Monday, April 25, 2016

Sunday's Sermon - Stewardship of the Earth AND Care for one another.

Genesis 1:1-2:2
Acts 17:24-25

Today we are celebrating earth day, and the charge we have been given to be good stewards of the earth.  This has been planned for weeks, that today we would be talking about our relationship to the rest of creation.  And yet we’ve had events in our church community that also call for our attention this week.  So I’ve found myself with the interesting and dubious task that many pastors face of how to keep with the planned program but also speak to the current reality that we are living with.
But I found, as I reflected on this, that these two things DO tie intimately together.  Today’s passages, as with all passages, tell us many things, but there are two things that we will focus on today.  The first is that what God created is good.  And that includes creation, and it includes one another, people who are diverse and different in so many ways, blessed by those differences, blessed by that diversity.  God has created it all, as we are told in Acts.  And it is GOOD.  And the second thing that we are told by these passages, especially the Genesis passage, is that we are called to take care of that creation.  The word that we often translate “dominion” is better translated “stewardship”.  It is a word in Hebrew that implies care, not over something wild and distant, but over that which we know.  It is not a word that implies we must dominate or subdue (another mistranslation – better translated “cultivate”) an enemy or something chaotic, but instead, like a parent, like someone who loves and truly sees and understands the other, we are called to care for, tend to, bring out the best in, the world that God has given us.  It is very similar to the way God works with us.  God tends to us with love, with care, always working to bring out the best in us.  We are called to do the same towards the earth that God loves.
The same is also true for how Jesus calls us to care for each other.  The question, “am I my brother’s keeper” should actually always be answered with “yes”.  We are the keepers of each other, but again, not as enemies, not as guards, but as people we are called to look after, to approach with compassion, never to judge (as Jesus said again and again), but always to love with the same unconditional love God extends to us.

We have been given the charge as people of faith to care for God’s creation, including all of God’s people, to watch over creation and each other, to love, to tend, to care for.  We have been given the charge of loving rather than using the beauty that surrounds us.  Not always an easy charge, especially because we often have very little to hold us accountable.  It is easy to use and misuse that which won’t catch up with us.  It is easy to judge and condemn and even abuse others, especially when we are in a group of like-minded folk who support and encourage our fear, anger and hatred.  Like children who don’t think what they do is wrong unless they get caught, we have, for quite some time, been in a place where we could take what we wanted from the earth, use what we wanted of the earth, and frankly from certain groups of people, without consequence and without fear of recrimination. 
But more recently this has begun to change.  In the last century, we have started to become aware that even the way we care for, or fail to care for, the earth, and for each other, has consequences for us as a people, for humanity as a whole and for each of us as individuals as well. 
            In terms of the earth, one of those wake-up calls came for Cleveland On June 22, 1969. On August 1, 1969, Time magazine wrote this about the Cuyahoga River: 
Some River! Chocolate-brown, oily, bubbling with subsurface gases, it oozes rather than flows. "Anyone who falls into the Cuyahoga does not drown," Cleveland's citizens joke grimly, "He decays".  .. . The Federal Water Pollution Control Administration dryly notes: "The lower Cuyahoga has no visible signs of life, not even low forms such as leeches and sludge worms that usually thrive on wastes." It is also -- literally -- a fire hazard.

Because of this fire, Cleveland businesses became infamous for their pollution, a legacy of the city's booming manufacturing days during the late 1800s and the early 1900s, when limited government controls existed to protect the environment. Even following World War II, Cleveland businesses, especially steel mills, routinely polluted the river. Cleveland and its residents also became the butt of jokes across the United States, despite the fact that city officials had authorized 100 million dollars to improve the Cuyahoga River's water before the fire occurred.

And this fire in 1969 was not the first on the river.  The Cuyahoga had burned as early as 1868 and over the years about 13 more fires before 1952 had caused more than $1.5 million in damage.  Humans had begun to pay for not caring for the earth.  Still, until the 1969 fire, little attention had been paid to the river or the pollution. 

The 1969 river fire was different, though.  It attracted media attention like never before.  And the results were very positive.  Cleveland began to clean up the water.  But the fire also brought attention to other environmental problems across the country, helped spur the Environmental Movement, and helped lead to the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972.

The result was that the river has been and continues to be cleaned up.  “When they checked the river at the time, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency found 10 sick gizzard chad. Period. More recently when checked they found 40 different fish species in the river, including steelhead trout, northern pike and other clean-water fish. Now, even the most polluted areas of the river generally meet aquatic life water quality standards.  There is still work to be done, but it continues to happen, thanks in large part to the fire in 1969."

What does this have to do with us, as people or as Christians?  Well, in many ways I see the fire of 1969 as a Good Friday in Cleveland’s environment, and in our care for the earth.  We had done such a poor job of looking out only for ourselves and not caring for the earth, that the earth itself was being destroyed through atrocities such as a river burning. 

But the resurrection is for all of creation.  The promise of new life and new birth is for all of creation.  Easter is for all of creation. 

And so today, as we celebrate earth day and the fifth Sunday in Easter, I want us to take some time to look at the resurrection of the earth as well.  We created Good Friday for the Cuyahoga river, just as we killed Jesus on the cross, and just as we harm our brothers and sisters with our judgments, anger and hatred.  But out of the death, we see God’s active hand, creating anew, bringing new life.

God created the resurrection.  But when it comes to the life around us, when it comes to the earth, we are invited to be part of ushering in the new era.  We are called to be part of the resurrection that is for all of creation and all people.  We are called to be part of the new creation that we celebrate at Easter.

The passages we read from Genesis and from Acts remind us that God has created everything and created it all beautiful, but has put it at our feet for us to care for, and to be stewards of. God created everything good, to be loved, to be enjoyed, to experience delight in.  When we abuse God’s creation, whether it be the earth or God’s people, we are insulting the creator, we are not honoring the God who delights in God’s creation.

We don’t actually have a lot of choice about it.  Either we are part of the new creation, or we are part of the Good Friday that precedes it.  Either we are part of destruction or we are part of creation and new life.

This applies to how we treat God’s earth, but it also applies to how we treat any of God’s people.  When we decide that any group of people are unacceptable, are expendable, are worthy of our judgment and condemnation, can be discounted and thrown off, we have failed to remember that it is only together that we are the creation God calls us to be.  When we leave people out, it is like trying to put together a puzzle with some of the pieces missing.  God calls us to be family to one another.  When we reject part of that family it is, very simply, failing to follow the call of Christ to love everyone, even your enemies, as yourself.  When we would alienate or leave out anyone, including our enemies, including those who would harm us, from love and forgiveness, we also are failing to do what God asks us to do, failing to tend to, care for, and be stewards of all of creation, which includes one another as well.

There is a story that I’m sure many of you have heard about the difference between heaven and hell.  In hell, there is a big feast spread out on the table, but the people sitting at the table have no elbows.  They desperately try to feed themselves, but are unable to get the food to their mouths because they cannot bend their arms.  In heaven the picture at first glance looks very similar.  There is a big feast spread out on the table, and again the people sitting around the table have no elbows and are still unable to feed themselves.  The difference, though, is that at the table in heaven, everyone is feeding each other. 

We cannot afford to fail to feed one another.  We cannot afford to house anger and fear and hatred in our bodies.  We cannot afford to be unloving or unkind to any of God’s people.

I am reminded of a story: 
A mouse looked through the crack in the wall
To see the farmer and his wife open a package.
"What food might this contain?"  The mouse wondered.
He was devastated to discover it was a mousetrap.  (slide)
Retreating to the farmyard,
The mouse proclaimed this warning :
"There is a mousetrap in the house!
There is a mousetrap in the house!"
The chicken clucked and scratched, (slide)
Raised her head and said, "Mr. Mouse,
I can tell this is a grave concern to you,
But it is of no consequence to me.
I cannot be bothered by it."
The mouse turned to the pig and told him, (slide)
"There is a mousetrap in the house!
There is a mousetrap in the house!"
The pig sympathized, but said,
"I am so very sorry, Mr. Mouse,
But there is nothing I can do about it
But pray..
Be assured you are in my prayers."
The mouse turned to the cow and said, (slide)
"There is a mousetrap in the house!
There is a mousetrap in the house!"
The cow said, "Wow, Mr. Mouse. I'm sorry for you,
But it's no skin off my nose."
So, the mouse returned to the house,
Head down and dejected,
To face the farmer's mousetrap
. . . Alone.. . ...
That very night
A sound was heard throughout the house
-- the sound Of a mousetrap catching its prey.
The farmer's wife rushed to see what was caught.
In the darkness, she did not see it.
It was a venomous snake (slide)
Whose tail was caught in the trap.
The snake bit the farmer's wife.
The farmer rushed her to the hospital.
When she returned home she still had a fever.
Everyone knows you treat a fever
With fresh chicken soup. (slide)
So the farmer took his hatchet to the farmyard
For the soup's main ingredient:
But his wife's sickness continued.
Friends and neighbors
Came to sit  with her
Around the clock.
To feed them,
The farmer butchered the pig. (slide)
But, alas,
The farmer's wife did not get well...
She died.
So many people came for her funeral
That the farmer had the cow slaughtered (slide)
To provide enough meat for all of them
For the funeral luncheon.
 And the mouse looked upon it all
From his crack in the wall
With great sadness. (slide)
So, the next time you hear
Someone is facing a problem
And you think it doesn't concern you,
Remember ---
When one of us is threatened, we are all at risk.
We are all involved in this journey called life.
We must keep an eye out for one another
And make an extra effort
To encourage one another.

I am also reminded of a quote by Anne Lemott: "You can safely assume you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do."

            The bottom line is we are called to be stewards.  Stewards of creation, stewards of humanity, stewards of love and care for the earth and for each other. We walk that by caring in each moment about how are actions impact others.  We walk that by caring in each moment about who will be hurt and who will be lifted up by our actions.  We walk this by choosing to be kind to all we encounter and that includes the beautiful earth God has given us.  We walk this by living as Jesus taught us, with love, with generosity, with compassion, and with grace.  Amen.