Protect the Environment
 — Rev. Phil Hobson

April 23, 2017
Second Sunday of Easter

Psalm 24
Mark 16:10-15

Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.

Many of the books of the Bible that we now see as whole and complete and part of the whole text originally circulated on their own, with copies going to various Christian communities. The Gospel of Mark seems to have existed in at least three forms. The oldest copies we know of end with the disciples running away from the empty tomb and the announcement of Jesus’ being raised and they are silent for they are afraid.

And apparently some Christian communities cannot handle that as an ending, so come copies have the ending with more. But even then, there are two different endings that got passed around.

Some might view this as a reason to question the authority of the texts. But in an oral culture, without photocopiers, the idea that the story got changed along the way is both not surprising, nor should it be particularly alarming.

Today’s reading is from the longer ending of Mark. Like the other Gospels, Jesus appears to the disciples and gives them instructions. Here it is:

Go into all the world
and proclaim the good news
to the whole creation.

Not good news just to the lost people of the house of Israel. Not good news just to the people under the thumb of the Roman empire. Not good news just to all the peoples of the world. But good news to all creation.

In Genesis, it is said that God planned on making human beings in God’s image and likeness, and giving humanity dominion over all the creatures and beasts and cattle and creeping things on earth. And the word “dominion” has cause no end of debate.

Are we to dominate and subdue the whole earth, using all of it for our own purposes, to meet our own needs, wants and desires? Or are we designed to be God’s lieutenants, taking care of creation on behalf of God?

The Biblical image of a king, one who has dominion, is that of a shepherd. It has echoes of taking care of, protecting, nurturing, and even healing.

And God’s plan for human beings as caretakers of the earth on God’s behalf comes before the disobedience of Adam and Eve in the garden. In what the church calls the “Fall,” now there is work. Making a living will be toil and sweat and hard work.

These are mythic stories, meaning that they are not formulas that we try to cram life into. Instead, they are stories we are in dialogue with to help us understand the questions of life.

This past Friday I had the privilege of speaking to Lothar Konietzko’s Multicultural Studies class at Everett High School. He had already had an imam and a rabbi come speak, and I rounded out the monotheistic religions. He had each student write down five questions. And they had great questions. (Some of the most insightful questions about Christianity came from his Muslim students.)

One student asked, “Why are we here on earth.” My first answer was “gravity.” But the question deserved a much better answer. And that is the kind of answer we find in Genesis. It does not seek to ask the “How” of creation and life and biology and all of that. It begins with the question “Why?”

So in the garden, when everything works well together, where things are reconciled and life prospers, God has the idea of helpers, co-creators, people who would help nurture and build up creation on God’s behalf.

But then things fall apart. And that is the world we see. We move to the desert and then divert the rivers to get water and then fight over the water. We tear down the tops of mountains to strip the coal out. We create amazing technological gadgets we seem not to be able to live without. And we make them out of materials that never break down, so that it looks like we truly will never live without them. We have floating islands of plastic in the oceans. Coral reefs, on which about half a billion people rely for food or livelihood, are seeing large portions dying off.

There is bad news aplenty.

But there is also good news. In addition to cost and quality and style, younger generations are starting to add sustainability to the variables of whether or not to purchase things. Minimalists are starting to change how we see just how much we need.

A nearby UCC church, Haslett Community church is installing solar panels on top of their building, to cut their carbon usage.

Like adding spiritual disciplines, making positive changes in our lives means starting with one change.

  • What is it that we use on a regular basis that we can reduce, reuse or recycle?
  • When can we use a washable and refillable mug, bottle or container, rather than relying on a disposable one?
  • How can we pay attention to the earth, in its beauty, in our gardens, in the birds in the trees, in the soil, and recognize that we are connected to this amazing planet?
  • How can we support the research of science and the ethical use of technology?

Recently a Trappist monastery in Berryville, Virginia teamed up with a University of Michigan graduate to look at how better they could steward their land. They renovated for more energy efficient lights, heating and cooling. They got rid of invasive species of plants. They changed their old, leaky oven for a new high efficiency one for baking food for their community and to sell.

They rented out the acreage they owned to an organic farm that did not use pesticides, and that brought in bees to help pollenate.

The difference it made upon the monastery was profound. Taking care of the land helped their spiritual life. And it reminded them of their mission not just to pray for God’s love and God’s peace in the lives of their neighbors, but also to make a difference for their neighbors by their work.

What changes can we make that will help us heal the earth? And how will those changes help us help our neighbor and maybe even our own spirits as well?

The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it,
the world, and those who live in it;

Thanks be to God!

Amen.