(Note to readers: well, I'm not preaching again this week! Our church is having its first-ever Homecoming as part of our 150th anniversary celebration, and we are honored to have the Rev. Steve McCutchan preaching as I assist in worship.
So, to fill the gap this week, I've decided to repost a sermon I preached earlier this year as part of my Lenten Sermon Series. I was led to repost this particular one in light of the recent release of "The Green Bible," an environmentally-aware publication of the NRSV translation. It's pretty nifty, and I'd encourage you to read more about it in a post I made on my other blog.
It is kind of sad that those who were given the command "to till and keep the earth" have fallen so far behind in the environmental quest for our earth. This sermon was an attempt to call us back to that very endeavor.)
Genesis 1: 26-31; Psalm 24: 1-2, 7-10
March 2, 2008
There is a story that goes like this: a group of scientists, world-renowned experts in their various fields, were reviewing all the scientific accomplishments of the last millennium – diseases that had been cured, food that had been artificially manufactured, even life created in a test tube. And they came to a unanimous conclusion – the human race did not need God anymore. Things had gotten to the point, they surmised, where they could sustain the many species and the world without the Divine’s help. So they thought it would be the courteous thing to inform God of their decision, so that God would feel free to find another universe to oversee.
They came before God and
shared their thoughts. God, being a realist, admitted to the amazing
strides the human race had made over the years. So God was willing to
leave humanity on its own if this group of experts could pass one small
test. I want you to create life, God asked them, just like I did in
the beginning, with a handful of dirt. The scientists took this
challenge to heart. They convened over the next few weeks, working day
and night. And finally – eureka! They determined that, together, they
possessed the scientific knowledge to meet God’s challenge.
So they went back to God and told God they had figured it out. Show me, God asked. One of the scientists ran outside and came back in with a vial full of dirt. But before they got any further, God stopped them and said, Oh, I’m sorry, you must have misunderstood. I meant for you to get your own dirt!
Now getting their “own dirt,” of course, is not something those scientists could’ve done. Kind of ironic, isn’t it, that in a world where we can order fast food fast, where a few clicks on Amazon.com can put a book in our mailbox in a matter of days, where an old t-shirt can be discarded and replaced with a new one – in a world with so much of so much, one of the very few things we cannot get more of is dirt. What we’ve got is all we’re ever going to have.
You know, it’s the same thing with this earth of ours. As you know, our sermon series this Lenten season is focusing on More Than Just Believing. It’s about the idea that thoughts lead to actions, convictions lead to change, believing leads to following. Last week we talked about how our faith calls us not only to think nice things about “the least of these,” but to stand alongside and align ourselves with them. Today it’s not people we’re talking about, but something else that certainly needs our attention. Consider the following:
- One-fifth of our planet’s tropical rainforests – crucial to the overall world climate – have been cleared since 1960. Currently they’re disappearing at 1% each year.
- We are currently operating at 100 to 1000 times the normal extinction rate, which means that today, one in four mammal species, one in ten bird species, one in four amphibian species, and half of all primate species are threatened with extinction.
- In our lakes, rivers and oceans, fisheries are being depleted at twice their replacement rate.
- And speaking of water, by 2020 one in three people will suffer from fresh water shortages. This has already been experienced in third-world countries, and is being felt now in industrialized nations, even in our own state of North Carolina, where some counties and municipalities are still under water restrictions.
I imagine many of you have heard these statistics or others like them before. Now, here’s the interesting part: these were not compiled by some scientist or some stereotypical environmental activist. These statistics were assembled by internationally acclaimed Christian writer and theologian Brian McLaren in his most recent book, aptly titled Everything Must Change. Brian is no push-over: he is a Biblical scholar who is part of a new movement – or more appropriately a new-old movement – to reclaim, among other things, the environmental component of the Christian faith. He is making the important case that “going green,” as the current lingo goes, is not simply a nice thing for people of faith to do, but is in fact a Biblical mandate and duty for every follower of Christ.
Perhaps it may surprise us to look at this particular issue through the lens of faith – we’re not really used to that. It is almost as if, over the years, we Christians have managed to remove ourselves from this conversation. And that’s a shame – because this conversation is not only one we should be part of, but in fact it is one that we started, a very long time ago.
Remember back to the beginning of it all, the book of Genesis, and the beautiful account of how our world, and everything in it, came to be. The heavens and the earth, day and night, created on the first day. The sky above and waters below on the second and third. The sun and moon and stars on the fourth; the fish in the seas and birds in the air on the fifth. Animals roaming the earth on the sixth. All the world was an intentional act of God; an act that had meaning and purpose and (something which will make us Presbyterians happy) order.
Also on the sixth day, God created
humankind, male and female. And there is something wonderfully unique
about this particular creature in God’s order – it was given the
Dominion. It’s a powerful sort of word, isn’t it? It comes from the Latin word dominus which literally means “lord” or “master.” Webster’s defines “dominion” as “having supreme authority and absolute power.” That’s strong stuff! We think of someone having “dominion” over another and imagine total and complete ownership – where the domineering one completely subjugates the other, and can do with it as it pleases.
Which strikes me, because that’s exactly how it seems we’ve viewed our role in the created order over the years. The human race has taken this “dominion” thing to an unfortunate extreme – thus the kinds of statistics and examples McLaren and many others continue to bring to our attention. There is a carelessness and ignorance here, both of which are quite tragic. Common sense dictates that we are setting up our world, and future generations, for disaster if we persist in habits that lead to the world’s detriment. It’s just not very smart.
But you know what concerns me as a person of faith, more than this “not being very smart?” It’s also horrible theology! As Christians, we are making some assumptions about the world and our role in it that are way out of line with what the Bible tells us. I’m reminded of the televangelist I once saw on TV who told his millions of viewers that, because God had given us “dominion” over all creation, we could literally do with it whatever we want. It is ours – we own it! There are even some who view the current environmental crises as somehow fulfilling Biblical prophecy about the “End Times;” so that the decline of the earth is to be welcomed with open arms. What this does, of course, is rearrange the whole order of things. Instead of God being at the center of the universe, we are. Instead of God’s needs being the ones that matter the most, it’s our needs – our whims and desires, to be more accurate. It is flawed theology, it is unbiblical, it is dangerous and – let’s just say it – it’s wrong.
There is an ancient story about two men in a rowboat heading toward land. Suddenly, with land still far away, one of the men begins to dig a hole in the bottom of the boat underneath his feet. The other man asks him what in the world he’s doing. To which the first replies, This is none of your business. I am digging the hole on my side of the boat! The point of the story, of course, is that the earth is like a boat, our means of transport in this gift of life; and what one person does with this “boat” affects all who are on it with them.
You know, I wonder what would’ve happened if the televangelist mentioned earlier had taken a closer look at this Genesis passage, and this word “dominion.” It’s kind of interesting, actually. The Hebrew word used here, rada, has a connotation that differs dramatically from what the English translation suggests. It is not at all about exploitation and domination; it’s about bearing a responsibility of care-giving and nurturing. Creation-care, if you will. Think about that. To “have dominion” over the world does not mean we can do with it what we want. To have dominion over the world doesn’t mean it’s ours at all. As the Psalmist says quite emphatically, The Earth is the LORD’s. We are commissioned with the care and nurture of all creation; protecting rather than exploiting, building up instead of tearing down, being wise and thoughtful instead of instinctive and selfish.
Now that kind of changes things, doesn’t it? It makes us wonder: what would the earth look like if Christians everywhere took this little rada word to heart? What would it look like if we really did see our role, our responsibility, our duty as people of faith, to take care of creation and the creatures within it? What might that look like? Well, let me at least tell you what it’s going to look like here at First Presbyterian Church. Just last month, our session unanimously adopted an initiative titled “FPC Goes Green;” created through the hard work of church members Dave Petri, Lorie Lindsley and Joe Lampl. You have a copy of this on the back of your announcements page, and I’d like to invite you to follow me as I read it:
The Psalmist reminds us that creation is a gift from God.
And yet humanity has for the most part failed to acknowledge this,
assuming that the world is ours to do with as we please.
So we have engaged in practices that harm the environment,
contribute to global warming, and serve our own interests.
.As people of faith, the Christian community should stand opposed to this mindset
and do what it can to re-educate the faith community
that “going green” is not simply a nice thing to do,
but is in fact a theological and Biblical mandate.
Therefore, as part of the 150th celebration of First Presbyterian Church of Mount Airy,
the session endorses the “FPC Goes Green” initiative.
So what exactly is this initiative? How is our church going to “go green?” I’m glad you asked!
First, we are in the process of switching our incandescent lighting to more energy-efficient CFL bulbs. We’ve already done this with the standard 60-watt bulbs at various places around the church, as well as the spotlights in the Fellowship Hall and here in the sanctuary. In addition to being much better for the environment by not using nearly as much electricity (thus burning less coal at the energy plant), our calculations suggest that the church will save as much as $600 a year on lighting expenses alone.
Second, beginning with this Sunday’s bulletin and this month’s Grapevine, we are switching to recycled paper in the church office. Our mailings and other publications will follow suit. For the most part, you’ll know we’re using recycled paper when you see the logo “Printed on Recycled Paper,” like the one on the back of today’s bulletin.
Third, we are beginning today an in-church recycling program of paper, plastics, magazines, aluminum cans and glass. You’ll notice special marked blue containers at various points around the church. All church members will be asked to use these bins for recyclables generated here at the church – bulletins you aren’t taking home with you, soda cans after a fellowship meal (and after you rinse them out, of course), just to name a few examples. The staff will also use these bins during the week for paper office products, junk mail and catalogs.
To help with the recyclables, we are looking for volunteers to serve on what is being called the “Green Team.” Twice a month, someone from this group will take the church’s recyclables to the recycling center here in Mount Airy. We hope to get at least twelve people on the team so each person would only have to do this twice a year. If you are interested in serving on the “Green Team,” please plan on signing up on the sign-up sheet down the hall after worship.
And finally, we are encouraging all church members to “go green” in their own homes. You’ll find a handout in the bulletin this morning that gives you some very simple, practical steps on how to do this. Take this home with you today and, if you would, make time in the coming week to read it with your family. As you’ll see, it doesn’t involve anything terribly complicated or even expensive. All it really takes is the willingness to acquire a new set of habits and routines in your home.
Friends, this is how our church, and hopefully its members as well, will “go green” in this year of celebration! And you know what the really great thing about all of this is? We’re not just “believing” that it’s good to take care of God’s earth. We’re not just thinking that it’s a nice thing to do. We’re actually doing something about it as a people of faith! We’re following Jesus; following his lead as he reminds us that having dominion over the earth means you and I have been given an incredible responsibility – and an incredible opportunity – to be the caretakers of this world that we were always intended to be. So let’s all “go green:” not even though we’re Christians, but because we’re Christians. Thanks be to God, AMEN.