Our words of integration and guidance this morning come from a book called Stewards of Eden. And if you've been coming to church the past few Sundays, you know we've been focusing each Sunday on the theme of Stewardship. Last Sunday was our campus stewardship meeting. And the four Sundays prior to that different people from our congregation came up here to speak about the importance of stewardship, of being good stewards of this church.
Our church has been around now for 141 years. And the people who came before us have been such good stewards. They kept this church going through good times and bad, through the Great Depression, through the two World Wars. And now it's our responsibility and our duty to keep this church going into the future for the next generation.
One of my favorite quotes about stewardship is actually a Hindu quote, “Blessed is the one who plants a tree, under whose shade he will never sit.”
Because we're not doing it for us. We're doing it for the generations to come. Now, today, we're going to continue that focus of being good stewards, but we're not going to be talking about our church campus, but about the Earth, because as we heard at the beginning of our service today, today is one of our Creation Sundays. That's why I'm wearing this beautiful Creation stole that the Creation Justice Team gifted me with earlier this year. Isn't it beautiful?
Thank you so much to Chris Clark for his words this morning. And to everyone on the Creation Justice Team who helped plan today's service. I'm so proud to be a part of a church that really demonstrates in the world that we consider caring for God's creation to be a big part of our Christian calling.
But you know, that's not true for most Christian churches in America today. Most Christian churches have very little regard for the environment. In fact, a recent Pew survey found that just 6% of Christians in America today say that their faith informs whether or not they think there should be stronger policies to protect the environment.
And another poll of climate change deniers, people who deny climate change, found that 98% of them also identify as Christian.
Now, why do you think that is? Why do you think most climate change deniers are Christian? Why do you think so many Christians find a disconnect between their faith and caring for God's creation?
Well, I've thought about it this week – I think there are a few reasons. One might be that political, white evangelical Christians tend to care more about the economy than they do about the environment. And so for them drilling for oil pipelines, and removing forests to plant multimillion dollar housing developments – they think that's good for the economy. And for them, that's way more important than the damage that will be done to the environment.
I think another reason why many Christians don't seem to care about the environment is because of biblical literalism and fundamentalism. If you take the stories of the Bible, literally, well, science has disproven so many of them. So for example, this morning, we heard part of the creation story. But we know that science has proven evolution. So if you take the Bible literally, then you must think science is wrong.
But I think the greatest reason why most Christians have little regard for the environment is because they don't think God lives down here. They think God lives “up there.” And that our whole reason for being here is to someday get up there. This isn't our home. That is.
And they say things like, “Well, God is going to renew the face of the earth. We can use everything up here, because God affects the environment, not us.” And they point to today's scripture reading from Genesis, and they say, “Well, God's given us dominion over the earth.” But they confuse that word Dominion with domination.
Domination means to conquer, but Dominion means to care for, to govern. We are called my friends as Christians to be God's stewards, to be caretakers of the environment, to be protectors of the planet. And yet, most Christians don't really see it as very important. There are, however, denominations like ours, the United Church of Christ. We actually have someone on the national staff, an ordained minister, whose title is the Minister of Environmental Justice. That's his job in our denomination. His name is Reverend Brooks Berndt, and he wrote a book called Cathedral on Fire, which our Creation Justice Team read earlier this year. And in that book, he said, ”If you truly say that you believe in God, then you have a moral responsibility to care for God's creation.”
And I believe that, because God is in all of creation. As we grow spiritually, we stop seeing God up there. And we begin to see God right here. God is in all of creation. And you may have heard the term eco-spirituality. Many writers, many of our favorite writers at Douglas UCC, people like Fr. Richard Rohr, and Cynthia Bourgeault, and Diana Butler Bass, and Matthew Fox, they've all written books in recent years on the theme of eco-spirituality.
And what that means is that our spirituality is connected to the ecosystem. We are one with all of creation. We begin to see such a deep spirituality between us and everything – the Earth, the plants, the insects, the birds. We begin to understand our interconnectedness, our oneness with everything.
The ancient people were way more attuned to this than we are in the modern world. So for example, today, we're putting our focus on the Harvest Moon, because as Chris said, we saw the Harvest Moon this past week, so beautiful. And as Chris mentioned, it was a way for farmers to be able to harvest their crops late into the night, so that they would have more time to get their harvest in before the frost came.
And so they were very focused on the environment, and they expressed their gratitude to God for the light that allowed them to have more time to bring in their harvest. We, as modern people, have lost that connection to the motion of the universe and to our connection to the earth. But part of what we are called to do as a creation justice church is to educate people, and to have us begin to shift our focus from God up there to God right here.
The harvest is actually mentioned in the Bible more than 60 times. And what it means in the Bible symbolically, is God's abundance, God's bounty. You know there is enough food on this planet. The Earth provides enough for every single person to be able to eat their fill. So then you may say, Well, then, if that's true, why are there people who are food insecure? Why are there people who are starving? Some people look at pictures of starving children, and they say, ‘Why would God allow such suffering?’
Well, the real question is, why do we allow such suffering? We've got enough resources to feed them. But as Jesus said in today's God's gospel message, the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Because most of us don't want to do the work of sharing God's abundance with everyone. We are much more focused on ourselves. As long as I have my fill, that's what's important.
Mother Teresa once said, “If there is suffering in the world, it's because we have forgotten that we belong to one another.”
We belong to one another. And I would also extend that to creation. We belong to the trees, to the water, to the animals, to the birds, the insects, we are all one, we're all interconnected. And again, part of the spiritual life is understanding that oneness, not just with people, but with all of creation. As we begin to shift our focus from God up there to God right here, we begin to understand that when we harm creation, we're actually harming God.
And so, my friends, on this creation Sunday, let us recommit ourselves to being a Creation Justice Church, one that educates people and advocates on issues of environmental justice. And may we begin more fully to see God's presence everywhere. Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is at hand.” He didn't say the kingdom of God is up there. He said it is at hand, meaning it is here. And it is now, on Earth, as in Heaven.
Rev. Salvatore Sapienza
Words of Integration and Guidance
from Stewards of Eden by Sandra Richter
Israel's Sabbath law protected the long-term fecundity of the land. The sustainable farming practices this law encouraged - which limited short-term yield but helped to ensure long-term productivity - were understood as "righteousness" in the Old Testament. Of interest is that current agricultural science is demonstrating that our modern failure to provide for long-term soil fertility is indeed leading to disaster - in the form of decreased fertility, poor nutrition, and, in many parts of the world, sterility. This failure also has a devastating effect on those living on the margins. Although I would never suggest that present-day farmers return to the agricultural methods of the Iron Age, I would suggest that in Israel’s fallow law we find a critical ideological principle that should continue to guide our approach to the stewardship of agricultural land: It is not acceptable for any populace to take from the land everything that it can. Rather, as the law of Israel teaches us, God’s people are commanded to operate with the long-term well-being of the land as their ultimate goal. They are instructed to leave enough so that the land might be able to replenish itself for future harvests and future generations - even though such methods will cut into short-term profits. Why? The answer offered in Leviticus is short and direct: "because I am Yahweh says your God" and "the land is mine". In Deuteronomy, the answer comes from a different direction but is equally compelling: so that ''you shall prolong your days in the land.” In other words: because this is Yahweh’s land and Yahweh’s produce, and because Yahweh intends that his land be fruitful for the next generation of tenants. In sum, the constitution of ancient Israel taught that economic security or growth was not a viable excuse for the abuse of the land, and that true economic well-being would come only from careful stewardship of it.
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