The past two years, some of the most popular TV shows – and ones the Beal household favors such as the Simpsons, the Office, and 30 Rock – were given the charge by their network executives to write a “green-themed” episode in honor of Earth Day.
It seems we can’t watch TV or read a magazine without something “green” being advertised: cars, cleaning products, TP, clothing, cosmetics, or just getting tips on how to be more eco-conscious.
It’s currently hip to be green. I don’t want to sound cynical, but we know Hollywood and Madison Avenue are aware of how to bring up ratings and bring in money. That being said, we have to acknowledge the media has a powerful influence on cultural values, so when their powers are used for good, I appreciate their efforts.
I confess I felt some tension this week about having an Earth Day focus in our worship service. I didn’t want it to feel that we too inserted a “green theme” just because it’s vogue. Then I reminded myself that it was God the Creator, after all, who celebrated the first Earth Day (or Earth Week). Earth Day is God’s Day!
God passed along this celebration to humankind. In fact, the celebration and care for creation is the covenantal act between God and people. At the beginning, the Spirit first drove back the chaos like clearing a blank canvas in order to begin the masterpiece. The covenant God made with us is the responsibility to hold back the chaos and to care for God’s masterpiece.
I read that Earth Day, April 22, is the only event celebrated simultaneously around the globe by people of all backgrounds, faiths and nationalities. More than a half billion people participate in its celebration each year. Maybe the one thing humans can agree upon and celebrate is the fact that people, creatures and natural resources are dependent upon each other for survival.
Perhaps you read Regina Brett’s column this past week in the PD. I appreciated her admitting how hard it is for her to practice being eco-friendly. I read the piece online and read many blog responses. Let me just say, “Wow! There are some really angry people out there!” Many responded with such strong negative feelings (and strong language). Clearly, the jury is still out for many citizens about the evidence of the earth’s declining health.
Our need to care for the earth is a disputed topic. Ecology is hip in some quarters, and just hype according to others.
But for people of faith, I argue, we don’t get to participate in either camp. We are challenged to more than a superficial optimism, and we are called not to ignore sound research about the planet’s state of affairs.
The Isaiah passage brings us a sobering message. In eerie ways this destructive vision sounds unsettlingly familiar. It could have been written by one of the many current environmental scientists description of what catastrophic consequences will come if our lifestyles don’t change.
There is no Earth Day celebration going on in this text.
The earth is warm…the air is poisoned…the sun burns disease upon all people…the grapes wither on the vine, and humans struggle against the earth’s natural forces. The celebrations have stopped. Why has mayhem been unleashed?
Because the people have not kept the Covenant set forth from the beginning.
In verse five:
The earth lies polluted under his inhabitants;
for they have transgressed laws,
they violated God’s statutes,
and broken the everlasting covenant.
God’s law and statutes calls for us to cry out for justice on behalf of those who do not have the voice to do so themselves: the alien, the widow, and the orphan.
The Israelites ceased to care for the oppressed. The consequence of not doing so was that chaos would break back in upon them.
Keeping God’s law means keeping justice on every level from conserving fuel to fighting for the rights of the poor.
How we treat people affects how we treat the earth.
How we treat the earth affects how we treat our brothers and sisters.
It’s a package deal!
From day one to day six…from water and air to Adam and Eve.
But, we have lived disregarding the air and water, and disregarding the least among us.
We waste paper and we waste people.
We have lived like both resources and lives are disposable.
What Isaiah said so clearly is that when we do not walk in God’s ways we trample the earth, and we trample over one another.
Our concern for the environment must be met with equal concern for its people. But, it’s not as hip to cry about the rising numbers of families living on the streets.
Romans 8:18-23 “For the creation waits with eager longing to be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God…creation cries [groans] inwardly for adoption, to be set free.”
This is from the United Church of Christ’s Environmental Newsletter:
“Why does creation cry? Creation cries because neighborhoods populated by racial minorities and the poor continue to be the resting places for commercial hazardous waste sites, affecting health and quality of life. Creation cries as alarming rates of green house gas emissions in the earth’s atmosphere result in global warming and its associated climate changes. Poor and vulnerable communities suffer as rising seas
swamp island nations, floods and storms threaten coastlines displacing entire villages of indigenous people…the loss of mountain top ice and snow threatens to starve communities living below. We all face illness, famine, greater air pollution, land degradation, weakened economic infrastructure, frequent and more intense heat waves, rising sea levels with flooding, droughts, wildfires and extinction of species. BUT the poor, particularly women and children, are most vulnerable along with our neighboring species. Climate change affects us all, but it does not affect us all equally.”
Ted Steinberg, CWRU professor and author of Acts of God, calls into question what are termed “natural catastrophes” or “acts of God.” Ted argues that natural catastrophes are actually un-natural catastrophes for the poorest communities that suffer the most devastation. Certain economic policies take away the voice of the poor in decisions made about their communities. So when un-natural devastation hits, according to Steinberg, they are explained away as acts of God leaving no one accountable. We saw it in Katrina.
Rev. Janet Parker, writing for the National Council of Churches, says: “On Earth Day there is a recognition that something has gone wrong with our relationship with our planet. The threats we face are not orchestrated by God. They are self-induced because we did not keep the covenant. We disregarded the law.
It’s hard to talk about these things, but we have to break the silence, especially within the churches, because here, above all else, we must speak the truth….And so we need to speak about it, and we need to weep about it, because it’s only when we allow ourselves to actually feel what is going on that we will have the capacity to change it. [As one eco-feminist theologian has said,] ‘the capacity to weep and then do something is worth everything’-not to paralyze us with fear, but to spur us to act, and even, to invest us with hope.”
Are there signs of hope that God’s people are keeping the covenant?
Are there signs that the Holy Spirit nudges us toward covenant keeping?
I respond with a resounding YES!
We heard from Diana and Laura about decisions being made by faithful people right here in this church.
The ministries of Stewardship and Trustees just completed a faith-filled energy audit of our building, and now are making hard decisions about how to fulfill our values for our building and grounds.
Laura has acted on her vision to plant a garden for justice right here. And as soon as she shared her sense of call with others, over a dozen people responded with the same enthusiasm. I am not a gardener, and yet I believe each garden planted gives witness to being co-creators. We are reflecting the creative act that God showed in the first Garden.
This church made a commitment to care for families through the Interfaith Hospitality Network by using the physical resources of our building that belongs to God anyway. We provide physical care, but we also advocate for changing the systems that keep people in bondage.
Kevin Steiner, Mark Chupp, John Lentz are just a few people who have made commitments to biking as a way to reduce a dependence on fuel. Kevin has big plans for us as a church and our growing commitment to bicycling. Stay tuned!
Kathy Hanna Stauffer has been offering nutritious recipes in the monthly newsletter. Kathy’s commitment to eating more locally and with organic foods is to decrease our dependence on large agribusiness.
Elder Keith Logan says that because of his growing Christian faith and desire for more meaningful work, he changed course in his professional life by moving into the development of renewable sources of energy. COWPOWER to be exact. Keith said, “It feels like nature is God’s gift to me, so the opportunity to do environmental stewardship work is itself a gift from God. As I learn to see God in my world, I am learning to let my faith guide my vocation.”
These are signs of hope that together can have great impact. God’s Covenant is being kept. People are responding to a deep sense of what is right and just for all manifestations of God’s handiwork.
We have to prepare ourselves that it might get more difficult to keep our part of the covenant. But we trust in a God who has boldly unleashed creative power in us. As a Resurrection people, we believe that God can bring forth the unimaginable. God has equipped women, men and children with intelligence, imagination, and love to respond to challenges. And as God rested on the seventh day, we too are called to a non-anxious rest in God’s care.
We must be humble as we listen to the cries of both the natural world and the cries of people in need. It’s a package deal. It will take compassion and the moral will to do what is right– even if and when we feel overwhelmed by the task.
I would like to conclude with a word of comfort: a favorite poem of mine by that great eco-poet Wendell Berry, who talks about how he deals with his despair and his fear and how he experiences grace:
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
We are standing at a crossroads. Together, let us seek the good way, and find rest for all of God’s creation.
So be it.