GET CONNECTED with our CHURCH FAMILY … responding to human need

Stewardship of the Earth

Sunday, October 20, 2019. Rev. Dr. Scott Ramsey, preaching.
Scripture Readings: Psalm 24; Genesis 1:26-31; Isaiah 11:6-9

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Note: After the scripture readings in this recording, remarks were given by Maia Foster, Rev. Jen Dunfee and her daughter Anabel Sharp on the subject of climate change.

Climate in the Pulpits Sunday

As I have been thinking about God’s call on us to care for creation – whether that call is on us as individuals, as a congregation, or as a society and a world – why it is important for us to be thinking about the environment and the climate in church and in worship, why this is a spiritual issue, along with involving policy and economics and science, I think we find ourselves living between Psalm 24 and Genesis 1, and I find myself looking at the issue through the lens of Lewinsville’s congregational WHY statement of “loving and serving God by responding to human need.”

Different ones of us are likely going to shake out in different places about how specifically we should respond to climate change in terms of public policy and outward actions, as well as in personal steps that we can take as individuals and families.  We’re going to need to negotiate those differences out, thinking through the costs and benefits of different proposals and different ideas.  But Psalm 24 and Genesis 1 lay out some parameters for us as we lean into the challenges that climate change presents us.

Psalm 24 articulates a basic presupposition for our relationship to, and stewardship of, the earth.  The annual Stewardship Campaign doesn’t even begin for a couple of weeks, but of course, stewardship has to do with a lot more than our money. It has to do with everything that has been given to us.  “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it.”  The earth is not ours to do with as we please.  The earth, and all that is in it, belongs to the Lord.  When we act in ways that harm other people or other creatures, we may imagine that God takes it personally.

Psalm 24 claims that ownership of the earth belongs to the sovereign Lord. Genesis 1 dares to imagine that the sovereign Lord has created us in God’s image and given us “dominion” over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth. This dominion-giving, be-fruitful-and-multiply text strikes me as an Old Testament analogue to Jesus’ parable of the talents, where a man divides his property among his servants when he goes on a trip – 5 talents to one servant, 2 talents to another, 1 talent to a third.  He asks them to be stewards of what ultimately belongs to him.  When he returns from his trip, he wants to see what they have done with his property.  When God gives us dominion and responsibility for God’s creation, we may similarly imagine that God expects us to care for God’s creation in responsible, sustainable, life-giving ways.

As days go by, communities in low-lying areas are being displaced by flooding caused by rising sea levels.  An entire community in Alaska is having to relocate because of rising sea levels.  Other communities, in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and South Asia, are being displaced by drought and desert expansion, generating categories of people known as “climate refugees.”  “Environmental justice” lives with the awareness that situations like these always hit the poor and the most vulnerable the hardest.  In the language of Lewinsville’s WHY, the impacts on our ecosystem are generating enormous human need.

In the narthex today are a couple of handouts that you are invited to pick up. One is a yellow handout from Interfaith Power and Light, the organizer of “Climate in the Pulpits” Sunday, describing the background of the concept of environmental justice, and inviting folks to write our elected representatives in Virginia about it. If you fill out the handout and turn it into the church office, we’ll see that they are delivered. The other is a handout from the Presbyterian Church (USA) Hunger Program about personal steps we can take at home and with our families, as well as outward steps we can take in our community to engage the challenges of climate change.

Responding to climate change strikes me as a project for all of us.  It’s going to require the analytical work of scientists, the educational work of teachers, the inspirational and motivational work of artists and poets and musicians, the listening work of negotiators and mediators, the thoughtful work of public policy makers, the spiritual work of congregations, the legal work of attorneys, the economic work of business leaders and workers, and more.  We’ve also all got our own personal journeys with this, figuring out where we’re being thoughtful about care for creation looking towards future generations, where we’re being careless, where we’re being generous, and where we’re being hypocritical.

There seems a strong likelihood that we will disagree with each other about any number of things along the way.  In fact, that may be something of an understatement! But we may observe that Isaiah 11, often an Advent text, holds out a vision of a future in which there will be a coming harmony – when the aggressive wolf will lie down with the gentle lamb.  Even if different ones of us would identify different parties as the wolf and the lamb, we are all invited to imagine that this is not just a sweet, sentimental picture, but that it is a future that is possible and that is coming.  And in this vision, we may observe that a little child shall lead them.  This morning, with Anabel’s leadership, we have been led by one of our own young people, and there are billions more out there for us to follow.  There will surely be work for those of us who are longer in the tooth to do, but the vision, the hope, and the concerns of the young will have a central place in this work.  What is the next step for you in caring for God’s creation? To God, and to God alone, be all the glory.  Amen.