"Knowing Our Place in God's Good Creation"
Luke 24:36b-48; Genesis 2:4-15
Earth Day was this past Monday. If you turned on the news or gone online this week, you’ve been hearing some challenging ideas about caring for the environment. So, this Sunday seemed like a good day to celebrate God’s Creation and to ponder our place in it. It’s a day to reflect on what our faith says to us about how we are called to live on the earth.
In this season of Eastertide, we are celebrating good news: in raising Jesus from the dead, God has broken the power of sin and evil and delivered us from the way of death-- to life eternal and abundant. We ponder what it means to live as Easter people… and what it means to live in the ways of God here and now, in a world where hunger, poverty, poor health, fear, violence, and injustice are daily realities for many of God’s people. And today—this week--we are challenged to reflect on how we are called to live in relationship with God’s good creation.
Those of us who call ourselves Christians need to take seriously what our faith says about Creation.
The Bible is a powerful witness to the sovereignty and providence and creativity of God—the Holy One who is the Source of all life.In Genesis chapter one, the scriptures tell us that when God created the world, God blessed it and called it very good. God is revealed through the beauty, power, abundance, and mystery of the natural world. Through wind and flame, water and wilderness, creatures and seasons, God is continually present and active in the world.
Human beings are endowed with reason and given the responsibility to celebrate and care for Creation. God’s first command to humanity was given to Adam in Genesis chapter 2: to care for the earth. “Cultivate” and “protect” it.”
Over the years, we allowed the biblical texts to be twisted so that “dominion” came to mean “domination,” and stewardship came to mean “exploitation.”
Too many Christians think that we are the center of the universe and have twisted the gospel of Jesus Christ to mean that God is only interested in saving individual human souls-- rather than all of creation.
We don’t all agree on the environmental problem, or the scope or cause of the problem, much less the solutions. But there is science and a growing consensus that current trends in growth and consumption are not sustainable.
When it comes to the environment, we need an alternative worldview. We need alternative, faithful ways to know our place in Creation that are not naïve or simplistic. For instance, recycling is a good thing to do, but recycling and efforts by individual and volunteer organizations to recycle will not save the planet.
The issue is too global, too political, too economically driven to be resolved by personal piety or individual good intentions. The issue is ultimately theological—a matter of faith—because it raises the question, “Who owns this place?”
As persons of faith and as a faith community, our task is to imagine how the world would look if God really is ruling, and then to implement that vision—put it into action.
There was a time when we’d sing some hymns to celebrate the glories of creation on Earth Sunday and maybe give out packets of seeds. But I agree with Leah Schade when she writes in The Christian Century:
“Now is not the time for feel-good “green” hymns and ecological tokenism in our churches.” Not when the government has been implementing anti-environmental policies, giving coal mining companies free rein to pollute waterways. Not when air pollution, pesticides, poor diets, and radiation have led to a sharp increase in cancer diagnoses among children. Not when fracking and drilling are poisoning the air, water, and land of our communities.”
And not when people like Waldomiro Costa Pereira are being murdered for trying to protect their land from rapacious corporations and wealthy landowners.
Conflicts over land are common in Brazil, where 1 percent of the population owns nearly half of the nation’s land. According to the Guardian, Brazil saw 61 killings of land rights activists in 2016, and 150 in the several preceding years. Pereira was affiliated with the Landless Workers Movement and had been standing up for the rights for poor farmers, in a heroic act that cost him his life.
Latin America has a long history of struggles over land and resources, with the rural poor trying to eke out a living while those in control of the land extract riches from its bounty. The murder of environmental activists is not a new development. But, as Leah Schade points out, there’s a new layer of urgency in recent years, with the exacerbation of climate change and the increased desperation of people fighting for their communities and their very lives. When people are dying for God’s earth and for indigenous and marginalized communities, we can’t ignore the evil that reigns with impunity against people working for environmental justice.
There is a life-and-death struggle being waged against corrupt governments, corporations, and criminal gangs that are seizing land from people in order to exploit the land for minerals, timber, fossil fuels, or corporate agriculture.
We in developed countries may condemn these injustices, but the demand for many of these products comes from us. We need to be mindful of how, in the words of our Presbyterian “Brief Statement of Faith,” we have ignored God’s commandments, like the command to be faithful stewards of the earth… We have violated the image of God in others and ourselves, accepted lies as truth, exploited neighbor and nature, and threatened death to the planet entrusted to our care.
Since the earliest days, the church, has honored the martyrs who have died for their faith. “From Stephen to Perpetua to Ignatius of Antioch, martyrs are models of courage in the face of hatred, fear, and evil.” As Leah Schade points out, martyrs have been models of courage in the face of hatred, fear, and evil. They refuse to cower to violent regimes, and they face their deaths knowing they have fought the good fight.
Theologian Robert Costanza states the stewardship challenge this way: “The creation of a shared vision of a sustainable and desirable society, one that can provide permanent prosperity within the biophysical constraints of the real world in a way that is fair and equitable to all humanity, to other species, and to future generations.”
The key elements here are sustainability and justice. Sustainability is about recognizing that the earth’s resources are not unlimited, and that any global life-style created on the model of American consumption is suicidal. Justice demands that we recognize the huge gap—which widens every year—between the haves and have-nots of the earth.
Sally McFague observes that the Greek word for “house” is oikos, which is the root word for “economics” … for “ecology” …and for “ecumenicity.” Thus, she suggests that caring for the earth is simply a matter of household economics, which leads her to offer three simple rules for our global household.
The first rule, as in any household, is take only your share. All the cookies are not for you. My share-- as your share-- is what is needed for a decent life: food, shelter, medical care, and education. There is enough for all-- if everybody would share.
Second, clean up after yourself. The ring in the bathtub is yours. That’s simple fairness.
The third rule is: keep the house in good repair for the children and grandchildren who will come after you.
Take only your share, clean up your own mess, and keep the house in good repair. It’s a simple vision on a global scale.
But we can’t be simplistic and think this can happen through our good intentions as individuals. We need a renewed worldview-- because the current one is not working.
We need a world in which nations have the humility to confer and compromise... and to sign and honor treaties to work together for global cooperation to work together on environmental and justice issues. We need national leaders who have a vision for the common good-- in their own nations and beyond their borders… and who are courageous enough to risk their political popularity for the promise of a viable global future. We need economists and business leaders who are smart enough to know that it takes more than money to create a harmonious global household.
We need faith communities—people like us—who know the earth is the Lord’s and that all the earth is holy ground. We need to commit ourselves to living and proclaiming that alternative vision to our communities and the world.
We live in a broken and fearful world, but we are Easter people who follow the Risen Christ. We know that we can trust in the power of the Holy Spirit to give us the courage we need to unmask idolatries and to work with others for justice, freedom and peace, for the welfare of all.
So, let us commit ourselves to live more lightly and faithfully on this holy ground, and to care for the earth as a way of worshipping and serving our gracious Creator God!
Rev. Fran Hayes, Pastor
Littlefield Presbyterian Church
April 28, 2019
 Genesis 1:1-31
 P.C. Enniss, “Holy Ground.” My notes say that I read this at an old website, at www.goodpreacher.com
 Leah D. Schade, “Let’s Make Earth Day about the Earth martyrs,” in The Christian Century. https://www.christiancentury.org/blog-post/lets-make-earth-day-about-earth-martyrs
 “Land rights activist shot dead in Brazilian Amazon hospital.” https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/21/brazil-land-rights-activist-shot-dead-amazon-hospital
 Schade, in The Christian Century.
 Presbyterian Church (USA), “Brief Statement of Faith,” 1990. https://www.presbyterianmission.org/what-we-believe/brief-statement-of-faith/
 Robert Costanza et al, An Introduction to Ecological Economics (1979), quoted in Sallie McFague, Life Abundant.