This summer, Pope Francis issued a letter to the world, “Laudato Si’” or Praise be to You which calls upon all people to care for our common home, our sister, Mother Earth.
And while it made the news this summer, one of the first thoughts I had was that, as United Methodists, we had a letter of our own like this about six years ago. In 2009, a pastoral letter was issued from the United Methodist Council of Bishops called: God’s Renewed Creation: Call to Hope and Action. (http://s3.amazonaws.com/Website_Properties/council-of-bishops/documents/grc_letter_english_1010.pdf)
If you would like to see or have a copy of our letter, you can pick one up at the table in the back as you leave today.
In both, we are reminded of the relationship between living organisms and their environment… that we need to understand our ecology: the interconnected system of water, air, soil, plants, animals, and ourselves.
From the fight over water rights in California, to our own conflict here in Iowa over nitrate levels, this summer has been full of stories about how the environmental choices we make in one location impact the whole of creation in another. And I’m not just talking about the decisions of a farmer. Each of them is simply responding to the demands of the market, which is impacted by our choices as consumers. We do not always appreciate how precarious the balance of our ecologies can be, until the weather and climate change.
As our Bishop’s letter states, “we no longer see a list of isolated problems affecting disconnected people, plants and animals… the threats to peace, people, and planet earth are related to one another.”
Or as Pope Francis writes: “the human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together; we cannot adequately combat environmental degradation unless we attend to causes related to human and social degradation…”
Everything… from the availability of quality water, to the loss of biodiversity, to the inequitable distribution and consumption of energy, violence, warfare… is interrelated.
And rather than debating the merits of specific proposals or policies, Pope Francis points us towards the foundation for a different way of being.
It all boils down to three relationships
- Our relationship with God
- Our relationships with our neighbors
- And our relationship with creation itself.
So today, aware of the multitude of articles and stories this summer on climate change, water, drought, and the environment, let us explore the text in our scriptures that lays the groundwork for our ecology… Genesis One.
We learn in this story of a creative and life-giving God. Everything has a purpose. Everything is connected to another. The sun, moon, and starts give light and determine the seasons. The plants provide food for the animals, who provide sustenance for humanity.
Everything is a gift and nothing was made by our own hands.
Therefore, the foundation of our relationship with God should be one of gratitude.
Gratitude for every breath we take, every drop of water we drink, every creature in the multitude of this diverse, beautiful planet.
Our relationship with our creator is also fundamentally related to our relationship with the creation, because we are called to take care of this earth. Historically, we have heard verse 28 as the call to “be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, over every living thing that moves on the earth.” We look at this image of the creation and our central image in it and believe the world revolves around us.
The language of dominion and subduing has led us to believe we are called to control and use and have power over the world. It is ours to do with it whatever our hearts desire.
But when we really look at these verses in context, I think we have been sorely mistaken.
The Hebrew word in this place is not so much the idea of dominion or rule, but rather that of holding sway over… influencing… guiding. Pope Francis holds both the Genesis 1 and 2 accounts together, reminding us our call is to “till and keep” the garden of the world…. We are to cultivate and work this creation… while at the same time caring for it, overseeing it, protecting it.
In my organic ministry class this summer, I have been reminded over and over again that any good farmer cares for the soil as much as they do what is planted in it. One must protect the earth in order to work it. And one must listen and pay attention to what the environment demands and respond accordingly if you ever want to influence what might grow there.
That is far different than a more domineering perspective…. a stubborn resolve to use the earth and grow whatever your heart desires whenever you want to.
I learned about this in my own garden this summer…. (talk about tomatoes)
Even if we stick with the language of dominion, the root of dominion is in the Lordship of God. We are to be lords as God is Lord over creation… in love, in creation, in fostering diversity, in nurturing life.
This earth does not belong to us. It is a gift. As we remembered two weeks ago when we recalled the Jubilee in ancient Israel, God tells us that the land is not ours… it is God’s and we are merely strangers and sojourners upon it.
Yet in God’s gracious and loving spirit, we are allowed to take and use what we need for sustenance. We are allowed to care for this earth, and pass its gifts down generation upon generation.
Because this planet belongs to not only Adam and Eve, but all descendants, all humanity, then our relationships with one another are intertwined with the gift of creation.
Just as every plant and animal, microbe and molecule is a gift… so too is every person on this planet. The very idea of Sabbath calls us to let the earth and its workers rest, so that all be renewed. And the promise is that even if we rest and cease working, there will be abundance and plenty. God will take care of us.
The gifts of this planet are to be shared. Not only with people of today, but future generations as well.
So that all might find joy. So all might be at peace.
Pope Francis begins his letter with a description of the type of lifestyle that people of faith should aspire to… a tribute to his own namesake, Saint Francis. “He is the patron saint of all who study and work in the area of ecology… he was particularly concerned for God’s creation and for the poor and outcast. He loved, and was deeply loved for his joy, his generous self-giving, his openheartedness. He was a mystic and a pilgrim who lived in simplicity and in wonderful harmony with God, with others, with nature, and with himself. He shows us just how inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society, and interior peace… Francis helps us to see that an integral ecology calls for openness to categories which transcend the language of mathematics and biology, and take us to the heart of what it means to be human.”
May we be people who are concerned for nature.
May we be people who always seek justice for the poor.
May we be people who are committed to society and work towards its common good.
And may we be people who find inner peace as we do so.