This is my sermon from this past Sunday on making peace with the earth.
First A Confession: This is not a topic I have not always cared about. I am no scientist. I am a total hack when it comes to gardening at this point. I still have quite a big carbon footprint and Im no die-hard vegetarian or vegan (Michael Pollan‘s “flexitarian” works just fine for me). In other words, many of you would be better equipped to stand up here and share with us on this topic. And not just that but I completely recognize that this is a process, a journey of discovery and I do not stand here in judgment or with a measuring stick weighing who is the greenest among us. I have no interest in that nor do I think that’s God’s desire for dealing with any topic such as this.
I grew up eating processed foods just like everyone else. I have eaten on countless paper plates and have even drank from Styrofoam. I drove my pickup truck consistently two miles and less. I once owned an SUV, granted it barely ran, caught on fire, had a heater that didn’t work and wouldn’t lock but I still owned it! I knew nothing about composting, I didn’t know anything about global warming, and because I didn’t know about a lot of this stuff it was hard for me to care.
But now ignorance is not an option and so now I do care. My conversion from came through many conversions and meeting people along the way who opened up my perspective on matters of the earth and faith (not to mention a lovely and really cute young lady named Emily Miller). This is part and parcel of growing in my Christian faith from one that was only concerned with spiritual things to one that is profoundly bigger, wider and more comprehensive. That I have come to recognize the material of creation, the dirt, the fresh cool water, the brisk morning air, is not simply good but in need of healing has been a long baby-step process.
So I care about this not because some major political figure cares about this, or because it was how I was raised to think, or even because it gives me something to feel good about. These were all things I was strangely ignorant of until not that long ago. No, I care about this because I am convinced that God cares about it, my faith has taken me in this direction. Environmentalism is not my religion and it never has been. My religion is following Jesus Christ, who and for, as our passage this morning tells us, all things we made. And it is because of that that I cant help but treasure and try my best to care for “all things” which includes the Earth. [“All things” quite simply mean a single whole, The Totality (NT Wright) of everything is being redeemed through Christ.] I don’t need data to convince me to care for what is God’s gift to us. And I do see it as a gift given to us, and I want it to be a gift I can leave for our children.
Making Peace With Not-All-Things: I believe that Christians are called to make peace and make peace that is big and broad and covers all of creation. Our passage this morning, which is actually a poem in the Greek, beautifully describes the supremacy of Jesus Christ, Lord of the cosmos, who is over all things. He is not simply over all things but comes before, and after, and holds all things together. The apostle Pauls poem here describes Christs relationship not just to us but to all creation, for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible.
And this comprehensive concern for creation is not just common but essential to the entire scope of the Biblical narrative. From the goodness infused in each step of creation in the beginning, to seeing that the Garden of Eden was Gods sanctuary where he openly walked and conversed with his creation, to the earth participating in tandem with Gods judgment against humanity’s evil in the stories of Noah and the Red Sea, to the Land gifted to the Children of Israel of which they were to care for, and find their identity in. To their loss of the land and their new identity as an exiled people (exiled from what? From the land that was a gift to them). [Not to mention Jesus saying the rocks were willing to cry out in worship if the people stopped – first rock n roll band?]. All of this operates out of an understanding that creation is good, participates with God and reveals God to humanity. As the Psalmist writes “the whole earth is filled with your glory” (Ps 72:19). For the biblical people Life is a Miracle and any mistreatment of it not only harmed the creation, and threw an imbalance into the “Manna Society,” but it blasphemed God.
Our biblical forebears, and all good Christian theology since, believes that earth, all of creation, is not just lovable, not just a gift to be tended to carefully, but a manifestation of Gods presence.
Psalm 104 says: Thou sendest forth they spirit, they are created…
Romans 1:1920 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made.
So to mistreat and exploit what has been created is to mistreat and exploit the creator. Wendell Berry poignantly puts it this way [have you read any Berry?]:
We will discover that the Creation is not in any sense independent of the Creator, the result of a primal creative act long over and done with, but is the continuous, constant participation of all creatures in the being of God…The Greek Orthodox theologian, Philip Sherrard, has written that “Creation is nothing less than the manifestation of God’s hidden being.”(n1) Thus we and all other creatures live by a sanctity that is inexpressibly intimate. To every creature the gift of life is a portion of the breath and spirit of God…
We will discover that, for these reasons, our destruction of nature is not just bad stewardship, or stupid economics, or a betrayal of family responsibility; it is the most horrid blasphemy. It is flinging God’s gifts into his face, as of no worth beyond that assigned to them by our destruction of them. To Dante, “despising Nature and her gifts” was a violence against God.(n3) We have no entitlement from the Bible to exterminate or permanently destroy or hold in contempt anything on the earth or in the heavens above it or in the waters beneath it. We have the right to use the gifts of Nature, but not to ruin or waste them. We have the right to use what we need, but no more, which is why the Bible forbids usury and great accumulations of property…
And the fact of the matter is that at least since the industrial revolution it has become increasingly common to exploit, rape, and pillage the earth for our own ends. We are alienated from the sea, the land, the air, the beast of the field. And many times the church has either encouraged this behavior or at least underwritten a morality that allowed for this kind of horrid blasphemy against our creator. In other words, many in the church have confessed with our mouths that we believe God is the creator of all things but how we live our lives has proven we believe something radically different. We have moved from a people who are concerned with all-things to a people of some-things, or not-all-things, or maybe nothing at all, just ourselves.
I believe what we all need is a conversion that involves, as Jesus put it, having new eyes to see.
With Eyes to See (Gods Handiwork): Seeing (and hearing) is the problem. That we are alienated from creation, just as we are alienated from the creator, can only be remedied by getting new eyes to see. Almost two-hundred years ago John Newton penned the words Amazing Grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me, I once was lost but now Im found, I was blind but now I see. Salvation is always a matter of sight, it always requires, as it did for Paul, the scales to fall off and a new reality to be envisioned. And salvation for Gods people includes all the material God has created. We need eyes like the Psalmist, so that we too can proclaim, The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. (Ps 19:1).
We have tended, post the Enlightenment, to split things into the spiritual and the material, creating a kind of double-vision. There is the secular and the sacred, God and thus the church, are only to be concerned with the spiritual “sacred” parts of life. We have been a part of a long struggle to alienate what we see with what we cannot see. This is modern dualism at its finest. If I had to describe the influence of modernism [Enlightenment philosophy] on our world in one word it would be detachment. [The narrative goes, the church, Jesus, is concerned about the invisible, it can be a chaplain to society but please dont go on moralizing about stuff that falls outside that spiritual realm. While politics, industrialization, consumerism, and the world powers will take care of the visible world, the world that really matters.] In this way Christian spirituality is neutered, it becomes detached from alienated from the rest of creation, Christian in this detached state is no longer about “all things.”
Ched Myers writes in his article Pay Attention to the Birds about Luke 12 and the passage where Jesus tells the parable of the rich man who hoards all his excess so that he can live merrily, and Jesus retorts we are not what we own or better yet, we are not what we consume (Luke 12:15) and then Jesus says:
Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds (Luke 12:2425) and Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. (Luke 12:27).
Myers comments on this:
[The] Birds know nothing about the rich man’s agriculture or barns, yet they can teach us about divine provision. Jesus invites us to have “eyes to see” a Great Economy from which we are deeply alienated, being utterly preoccupied by the works of our hands and our built environments, having objectified and commodified nature beyond recognition…
In other words, the greatest technological and social achievement known to his Judean contemporaries has less intrinsic value than one wildflower in the Divine economy. What if Jesus means it?]
We need to pray for the eyes to see Gods presence once again in the soil, in the leaves, in the beasts of the field, in the air, in the Columbia river. We can consider and learn from God’s great economy which is present in the ravens and lilies. We need to pray for the eyes to see the intrinsic value of the wildflower, and have eyes to see beyond the dualisms of our society. To see that all is holy and infused with Gods grace, all things visible and invisible.
All-Things: Joel Salatin is right [In reference to this interview which we acted out earlier in the service]. We have lost sight of our ecological umbilical cord. We live in a world divorced from the Earth. We pay little mind to the fact that how we live has an impact on everything around us, from what we drive, what we eat, what we drink, what we wear, what we throw away [Dive the film], what we do with our bodies and how we treat the bodies of others, who we buy from, even where we live. The reason is because of the detachment that has taken place. Yet, renewed eyes get rid of this double-vision and help us see that everything we do, all the choices we make have a cost. Ours is a faith that doesnt shy away from this. It is one that seeks to redeem this and make peace with a reality where both the invisible and visible things are held together by Jesus Christ himself.
And so on first glance we read the Colossians poem as a poem about Christ who is Lord of the Cosmos (what if Paul really means this), and behind this reality is another reality, the reality that the good news of Jesus is proclaimed to all creation under heaven. For Paul there is no dualism, there is no alienation, divorce or detachment. All things are made in him and all things and brought to him giving him (and revealing his) glory.
For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. (Col. 1:1920)
If Christ is making peace in, with and through Creation what does that mean for us? If Christ really is lord of the cosmos, making peace with all things, how then shall we live? How might we, as some Quakers like put it, walk gently upon the earth?
And so, I care about this because I am convinced that God cares about it, because Creation is written into the very beginning and the very end of history, from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22, Creation is included in the world God so loved. I invite you to find ways to take pleasure in the beauty of created things, and to find ways to walk gently upon the earth as patterns and examples making peace with all things.
Queries: As a Christian steward, do you treat the earth with respect and with a sense of Gods splendor in creation, guarding it against abuse by greed, misapplied technology, or your own carelessness? (NWYM)