A Conversation About Mother Earth

Genesis 1:26-31, 2:15; Genesis 9:12-17, Matthew 13:44-46

Rev. Doug Van Doren, Plymouth UCC, Grand Rapids, MI, May 10, 2015


We did not get a chance to reflect on our stewardship of the earth closer to Earth Day a couple weeks ago. With the Kidz' Choir anthem focused on the environment, and this being Mother's Day, it seems appropriate to do that today. After all, the earth is our mother, and each parent's first concern is their children. Hopefully that is the case for non-parental adults as well. Care for the environment is care for the children.

I have entitled this, "A Conversation about Mother Earth." This is not a new topic for us at Plymouth. I am certainly not here to browbeat you or make you feel guilty about our wasteful and profligate ways. Not that we cannot all do a lot better, but we know that, and hopefully are working on it. I am not here to convince you that action needs to take place - we know that, and wish others in power did, too!

I see this kind of like when the family gathers around mom's sickbed to listen to the experts, to figure out what to do, and to support each other in this crisis - how do we live with mom whose health is not what it used to be. Of course, there is one major difference. Collectively, humanity has made Mother Earth sick, and Mother Earth can live on without us (might be happy to shake the flea off her back) but we cannot live without a reasonably healthy planet.

As I have said before, it is particularly important that we, the church, address this. That is because the church, historically, has been on the wrong side of this issue. We have used that language in the Genesis 1 creation story - "to have dominion over the earth, to subdue it," as an excuse to exploit it, rather than to be God's stewards of the precious creation. Of course, it has only been recently that humans have become large enough in number, advanced enough technically, and voracious consumers beyond the needs for food and shelter, as to be able to permanently and fatally alter the planet. But we have arrived at that fateful place. We have ignored the Genesis 2 story where God does specifically give humans the role, the Godly role, to "till and keep" the garden. We have ignored the wonderful story of covenant renewal in Genesis 9 that Colleen read for you - God's covenant not only with the human creatures, but with "every living thing." To destroy environments and habitats isn't only a violation of our role as Stewards, it is a direct attack on God's covenant with all living things.

Certainly we, as individuals and institutions need to continue to do all we can. We are working on that at Plymouth. A few years ago, we switched to higher efficiency fluorescent lights throughout the building, cutting that usage in half, and just a couple months ago we switched to LED's here in the sanctuary. That change will reduce the power used for lighting in the sanctuary by around 80%. And our roof insulation and solar panels will be coming on line this summer, as we all know. What are you doing at your home - in terms of the appliances you buy, the car you drive, how much water you use? Have you converted all lights to LEDs?

If every U.S. citizen shortened his or her shower by one minute a day enough water would be saved to supply Philadelphia, Chicago, and Los Angeles (goodness knows they need it) for two months. (Maybe you can give up one minute of luxuriating in the shower.) If each household replaced just one incandescent light with even a high tech fluorescent, let alone an LED, it would be the equivalent of taking two million cars off the road. As we are doing our solar array on the church roof, we are also seeking to put together a program to help us learn how we can do the same in our own homes.

Indeed, we all need to do our part. As was the case back in February, we will have two different cards for you in the narthex today. One is called the Paris Pledge. That is a pledge to reduce one's personal carbon footprint by 50% by the year 2030 and to reduce it to 0 by 2050. Now I know that many of you are thinking that your personal carbon footprint will, by default, be 0 by 2030, let alone 2050! But we are talking about our action now for our children. The reason these figures are chosen is because out of Global Climate change conferences, an agreement has emerged that global warming must be kept under 2 degrees Celsius in order to avoid absolutely cataclysmic and irrecoverable tragedy. (It is already clear that permanent changes have occurred.) In order to do that, the developed nations need to reduce their carbon emissions by the amount of that personal pledge - 50% by 2030 and to 0 by 2050.

Is there hope? Indeed, the science has been clear (for a long time, and has only gotten clearer) that 88% of human carbon emissions comes from burning fossil fuels and manufacturing of cement. (The other 12% comes from deforestation and other land use changes.) In other words, governments, nations, and individuals have their hands on the CO2 nozzle.

Last September for the first time ever, two major world powers - the U. S. and China, reached an historic agreement to set goals to limit their own carbon emissions. Previously, only the European Union had made such declarations. Since the U. S. and China have signed on, it is now possible that some real progress can be made at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, this coming December. Through Interfaith Power and Light, of which Plymouth is a member, we are seeking to provide support by sending our pledges to the UN conference in Paris. That pledge says we as individuals will do what we demand governments do.

The other card in the narthex is to send to our Senators supporting the cut in carbon emissions from Power Plants. This reduction is underway, unless politicians stop it - as we all know, a very real threat.

Though we need to do our part, it is bigger than us individuals. It requires the concerted action of nations, including, especially, the U.S.

This is all well and good, but I must admit that I am terribly frustrated, discouraged, and angry that people in power and responsibility, like the U. S. legislature, have refused to act. I am sure you share my anger and frustration. Instead, many of them have continued to deny the overwhelming, sound science. They have refused to do their job. It is like the family standing around our mother's sick-bed, the lab reports having come back with a clear diagnosis of what is wrong and the treatment needed, and the doctors are refusing to provide treatment.

There are times when I see the destruction that has already taken place and the refusal of those in power to act, that I think it is hopeless. Why should I bother - why not embrace the American mantra and "grab for all the gusto I can" in my short time on this earth.

But then I remember the faces and hear the sweet voices of the children who sang this morning about needing trees. They are helpless, at this stage in their life, to preserve their future. They depend on us. I remember God's covenant with all creation, that the earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof. I remember that if discipleship means anything, it means to spend oneself for that which is precious. God called the people and all living things, precious. Maybe in this 21st century context it is appropriate to interpret the parable of the great pearl that way. The merchant finds a pearl and realizes it is of more value than all the other things he has invested in. This exquisite blue earth, resembling more a sapphire than a pearl, is that thing of great value. If we don't invest in and protect it, nothing else will matter.

We, the church, have resources to sustain us in this endeavor. We are used to long odds. We are aware of the power of one, and see our own responsibility to act and be faithful, regardless of what others are doing or not doing. But we also know the power of a movement, the power of people speaking truth to power. We know the power of an insistent demand that people in positions act. We know the power and sustenance of the Holy Spirit and one another, holding us up against the discouragement. We know that regardless of whether we can see the outcome, we are called to work on behalf of God's just and peaceable realm, not just in our life-time, but for those yet unborn.

Julia Ward Howe instituted the first Mother's day, not to honor mothers, but to call mothers to preserve and protect their sons for the future in light of the Spanish American War.

"Arise, all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be that of water or of tears! Say firmly: "We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies; our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause.

"Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.


From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own."


I think she might say on this Mother's Day, "Rise up, women and men, for we not sit back while men in governmental and corporate power collude to rob our children's future, putting today's bottom line over tomorrow's generations. We will teach our children that the whole earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof, and what God has put together, let no one put asunder!