During the Month of September, the United Church of Christ celebrates the seasons of creation, a theme based series on all aspects of our planet as seen through scripture. This September 3rd, I gave my sermon on the Earth as a whole. While I did adlib a bit, and that can be seen from the MCCUCCinthevalley.com web site link for our broadcast services, the text and the reading is below.
The Guilt of Humankind
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth. 19For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; 21for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. 22Claiming to be wise, they became fools; 23and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.
September 3 2017 Sermon Seasons of Creation Earth Sunday Romans 1:18-23
There is no Planet B
Elon Musk and Richard Branson have been devoting a fortune and change to their projects to colonize Mars in our lifetime. Naturally, they see the economic potential to mine and exploit our planetary neighbor, even though the superficial altruistic reasons of human expansion are in the forefront of their reasons. In short, they believe human survival hinges upon leaving Earth for distant planets, moons and stars. Noble idea, but for what it is worth, Earth is our home.
But Earth is also a home we have been doing some major damage to since the dawn of civilization, but in particular for the past 250 years and change. We have cut down forests, strip-mined the earth, overfished the seas, polluted the air and the water and the ground. We have covered the soil with concrete and asphalt and steel. We have deliberately and with malice, hunting animals either nearly to extinction, or totally to extinction. In the scope of human civilization, we have done more damage to our home, this planet, than any other species in the long history of the planet, and we have done it in record time.
Now we have billionaires who are making planets to leave and start over. But have we really learned our lessons well enough on Earth to be allowed to repeat our mistakes someplace else? The worst of it all, we think this is God’s vision for humanity. I seriously doubt God envisioned humanity to step off of the planet that has been our home, our mother, after we have totally trashed it, just to potentially do this to another world, and another, and so on.
There are two works of science fiction that have always struck me regarding what people are capable of doing to their home planet. In the Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov, and Star Wars by George Lucas, they depict a home planet that is totally urbanized. The entire planet, in both stories, have been completely covered by ONE city. There is no longer any significant green space left, and the planets need to artificially generate oxygen, and obtain all of their basic needs of survival from off-world. Think about it. Is this what we want to see happen here?
Throughout our Christian upbringing, we are taught a simple, but very significant prayer. The words are different from translation to translation, and even from core religion to core religion, but the meaning remains, strong and powerful, if we only pay attention.
Our Abba, who is in Heaven, Hallowed by your name.
Your kindom come. Your will be done,
On EARTH, as it is in Heaven.
There is that term, that single, powerful passage. So many claim to be Christians, to follow Christ, but they have turned their backs on God, on Christ, and on humanity. They have turned instead to a different god, a golden god of greed, and have forgotten this is not our planet alone to do with as we please. Instead, we are charged with a solemn responsibility to “TEND” and care for this planet, to make it a Heaven on Earth. Such a responsibility is antithesis to strip mining, deforestation, poisoning rivers and streams, depleting groundwater, poisoning the air, dumping garbage into the oceans and seas, and paving over Paradise. We humans are one of the few animals that can and will deliberately foul our own nest to a point where it becomes uninhabitable.
And what about all that other life? What about the animals and plants we need to to survive? Some we eat, and others are necessary to either eat others, or with plants, to provide this planet with life giving oxygen? But it also not just about us? We are late comers to this existence. Granted, we have a larger brain (when we use it), but does that make us smarter or wizer? We have claimed superiority over other animals, and even over other people, just because we are more advanced in technology, or we use better tools, or have a different faith or culture, or even as it applies to the animal kingdom, language. But who is to say that animals do not talk, just because we don’t understand them? Who is to say they are not in total harmony with their environment, something we are not, and as such, are more civilized than we are, who constantly feel the need to destroy or alter God’s creation around us to suit our needs, rather than changing ourselves to suit God’s plan?
At the height of the Industrial Revolution in the 19th Century, we started pumping greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere at a rate unimaginable even today. The skies would darken from coal smoke and it was thought of as progress. The leaders of industry didn’t care what it was doing to the health of people, or even the planet, and gave the excuse of “what do I care? I’ll be dead long before it makes a difference anyway.” Well, we have run out of tomorrows. We have also run out of todays. “Claiming to be wise, they were fools, and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being…”
So, what happens now? What have we done to our home, and what are our limited options? Well, leaving for Mars is not really an option, since there is no way that planet is going to support 7.5 Billion people, plus the animals required to make our existence possible. So, what do we do here, and now? How do we honor God and God’s creation, our Mother Earth? In short, how do we save humanity?
The irony of it all is that the Earth will survive what we throw at it. The Earth Abides. It has survived the impact of a small planet that gave us our moon. It has survived being totally frozen. It has survived the Siberian eruption that created a great extinction. It survived the Chitzalu Impact 65 million years ago. The Earth can easily survive us. The question is, can WE survive us? Can we survive an altered atmosphere with an increase is carbon dioxide and methane, and a decrease in oxygen? Can we survive the famine that will happen as sea levels rise, destroying major population centers and coastal agricultural land? What will humanity do when the Earth gets even for what we have done? How will we explain that to God? I know if I trashed the house when I was younger, especially my parent’s bedroom, while they were away, the punishment would be rather severe. I guess that is why I never did it.
We are today trashing God’s house, God’s creation, God’s garden. We have lost sight of God’s plan and shown the wickedness and ungodliness in the human soul. Fortunately, that is not how it is with all humanity. In fact, that is not how it is even with most of humanity. As a species, we still try and do the right thing, mindful of our world, but we do make mistakes, and when we do, we go to great lengths to fix those mistakes. We show repentance for doing wrong, and God sees that. But there is still that minority who don’t care about the future of the planet, and this is where the real wickedness lies. These are the ones who suppress truth, foster lies, and all for greed.
“The world is not getting warmer. Just look at all the storms and the cold winters.” They think only in the moment, not in the long term. They ignore trends based on one winter. They reject the melting of the glaciers and ice caps, and say “it is just cycles of the planet” but refuse to see the time differences, and how fast things are happening. They do along as if nothing changes, and probably will remain in the dark even after the Netherlands flood, or Manhattan Island floods and can’t recover, or we lose New Orleans again, for good. What happens when the coastal plains of China, their rich rice regions are poisoned by salt water and can no longer grow rice? What will people say when Bangladesh and Venice disappear.
This earth is our responsibility to care for, to nurture, to protect, every bit as if it was our house, or even our own children. It is long past time for wisdom to rule over greed. It is long past time for compassion for all life becomes more important than a political party, or a bank account. You don’t go into a good friend’s home and trash the place, ruining the carpet and walls, breaking the furniture, destroying the plumbing and tearing apart the electrical, and expect a thank you. We don’t do that to the home of a friend, and we would not do that to our own home. At least, we shouldn’t.
So what do we do? As individuals, it is hard to see what kind of an impact we can make, what changes we can accomplish. Personally, I am only one in 7.5 billion humans on this planet, and that does not count the billions and trillions of other life. But it starts with one person at times, and that can spread to a small group and upwards. As a small group, we are saving water at this church with rain and water capture barrels. We are saving energy with solar panels, which cuts down on the consummation of coal or oil. We have torn up a lot of our back parking lot and turned it into a garden, which is not giving oxygen back to the atmosphere, and allowing water to soak back into the soil. We recycle. It might seem small, but we are not alone, and those numbers do build. We lead by example.
That happens by individuals, by churches, by companies and corporations. We only pray that before the damage goes too far, it can happen by enough governments to make the changes international and immediate. So, we lead by example, but we can also lead by applying pressure, expressing our fears and our desires. We make our voices count. God never meant people to be silence in the face of injustice or inequality. God never meant people to be silence when wrong is being done. We are commanded, in our scriptures and in our prayers, to stand up and defend that and those which cannot defend themselves. We are to protect the weak, the widows and orphans, and even the planet. We are to protect the animals from unreasonable harm. It is true that animals, and people, will take the life of an animal to eat, to survive, but we are also commanded not to murder, and that includes the wasteful slaughter of any life for sport. You don’t kill an elephant just to cut off the tail as a trophy, and especially claim to be a Christian, or a follower of God.
When we claim to know God, even though nobody can truly know God, we still honor God, or should. But to honor God means to honor what God has created, and that means to love that creation in all of its aspects. And when you love something, you protect it. You cannot claim to love a child with all your heart, and yet let them play on the freeway. You cannot claim to love your home, and yet allow it to become filled with garbage and all many of waste. When you love something or someone, when you love as God loves, you will do everything in your power to protect, to nurture, to defend. You will guard the garden you are given to care for with all of your strength and being. This is our charge. We are to make Heaven on Earth, not turn Earth into a wasteland.
If we fail in this task given us by God, if we destroy God’s gift to life, this beautiful planet filled with all the wonders there are still to behold, who’s to say God might not just replace us? Are we really God’s end design, or are we just another step in God’s evolution of life? It is our own arrogance that says we are the top of the pyramid. But are we? If we fail God, if we do not take care of this incredible planet, our Mother, or home, what’s next?
I, for one have a son, and nieces and nephews, and I wish they have children of their own in time, and each generation can enjoy the beauty of this planet I have when I was younger. I hope they can swim in crystal clear streams and rivers, and hike mountain trails unspoiled by logging or mining or graffiti. I want them to view skies so clear they are almost purple from a mountain top, and to spell air so clean it tingles your nose. I want them to enjoy nature as it is meant to be, not locked up in a zoo or museum because it can’t be seen anywhere else. That is what I know God wants us to preserve, to protect and to love. In spite of the visions of Branson and Musk, this is still the only planet we have, and frankly, I don’t want the next to inherit of our world to be a cockroach.