July 20, 2008
Scripture: Romans 8:18-22
Sermon Title: "Creation Groans"
Listen to these words from God about a land that has suffered from pollution of every kind:
"I thought how I would...give you a pleasant land,
the most beautiful heritage of all the nations
And I thought you would call me "My Father"
and would not turn from following me...
(8:18)(but now) my joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick.
(9:10)Take up weeping and wailing for the mountains,
and lamentations for the pastures of the wilderness,
because they are laid waste so that no one passes through,
and the lowing of cattle is not heard
both the birds of the air and the animals have fled and gone.
(12:4) How long will the land mourn,
and the grass of every field wither?
For the wickedness of those who live in it
the animals and birds are swept away...
(12:10-11) many shepherds have destroyed my vineyard,
they have trampled down my portion,
they have made my pleasant portion a desolate wilderness.
They have made it a desolation;
desolate, it mourns to me.
The whole land is made desolate,
but no one lays it to heart.
(14:2-6) (The city) mourns and her gates languish;
they lie in gloom on the ground
and the cry of the city goes up.
Her nobles send their servants for water,
they come to the cisterns,
they find no water...
because the ground is cracked...
The farmers are dismayed;
they cover their heads.
Even the doe in the fields forsake her newborn fawn
because there is no grass.
The wild donkeys stand on bare heights,
they pant for air like jackals;
their eyes fail
because there is no herbage."
Sounds like it could be taken from today’s headlines, couldn’t it?
God has given his people the most beautiful of land, but instead of treating it respectfully, they have went about polluting it.
They’ve polluted the land socially, neglecting the needs of the oppressed and poor. They have polluted the land politically, aligning themselves with countries they have no business with.
They’ve trampled the earth to the point that the birds have fled, the rain has stopped and the donkeys have no more plants to eat.
These aren’t words ripped from the headlines of 2008, or even 1908, but from 2,500 years ago.
The prophet Jeremiah is giving a message to the people condemning them for not appreciating the beautiful world God has blessed them with and for disrespecting the earth and one another.
Sadly, it is a message that we still need to hear today.
I vividly recall a newstory years ago. A gas station exploded in Iraq when a bunch of drunken partiers shot off their guns, hitting a gas tank. A car exploded, killing innocent children, the earth consumed in flames and a mother runs screaming in front of the flames, her hands outstretched.
Creation groans in Illinois where a small town sits on top of 1-3 million gallons of gasoline that has seeped into the ground. When it rains the petroleum rises up and people’s basements smell of fumes. When it gets too dry people’s homes have been known to burst into flames.
Creation groans at my apartment complex when people shoot off fireworks. The sound interrupts the days tranquility and remnants of the rockets float on top of the lake. A small bass comes to lake’s surface to see if its edible food. I wonder what the long-term affects this will have to the water, and what will this mean for the children who swim there all summer long.
These are just three examples Creation suffering.
Its being depleted of its resources. Its body is contaminated; all living and non-living things are suffering from the lifestyle choices of the human creature.
As Paul, in his letter to the Romans, clearly states: Creation is groaning. And if it was groaning back then in his time, image the sound it’s making now.
...But, as always, there is new hope. Over the last 20 years or so there has been a new movement in Christianity, called ecotheology. Eco meaning the environment, theology meaning the study of God.
Ecotheologians will tell you that all of Creation belongs to God, and is a gift given by God to us. Created in God’s image, we have been called to help care for and look after the plants, animals, land and waters.
Ecotheologians will also say that when God created the world, it was not just for the sake just humans, but for the sake of all living things.
And Paul’s letter has helped propel their way of thought. For in Romans 8:18-25 we clearly hear of the symbiotic relationship between humans and non-humans: when one falls, so does the other; when one succeeds, so does the other.
According to Paul, humans and non-humans share the same fate. Which is great news for all when it comes to the revelation of Jesus Christ and the grace we have freely received.
Paul’s logic is simple: because Creation fell with humans, then Creation will also find restoration and rest, just as humans do, through the salvation and grace offered by Jesus Christ.
This is not a radical, hippie tree-hugging thought originating in California, circa the 1960's, but a deeply introspective, spiritual realization produced by the greatest Christian missionary living across the globe, circa the original 60s.
Biblically speaking, the earth and all of Creation has always played a special role in the Scriptures. After all, the Bible begins with the act of Creation. The implication is that not only is it God who created, but that Creation comes from and belongs to God.
Psalm 104 picks up on this theme as it praises God for stretching out the heavens and making springs gush from valleys. The Psalmist goes a step further, making it very clear that God did not just create the world for the sake of humans, but for the animals as well
Night allows the animals of the forest to come creeping out. The springs give drink to every wild animal, trees grow by streams so birds have a place to build their nests, and the mountains become a place for the goats.
And what did God ask from us? To rule and watch over what he created. But we failed in so many ways.
By chapters 3 and 4 of Genesis sin has already crept into our hearts and it is the environment that pays the price.
Figs are pulled from their branches to make clothes. The serpent and ground are cursed. Animals are killed for their hide. Childbirth becomes painful. Brother kills brother, and the earth swallows the spilt blood.
Creation began groaning then, and continues to groan now. What will it take for the groaning to stop? Perhaps an earthquake that will rock the world and swallow all us humans up? Maybe a human deliverer, say an ecologically minded Moses?
Or perhaps the answer has already arrived...
...According to the words of Paul, Jesus Christ is the one to save Creation and stop its groaning.
Ecotheologians embrace this notion. They say that through Christ we enter into the story amazing grace. And this grace is not just extended to us, but to all of Creation.
If we follow the logic of Paul, sin has lead us to mistreat Creation. But in Christ there is restoration, for in Christ that sin is erased, causing our behavior to change.
Think about it: if through Christ our actions towards one another and ourselves change, then it makes sense that so would our actions towards the rest of Creation.
When we realize and accept the grace of Christ, we begin to act more caring and responsible. We become aware of our relationship with God and our relationship with everyone and everything else.
Through our own salvation in Christ comes the possibility of salvation for all living things because the grace we receive is the grace we share, freeing ourselves and all else from the bondage we’ve been in.
For different people, these ecological acts of grace will come in different ways. Some will feel called to adopt a dog or cat from the shelter rather then give their business to a puppy mill.
Others will try to purchase their clothes, furniture and household goods second hand so there is not as much going into landfills.
Some may buy organic and locally grown produce so gas is not wasted in transport and dangerous chemicals don’t seep into the ground. Others may buy free range eggs and chickens knowing the animals had the chance to live life as an animal should: in the sun, standing on grass rather then tethered to a stall or squashed in a cage.
As we continue to respond to Christ’s voice, we will hear with fresh ears the call from God to return to our original roles of being good stewards of the earth.
And we will realize that whenever we plant a garden, put up a birdfeeder, even recycling our papers, we are helping God take care of his glorious Creation
In his letter to the Romans, Paul calls us to be children of Christ, wonderfully inclusive of all living and non-living life. Animals, plants, elements, and other humans are no longer mere objects to be manipulated and discarded. But to be properly and tenderly treated.
Through this grace, Creation has the chance to go back to being good. Wild donkeys will have water to drink, cattle have plenty of grass to eat.
Creation moves from groaning but to praising God with the hills singing for joy and the floods clapping their hands.
The good news is we see this already happening with the Paper-Gators popping up around town. Products coming in less wasteful packaging and the exploration of alternative power.
In conclusion, today’s message began with a rather devastating look at the environment crises. So let’s end with biblical words of hope. Hear now the promise of the earth’s restoration due to the actions and the grace of God and the faithfulness of us, his people.
(Jer 31:7-17) For thus says the Lord
Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob
and raise shouts for the chiefs of nations...
They shall be radiant over the goodness of the Lord,
over the grain, the wine, the oil,
and over the young of the flock and the herd;
their life shall be like a watered garden,
and they shall never languish again.
Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance
and the young men and old shall be merry.
I will turn their mourning into joy,
I will comfort them and give them gladness for sorrow...
And my people shall be satisfied with my bounty,
says the Lord.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, Creation may be groaning now, but as each one of us draws closer and closer to Christ, through his grace we can lessen the earth’s burdens and diminish its pain.
What is it Christ is calling you to do today?
All thanks be to God who created our world, the Son who came to save all of it and to the Spirit that refreshes us all, making each of us anew.