Hot Buttons - Week Two: "God is Green"

This week I'll be continuing the sermon series entitled, "Hot Button: Grace Filled Responses to the Things That Divide Us."  The premise behind this sermon series was to actually talk about some of the more difficult and divisive issues in our culture, and to do it through a Biblical lens, with a whole lot of grace.

As I said last week, I need a lot of work in this area, just as much as anyone else I suppose.  I am also aware that not everything I say will be received with the same grace within which I am hopefully offering it.

Herein lies the dilemma for most preachers:  Say what God has laid on your heart to say, and surrender the outcome, or keep sticking your finger in the air to test the winds of disquiet that might be blowing from that one person who probably doesn't like you anyway and will take half of what you said out of context, and misrepresent it.

So, to all those preachers who are tired of walking around like a human weather vane I have this to say: Out with it.  If God lays it on your heart to speak it into existence, preach your dang sermon.  People threw Jeremiah into a sewer and left him there after he preached some hard sermons.  What's the worst that could happen to you?

But I digress...

This week we are taking on the topic of Environmentalism.

I have this theory.  I think that the newest exception to free speech in America isn't "yelling 'Fire!' in a crowded movie theater" it's yelling "Global Warming!" in a crowded church fellowship hall.

Seriously, try it if you dare.  The melee that ensues will be on your head, Buster.

Christians on both the progressive and conservative sides of the social/theological/political spectrum lose their minds over environmental issues.  Christians debate the veracity of global warming with more fervor than they do the doctrine of the Virgin Birth.  They will expend a ton of energy trying to prove that the polar ice cap either is or isn't melting and almost none to determine why it is that people ages 18-39 are largely absent from church.

Hellooooooo....

And they get nasty about it.

I remember a particularly warm and fuzzy moment when I was in seminary at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago.  My alma mater was (and is) one of the more liberal seminaries in my denomination, which puts it in running for one of the more liberal seminaries in these United States.  I was in a Theology class, and we somehow got around to discussing Creation Care, which is actually a phrase I am much more fond of than Environmentalism.  At any rate, a young woman spoke up and said, "I don't know how you could call yourself a Christian and drive an SUV."

Not, "I don't know how you could call yourself a Christian and get hammered drunk three times a week and beat your wife..."  Not, "I don't know how you could call yourself a Christian and hate another person..." Not, "I don't know how you could call yourself a Christian and sacrifice chickens to Satan..."

To this young woman, driving an SUV was tantamount to paganism, idolatry, rejection of all that was holy, and unChristian.

I had two kids at the time, and spent most of day on the road shuttling them back and forth to various things.  My SUV got better gas mileage than most of the hooptie mobiles that the seminary students drove, and I could load it down with three 25 lb bags of cat litter that could be scattered on an icy, slushy road if I got stuck in them on those lovely Chicago winter mornings.  I had a twenty-five minute commute, whereas my accuser had no kids, and lived three blocks from school.

Seriously, what it is about this issue that gets people so upset?

Is it the politicization of the issue?  Does it just come down to opposing world views?  Could it really be as simple as different religious beliefs?  Maybe, it's just a general contrariness in our society?

Maybe it's all of those things, but whatever the cause, Christians are right in the middle of it all, and don't seem to be faring any better than anyone else in terms of a unified response on the matter.

In fact, if my warm and fuzzy moment in theology class tells us anything, Christians might actually be doing a bit worse.

I remember several years ago there was a brouhaha when the National Association of Evangelicals approved a statement on Creation Care at their annual assembly.  The statement included a line that called on governments to act responsibly in regards to environmental stewardship or something to that effect.

For many people this was a step forward for an organization that had long been silent on these issues, and who represented the most theologically conservative churches and leaders in America.  But it wasn't for everyone.  Pastor Jerry Falwell, the founder of the Moral Majority and elder statesman for the NAE declared that interest in Creation Care by Christians was a "tool of Satan" intended to distract the Church from it's true calling---winning souls for Jesus.

Here's the thing, Falwell had a point.  Whether you agree with him or not, his point was that there are lost, broken and hurting people in the world who need to hear the good news that Jesus came, died, was buried and raised from the dead so that they don't have to be a slave to whatever is making them lost, broken and hurting.  And, along those lines of thinking, if the Church begins to shift it's resources and energy into worrying about environmental issues, then it has less of those things to put toward people.

I kind of get that, even though Falwell went a little hyperbolic with it.

But why do things always have to be either/or?  Can't we do both?  Can't we reach out to those who need to hear the good news about Jesus, and care about God's Creation, too?

Or maybe do something completely radical and actually proclaim the good news about Jesus through the ways we care about Creation.

And all of this begs the big hairy question, "So why should Christians care about Creation Care?"

I think there are three main reasons why this should matter to all Christians, and all three of these reasons transcend politics,  at least in my opinion. Additionally, these three reasons are grounded in Scripture, so if you are seeking to live your life with a Biblical worldview, you need to include these in your thought process.

First, Because God Sort of Demands It...

Genesis 1:26 & 28 go a little something like this:
26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals,[a] and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground. ”
Some translations of the Bible use the phrase "have dominion over" instead of "rule."  DOMINION sounds like an evil organization that Batman would do battle against over the soul of Gotham City.  It's a big and scary word, that has been misused more than once by Christians who want to excuse their lack of interest in Creation Care or to justify their antipathy for strange hippy-looking people who chain themselves to trees, and protest housing developments because an imaginary frog might go extinct.  Listen, just because people are strange and do crazy things doesn't mean that there isn't a kernel of truth in what they are saying.  Dominion doesn't mean that you get to do whatever you want with the earth because it sort of belongs to you.

Here's what "dominion" really means in Hebrew:  "higher on the root of the plant."

What's implied here is that for humans who are "higher on the root of the plant," we are basically dependent on everything under us.  God set this up on purpose.  The very things that keep us alive need our protection and good stewardship in order to survive.

And if that wasn't implicit enough for you, we have this from the book of Ezekiel  34:17-19:
17 “‘As for you, my flock, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will judge between one sheep and another, and between rams and goats. 18 Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet? 19 Must my flock feed on what you have trampled and drink what you have muddied with your feet?
When you picture the sheep in this verse did you imagine something like this short video shot by some woman in Scotland?  I bet you did.



Did you notice the little kid getting trampled and shouting, "Mama!?" That's some good stuff right there.  Scotland's Funniest Home Videos needs this sent to them ASAP.

So, back to the verse...  What does that description remind you of?  A bunch of people fighting over "Tickle Me Elmo" dolls at Christmas time?  Or something even worse?  God is definitely calling his people out in this passage for the ways that they have overused their land, and have little thought for others, and perhaps even subsequent generations.

Which brings us to this...

Second, Because We Are Called To Be Good Stewards

In Luke 12:48 Jesus said this: But someone who does not know, and then does something wrong, will be punished only lightly. When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required.

Have you ever had to take care of something for someone?  Maybe you were entrusted to sit their house, or their pet.  Perhaps you were entrusted with their beloved car.  You might have even been given the opportunity to take care of their children.

So would you ever dream of throwing a huge party in their house and inviting over your biker buddies?
Or deciding to shave your initials into the fur of their pet cat so they would remember you fondly?
Would you ever dream of taking their car out underground drag racing for some Fast and Furious action?
Would you give their kid a peanut butter sandwich and a glass of kool-aid and tell them to get lost for the day because you wanted some peace and quiet in the house?

Heck no.  You'd take care of them like they were your own.  Better even.

And these are just things... except for the kids, of course.

So why is it that we don't seem to care all that much about the Earth, which has been given to us on loan so to speak?  Don't you think that we should afford the same respect to God that we would to the people whose house we might be sitting?

Here are some stats that should give us pause:

1 billion people in the world lack adequate water (remember the Ezekiel passage?)
60% of all ecosystems are degraded and unsustainably used
1/4 to 1/3 of all wildlife has disappeared since 1970
32 million acres of deforestation occurs each year
Fish stocks are at their worst state, an all time low
Food production worldwide is being stretched to its limit *

We're doing a bang up job of watching after the place, aren't we?
Not exactly the sort of stewardship that Jesus expected from his followers.

Third: Because It's An Act of Love

I want to talk more about how this is an act of love in a moment, but first I need to share something.  Here are some Christian arguments that are often made against Creation Care:

"This world is not my home..." 
I've heard this argument more than once from well-meaning and godly people.  The idea is that since we are just passing through this world on our way to the next one, we don't really need to care all that much about it.  The problem is, there are lots of generations of people who are coming behind us who are counting on our good stewardship. Not to mention the fact that God called all creation "good," clearly loves it, and has not given up on it--a fact that should drive us to do the same.

"Those tree huggers worship nature..." 
A friend who lives in California told me about a fire that was started in a boggy sort of area near an elementary school in their community.  The fire was burning slowly and creating a ton of smoke, but the fire department was not allowed to go in and put out the fire because some environmentalists thought that there was an endangered salamander living there.  They had no proof that it was but because the environmental activists in California are so extreme and have such a powerful lobby laws had been passed that prohibited their taking action to put our the fire.  Subsequently the school had to be closed due to the smoke problem.

Stupid.

Even God is saying, "Jeez, put the dang fire out people.  Those kids need to learn their three "R's," and such."

Listen, the problem isn't people who don't know God worshipping nature.  The problem is the people who know God worshipping their possessions.  We focus so intently on our lives, our things, our success that we have little room for a wider sense of God's call to good stewardship.  Some Christians even see Creation Care as an impediment to their success and well-being, somehow.  I am well aware that just like with anything else, environmentalism can be taken to an extreme, but that doesn't mean that we should dismiss our responsibilities as disciples of Christ to be good stewards.

"This is a distraction from sharing the Gospel..." 
We mentioned earlier that some Christians have used this argument against Creation Care in a fairly effective manner over the years.  Like I said, I get what they are saying.  Churches and denominations have lost their focus on Jesus and have chased after politics and social justice issues at the expense of Christian discipleship and evangelism.  I honestly believe that is the main reason why the mainline Protestant denominations in America are all dying.  But just because this is the case  in these instances, does it mean that we can't have a Christ-centered lens through which we see our stewardship of the Earth?

If we drilled down to the core of each of these arguments, we would find the same old either/or categories that we should be working to avoid if we are followers of Jesus Christ.  In the end, this isn't about valuing forests over people, it means valuing materialism and consumerism (including consumer-based Christianity) less and Creation---which includes people---more.

Where's the love in any of this?  After all, that's what people outside of the Church are really looking for, isn't it?  And what if they look inside the church and see a whole bunch of people who are willfully neglecting their call to good stewardship of Creation and all that's in it in the name of the One who called them to that good stewardship?

What might they think about the love these people have for their neighbor, for the world, for the very Savior who redeemed them?

Don't you think it's time that God's people began leading in this kind of thing, and telling the story of redemption and reconciliation of all Creation through Jesus Christ while they do it?   I'm not sure, but that just might draw more people to Jesus in the long run.

Remind me again what Paul said he was without love?  Yup.  Nothing.

I am going to close with a story from a mission trip I led to Tijuana, Mx a few years ago.  As part of our mission we were working on the house of an old man who was blind, who lived there with his daughter who was mentally ill.  The house had no running water and no electricity.  It was filthy.  No, it was an abomination.  We cleaned the house inside and out, repaired the leaky roof, and built the old man a cook stove out of a 50 gallon drum so that he wouldn't have to cook inside the house where he endangered burning the place down.

In order to give the house some much-needed ventilation, we built a window that could open and close.  Finally, we painted the entire place, and cleaned up the grounds, which required an entire team of people with strong stomachs to shovel through the filth and the trash.

As we were walking the old man around his newly-renovated house, we would tell him about all of the things we had done.  "You have a new roof."  "We cleaned up the yard and your outhouse."  "We built you a stove." and finally, "We painted your house blue and built you a window."

As the old man touched the window and felt how it opened and closed, he began to say over and over again in Spanish, "It's not possible.  It's not possible.  It's not possible."

But it was possible.  It seemed impossible when we saw the magnitude of what needed to be done, but as we worked, cried, prayed and sweated together, God did something amazing.

He made what was impossible, possible---which is what God loves to do.

When we care for Creation, we fulfill God's commands, we act as good stewards and we demonstrate the love of Jesus.  This is not instead of fulfilling our call to go out into the all the world and preach the Gospel.  This is not instead of making disciples.  This is not instead of preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ.

It's because of it.

*Green Revolution: Coming Together to Care for Creation by Ben Lowe
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