The Environmental Church and the Death of Christianity
Sermon 082612 by Pastor Bill
This sermon is published online at mennonitepreacher.wordpress.com by the people of Peace Mennonite Church of Columbia, MO. It is not intended to be an accurate and complete record of the sermon for this Sunday service, but we hope it is reasonably close.
In particular, the sermon may have been supplemented by the preacher as they spoke, or cut in some manner. The reaction and discussion of the congregation is also not recorded here, and those responses are the most important.
We have spoken many times before, I think, about the relationship of the church (any church, this church) to the environment. I think that is an important discussion to have—to discuss what the Bible says about the environment, what Christians have said and wrote and felt about the environment, but that is not exactly the discussion I’d like us to have this morning. There are reasons to avoid having a discussion about what the Bible says about the environment.
For one, there may be good reason to assert that the ‘environment’ is a concept only recently invented by mankind. Of course, humans have always lived on land, drank clean water, and had food to eat (whether harvested from the wild or
cultured in an agricultural system).
But the idea of the environment is different from having an environment or living in an environment. When you make up a new word or a new name, the thing you name becomes a thing apart. Looking at it this way, it is likely that people seldom looked at the environment as a system apart from the self. People in the Middle Ages, let’s say, might not have been sitting around the pub and discussed what to do about the environment. Instead, like most of us, they instead just said ‘It rained today. I couldn’t plow’ or ‘Since it has frozen outside, it will be safe to eat rabbits. The frost kills worms in the rabbits’. The environment, as unnamed as it was then, was an always implied part of the human beings who considered it in the context of their own humanity, of their own ‘making a living’.
And since humans have begun now to name the environment, and to consider what we should do to protect this thing called ‘the environment’, Christians have begun to look through the Bible for environmental theology, which is sort of like God’s and Jesus’ official environmental policy.
The problem is there’s no ‘Book of the Environment’ or Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, the Environment, Deuteronomy’….etcetera. We are left with what I think is no clear statement on the environment in the entire Bible. Sure, Jesus liked being outdoors, it appears, but he never said so. I know of no time Jesus said he had any particular stance regarding the environment, like we should expect no comprehensive idea of population control in the Bible. These are problems that have arisen, and been named by Christians in the 2,000 years since Jesus was executed.
But we can get a very clear idea of God’s idea of the environment, called by the name ‘the earth’. (We should clarify however, that we all tend to call this place of human affairs by the name of the ‘world’ and usually we think it is evil, but the environment is called the ‘earth’.)
We believe that God created all of this thing we call ‘reality’. This is the basic idea of Christianity, Judaism and Islam.
Let’s look quickly at our beginnings with God: Genesis 1.
New King James Version (NKJV)
The History of Creation
1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was[a] on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4 And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. So the evening and the morning were the first day.
6 Then God said, “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.” 7 Thus God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament; and it was so. 8 And God called the firmament Heaven. So the evening and the morning were the second day.
9 Then God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear”; and it was so. 10 And God called the dry land Earth, and the gathering together of the waters He called Seas. And God saw that it was good.
11 Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb that yields seed, and the fruit tree that yields fruit according to its kind, whose seed is in itself, on the earth”; and it was so. 12 And the earth brought forth grass, the herb that yields seed according to its kind, and the tree that yields fruit, whose seed is in itself according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 13 So the evening and the morning were the third day.
14 Then God said, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years; 15 and let them be for lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth”; and it was so. 16 Then God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night. He made the stars also. 17 God set them in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth, 18 and to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 So the evening and the morning were the fourth day.
20 Then God said, “Let the waters abound with an abundance of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the face of the firmament of the heavens.” 21 So God created great sea creatures and every living thing that moves, with which the waters abounded, according to their kind, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” 23 So the evening and the morning were the fifth day.
24 Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth the living creature according to its kind: cattle and creeping thing and beast of the earth, each according to its kind”; and it was so. 25 And God made the beast of the earth according to its kind, cattle according to its kind, and everything that creeps on the earth according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.
26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all[b] the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. 28 Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
29 And God said, “See, I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food. 30 Also, to every beast of the earth, to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, in which there is life, I have given every green herb for food”; and it was so. 31 Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. So the evening and the morning were the sixth day.
The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.
How does God feel about her creation?
How many times in this selection from genesis does God say ‘It was good.’?
How do you feel about God’s creation?
Have you ever written or sung about your love for the environment or your presence in the environment?
New King James Version (NKJV)
6 You alone are the Lord;
You have made heaven,
The heaven of heavens, with all their host,
The earth and everything on it,
The seas and all that is in them,
And You preserve them all.
The host of heaven worships You.
The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.
In Nehemiah there is an inescapable unity between God, the creator, and creation, which includes earth, the environment, the universe and everything outside the universe and ….so on ad infinitum.
Do you know the difference between macro– and micro– Macro—means very very big and micro means very very small. The closing line of this verse from Nehemiah speaks of this inescapable unity—that God creates and is created. And the environment is smack-dab in the middle of this all.
Does ‘environment’ include God?
Does ‘environment’ include you?
Does ‘God’ include you?
Does ‘you’ include God?
New King James Version (NKJV)
10 Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns;
The world also is firmly established,
It shall not be moved;
He shall judge the peoples righteously.”
11 Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad;
Let the sea roar, and all its fullness;
12 Let the field be joyful, and all that is in it.
Then all the trees of the woods will rejoice before the Lord.
13 For He is coming, for He is coming to judge the earth.
He shall judge the world with righteousness,
And the peoples with His truth.
Question: What kind of feelings are expressed in these verses?
How would you describe the feeling of unity felt by disciples and believers? By mystics?
Now, there is so much more to consider, as we inform our own feelings about the environment with the Biblical record of God’s love for the environment, and the unity of God-humankind-nature. I don’t want us, however, to reduce all these statements of ‘god-unity-humankind to simple statements of God-humankind-nature as the sum total of Christianity, because even though there is a unity, humankind struggles against it, and the unity gets forgotten every day—and religion and spirituality are never that simple.
But we have moved forward into this subject as much as time allows today. Next week, and for weeks thereafter we’ll have the opportunity to discuss this all further. But, to show us the way ahead, I’ll bring up what the conclusion of all this is…..when Jesus asks us to do impossible things, (and promises we can ask God and the Holy Spirit for help when we ask in His name,) Jesus is really determining the course of what Christianity has failed to do in the 2,000 years since his death.
John 13:35 says:
Jesus said that people will know us.
35 By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
It’s been 2,000 years now! Do people know us by the way we love one another? Has Christianity taken care of the poor, the orphaned, the homeless and those in prison.
A friend who has spent considerable time in India tells me that homelessness, poverty, and the orphaned crowd even the best cities. In one city that has become the preacher’s missionary base for trips to India is so crowded with the poor and hungry begging for life. The dead lie for days on the streets, human and animal feces cover the ground, flies fill the air so one has trouble breathing. People have no shoes, and I recall one story of making sandals from used plastic water bottles!
Basically, every country in the world is poor unless it spends billions on its armed forces to keep the internal and external, and to control wealth and decide to whom it belongs.
As the world’s population runs toward 7 Billion people we see more disease, more hunger, poverty, thirst and more crime. (At least in prison sometimes one eats.)
If love is how the world knows us, where and who are we? What people love the earth and its life so much, as God’s creation that they work at solving all these problems, and the world will know that Christians love one another, and took care of the poor, the hungry and the homeless because we love Jesus.
If one had to sit and watch a movie 2,000 years long of how well Christians have done at doing what Christ commanded of his disciples (to love and care for one another) how long would you watch this movie before you gave up and left the movie?
It is my prediction that Christianity will die and fade away unless people come to know us because of the way we love one another. It is my contention that now, the crisis in the quality of the earth’s environment will cause even more drought, famine and war and that even more of human life and all life on earth will suffer. Is this how we show the world who we are? Is this how we show the world how we love one another?
Christianity is in danger of not just failing and disappearing, but worse—Christianity may continue to be seen as irrelevant.
This is not a subject for theology, or for further endless debate and discussion. At a certain point Christianity has to put up: do we love another, and can we let the world know we do….by the way we love one another. It is time to end hunger, poverty and war, and to protect the environment that shares its water, food and joy with us all.
You will note that I didn’t use the word ‘salvation’ even once. I’m not promising you the benefits of heaven while we are responsible for the hell on earth. For now, if we are to love one another, we are disciples of Christ. That’s all. And I am arguing that if Christianity wishes to survive at all (along with all life on earth, that is) we have to acknowledge that loving one another means only to care for the environment with careful love, recognizing that we are part of the environment, and that we love the environment (and do not hate all life).
We know what we have to do, what we need to correct. Let’s get started today.