The following is the text of a sermon I delivered at Alexandria UMC in honor of Earth Day.
Richard Louv, author of the book “Last Child in the Woods – Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder” tells of his four year old son Matthew asking “Dad, are God and Mother Nature married or are they just good friends?”
That’s a pretty interesting question.
What happens if we look at Paul’s Letter to the Romans in the context of Matthew’s question? Paul says that creation is “groaning with labour pains”. Yes, labour pains as in those felt by a mother about to give birth. I think that’s a pretty striking image; that of Creation in labor giving birth.
The question we must then ask is –
what exactly is Creation giving birth to?
Paul goes on to answer this question by assuring the Romans that through Christ’s death and resurrection ALL of Creation is given a new birth and has been reconciled with God. And make no mistake about it, Paul is saying ALL of Creation, not just humanity.
Paul, or more likely one of his followers well versed in Paul’s theology, also emphasizes the importance of Creation to and within Christ in the letter to the people of Colossae. This is what we know as Colossians. There is a hymn or a poem, contained within the text of the letter; I think it really becomes clear the role Creation plays in Paul’s theology, if read more like a poem than as liturgy …. From Colossians 1:15-20
“He is the image of the invisible God,
The first-born of all creation,
For in him were created all things
In heaven and on earth:
Everything visible and everything invisible,
Thrones, ruling forces, sovereignties, powers
All things were created through him and for him.
He exists before all things
And in him all things hold together,
And he is the Head of the Body,
That is, the Church
He is the Beginning,
The first-born from the dead,
So that he should be supreme in every way;
Because God wanted all fullness to be found in him
And through him to reconcile all things to him,
Everything in heaven and everything on earth,
By making peace through his death on the cross.”
As children of God we are given the task of continuing the reconciliation that Jesus Christ began. This means living in harmony with the natural world that we are part of and come from. This means living in harmony with Creation that nourishes us not only physically through its bounty but also spiritually through its beauty and tranquility.
The Psalms and early books of the Old Testament are full of vivid imagery on how God intends us to live in harmony with nature.
Think of Psalm 23 – we generally hear this at funerals as a form of reassurance, but it is also a wonderful dialogue about how God intends us to be in harmony with Creation.
I shall not want
God gives me everything through his creation
He makes me lie down in green pastures, beside
still waters, He restoreth my soul
Through his Creation He provides me sanctuary for renewal
Think about that. Where do you go to clear your mind? Where are the places that God gives you time to think? Chances are it isn’t at the mall or a parking lot. Creation is vital for out spiritual development and awareness. Studies show that people with direct access to some form of nature – a neighborhood park, even a small garden or green space are awakened to or strengthened in their spiritual journey.
God’s purpose in creation is to bring us closer to our Creator. Closer to God. We enjoy nature for its beauty but we’re also exposed to something larger and longer standing than our own existence. Creation shows us humility. One can’t sit out at night, gaze into the heavens and feel at least a little humbled – we, as individuals certainly aren’t the center of the universe! Interestingly, the word humility is derived from the Greek humus, which also means earth. Humility grounds us to earth, to Creation.
Fr. Terrance Kardong – a Benedictine Monk is one of the foremost experts on religion and ecology. He notes:
“If humility is to be given full expression, the human person must not only be humble before God but also before the merest living member of God’s Creation”
Now, I’m sure many of you are wondering about the Genesis story about having dominion over the earth. Let me say a few things about this; first, there has been little recognition that the term means primarily to watch over with love and care, to nurture, and to look after and protect. Secondly reading further into Genesis, particularly into the second chapter and the second creation story we gain a better sense of what God meant for Creation.
In Chapter 2, man is formed from the soil and given God’s breath and life. God also breathes life into all of creation; further strengthening our bond with all of Creation. Old Testament Scholar, Theodore Hiebert, offers up a few translations that also shed some different light on the Creation story. First he notes that the Hebrew Adama which is traditionally been translated as human and is of course from which Adam comes, is more appropriately translated as “farmer”. In the context of Chapter 2, this is important in that Adam was said to have been sent to the garden “to till and keep it”. Hiebert goes on to call into question the translation of abad as “to till”, asserting that a more appropriate translation is “to serve”. So, in that light, Adam – who represents all of mankind, is a farmer whose job it is to “to serve and keep” the garden. This understanding of the complete Creation story provides a completely different view of Creation and our role in protecting and nurturing it.
As members of the global population, and as Christians, we are faced with the reality of ecological crises that could forever change God’s creation. Many of these are own doing. From city and agricultural run-off, to the degradation of our lakes and oceans, to climate change, Creation has never been strained so greatly. Even beyond the intrinsic value of Creation, if look to Creation for its spiritual value, we have a scripturally-based duty to address these issues.
Perhaps more importantly, as Disciples of Christ, we have an obligation to address issues that affect the poor and marginalized. Environmental crises not only affect the land, animals and plants – they affect people. Environmental crises are people crises. Even if half of the predictions about climate change happen, hundreds of millions of people will face forced relocation and starvation. Hundreds of millions is a best-case scenario.
Jesus calls and invites us to discipleship. He warns us that it won’t be easy, Luke’s gospel is full of such references (e.g. LK 14:25-35). This is one of those cases that discipleship isn’t easy; the environmental crises we face offer no easy answers or solutions. There is no way to look at the future of Creation and not feel a little anxious about its fate. But as Paul says in Romans, we are the children of God who are to be revealed to Creation, to care for it, to show it mercy and compassion.
I can’t think of a more relevant body than the Christian Church to offer care to Creation. As many of the solutions to environmental problem are truly counter-cultural, there is no better community of people than Christians to lead this counter-cultural revolution. After all, when comes to countering the prevailing popular and political culture we had a pretty good leader.
God’s Creation nourishes us physically and spiritually. It gives us pause to center ourselves with our Creator. It gives 4 year-old boys like Matthew Louv the opportunity to ask wonderful questions.
The band U2 sings in their song “Beautiful Day” –
It’s a beautiful day,
Don’t let it get away.
So, with that in mind, I’m going to offer up a challenge to each of you today; spend 10 or even 15 minutes outside today. Not doing work, but just relaxing, reconnecting, marveling at Creation, rediscovering your connection to Creation and consequently our Creator.
It IS a beautiful day - don’t let this one or any other one get away.