don’t want to talk about it because we are guilty. We know that we human beings are the ones who have damaged creation. And whatever minor damage was done over the centuries of human existence has been multiplied in our own time. Plus, we know that we Americans are to blame more than any other nation. With less than 5% (4.4%) of the world’s population according to Politifact,[ii] we use over a quarter of the world’s fossil fuels,[iii] and generate more waste than any other nation in the world, 80% of which goes into landfills.[iv] Creation itself accuses us.
Dr. Ellen Davis, a professor of Hebrew scripture, said. “One day in the fullness of time, all creation will be given its voice and we will be called to sit down and table and listen, really listen, and hear the pain we have caused.”[v]
One of her students recalled Imagining hearing “the ocean weeping as it was clogged with billions, literally billions of pounds of trash that I have helped dump into it; the air choked with pollution I have pumped out; I would hear the pain of trees being clear-cut and mountains being reduced to sludge; I would hear icebergs melting, ground water rotting and I would have to hear the cries of animals being eaten into extinction. I would hear the hunger of mothers and fathers and the thirst of small children, 5000 of whom dies everyday for want of clean water while I let the tap run just so the water I drink will be colder…”[vi]
- issues of the environment are complicated by our awareness of our own sin and guilt against God and God’s creation. That makes us uncomfortable – so we too often ignore it. This is one where we do not want to repent – because that would mean change that would cost us: convenience, money, time, work. So we avoid the issue most of the time.
- Principles, after all, are inconvenient more often than not. And so we buy water in plastic bottles when we are out because we don’t want to carry water and we’re thirsty, and then throw away our plastic bottles because we don’t want to carry them home to recycle. If confronted, we might say, “They really should recycle at this _____ fill in the blank,” ignoring the fact that we wouldn’t throw away a coffee mug after we used it at a restaurant. We violate God’s creation for our own purposes. We harm creation with microagressions daily to enrich ourselves, or for our indulgence, or convenience –without counting the cost.
We are guilty. We have sinned. When we are honest – we know this.
The answer to our environmental problems may be a spiritual solution. There can be freedom in accepting responsibility instead of denying, avoiding or trying to shift blame. We are responsible. So let’s be responsible.
The Colossians passage that we heard this morning has an interesting formula for living differently – for living as a part of God’s new creation.
It starts with prayer – which leads to knowledge of God’s will.
Knowledge of God’s will leads to living differently – in a matter worthy and pleasing to God.
Living to please God leads to good works, bearing fruit so others will see God’s work in us, as well as growing in knowledge of God –
And growing in knowledge of God leads to endurance, patience and joy.
To summarize: If we grow in our knowledge of God’s will and our desire to do it, we will choose to do right and live more ethically.
This isn’t rocket science, and there is no suspense here. This is a bit more like Stephen Covey’s idea to “Begin with the end in mind.” IF we want to grow in knowledge and love of God, we will be looking for ways to live lives pleasing to God – which includes living in right relationship with creation, the world God made.
P.S. And prayer is the beginning, because we truly can’t live lives worthy of God WITHOUT God’s power at work within us.
Not that this is easy. It takes a paradigm shift – a shift in the way we look at things. Not for our convenience – but for what is right. So we carry our recyclables around on vacation a bit more and we remember to say, “No straw, please,” at restaurants. But we also take shorter showers and turn off the tap and the lights a bit more. And then we can consider what we really need – and not buy plastic junk because that NEVER ends well for the environment.
We need God’s help to put things right again – not the “prayer fixes everything” abdication of responsibility – but knowing we need God at work within us so we can get over ourselves and our immediate desires in order to do the right thing.
Part of being responsible for something is owning up to our failure to care for it. And then deciding to repair the damages – to creation and to our relationship with God. Let’s begin with the end in mind – and then seek God’s will so we can choose to live in a right relationship with God and the world God made.