Well, a couple of months ago, I was talking with you about how many Christian churches in America todaynow have signs in front of their churches that say things like, “All are welcome,” “Everyone welcome,” “Come as you are.” How odd, I thought, that a church, which by its very definition, means House of God, would have to proclaim with a sign that everyone's welcome. I mean, shouldn't everyone be welcome at church? But of course, we know that isn't true, that many people are not welcome at many churches in America today. And that's why those signs are needed and necessary. Now we have a sign in front of our church, which reads in part, “In this church, we believe that science is real.” And again, we're living at such a strange time where we would even need a sign to proclaim that.
Of course science is real.
But because so many Christian churches in America today deny science, deny scientific facts, like the theory of evolution, and climate change, it is important for us as a Christian church to proclaim that science is real, because we want people to know that at this Christian church, you do not need to check your brains at the door before you enter the church.
Now, a recent poll showed that 98% of the people who deny climate change, 98% of the people who think climate change is a hoax, also identify as Christian. 98%. And when I think about it. I've never met a Buddhist climate change denier, a Hindu climate change denier, a Native American climate change denier. They all happen to be Christians. So I'm wondering why there are so many Christians in America with a disconnect between their faith and caring for God's creation?
Well, I think part of it is political. Many Christians in America today seem to care more about the economy than the environment. They seem to care more about protecting the border than protecting the planet. And they think projects like oil pipelines and multimillion dollar coastal developments on Dune land will be good for the economy and the strength of the nation. And for them, that takes precedence over the environment. They don't really seem to care much that these will be destructive to God's creation.
There is a disconnect for so many Christians today, between their love of God and their care for God's creation.
So today, we're going to be talking about the love of creation and what we as Christians are called to do. Mahatma Gandhi said, “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's needs, but not every man's greed.” Now, I think that another reason many Christians in America today seem to deny science is because of religious fundamentalism. And biblical literalism.
So for example, if you're a Christian who takes the Bible literally, well, science has has disproven a lot of the things in the Bible. For example, this morning we heard the beautiful creation story from Genesis. But we know science has proven evolution. So if you take the Bible literally, and you think the world was created in seven days, then you can't believe the science. It's incompatible with your understanding of the Bible, and it's why so many Christians dismiss the science.
But you know science and religion do not need to be mutually exclusive. In fact, Carl Sagan said the notion that they are mutually exclusive, does a disservice to them both. And Martin Luther King Jr. said that science and faith are not enemies. They are complementary. they work together. Now Martin Luther King Jr. was a Christian pastor like I am, and like him, I too, I believe in science. But I also believe in God, and it's not not a god up in the sky. I believe that God's presence is right here on Earth.
And I think that's another reason many Christians don't really seem to care about the environment, because you see for them, God is up there. God is in here. This is God's home, so we can use up what's here. And for them, our purpose for being is to someday get up there. That's our home, not this. Not here. And they believe that Jesus is going to come back here someday to renew the face of the Earth. So they believe that's his job, not ours.
And they misunderstand what it says in today's reading from Genesis, that God gave us dominion over the earth. They think the word “dominion” means domination, and we can conquer and do whatever we want to the Earth. But that's not what the word dominion means. The word dominion means to govern, to care for.
God is calling us to care for this creation, to be good stewards. And the word steward means guardian. God is calling us to be guardians of the garden, the Garden of Eden, this beautiful paradise, this Earth that God has entrusted to our care.
But as I said, many Christians don't really seem to care about that, except when there is some climate disaster. When there's a hurricane coming, or a wildfire, they pray to God, “God, please save us.” And I imagine God saying, “You did it, you caused this, you fix it.”
But you know, in a recent Pew survey, only 6% of Christians, only 6%, said that their faith informs whether or not there should be laws in place to protect the environment.
Now we of course, in the United Church of Christ, we're very different. In our denomination, we place a great emphasis on caring for the environment, it's part of our “Be the church” banner. We are a church that believes that a big part of our Christian calling is caring for the environment and for God's creation. We actually have a national officer, a minister, whose job title is Minister for Environmental Justice. His name is Reverend Brooks, Berndt, and Reverend Berndt says that, because so many Christians seem to deny climate change, they're not really interested in issues that have to do with the environment. And so he, like many progressive theologians today, is trying to get us to shift our perspective.
Now, one of those progressive Christian theologians is Diana Butler Bass. And I got to meet her a couple of years ago. In fact, she signed a copy of her book for me, a book called Grounded. And what she wants us to understand is that God is here, grounded, on the ground, not up there. And she says in the book that most of us growing up Christian were taught to believe in a three tiered vertical universe, that God was up there, we're here, and the devil is down there. And our purpose for being was to get up there and hopefully not get down there.
This idea puts our spirituality up there, in a vertical way. But she's saying spirituality should be horizontal. God is present right here on the Earth all around us. And in the book, she writes this, “Christianity has imprinted a certain theological template, that God exists far off from the world. Sermons declare that sin separated us from God. Most American churches teach some form of the idea that God exists in holy isolation, and that we, God's children, are utterly unworthy to stand before the Divine Presence. The role of religion, therefore, is to act as a holy elevator between God above, and those muddling around down below in the world.”
Because of this, she writes, “Church has become a struggle for me. I have found it increasingly difficult to sing hymns that celebrate a hierarchical heavenly realm, to recite Creeds that feel disconnected from life, and find myself confined in a hard pew in a building with no clear windows to the world outside. This has not happened because I'm angry at the church. Hurt by God. Rather it's happened because I was moving around in the world. And I began to realize how beautifully God was everywhere in nature, in my neighborhood. In considering the stars. It took me five decades to figure it out, but I finally understood that church is not the only sacred space. The world is profoundly sacred as well. And thus I fell into a gap. The theological ravine between the church still proclaiming conventional theism with its three-tiered universe, and the spiritual revolution of God with us.”
That's why she subtitles her book “Finding God in the world, a spiritual revolution.” She is calling us to shift our perspective. God is here all around us. God's in the trees, in the soil, in the sky, in the water. God is everywhere. Just as Jesus said. Yyou know, if you read the Gospels, Jesus never said heaven was up there. He said, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” It's here and now. just look around.
Our friend, father, Richard Rohr says, “We cannot attain the presence of God, because we're already totally in the presence of God. The only thing lacking is our awareness.”
So I am so proud to be a part of the United Church of Christ, a church that proclaims that God is here with us. And I'm so proud of our little church’s, Creation Justice Team. Over the past few years, they have really become leaders in our community. With recycling events and highway cleanups and beach cleanups, and and community book reads and educational nights. I'm so proud that we've become known in this area as the environmental church.
That is really how we evangelize, how we spread the Good News by letting people know God is here with us. And it's also how we honor God, honor the Mother, Mother God, Mother Earth, Gaia, the giver of life. God is still speaking, creation is calling to us. May we have the courage to hear her cries, her pleas for help. And may we commit ourselves more fully to healing this land so that we can renew the face of the Earth.
Reverend Salvatore Sapienza
Words of Integration & Guidance
by Rob Sheppard
As an environmentalist and a Christian, I am sometimes dismayed at how other Christians treat this gift as if it were not very important. The Bible came through people and then was translated for most of us, but nature comes directly to us from God, not through any intermediary. In nature, we can experience God directly. God can be seen as the ultimate artist, and what a gift God’s art is! I think this goes way beyond icons like Yosemite or Yellowstone. There is amazing beauty in the smallest of landscapes, in the smallest of creatures, if we are simply open to it. And there is stunning beauty in the way the natural world works in every ecosystem. There is actually a lot of research now about how important nature is to us. Connecting with nature gives us an increased attention span, a better memory, reduced stress, an improved mood and greater creativity. You do not need to go to Yosemite or any other distant location. These gifts are freely available anywhere there is nature, including our own backyards. In her book, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith writes “Look at everything always as though you were seeing it either for the first or last time: Thus is your time on earth filled with glory.” I believe the world was created not just to meet our physical needs but to point us to God. The next time you find yourself outdoors, I encourage you to pray that God will help you look at everything as though you were seeing it either for the first or last time. It will truly make a difference in your life.
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