The passage for our
reflection this morning is from the eighth chapter of Romans, versus 18
I consider that the
sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory
about to be revealed to us. 19For the creation waits with eager
longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20for the creation
was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the
one who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself will be set
free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the
glory of the children of God. 22We know that the whole creation has
been groaning in labor pains until now; 23and not only the creation,
but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan
inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.
24For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For
who hopes for what is seen?25But
if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
It was several weeks
ago that I introduced the theme for our Fall stewardship campaign this
year: "Generations of Generosity". We talked about
the offering that Paul collected among the congregations in Asia Minor
that is mentioned in the 15th chapter of Romans. An offering which
more or less cost Paul his life, for it was in delivering that offering
back to Jerusalem where he was arrested and then taken to Rome.
According to the tradition of the church it was there that he was
martyred under Nero.
And so from that
perspective it makes even the tithe that we may give look puny.
What is 10% of our giving in comparison to Paul, who puts his whole
self, his whole life into the offering for the betterment of the
church? This morning I would invite you to reflect with me then on
this theme, Generations of Generosity, from an even larger perspective
(if that is possible). That is, I want to look at, and to think
about our stewardship in relationship not just to our individual lives
but in relationship to all of creation.
I would suggest to
you that there is a direct relationship between what we put into the
offering plate and what we put into our rivers. What we give back
to God, and what we take from the earth.
The apostle Paul, of
course, was not an environmentalist. It would be a stretch of the
imagination to try to make him into one. He was a
Christ-centrist. That is to say, that everything for him centered
around his faith in Jesus Christ. What one ate. Whether one
married. How one lived. Who one obeyed. Everything is
centered on Christ.
And so too, Paul's
relationship with the created order. Paul's reasoning here in the
eighth chapter of Romans is really quite simple. He says, in
essence, that we, as children of God in Christ, must bear certain
suffering now in this world while we await the redemption promised to us
by God in the future, when there will be no more suffering, and the
glory of God will be fully known by all. And if that is true for
us, as one small part of this created order, then it is also true, says
Paul, for all of creation. And thus John 3:16 is something we
should take seriously -- that God so loved the world (and the
word there in Greek for 'world' is 'cosmos'). God so loved the entirety
of creation, that God sent his son into the world. In other
words, God's ultimate intent for the world is not to destroy it, as some
claim, but rather to save it. And that, by the way, is the way the
book of Revelation closes -- not with the destruction of the earth, but
with the new Jerusalem descending upon the earth.
Where most Christian
environmentalists, then, base our responsibility as people of God for
the care of the earth in the creation story (because God created the
earth and called it 'good') and we are therefore called to be keepers of
the earth, stewards of the earth. Paul's radical centering in
Christ and his constant looking to the future places our responsibility
as disciples of Jesus for the care of the earth not in the beginning, at
the creation, but at the end, in eschatology, to use a theological term
for the notion of the end of the world. And that seems almost like
Rich Cizik, who is
the Vice President for Governmental Affairs at the National Association
for Evangelicals, says that on the judgment day, I don't think that God
is going to ask us how he created the earth. You know, give us a
test to make sure that we know, that we can name all 6 or 7 days.
That's not the question. But rather, the question is: God
will ask us what we did with what he created. That's the question.
Only for Paul, the
end of the world is not about the destruction of the earth, it's about
the fulfillment of our destiny. It's 'end' in the sense of that
goal to which we are moving. And so Paul speaks of the suffering
of the world as labor pains -- the world 'groans' because it awaits the
birth of a new reality. Of a new creation, of Christ's reign here
on earth once and for all.
So fast-forward then
2,000 years and Paul's vision of creation laboring in pain seems even
more profound today. Theologian John Cobb and economist Herman
Daly joined together to write a book about 10-15 years ago entitled 'For
the Common Good'. And they began the book with three remarkable
and disturbing facts that they considered to be scientifically
First of all, that
the hole in the ozone layer is growing. The ozone layer is that
thin layer of air that surrounds the earth and protects us from the
harmful rays of the sun. Without that ozone layer, skin cancer
would increase dramatically, crop yields would decrease dramatically,
and the human immune system would be seriously impaired. And they
say that the hole in the ozone layer is increasing.
Secondly, that carbon
dioxide from our auto and factory emissions is creating unprecedented
global warming, which unchecked will cause the greatest climactic change
since the ice age.
And third, that the
biodiversity of the planet is in steep decline, with the loss of 1
species every hour, 24 by 7.
And so they conclude
that the scale of human activity cannot be maintained if we are to
survive on this earth.
Denis Hayes, who is
the coordinator of the first Earth Day, I think back in 1974, says that
by any criteria you name -- air pollution, water pollution, resource
depletion, global warming, endangered species, and so forth -- that we
are worse off today in all of those areas than we were when Earth Day
was first created 30 years ago.
And so Christian
groups associated with the likes of the National Council of Churches and
others have been saying for decades that care for the earth is a key
responsibility of Christians. And now the National Association of
Evangelicals has joined in that cause. Last Fall they issued a
strongly worded statement making sustainability and care for the
environment a central concern. I was very pleased when [Eugene]
Mayor Kitty Piercy started the sustainability work-study group for the
city of Eugene. She invited clergy and representatives of churches
to be a part of that conversation, to help shape that vision of how we
can create a more sustainable community.
I mentioned the loss
of biodiversity. The ongoing destruction of the rain forest has
the potential of eliminating one third of all plant and animal species
on earth. So we're not talking about the loss of a few rare
butterflies, but an enormous reduction in the genetic pool which is one
of the building blocks upon which life is built on this
But we don't need
geneticists and biologists to tell us what that means. The prophet
Jeremiah says: "I brought you into a plentiful land to eat
its fruit and its good things. But when you entered you defiled my
land and made my heritage an abomination. Be appalled, O Heavens
at this. Be shocked. Be utterly desolate, says the
Recall for a moment
the story of Noah, and the flood. We all know that story, a story
we learned as children. But it is so much more than a children's
story. You talk about preserving biodiversity -- here's Noah
collecting 2 of every animal. And I suppose that means on down to
the mosquitoes. Why on earth God would want to spare mosquitoes, I
don't know J,
but 2 of every living creature. And then, when it is all over, God
sends a rainbow as a sign that the covenant that never again will God
destroy the earth in a flood. Four times the story says
that this covenant is with every living creature. Not just
with us, it is with the entirety of creation.
How can we have such
a story in our tradition and not be concerned about the
environment? In the creation story, we're told at every step along
the way that it is 'good'. Jesus speaks of God's care for the
sparrows and the lilies. Paul speaks of God's redemption for all
of creation. We don't need scientists and environmentalists to
tell us that we need to care for the earth. We only need to
remember our own tradition and to be faithful to God's call to us.
The deterioration of
our environment, of God's creation, is an indication of the extent to
which we have neglected our own faith and have become alienated from the
source of life. If we listened to God, and we listened to the
earth, if we had paid attention to both the Creator and Creation, then
we will become more responsible stewards of the earth.
I've more than a
hunch that the deteriorating condition of the world is not a scientific
problem. It's not a technological problem. It's not a
political problem, it's not a economic problem. It is
fundamentally a spiritual problem. And thus it needs a spiritual
John Cobb, who is the
co-author of that book I mentioned earlier, just so happens in the last
segment of the curriculum we have been using for Living the Questions
this last week, said that 'worship of wealth is the greatest problem
that we face in the world today'. That we have made wealth the
goal of all human activity. And you see it is precisely the
excesses of wealth which drives the scale of human activity, cited by
Cobb and Daly, that is destroying our environment.
Just one example I
heard this week on NPR radio, of an upscale community (I didn't hear
where it was) where the latest fad in real estate is "tear
downs". Do you know what a 'tear down' is? A tear down
is a home less than 15 years old, 3,000 - 4,000 square feet, that are
being torn down. Why? So that they can build bigger homes of
6,000 to 10,000 square feet. Perfectly good homes, destroyed so we
can build bigger ones.
Now when we as a
society cannot provide basic shelter for the poorest of the poor, while
the richest of the rich expand their dwellings to enormous proportions,
we have a serious problem and it is a spiritual problem. The
prophet Isaiah speaks of this in the 5th chapter, where he says 'Ah, you
who join house to house, who add field to field, until there is room for
no one but you and you are left to live alone in the midst of the
land. The lord of hosts has sworn in my hearing, surely many
houses shall be desolate. Large and beautiful houses without
inhabitants'. It's a spiritual problem.
And the solution is
not for the poor to rely more on God, the solution is for the rich to
rely more on God. And by the way when I say "rich" I
mean that includes everyone in our society who has a home. Because
by the world's standards, you are rich if you have a home.
God's vision for the
world, you see, is a vision of 'shalom', of wholeness and unity and
peace and oneness with the world. And it's a vision that is
attested to throughout scripture that includes the created order.
Isaiah speaks of the wolf that will dwell with the lamb. Jesus of
the birds that neither sow nor reap yet God feeds them. Revelation
of the new heaven and the new earth united in this vision of the city of
God that descends upon the earth. This vision is not just God's
promise to us, it is our responsibility to future generations. To
live at peace with our world and in harmony with creation and the
So I am convinced
that the more in tune we are, both with creation and with the Creator,
the lighter our share of the burden will be on earth. And
therefore the more resources we will have, that are freed up to give
back to God and to share with others. Whereas the more we worship
wealth, the more we acquire possessions, the more we spend on ourselves,
the less we have to share with others and to give back to God, and the
more damage we do to the environment. So the National Association
of Evangelicals said in that statement on our civic
responsibility: 'We urge Christians to shape their personal lives
in creation-friendly ways. Practicing effective recycling.
Conserving resources. Experiencing the joy of contact with
nature. We urge government to encourage fuel efficiency, reduced
pollution, encourage sustainable use of natural resources, and provide
for the proper care of wildlife and their natural habitats'.
Now I have a modest
proposal for something concrete that I think most of us can do to make a
difference. We all know about the benefits of recycling. The
importance of energy efficiency, insulating our homes and all of
that. A couple years ago we took a pledge -- the "123"
pledge. Anyone remember that? Turn down your thermostat by 1
degree (in Summer turn it up 1 degree if you use air
conditioning). To drive 2 miles an hour slower -- would be good
for us for many reasons, but would conserve fuel. And purchase at
least 3 compact fluorescent light bulbs to replace incandescent light
bulbs, for more energy efficiency.
Well here's my
proposal: recognizing that cars are both the greatest contributor
to air pollution and the biggest consumer of natural resources, I
propose first of all (and keep in mind this is just a modest proposal --
I'm not suggesting you give up your vehicles) that each of us commit
that when we replace a vehicle, that we always purchase one with higher
gas mileage. It's a modest proposal. I figure the average
American replaces their vehicle every 4 years, maybe 5 years.
Well, 10 in this church I guess, whatever the case may be J.
So you figure over your lifetime, you'll own 5, 7, maybe 10
vehicles. If we all did that, and did that from the beginning, by
now we'd all be driving vehicles that are 40 or 50 miles to the
Now not everyone is
average. Some people replace their vehicle every 2 years.
Fine and good -- they'd be driving vehicles that get 100 miles per
gallon by now, right? The point is that we create that demand to
produce such energy efficient vehicles by making our own personal
commitment to always upgrade.
And then secondly,
given that the production of vehicles alone is an enormous consumption
of resources and drain upon those resources, my proposal would be that
we squeeze an additional year out of that used vehicle. Drive it a
little bit longer. Now maybe you're already doing that. Keep
in mind that I drive a 1987 Toyota with 190,000 miles on it. I
haven't made a car payment on that vehicle for about 8-10 years. I
haven't replaced anything other than the oil, the tires, and you'll be
glad to know the brakes J.
So it has freed up a fair amount of resource in the Bryant family.
I figure with the pledge that I give to the church alone, I could
purchase a very nice brand-new vehicle. But when you see me in
that junky old car with the paint peeling, just know that I'm driving my
church pledge and give thanks to God for that J.
I plan to keep on
driving it until the wheels fall off. Not like the Volkswagen I
had before that -- I loved that vehicle -- but man was it a lemon and
cost me an arm and a leg to keep it running. So this has been a
great vehicle. Doesn't get as good of gas mileage as a new
vehicle, but by virtue of the fact that keeping it going has saved
resources in not having to produce a new vehicle.
Well, in sum: I
propose that we take seriously, in our lifestyles, the proclamation of
the Psalmist. That the earth is the Lord and the fullness
thereof. That we see ourselves not as those who posses the earth,
but those who are stewards of it. That we live our lives as if the
children of our children's children depended on it.
Paul says that
creation waits with eager longing when it will be set free from its
bondage to decay. So do I. How about you?