ST. STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH APRIL 28, 2019
Rev. Sabrina Ingram
AND IT WAS GOOD
Genesis 1: 1 – 2:3; Romans 8: 19 – 23; Mark 16: 15
This past Monday was Earth Day. A day when people are urged to turn off their lights for 1 hour as a symbolic gesture of caring for our planet. Andy Ridley, Co-Founder of Earth Hour says, “Although Earth Hour aims to turn off the lights for 60 minutes, the main goal is to push it beyond the given hour and make it a habit of using less energy through lighting. The goal is to build a global collective movement far beyond the event itself”.
Earth Day is of particular importance to Christians because, “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it” (Psalm 24: 1). God is the creator of all in existence. Genesis 1 gives us a poetically written account of God’s creative action. It is theological doctrine telling us that God, who exists eternally, in the freedom of his will, creatively established absolutely everything. It describes an innovative activity beyond comparison. God is Lord of his creation. What he made belongs to him and continues to exist by his will alone. Unfortunately, the power and majesty of this passage is lost due to its familiarity. Our minds and senses have grown dull. It’s sad that we hear the creation account being read and think, “Yada, yada, yada. We know, we know. Is she going to read the whole thing?! How long is this?” I surmise that’s how some people in other churches feel; of course, everyone here was exultant as the words painted vivid pictures in your imagination. But just in case, Diane and I prepared a video for you that summarizes the story and I hope gives it some freshness: (video)
The creation account should fill us with awe. Awe for God’s vision, power and mathematical precision. Awe for the grandeur of the Earth. And awe for the goodness God saw and declared at every stage. The “goodness” God spoke of wasn’t so much moral goodness as we usually think of goodness. Neither is the “goodness” a comment on the beauty of creation, although, creation is incredibly beautiful. In saying that creation was “good”, God was saying it was “perfect”. Not only was it good, it was very good – it was beyond perfect, if that’s possible. It was absolutely perfect. It was purposeful and harmonious. It was complete and whole. It ran smoothly, upheld by an underlying logic beyond human understanding. It was balanced to sustain life. It was “shalom” – peace, harmony, balance, wholeness, completeness, abundance, well-being and tranquility. It was very good.
That is, until the poisonous cloud of sin was released by Adam and Eve. As humanity is contaminated by this fall from “shalom”, so is the created order. Paul tells us, “Everything in creation is being held back… All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are birth pangs.” Or as the NRSV puts it, “The whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now” (Romans 8: 19 & 22). Creation is suffering. Environmentalists or simply the environment, show us this is accurate. Climate change is a major affliction in nature. Climate change means more than global warming. It includes extremes in temperatures, droughts which bring a decrease in crop yields and an increase if forest fires; flooding, storms, and rising sea levels; and an increase in “active weather”, a lovely name we’ve created for tornadoes, hurricanes, earth quakes and tsunamis. Deforestation and carbon emissions mean we’re putting more poison in the air while destroying the Earth’s natural filtering process. Air pollution kills 3.7 million people per year. Other types of pollution like garbage and human waste are burying our land and waterways. “Cities currently generate approximately 1.3 billion tonnes of solid waste per year….and with the current trends in urbanization, this number will likely grow to 2.2 billion tonnes per year by 2025 – an increase of 70 percent.” Pollution poisons soil and waterways, kills plants, and harms humans, sea-life and animals. As a result of overfishing, poaching, deforestation, habitat destruction, pollution, etc., more plants and wildlife are nearing extinction. The smallest disruption to an eco-system has a domino effect. Dead zones occur in the ocean when oxygen levels in the water fall so marine life cannot survive. Typically, dead zones pop up near heavily populated coastal regions, like the Gulf of Mexico, where lots of chemicals are in the water. And while God told Adam to “Be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1: 28), we are now at a place where over-population is our biggest threat. As the human population continues to grow, and as more people live more lavish life-styles, increasing stress is put on the environment and more resources are lost i.e. the wilderness is destroyed to make room for infrastructure, more “stuff” is produced, and more pollution is created. Creation does indeed groan.
As people oppress the Earth, we also pay the price. We too groan, but apparently, not as deeply as we need to. I admit I don’t always have the well-being of the planet in my consciousness. There are many things I do which I excuse – like driving my car needlessly- and many things I’m sometimes careless about – like recycling. Up until recently, I haven’t considered the source of my water or its destination when I flush the toilet. While some people fight for the welfare of the planet, there are many more like me – or much worse. Not to mention the environmental abuse by factories, corporations and governments around the world.
Canadians tend to have a noble view of our contribution. We have lots of trees and relatively clean water. We don’t allow the Newfoundlanders to fish for Cod commercially. We have carbon-taxes. And at least some people object to an oil-pipeline. We’re responsible for only 2 – 4% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. But hold on. Per capita, Canada has the highest greenhouse gas emissions in the world! Out of the top 17 countries, Canada ranks #1 in household use of electricity. Out of the top 12 countries, Canada ranks #7 in the consumption of oil, natural gas, coal and nuclear energy. Nothing there to be too uppity about.
Environmental need is overwhelming. It seems hopeless. Like its too late. The snowball is rolling and there’s no stopping it. So, it’s interesting that, at the same time Paul speaks of creation suffering, he also holds out hope. He writes, “God reins it [creation] in until both creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead. Meanwhile, the joyful anticipation deepens” (Romans 8: 20 – 21). This isn’t blind optimism and it doesn’t give us an excuse for being complacent. But it is encouraging. We live on this side of the resurrection and a glorious future awaits. Anything is possible.
In Mark’s gospel, after his resurrection, Jesus commissions his followers to “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation” (Mark 15:16). What does it mean to proclaim the good news – the gospel – to creation? Creation can’t repent, and it has nothing for which to repent. Creation can’t have faith, at least the way we understand faith. Creation can’t “accept Jesus as it’s Lord and Saviour”. So, was Jesus just using a word to generalize our mission “to go everywhere…to one and all” (Mark 15: 16 Msg) or does he want us to be bearers of the hope of resurrection to Creation? Given “creation” is the word used, we need to take it seriously. If there’s new life for us because of Jesus’ victory over death, then there’s new life for everything that was affected by sin, and that includes creation. It’s odd to speak of “proclaiming” to creation. Although we talk to plants and animals, the message of the gospel is a bit complex. However, we “proclaim” the hope of victory over death and of new life, also with our attitudes and actions. We proclaim “good news” when we give up making excuses for our continuing, destructive patterns of behaviour and we start to care for the Earth as conscientious and diligent stewards.
In this way our actions don’t look too much different from that of anyone else. We do what we can to heal and protect the planet. The internet is full of practical suggestions we can all do:
• Avoid the vampire effect. Appliances, TVs and computers suck energy when left “sleeping” or turned off but plugged in.
• Flush less – use grey sink water to flush toilet or “when it’s yellow, let it mellow”
• Stop subscriptions or picking up reading materials you won’t read
• Covering a pot with a lid while cooking, reduces energy consumption by 66%
• Use lemons, baking soda or vinegar to clean
• Use coffee grounds as ant repellant or to scrub pots
• Drive less aggressively – it saves fuel and it’s safer
• When shopping look to see where the product is made and what it’s made from. Avoid countries with poor environmental records and materials that may be endangered or synthetic
As Christians the difference in our stewardship and that of others, is not so much in what we do, but in why we do it. We are not stewards only because God gave us this responsibility, but because we love God and God’s creation. We live with hope, not only for people, but for creation, because Jesus is risen. We share Jesus’ mission to bring healing and wholeness to both people and the Earth. While working to restore our planet, we wait with expectation, knowing that suffering is for a time, but God has not forgotten the work of his hands. We anticipate a time when all Creation will, once again, be “very good”.