Two days ago was earth day, a day set aside honor the earth, and to confess and correct our misuse of it. I am not an expert in climate change or ecology, but this subject is so important that I want to dedicate this morning to exploring it. Grant Power will lead a discussion about it during coffee hour to deepen the conversation.
I will stick to my field of theology to offer “an ecology of caring” and an invitation to respond as people of faith. Ecology comes from two Greek words - oikos, which means house, and logos, which means word and from which we take our word logic. So it literally means “the logic of the house.” To the Greeks oikos was not just the house that the family lives in. It was the whole world, all of creation. So ecology is not just the logic of my house, but the logic of creation – the structures and dynamics of the household that is creation; how it has been configured and how it runs. It is the interrelated dynamics that make up the total life of the household and the requirements for living together. It is knowledge of the life-systems necessary for good home economics.
So we may all need a review of and an updated curriculum for home economics when home refers to the entire created order. How do we care for our family if among our brothers and sisters we include the sun and the moon; and if among our aunts and uncles are the animals; and among our cousins are the plants? This kind of thinking is not new: St. Francis wrote of it 900 years ago. This morning’s Psalm expressed it at least 1500 years before that: “Praise God, sun and moon; praise God, all you shining stars! Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and frost. Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars! Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!” That’s a beautiful perspective, but few societies have bought into it consistently, and many have moved far away from it. What would home economics look like if we did see things that way? And how do we care for other human beings when we realize that humans are both citizens and stewards of the planet on the one hand, and materially part of the planet on the other? One writer has suggested that “we are not so much at home on earth as we are home as earth.”
One of the problems is that over the years people of faith have misunderstood the biblical command to be stewards of the earth. We took it to mean dominance rather than servanthood. We emphasized our separateness from the rest of creation rather than our interdependence. Thankfully, many faith traditions are recuperating the ancient wisdom, still held by many indigenous peoples, that the earth is sacred, and that our destinies are inextricably intertwined. One of my favorite theologians, Walter Breuggemann, helps to correct our error: “The dominion here mandated is with reference to the animals. The dominance is that of a shepherd who cares for, tends and fees the animals. Thus the task of “dominion” does not have to do with exploitation and abuse. It has to do with securing the well-being of every other creature and bringing the promise of each to full fruition. The role of the human person is to see to it that the creation becomes fully the creation willed by God.” You may not even know what Genesis 1:26 says. But we live in a culture that shaped our relation to creation based on an erroneous interpretation of that verse.
We have to learn how to include the rest of creation in our thinking. I have always taught that, since we are created in God’s image, we are co-creators with God. We are to exercise our gifts creatively to improve the quality of life for all people. So we become musicians and artists and engineers and architects and carpenters and scientists and teachers and parents. Those are all good ways that we express the image of God as co-creators. But like many others, I have had to relearn what St. Francis knew. We are co-creatures with the rest of creation. Psalm 148 shows that we are partners in praise with the rest of God’s creatures, rather than just partners in creation with the creator. Maybe when God put humans in the Garden of Eden, God wanted humans to be the choir cantors in this great earthly chorus of praise. Imagine I Chin giving the first line of the Psalm, followed by the rocks and hills and trees and porcupines singing their part. Too often we’ve treated the choir of creation more as a chain gang of prisoners under our charge than as makers of beautiful music for God. We have emphasized our uniqueness within creation rather than our commonality.
If we don’t change our image we may not have an earth to imagine. Daniel Maguire put it crisply: “If current trends continue, we will not. If religion does not speak to this it is an obsolete distraction. (Moral Core, p 13) I got involved in immigration work years ago because I thought that helping people get jobs, healthcare and better housing wouldn’t make much difference if people were just going to get deported. But now I realize that even immigration needs to be understood in light of the fact that if our behavior toward the planet doesn’t change, we’ll all be refugees – not from a country but from a planet.
But another image that is especially strong during the Easter season is that Christ is risen. Just as lepers and the crippled, the poor, tax collectors, prostitutes and eunuchs celebrate that Chris is risen, the whole creation shouts, “You may have killed him but now he is ME! I will not die!” She shouts, “I will not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord!” Earth shouts in an orgy of pollen and mating rituals and spring fever. The planet refuses to die its winter death to acid rain, polluted rivers, mercury in the water; it refuses to be strip mined, and to yield its rain forests to the arthritic desperate grasp of human greed. You and I are its refusal. You and I are its resurrection, its hope of life – but only if we stand up to the task.
Once we discover that rocks and streams, stars and forests are brothers and sisters to us; and that when someone fells the last stand of virgin redwood, and our children ask, “Where is the clean river now?” When the scientists call the names of extinct species one by one, we will find our voice and shout, “They are risen! You may have killed them but now you have to deal with us!”
The Book of Revelation tells us that the New Jerusalem will come from heaven to earth. In the beginning was an idyllic garden. In the future is a life-sustaining city. From beginning to end, the story is about earth more than heaven. The promises of God are for all the creatures of earth. Christ is risen, and with him is being raised the whole creation, awakened from the sleep of death by a new tune in the mouths of the children of God, brothers and sisters of valley, glen, ocean and stream. Amen!