Treasure (April 7, 2019)
By now you will know that we’re using the 5 Marks of Mission to guide our Lenten journey this year. They help the church live out our identity as God’s mission–shaped people.
We begin with our weekly Lenten test—
The 1st Mark of Mission is…? (To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom of God. We Tell)
And the 2nd? (To teach, baptise and nurture new believers. We Teach.)
And the 3rd? (To respond to human need by loving service. We Tend.)
And the 4th? (To seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation. We Transform.)
Tell. Teach. Tend. Transform. These are some of the ways in which we work with God for the healing of the world.
Today it’s the 5th Mark of Mission: To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth. We Treasure.
We haven’t done particularly well with this one. We don’t take good care of the earth. In fact, we take lousy care of the earth. And it’s not just the last 100 years of so. Listen to a prayer written by St. Basil the Great, who lived from 330–379:
“O God, enlarge within us the sense of fellowship with all living things, our brothers the animals [and all creatures] to whom thou gavest the earth as their home in common with us. We remember with shame that in the past we have exercised the high dominion of humans with ruthless cruelty; so that the voice of the earth, which should have gone up to Thee in song, has been a groan of travail. May we realize that all creatures live not for us alone but for themselves and for Thee, and that they love the sweetness of life.”
At the end of the 19th century, Russian novelist Anton Chekhov wrote, “We were endowed with reason, with the power to create, so that we can add to what we’ve been given. But up to now we haven’t been a creator, only a destroyer. Forests keep disappearing, rivers dry up, wildlife has become extinct, the climate’s ruined and the land grows poorer and uglier every day.”
It leads me to wonder if we really care. It’s a disheartening thought.
Scientists have been warning us for decades. The science is very clear. But we don’t pay attention. We don’t want to change the way we live.
In 2015, I wrote a column about Keurig coffee pods. The inventor regrets ever inventing the system. In 2014, there were enough discarded K–cups to circle the globe 10½ times—the garbage just keeps piling up. If you line up all those K–cups, the line would be 420,000 km long!
Someone talked to me about the column. He told me he just liked the convenience too much; he wasn’t going to quit. And I wondered, “What’s the point?” I entitled that column, “Killing the World for the Sake of Convenience”.
That’s what we’re doing. That’s what we treasure.
Greta Thunberg is a 16–year–old Swedish girl. Last year, she began a “school strike for climate change”. She sat outside the Swedish Parliament building with a hand–painted sign. At first, she was there all alone, and she was an object of scorn and pity.
Today, she is the inspiration for a worldwide movement of young people calling our generation to account for what we have done to mess this planet up. She told world leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos, “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.”
But we don’t. The leaders we elect don’t have the will; they know that we don’t care enough. We complain about the carbon tax, even though it is an effective and proven way of changing behaviour. We refuse to end our wasteful and damaging habits.
We foul the air with smokestacks which spew poison into the air. We ruin the waters with our effluent and our plastics in the oceans. We pave over the earth and the land can no longer breathe. We have wiped out whole species of animals in our greed. We level mountains to dig out the coal and ruined ecosystems to move oil to our cities so that our cars can spew more carbon dioxide into the air. We destroy forests, and the land is denuded.
And just this week, a climate change report was issued which says that it’s worse than we thought. Canada is warming up twice as quickly as the rest of the earth, and the Canadian north is warming three times as quickly.
We are failing to take care of the earth. This “fragile earth, our island home” is dying. Because of us.
At the heart of it, I think, is that we treat our planet as if it were a commodity, something we can buy and sell. As if the land, water, and air were ours to sell.
But it’s not. We are God’s people. We belong to the Creator. We trust that “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it; for God has founded it on the seas and established it on the rivers.” (Psalm 24)
We can’t treat creation as a commodity. It doesn’t belong to us. It belongs to God, and God gives creation into our care.
But we haven’t cared. We don’t take care. We are not wise stewards. We don’t nurtured life. Instead, we destroy.
Here’s something we can learn from indigenous people.
Last week, I briefly mentioned the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in my sermon. Someone asked me afterwards, “This TRC thing? What’s in it for us?”
I was so disheartened. I answered that there’s nothing in it for us, except the opportunity to live as God’s people. God gives us the ministry of reconciliation.
But as I was falling asleep one night this week, it occurred to me that here is one thing “that’s in it for us”—indigenous people can teach us once again that the land is sacred. Creation is not a commodity. It’s not something we can buy and sell. It’s not my land; it’s not your land.
The land is sacred. It is given to us as a gift, to share with all creatures, and if we don’t treasure it, we will die.
That’s part of the reason we have started to acknowledge that we worship on the traditional unceded territory of the Ktunaxa people. Partly, we acknowledge that we live on land which the Ktunaxa have inhabited for over 10,000 years. But it’s also a way for us to understand that none of us own the land. It’s a new way of thinking. The land is not ours to do with as we please. It’s a shared gift from the Creator. It’s sacred stuff … and how we handle it says something really important about who we are.
Isaiah promises this morning that God is about to do something new. God intends to restore the life of God’s people.
It’s a promise to hold on to. But here’s a reality check. We can stand in God’s way. God won’t force us. God depends on our willingness to work with God, and if we are unwilling, then the earth won’t be remade. The earth will die because we don’t care.
St. Francis of Assisi reminded us that this amazing gift of creation is our family — Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Brother Wind, Sister Water, Mother Earth. To take it a step further, as we do this to our family, we it to the Christ who is found in the least of our brothers and sisters.
How we treasure the earth … is how we treasure God.
I hate preaching this sermon. I sound so angry. I sound so despairing. I sound so hopeless. I feel like a finger–wagging school marm.
I don’t know. I met with a young person last week who is going through an existential crisis because of the state the world is in. He isn’t sure that it’s worth doing anything anymore because no one seems to care that the world is dying, and he can’t envision a future for himself and his generation.
Is this the legacy we want to leave for our children?
Is this a measure of how we treasure the earth?
Is this how we care for creation and all of God’s good gifts?
We need to change. As the woman in today’s gospel anointed Jesus with costly perfume, we need to anoint the world with our love and our care. That’s what treasuring creation will look like. We stop thinking about our convenience, and we do whatever we can to reverse our damaging ways. We anoint creation with our tears and the perfume of our faithfulness to God.
Do we treasure this world? This Mark of Mission calls us to repent, to change the way we live. One of the ways we can do it is to elect leaders who have the political guts to do what needs to be done. We stop electing politicians who pander to us in order to say in power, who appeal to the worst instincts in us for their own gain. We get involved.
There are other things we can do—stop using plastics as much as possible; throw your Keurigs out; buy more fuel efficient cars; use cloth bags for your groceries, and so on … but first, we must get serious enough to want to act. First, we must get serious enough to be willing to bear the cost of healing our world. First, we must get serious enough to acknowledge how poorly we have exercised our stewardship of God’s sacred gift.
Let me repeat Greta Thunberg’s words. “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.”
For God’s sake, for Christ’s sake, for the world’s sake, I pray it is not too late.
Rev. Dr. Yme Woensdregt
April 7, 2019 (5th Sunday in Lent)
Isaiah 43: 16–21
John 12: 1-8
Philippians 3: 4–14