Should Christians Care About Earth Day?
A Sermon given by Norma Carol on April 21, 2002
The Gathering Place Community Church
How many of you have made plans to take a day off from work, a day off from school, or make a conscientious effort to take part in Earth Day festivities tomorrow?
Has anyone done any Earth Day activity at all over this past week or so? How many actually knows that tomorrow is Earth Day? How many even know what Earth Day is? We have a few! Well, I’m going to tell you about it!
Earth Day was founded in 1970 by the then U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, Gaylord Nelson. It was a time when our V-8 engines were sucking up leaded gasoline. The resulting smell was considered a sign of prosperity. Senator Nelson was troubled by this and proposed legislation to do something about it, including a national event. The first Earth Day was held on April 22, 1970 with the enlisted assistance of Denis Hayes, who has been coordinating events ever since. Twenty million Americans came out to demonstrate their desire for a better environment by taking to the streets, parks, and auditoriums. As a result, we have the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, Endangered Species Act, and the Environmental Protection Agency. So Earth Day is of major importance! Today 184 nationals around the world recognize Earth Day.
The question is, then: Should Christians care about Earth Day? The major portion of my research comes from Earth-Wise: A Biblical Response to Environmental Issues by Calvin B. DeWitt. I am going to start with three of the several excuses Christians use not to care.
1. "Caring for creation gets too close to the New Age movement…I don’t want people to thing I’m a New Ager!" (74) What is New Age? It is a little Christianity…that is, select quotes from the Bible that fit a man-made viewpoint. There is a little Buddhism; crystals heal; a little of this and a little of that—it doesn’t matter as long as you believe something! And it is sad to say that the Church is the most responsible for this phenomenon by ignoring Genesis 1:27-30.
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; till the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.
Then God said, "I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food. And it was so.
Because the Church does not address the environmental aspects of the Bible, people left and found their own, New Age, man-made religion. The New Agers have claimed themselves as the official caretakers of the earth. Christians must realize that the earth "is not the private property of any group. We care for creation because God has created it and God has delegated this responsibility to us." (74)
2. "Respecting creation gets us too close to pantheism." (74) Pantheism is creature worship. Even though science today has evidenced that both people and animals share the same DNA—confirming shared creation—there are still those who worship animals.
I had this experience within a denominational church. CLCT was turned down even though the Senior Pastor believed in my calling. The Board could not imagine where this outreach would fit under the umbrella of any existing ministry and one member expressed a fear of pantheism! This type of selective witnessing needs to be addressed, and it is great to report that some churches have.
While we do not want these philosophies in the Church, we do want the people. And we should not be afraid to work with them. You know Mother Teresa’s prayer that we pray, to shine like Jesus so when others look at us they see Him. Well if we are going to shine, we need to be out there. Remember, Jesus was not afraid of anything or anyone. He faced demons. So we need to put on our armor as found in Ephesians 6:10-17:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against…the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms….Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.
We also have discernment given us by the Holy Spirit. Some of us have not yet developed this gift. There are others who have. When we hear something questionable, we can check with each other about Truth, and learn and grow. So we need to put on our armor, shine, and witness.
3. "The term dominion means what it says—oppressive dominion." (75) We read Genesis 1:28 about ruling over creation. This has been taken to mean that anything goes with creation, which is not the case.
First, God gave the blessing and mandate of Genesis 1:28 to people before the fall. Second, this passage must be understood not in isolation, but in the context of the rest of the Bible….dominion means responsible stewardship. The Christian model for dominion is Jesus Christ, who was given all dominion. (76)
We see the relationship between Jesus and His creation in the following passages:
Being in very nature God…[Jesus] made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant…he humbled himself and because obedient to death—even death on a cross! (Phil. 2:6-8)
For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross…This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven… (Col. 1:19-20, 23)
And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ. (Eph. 1:9-10)
What is this reconciliation? I was talking to Jorge the other day, and he said he has a sinless dog…Luke, the sinless dog! Understanding why he (Jorge) would need to be, why would Luke need to be reconciled to Jesus? Well, I looked up the Greek words concerning reconciliation, resulting in the following conclusion:
When Adam and Eve fell, they took all creation with them. It is sin that separates man and animals from God. Even if animals don’t sin (and some question this), the sin of mankind causes the separation. What reconciliation means is that all creation—people, animals, environment—will be brought back together under the dominion of One, that is Jesus Christ!
While these are just three examples in Earth-Wise of excuses given by Christians, and while they are certainly valid reasons, I believe the main issue is apathy—just plain lack of caring on the part of Christians. Every single one of us in this room have life situations—whether family, health, finances—that need to be addressed and can be overwhelming. They can also be consuming. However, if we can look beyond ourselves toward creation stewardship, when we come back to our situations, they won’t be gone, but maybe we will see them in a different way.
If we are going to commit ourselves to some degree of stewardship, Cal DeWitt gives us seven principles to follow:
1. "As the Lord keeps and sustains us, so must we keep and sustain our Lord’s creation." (40) One of his colleagues found a translation of Genesis 2:15 in Young’s Literal Translation of the Bible that corroborates this principle: "And Jehovah God taketh the man and causes him to rest in the garden of Eden, to serve it and to keep it." And the keeping is the type of keeping we get from God, one of nurturing and caring.
2. "We must be disciples of Jesus Christ, the Creator, Sustainer, and Reconciler of all things." (41)
Who is this Christ we are to follow? He is the One by whom all things were created (John 1). He is the One for whom all things were made (Col. 1). And he is the one through whom God redeems his people (Heb. 1)….People who are happy to be Christ’s servant stewards are the people for whom the whole creation is eagerly looking. (41)
We see DeWitt’s last point in Romans 8:19-21.
3. "We must provide for creation’s Sabbath rests." (42)
There was a time when crops were rotated—a different crop was planted each year to keep the soil fertile, allowing it to rejuvenate, and the soil was given rest every seven years. These mandates are presented in Exodus 23. Farmers were rotating crops until the abundance of chemicals was made available, and the soil no longer rests. Now all we eat is altered in some way, unless organically grown. God has something to say about this, as well, in Leviticus 26:14-15, 33-35:
If you will not listen to me and carry out all these commands, and if you reject my decrees and abhor my laws and fail to carry out all my commences and so violate my covenant….your land will be laid waste, and your cities will lie in ruins. Then the land will enjoy its sabbath years all the time that it lies desolate...the land will have the rest it did not have during the Sabbaths you lived in it. (42)
4. "We should enjoy, but must not destroy, creation’s fruitfulness." (43)
God created every living thing to be fruitful and multiply. When we destroy God’s creation, we are preventing creatures, nature, and the environment from keeping their given mandate in a way God intended.
5. "We must seek first the kingdom of God." (44)
Those whose actions are "careless and overt" so that they "destroy the earth" have an inheritance of death. (44) This is revealed in Revelation 1:18:
The nations were angry; and your wrath has come. The time for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants the prophets and your saints, and those who reverence your name, both small and great—and for destroying those who destroy the earth.
6. "We must seek true contentment." (45)
True contentment means aiming to have the things that will sustain us, but not going beyond that…Being content also helps us preserve creation’s integrity…We will leave room for the other creatures. We will responsibly exercise dominion over the earth and will preserve it. We will thus allow creation to heal itself and to perpetuate its fruitfulness, to the praise of its Creator. (45)
7. We must practice what we believe. (45)
How are some ways we can do that? One way is to learn all about Earth Day by attending some event like the one being held tomorrow at the Boca campus of FAU from 10-4. There will be educational booths, food, prizes, and other activities. It’s a chance to put on that Armor of God and go out there and shine!
While I am hardly the poster child for environmental stewardship, I’d like to share some of the things I do. I recycle not only at home, but bring what needs to be back to Publix for recycling there; use cloth napkins and recycled paper towels and bathroom tissue; and buy environmentally safe detergents.
Churches need to do something as well. I will come back to this after reading the story of the Styrofoam cup to you.
We move oil by ship from Saudi Arabia to chemical plants. There the oil is transformed into monomers, which are then transported to factories that transform them into styrofoam cups. These styrofoam cups are distributed to stores and then to churches for after-service coffee. They are discarded in wastebaskets, moved to trash containers, and trucked to landfills. As the cups decompose, some of their remains enter groundwater in the form of leachate that may contaminate springs and wells; other remains enter the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, methane, and (until recently) chlorofluorocarbons (CFC’s), which alter the earth’s energy exchange with the sun. (32)
Imagine those little cups ALTERING THE EARTH’S ENERGY EXCHANGE WITH THE SUN! And while we are on the subject of chemicals, there has been DDT found in Antarctic penguins! Everything we do affects God’s earth!
So back to what our church can do. We can have a creation moment each Sunday whereby one person tells of what he or she did as a steward during the week. We can ask Jorge to preach on Revelation 11:18.
What I am going to do today is present us all with a challenge! In this bag is a bunch of baby bags. I want each one of you to take a baby bag and this is what you are to do: Take the bag home. Open it up. Put in a mug. Carry the bag to church. Remove the mug. Use it for coffee and/or juice. Put the mug back in the bag. Carry the bag home. Wash your mug in environmentally safe detergent. You can get the detergent in health food stores and from Shaklee or Amway. A further challenge is to bring in an extra mug to be kept here for visitors. I will personally bring home visitor mugs to wash and return!
So in summary, should Christians care about Earth Day? Let’s look at the Cross. While we know biblically that Jesus could bear the crucifixion because He could see His future glory; that is, the faces of each of us who He knew would accept Him, it also could be viewed in a more complete way. It could also be said—and I like to believe—that He saw our faces individually and collectively (because God can do that) AND He saw beyond us to the background—the background of His creation that God reconciled to Christ by His blood shed on the Cross. We know this from Colossians 1:19-20, 23. Let’s say, He could see the "Peaceable Kingdom" of Isaiah.
In light of this, yes, Christians should care about Earth Day, but they should care every day. What Christians SHOULD NOT DO IS CELEBRATE Earth Day. What we celebrate is our Creator for the gloriousness that surrounds us and to accept with joy and celebration the awesome responsibility of His stewardship mandate.
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Hymns and praise songs used during the Worship Service:
Christ is King of All Creation
Fairest Lord Jesus
Pastor’s choice of creation praise song
All Creatures of our God and King
This is My Father’s World
How Great Thou Art
Intercessory Prayer from National Council of Churches
Eco-Justice Working Group (Slightly edited)
Father God, creator of all things, You weave them together in an intricate tapestry of life.
Teach us to respect the fragile balance of life and to care for the gifts of Your creation.
Guide by Your wisdom those who have power and authority, that, by the decisions they make, life may be cherished, and a good and fruitful earth may continue to show Your glory and sing Your praises.
Almighty God, You have called us to tend and keep the garden of Your creation.
Give us wisdom and reverence for all Your plants and animals who share this planet with us and whose lives make possible our own.
Help us to remember that they too love the sweetness of life and join with us in giving You praise.
We ask all this in the name of Jesus, our Redeemer and Reconciler.
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