CLIMATE OF HOPE
26 Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’ 27So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. 28God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’ 29 God said, ‘See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. 30And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.’ And it was so. 31 God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. (Genesis 1:26-31, NRSV)
I was at an event once where we were asked to discuss our relationship with nature with those around us. The first person who spoke said he had no relationship with nature. He was a person who preferred to spend his time indoors. Feeling the opposite, I said to him. Surely you’ve seen a beautiful sunset or a blazing maple tree in autumn or the sun sparkling on the ocean and had a moment where you felt moved by the sheer beauty. He thought for a minute and answered, “No, I really haven’t. I can’t say that I pay much attention to nature. Maybe I should,” he said.
I thought about this man last Saturday, which was Earth Day, a day when many committed citizens participated in the March for Science. It was originally called the Scientists’ March on Washington, but then the word got out, and the movement grew into marches and rallies in more than 600 cities around the world. One source reported, “According to organizers, the march [was] a non-partisan movement to celebrate science and the role it plays in everyday lives. The goals of the marches and rallies were to emphasize that science upholds the common good and to call for evidence-based policy in the public’s best interest. The March for Science organizers and supporters [said] that support for science should be nonpartisan.”
Robert N. Proctor, a historian of science at Stanford University, stated that the March for Science was “unprecedented in terms of the scale and breadth of the scientific community that’s involved and was rooted in a broader perception of a massive attack on…notions of truth that are sacred to the scientific community.”
It’s no secret that government funding for scientific research is under threat, especially in the areas of global warming and climate change, despite “The scientific consensus…that the Earth’s climate system is unequivocally warming, and that it is extremely likely (meaning 95% probability or higher) that this warming is predominantly caused by humans.”
It is terribly unfortunate that this has become a partisan issue. Once issues become divisive, as this has, it is virtually impossible to have a civil discussion or make progress. So what if we change the discussion? Instead of trying to convince the skeptics that climate change is real and caused predominantly by humans, perhaps we should stop focusing on global warming for a moment and refocus the discussion with one simple question, what would be better for human beings, more pollution or less pollution? The obvious answer is less pollution. We’ve known this for decades and it shouldn’t be a partisan issue. Everyone agrees that air pollution is bad for our lungs, just look at Beijing. Everyone agrees that polluted water is bad for our children, just look at Flint, Michigan. So instead of trying to convince the skeptics that human activities are causing global warming, let’s just agree that pollution is bad for our health and bad for our natural resources, which will ultimately prove bad for our economy. The economic discussion is key because it is often what drives politics one direction or the other.
Earlier this week I had decided I was going to write a sermon about Earth Day and the March for Science. By mid-week I was feeling discouraged that we even needed a March for Science in the first place. I was also sad thinking about how much worse the environment was going to get with less protection. I started feeling better when I heard an interview on NPR’s Morning Edition with Michael Bloomberg, entrepreneur and former mayor of New York City, and Carl Pope, former chair of the Sierra Club, who have co-authored a book entitled, Climate of Hope: How Cities, Businesses, and Citizens Can Save the Planet. They don’t agree on every point, but they end up in the same place arguing that cities, businesses, and citizens will continue making environmental progress with or without Washington.
In the NPR interview, Bloomberg points out that cities are already committed to using cleaner fuel and less energy. He said, “The cities are trying to encourage people to not use heavy fuel oil, [but instead] go to natural gas…[and] bicycle lanes, a lot of the changes that mayors and city councils can make. And companies are one of the big heroes here. What you see is big companies doing things that are good for the world because their customers want it, their employees want it and, most of all, their investors want it.”
Carl Pope added, “It’s a very partisan issue at the national level. But if you get down to the local level and you look at which cities are choosing to embrace clean energy, it turns out the first big American city to say it was going to be a hundred percent renewable was San Diego, which has a Republican mayor. Another big city that has said it’s going to go 100 percent renewable is Salt Lake City, the largest city in the reddest state in the country. So I think at the local level, when you start talking about - do you want the drinking water to be clean? - that isn’t a partisan issue. If you talk about - do you want to have cleaner electricity? – that’s actually not a partisan issue at the local level…Businesses and states are moving forward on clean energy solutions because they understand this is the biggest economic opportunity and the biggest public health opportunity we have.”
In today’s scripture lesson, we find a verse that has often been misunderstood and thus caused problems for the earth over the centuries. In Genesis 1:28b God is talking to Adam and Eve and says, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth” (1:28b, NRSV). The words “subdue” and “dominion” have been criticized by many scholars who say that this message gave people a God-endorsed free reign to do whatever they wanted to do to the earth.
Christian ethicist, Robert Parham, explains the difference between dominion over the Earth and domination over the Earth. He writes, “The image of domination is that of a conquering king trampling on the neck of a conquered enemy…Domination entails oppressive rule which lacks any notion of earth [care] …Dominion, on the other hand, does not allow for a ruthless assault on nature…Dominion expresses God’s desire for responsible human action in pursuit of justice and peace for all humans and for nature.” A better interpretation of Genesis 1:28 helps us understand God’s mandate to take care of the Earth.
Much has been made of Genesis 1:28 and the idea of dominion, but we don’t hear much about the next chapter in Genesis where we find the idea of “tilling.” In Genesis chapter 2, after God makes the Garden of Eden, God makes Adam and puts him in the Garden, “to till it and keep it.” Eve comes on the scene a little later. I have to admit when I hear the word “till” I think long, hard work under an unrelenting sun. That’s because at about this time every spring, my dad takes out his gas-powered tiller to loosen up the dirt in his immense garden to prepare for planting.
Robert Parham points out that tilling means more than soil preparation, it really refers to, “…the work ‘that we humans do…to draw sustenance from nature. Tilling involves a certain necessary intervention into natural systems… [it] includes not only agriculture but mining and manufacturing and exchanging, because every kind of work done for material sustenance depends absolutely upon taking and using the stuff of God’s creation.”
Clearly, God expects us to take care of the Earth. But the Earth is much more than an additional responsibility. It is a gift. When we see that beautiful weeping cherry tree on Manhasset Woods Road, the tulips in front of The Americana, or enjoy the luxury of fresh baked bread, we are reminded of creation’s goodness. We take care of this gift because God created it to take care of us. We take care of it so that our children can enjoy the beauty of God’s creation for years to come. We take care of it in faith, believing that each and every one of us can make a difference. In big ways and small, together we can save the Earth.
Do you remember the # 1 bestseller, 50 Simple Things You Can Do To Save The Earth? The book brims with simple ideas that make a difference in our world -- ideas that remind us of the importance of small things. Whenever we switch off a light, or shave 30 seconds off a shower, we are helping the Earth. The statistics are encouraging. If each of us recycled our Sunday papers, over 500,000 trees could be saved every week. If every commuter car took only one more passenger, over 600,000 gallons of gasoline would be saved and 12 million pounds of greenhouse gases would stay out of our atmosphere. And then my favorite statistic, if each American family planted one tree, over a billion pounds of greenhouse gases would be taken out of our atmosphere each year.
Will everybody do these things? No. Does it make a difference if we do them? Yes. Edmund Burke once said, “[None] made a greater mistake than…[those] who did nothing because…[they] could only do a little.” If we all do a little, together we will do a lot.
Our choices matter, to us, our children, and our children’s children. With God’s help, may we till the Earth. May we be good stewards of it. May we nurture the gift of creation. May we love the Earth, not just on Earth Day, but all our days. AMEN.
Written by Rev. Jimmy Only
Earth Care Sunday
April 30, 2017
The Congregational Church of Manhasset, New York (UCC)
Loving God, we thank you for the sun, moon, and stars, for dew, rain, and wind, for winter’s cold and summer’s heat. We praise you for plants growing in earth and water, for life inhabiting lakes and seas, for life flying above mountains and prairies, for creatures dwelling in woods and fields. How many and wonderful are your works, O God. We confess, dear Lord, as creatures privileged with the care and keeping of your creation that too often we have abused it. We confess that often we are unaware of how deeply we have hurt your Earth and its marvelous gifts. Forgive our wrongs and help us do better that we might be good stewards of your gracious gift (adapted from Earth Prayers, edited by E. Roberts & E. Amidon, New York: Harper Collins, 1991, pp. 228-230).
Through Jesus Christ our Lord we pray. AMEN.
 Chris Mooney, “Historians say the March for Science is ‘pretty unprecedented,’” Washington Post (April 22, 2017)
 Robert Parham, Loving Neighbors Across Time, Birmingham, AL: New Hope, 1991, p. 18
 Ibid. pp. 23-24
 Ibid. p. 25
 50 Simple Things You Can Do To Save The Earth, p. 3