The text for this
Sunday comes from Paul's letter to the Romans, the eigth
chapter, verses 18 to 25:
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
This was the 40th anniversary of Earth
Day. It began as a protest movement against environmental
policies of the country, and resulted in the Clean Water Act and
the Clean Air Act, which dramatically changed our air and water
for the better. And now it has become part of the mainstream --
there are Earth Day sales in stores, and all kinds of
observances, so it's no longer that sense of protest movement
that it was.
I originally did not plan to preach on the topic, thinking it's
a topic I've covered in various ways, and was thinking I don't
need to do this every year. But I didn't realize it was the 40th
anniversary when I was planning my sermons. And then there has
been this series of events -- earthquakes in Haiti and in Chile
and China, this week we saw the volcano in Iceland. Talk about
your demonstrations of the power of nature, grounding all
flights throughout the most of Europe for the better part of
week. To this morning's news with the devastating storms in the
South, and tornadoes that have wrecked havoc.
And then there are the catastrophic accidents we have seen in
the process of extracting energy from the earth. The coal mining
disasters in West Virginia and China, the oil platform this week
in the Gulf of Mexico. It's almost as if the earth is trying to
get our attention. The whole creation has been groaning in labor
pains, writes Paul, waiting to be set free from its bondage to
decay. Be that from pollution or overpopulation, the loss of
rainforest, the loss of farmlands, whatever the case may be. And
to that the possibility of climate change, even if the
worst-case scenarios are completely wrong, just the possibility
that they are even partially right should make us stop and
ponder what is happening.
And it strikes me that observing Earth Day in the church is no
longer something that is optional for us as Christians who
believe in God as the creator of the world--it is the essential
for us. And thus are concern for the care of the earth is as
essential to our faith as the golden rule or John 3:16 or
concern for the poor or justice or peace.
Just how important is it? John Cobb, who
was one of my primary mentors in seminary, and many people
(including myself) believe he is probably one of the most
prominent theologians still living in the United States today,
put it like this in a recent address he gave to an assembly of
the United Church of Christ:
"I propose, quote, that the church take as its mission, working
with God, for the salvation of the world". Isn't that what John
3:16 says? For God so loved the world he gave his only son. . .
The problem is, we, being the ego-centric beings that we are,
have taken that passage to refer exclusively to humanity. And
the rest of the world, having no eternal consequence for us, can
literally be damned -- if not by God (at the end of time), then
by us, in the meantime.
Only such is not Paul's vision. Creation, Paul seems to be
saying here, is waiting for us to be revealed as the children of
God. That creation will join us in the glory of God. That's a
So rather that us waiting for God to clean up the world,
creation is waiting for us to clean up the world.
And so how do we do that? There are all kinds of things that we
can do as individuals, and you know them. Reuse, recycle,
reduce. Our Power and Light Committee has been trying to get us
to pay attention, to figure out what our carbon footprint is,
and be very intentional about reducing that. Eating locally
produced food, and we have the "That's My Farmer" program
supporting community-supported agriculture that's just now
gearing up to do that. Lowering our consumption, you've heard it
Many of you, I think, probably know by now
that I've gone back to my wild days and have bought a two
wheeled scooter. It gives me a chance to wear leather, you know,
and a helmet :). Here's the thing: it's electric. It's 100%
electric. It's the cleanest energy you can have. Phyllis Weare
reminded me that some of our electricity is still produced by
coal, you know, just when I was feeling good about it. At least
I can feel 'better' about it. And better yet, to ride your
bicycle to work. I don't want to have that much fun, however.
I'm glad to have a little bit of power behind me.
This is all part of trying to do my
part. Many of you have gardens, and have brought your produce to
share with us. And then there's our community garden that
Phyllis and company started a couple of years ago. So many
things we can do, and when added together, really does make a
Then there are things we can do as church. Andy Laird has helped
us over the years to replace are our lighting fixtures to more
energy efficient fixtures. That has been significant. John the
Plumber in our first service (every church needs a plumber and
electrician, now if we could just find a lawyer :), has helped
us change our hot water system to reduce our energy usage. We're
exploring right now upgrading our windows in the office building
to more energy-efficient windows, because that's where a big
loss of energy occurs, especially in those old style windows.
And of course, as many of you know, we're being forced to go off
steam that EWEB provides, and the good news is in the process we
will have more efficient steam production here in our own
building that will greatly reduce our costs. The bad news is,
we're going to have to pay for it. But still, that's going to be
a gain in energy efficiency.
One of the really exciting possibilities that is emerged, First
United Methodist Church is installing this summer a photovoltaic
system financed through a limited liability corporation (if you
know something about that, energy credits and so forth, it is
almost cost free) that will generate half of their electricity.
So we plan (we're already discussing this with them) learning
from how they're doing this and see how it works, and maybe that
might be something we will add in the near future as well.
So there are many things that we can and
are doing to reduce our energy usage, and thereby save us money
as well. So it's a win-win. And there are things that we can do
collectively. Working with groups like Ecumenical Ministries of
Oregon, in their advocacy efforts to support legislation to
promote green energy and alternative transportation and higher
fuel efficiency and greater environmental protections and the
All of these things are important. But none of them are really
unique to our role as a people of faith. These are all things
that anyone can do, and should do. They're not central to our
identity as Christians.
So I propose to you, therefore, that
first and foremost, before any and all of these important
things, the single most important thing we do is what we are
uniquely gifted to do. Namely, to articulate a sustaining vision
for God's creation and our role in it. This is, I think, what
creation is waiting for. The revealing, by the children of God,
hope in that we do not yet see, but which will save the world.
So what is that vision that we can offer as God's people that
will most benefit all of creation?
Sallie McFay, who was a professor of theology at Vanderbilt
University (now retired) proposed a rather simple but powerful
metaphor for God, eight years ago in her book "The Body of God".
Just as we speak of the Church as the body of Christ, she
proposes we speak of creation as the cosmos as the body of God.
And Franciscan teacher and writer Richard Rohr has picked up on
this metaphor and he says that we need to expand our
understanding of the incarnation. We think of the incarnation as
that of the event in the birth of Jesus -- God made flesh. But
Rohr says that's just the latest or the later incarnation. The
first incarnation occurred 14 billion years ago in the big bang.
God made universe, so to speak. God in the universe. That's the
first incarnation, says Rohr.
And everything, not just humans, bears the clear imprint and
likeness of the Creator. "How could we miss that"?, asks Rohr.
"We must realize what a muddle we have gotten ourselves into by
not taking incarnation and the body of God seriously. It is our
only Christian trump card and we have yet to actually play it".
I like that notion of the trump card, so what I'm suggesting,
following McFay and Rohr, is that we play this trump card. That
we loudly and clearly proclaim creation as the incarnation of
God in the universe. The body of God. The earth is the Lord and
the fullness thereof. Why? Not because it is God's creation. Not
because it is God's possession. But because it is God's body.
It doesn't get any more sacred than that. When we contaminate
the earth, we contaminate God's body. When we poison the water,
we poison God's blood. When we pollute the air, we pollute God's
breath. Only when we see the land and water as God's body and
blood, and the air as God's breath, will we finally give the
earth the respect, the honor, and the glory it is due.
Thomas Aquinas said it some 800 years
ago, writing in his Summa Theologica ("All of Theology"), he
wrote: "The immense diversity and plurality of this creation
more perfectly represents God than any one creature alone or by
itself". And St. Francis, 400 years before that, spoke to the
sun and the moon, the earth, as brothers and sisters.
In a new book by McFay, "A New Climate for Theology", she argues
for a new understanding of our relationship to the earth in
which we see "The animate and inanimate energy sources of our
planet not as resources for our desires, they are the sources of
our existence. The magnificent bounty of planet earth", she
writes, "are a marvel for our delight and our nourishment and
not our possession to be squandered and destroyed".
To view the world as the body of God is to hold it as something
sacred. To treat it with reverence. To behold it in awe. That is
the vision, I think, for our world that we have to offer. The
vision for which creation waits with eager longing to be
revealed by the children of God. A uniquely Christian vision
that cannot be seen by most, perhaps, for we hope in what we do
not see. But it can be sung.
It is the kind of vision that mystics have proclaimed for ages,
like Paul and St. Francis, based not on science or knowledge but
in their their awe for the wonder of the cosmos, and their
experience of the beauty of life.
To give us, perhaps, a glimpse into that awe and wonder, I'd
like to play for you a recording of St. Francis' "Canticle of
the Creators", which we used as part of our call-to-worship
already. And with a little help from the music Andrew Lloyd
Weber, and pictures from NASA: