Rev. Teri Peterson|
every day is earth day
22 April 2012, Easter 3B (off lectionary), Earth Day
You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you.
Everything came into being through the Word, and without the Word nothing came into being.
The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world and its inhabitants too. Because God is the one who established it on the seas; God set it firmly on the waters.
Heaven is declaring God’s glory; the sky is proclaiming God’s handiwork. One day gushes the news to the next, and one night informs another what needs to be known.
Of course, there’s no speech, no words—their voices can’t be heard—
but their sound extends throughout the world; their words reach the ends of the earth.
Ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish of the sea inform you. Which of these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In God’s hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all humankind.
Genesis 1:1, 31, 2:7-9, 15
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth... God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.
The Lord God formed the human from the topsoil of the fertile land and blew life’s breath into his nostrils. The human came to life. The Lord God planted a garden in Eden in the east and put there the human he had formed. The Lord God took the human and settled him in the garden of Eden to farm it and to take care of it.
Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet?
Romans 8:22, 19
We know that the whole creation is groaning together and suffering labor pains up until now. The whole creation waits breathless with anticipation for the revelation of God’s sons and daughters.
Yesterday morning, eleven of our youth and six intrepid adults woke up early and went to join in the Community Clean Up Day. We spent two and a half hours picking up trash from a park that had a stream running through it...you would not believe how much trash collects in a tree-lined stream. Cans, firecrackers, plastic bags, candy wrappers. We also had a few big finds—lots of golf balls, part of a realtor’s sign, a five gallon bucket, and an old boot. Some of the people who walked their dogs in the park stopped to talk to us, and more than one thanked us for the work we were doing, and promised to remember us whenever they walked in that park. But a few of them followed that up with “I’m glad someone does this, because I wouldn’t.”
Now, I’m not against people not wanting to get dirty. It was cold and muddy work, cleaning up that stream. It was hard to pick our way through trees and bushes to get the trash that collects in the underbrush. But how many of us walk past things we could do to help? Most of that litter didn’t start out in the stream or the underbrush, it started out blowing down the street or dropped on the playground, but we walked by. Not all those candy wrappers got embedded in the dirt because someone pushed them into the ground—they were dropped and forgotten, or noticed and left anyway, or even stepped on and ignored. “It’s not that important” right? “It’s probably biodegradable.” “It’s dirty.” “It’s just one wrapper, one cigarette, one plastic grocery bag, one water bottle.” We say the same things about letting the water run when we wash dishes or leaving lights on even when we aren’t in the room. It’s just a little thing—does it matter?
Even when we do pick things up or dispose of them properly in the first place—what happens to them? Do we recycle, or throw everything away because it’s quicker? How did we end up with so much disposable stuff in our society, and where does it all go? Few of us live near a landfill, so we hardly ever have to think about what happens to the stuff we throw away. But it goes somewhere, and sits and sits and sits, taking up valuable land, or it collects in the rivers and oceans, like in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is a floating island bigger than Texas made up entirely of plastic waste. Our pattern of consumption and waste leaves a mark—whether it’s a garbage island, a slick on the mud at the bottom of a stream, unbreatheable air, or mutant fish—and that mark hurts other parts of God’s creation, from animals to plants to other human beings who can’t find clean water or healthy enough soil to grow food. How did we get here?
Some of this is the byproduct of living in a wealthy society with a culture of disposability. To make life more convenient we have also made it expendable. As an example, this week I saw an interesting photo-article about school lunches around the world.1 While the food differences were intriguing, the most interesting thing was the dishes on which lunch was served. The only disposable things in the entire set of 20 countries’ lunches came from American schools. Styrofoam or paper trays, plastic fruit cups, plastic forks, paper cups, foil chip bags. In other countries, ranging from Japan to France to Kenya, students ate lunch served at school on real dishes. Some of them had metal bowls, others ceramic plates, but nothing was disposable until you got all the way to the end of the article, to the American lunch.
Into the middle of this reality we hear the word of God for our day: “Is it not enough for you to feed in the good pasture and drink from the stream, must you also trample and muddy the rest of it?” God planted a garden, placed human beings in it to take care of it, and called everything “very good.” All around us God’s creation calls out in praise even as we use it for our own purposes. And before I get myself into trouble, let me just say: yes, human beings are the pinnacle of the creation story as told in Genesis 1. God makes all the rest of creation, then makes human beings in God’s very own image, and places us in this beautiful gift of a world.
But the gift is more like a loan—because, as we learn in the rest of scripture, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.” The world belongs to God, not to us—our job is to take care of it and use it wisely, to love God partly by loving the things God has made. Our job is not to use it however we want with no thought to the rest of the beautiful web God has woven, no thought for the future of the system and those who will live in it after us. When one strand of a web breaks, the rest is weakened as well, and that is true for God’s creation just as it is for the icky little spiders who weave those webs I can so blithely use for a metaphor.
Most of the time when the Bible talks about creation, it’s about how all of God’s creation sings, it’s about how even creation praises the Lord so why can’t we seem to learn, and it’s about instructions for taking care. Huge chunks of the Old Testament are about how we ought to care for the land, give it fallow seasons, not pollute it, and use it wisely so it will produce good fruit—enough for everyone! In fact, the word used in that Genesis 2 creation story, where we heard that God took the human and put him in the garden to farm and take care of it—usually that is translated as “to till and keep it.” And that word that can be translated as “keep” or as “take care” is the same word as in the blessing—“The Lord bless you and keep you.” We are to care for, to keep, the gift of God’s creation in the same way that God cares for and keeps us. This is not a gift given lightly! The land was such a gift for God’s covenant people, and the way to keep the gift was to treat it carefully and with respect. And yet when we get to Paul, we hear this: “we know that the whole creation is groaning…waiting with breathless anticipation for the revelation of God’s sons and daughters.” Groaning…breathless anticipation…the whole world is waiting for us to become who God has made us to be, to see what a complete set of God’s creatures participating in God’s kingdom might look like.
Well, aren’t we all God’s children? Here we are, we haven’t been hiding or anything...so how come the world hasn’t noticed yet? How can there still be more to wait for?
Perhaps because someone living as though they are made in the image of God, the creator of all things, would not walk through a park and proclaim that they wouldn’t stop to pick up some trash.
Perhaps because someone living as though they are made in the image of God, creator of the first garden, would not feed themselves and trample the rest of the pasture while others are hungry and thirsty.
Perhaps because someone living as though they are made in the image of God, creator and owner of the world and all that lives in it, would not stand silent while their culture continues to regard everything (including some of its people) as disposable.
Perhaps the issue is not that creation waits for the right people, but that creation waits for us to grow into our inheritance, into our true selves, into the creatures God created to live in this delicate web of life. All creation groans and waits breathlessly for us to be transformed by God’s grace so that the image of God is revealed in us. When we take a place in the web of creation, rather than trying to remake it to our liking, subdue it for our uses, and force it to follow our own way, we may very well find ourselves singing the same song as the sky and stars and birds and fish and sea—every day, not just on Earth Day.
May it be so. Amen.