Celebrating the National Preach-in on the Environment
Today, I want us to consider this proposal: The earth is God’s beloved, and we need to listen to her. What might it mean to be attentive to the messages God wants to send us through the creation around us. The earth is God’s beloved, and we need to listen to her. Think about his as we consider out Gospel text for today – Luke’s version of the transfiguration of Christ. Today we are going to use this story as metaphor that can illuminate us about the possibility of a renewed, radiant, transfigured planet.
Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’—not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’ When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen. Luke 9:28–36
I recently read these words from American libertarian and political commentator Lew Rockwell: “I am a sinner but unrepentant. You see, I don't practice environmentalism, and I don't believe in it. I don't recycle and I don't conserve-except when it pays to do so. I like clean air -- really clean air, like the kind an air conditioner makes. I like the bug-free indoors. I like development, as in buildings, concrete, capitalism, prosperity. I don't like swamps . . . or jungles ("rainforests"). I see all animals except dogs and cats as likely disease carriers, unless they're in a zoo. When PBS runs a special on animal intelligence, I am unmoved. I'm glad for the dolphins that they can squeak. I'm happy for the ape that he can sign for his food. How charming for the bees that they organize themselves so well for work. But that doesn't give them rights over me. Their only real value comes from what they can do for man . . . Not being a do-it-myselfer, my favorite section of the hardware store features bug killers, weed killers, varmint traps, and poisons of all sorts. These killer potions represent high civilization and capitalism. The bags are decorated with menacing pictures of ants, roaches, tweezer-nosed bugs, and other undesirable things, to remind us that the purpose of these products is to snuff out bug life so it won't menace the only kind of life that has a soul and thus the only kind of life that matters: man.”
Rockwell’s perspective has a strong foundation in Western culture and theology – the idea that the world was created for human advancement and enjoyment. The idea comes from the Greek philosopher Plato. Plato regarded the earth as temporary and worthless -- a mere shadow of the ultimate reality. Plato proposed a second world outside space and time – a non-material world of pure thought and ultimate truth. He was the first one to say that a soul could exist independent of one’s body. The end result was a culture skewed towards the belief that things are not always as they appear. As a result, thinkers tended to view the world as made up of the profane, and the sacred. The profane was changing, shifting, unreliable. The sacred was unchanging ultimate reality. Plato’s ideas had some powerful effects on religious thinking. Dualism influenced the founders of the early church, from Paul to Augustine -- people who lived in the epicenter of the Greco-Roman world. Even now, Western Christians have been conditioned to divide every subject into two: left/right, good/bad, evangelical/liberal, healer/hater, and so on. Dualities multiply and abound. Out of this comes the traditional Christian teaching that the material world is of lesser importance than the ultimate reality of an orderly, dispassionate unchanging God.
Lew Rockwell’s comments are the ultimate expression of dualism. We are not connected to the earth. There is no true sense of ecology – literally “the study of our dwelling place.” For Rockwell expresses what’s in the minds of many people: humans are the crowning glory of the planet, separate from it, and able to use and control its resources to advance human achievement.
I think we need to question the assumptions of our worldview. Is God really an orderly, dispassionate deity? Luke's gospel describes how Jesus called twelve ordinary people to be his closest confidants. Jesus invested them with power and authority to drive out demons and to enlighten the darkness; to cure diseases; to preach the subversive love of God and to heal the sick. "So they set out and went from village to village," writes Luke, "preaching the gospel and healing people everywhere.” Jesus invites followers to be healers and not haters. Healing love is the mark of a disciple. Jesus invites followers to bring the outsider inside. To include the excluded. He tells followers to befriend the broken, heal the hurting, and embrace the unfamiliar. Jesus calls followers to care and to cure, not to condemn. It was a tall order. The first disciples stumbled and bumbled, failed and floundered. They couldn't heal. They didn't understand.
We see it on the Mount of Transfiguration. When faced with the reality of who Jesus really is, the disciples cower in terror. Their fear is an indication to us, the readers, that something has gone wrong. The disciples consistently fail to see who Jesus is, what he has come to do, and what he asks them to do. They are so frightened, they become ineffective disciples. Fear clouds their ability to listen. And that’s all they have to do. The voice from heaven has a command for everyone on the mountaintop: Listen to my beloved. Listen! It’s interesting to me two prophets from history are there. Moses is the greatest prophet in Jewish history. Moses is the law-giver and prophet of promise. And Elijah, who fights against a wall of hardened disbelief; against the violence, blasphemy and bloodthirstiness that stalked the land. God tells everyone on that mountain to listen -- even Moses and Elijah. On the mount of transfiguration, Jesus is the revealer. He has something to show all of us – from the greatest figures in history to the poor bumbling disciples. Listen to him. He is going to tell just how much God cares. How much God loves. The length God is willing to go to demonstrate passionate, ever-present love to the entire world.
I’ll tell you what I hear when I listen. We are interconnected. Like a web. Or a network. Or six degrees of separation. What happens to one happens to all. What if we question our assumptions and realize that God IS the network? God is the connections between us. The law of interconnected mutuality reaches into the subatomic level of our universe. Two people who sit together in the same room exchange water vapor within 30 minutes. That’s interdependence. Take a deep breath and breathe in some of the same breath that Jesus breathed on the cross, we are assured by some scientists. That’s interdependence. Every square mile of soil on our Earth contains particles from every other square mile of soil on our Earth, say some biologists. That’s interdependence. We inhabit a universe where everything is part of everything else. God is mutuality. Can humanity awaken to this interdependence?
For me, ecology is about connections. Connections are about God. So God is about ecology. I’m suggesting that Earth is God’s beloved. Just as God speaks through Jesus and reminds us of the expanse of God’s care, so God speaks through Earth, showing us that a transfigured creation is God’s highest aim.
Can you hear her? Are you listening? Can we integrate our dualities? Can our fractured connections with the Earth be restored?
Because I gotta tell you – I am afraid. I am afraid that we are heating up the planet and boiling ourselves to death. I’m afraid that we are overpopulating the planet and burdening her resources. I’m afraid of what we are leaving for our children and grandchildren. I’m afraid for what we are seeing right now. And fear is not good for me. Like those disciples on the mountain, my fear is an indication that I’m not listening. I can get so wrapped up in how I’m going to survive, I’m unable to hear the voice of God. When I am stumbling and bumbling, failing and floundering . . . and I can’t be a healer.
So I need to ask myself a question. I need to ask all of us: Are there ways in which we are scapegoating the earth? Are there situations in which we close our eyes and ears to the realities all around us, just so we can maintain our own comfort? It can be very uncomfortable to listen for the voice of God and then to respond by being a healer for the brokenness around us. Even on a small scale, owning up to our involvement in bringing pain to another or doing something wrong, makes us uncomfortable. I remember how it felt to break something when I was a child. My first response was to consider hiding the evidence and hoping my parents never found out. But the reality was then, as it is now, that it is much better to face up to your wrong-doing, to confess the worst and get it out in the open. Dealing with our failings in an open and honest way allows us to learn from our mistakes.
We need to own up to our part of the environmental crisis. If we pretend that we don’t have anything to do with global warming for too much longer, then it may be too late to save ourselves, let alone save the planet. I know this might sound a bit over the top to some, but it is an issue that is close to my heart, one that deals directly with our spiritual health and well-being. We cannot be well in a world that is not well. We cannot be whole in a world that is not whole. I don’t want to be the kind of Christians who come to church on Sunday to pray and pay attention to God, but then walk out of the sanctuary not to think about God again until I come back next week. I can’t help but make connections between God and every other aspect of my life, and as difficult and uncomfortable as this might be sometimes, I would not have it any other way.
What would it take to bring healing to this world? What would it take to turn the tide on human over-development so that we can hold out some hope for the future of the planet? Some folks will tell you that people like you and I can’t possibly make a difference. They would say that one or two or even a hundred people who care about something are not able to speak loudly enough to drown out the voices of those with vested interests in maintaining the status quo. That’s fear talking. If we want to be healers, then we need to speak up, to act out, to make a difference in any way we can. We need to bring our faith to bear on our lives and in the world.
I am going away for study leave next week. I had planned to take next Sunday off, until I heard about the environmental rally being held on the National Mall next week. Jim Conklin and I will be joining more than 20,000 others to let the President and legislators know that we are listening to Earth – we hear her groan and sputter. We sense her burden. We are listening. And we are acting. If you want to join us, please talk to Jim about the details. We aremeeting here at CCC at 10:15 AM and traveling to the rally together.
O God, guide us into caring deeply enough about the world around us that we, too reach out in order to bring healing. Show us how we might begin to heal some of the brokenness that is so evident today. May we live by our faith from our hearts and not just by our words.
Original Blessing by Matthew Fox