Sunday, October 20, 2013

Barbara Moyer Lehman: Footprint and Fingerprint

Holistic Stewardship: Creation
Psalm 8:1-9, I Cor. 8:5-6, Genesis 1:27-28,  Genesis  2:15-17

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Tuesday morning at 7:30am, I walked from the building where I had been sleeping, across a wooden walkway to the dining hall for breakfast.  I was at Camp Amigo in Sturgis, Michigan, attending meetings of the Constituency Leaders Council of the Mennonite Church, for 2.5 days.  The air was damp and cool, the sky mostly dark.  As I glanced east, across the beautiful lake adjacent to the camp, I saw a thin strip of magnificent color along the horizon, a prelude and foretaste of what was about to unfold.  As I entered the building, gathered my food and made my way to a window, I shared the news with others to look, to watch and see.  That morning many of us observed the evolving, unfolding colors of deep red, purple, pink and blue, which took over the whole sky, and reflected in a perfect mirror image on the lake water.  I couldn’t get enough of it.  I could hardly eat.  A magnificent sunrise to start the day!  Creation is a song, a song that we can see, a sacred gift from God, let’s join the harmony!

That morning we saw a scene that had God’s fingerprint all over it!  God’s fingerprints are over all of creation, especially this time of year.  Nothing that exists was made without God, whether it is the earth, the sky or the sea. God’s fingers have set the heavens, the moon, the stars in place.  How majestic is God!

In 1995, The Confession of Faith from a Mennonite Perspective,  was adopted for use within the church.  Article 5 is on Creation and Divine Providence.  It states:

We believe that God has created the heavens and the Earth and all that is in them, (1) and that God preserves and renews what has been made.  All creation ultimately has its source outside itself and belongs to the Creator.  The world has been created good because God is good and provides all that is needed for life. (2)

We believe that the universe has been called into being as an expression of God’s love and sovereign freedom alone.  Creation witnesses to the eternal power and divine nature of God, who gives meaning and purpose to life and who alone is worthy of worship and praise. (3)  We acknowledge that God sustains creation in both continuity and change.  We believe that God upholds order in creation and limits the forces of sin and evil for the sake of preserving and renewing humanity and the world. (4)

God also works to save human beings and the world from death and destruction and to overcome the forces of sin and evil.  We therefore are called to respect the natural order of creation and to entrust ourselves to God’s care and keeping, whether in adversity or plenty.  Neither the world of human hands, nor the forces of the natural world around us, nor the power of the nations among which we live are worthy of the trust and honor due the Creator on whom they depend. (5)

Were you aware that this statement was in our confession?  When was the last time you read it?  Do we agree with this statement now in 2013?

What is the role of Christians in regard to earth stewardship?

In Genesis 1:28, we read, “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.  Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’”

In this text the words, ‘subdue’ or ‘have dominion over’ are often used.  But to have dominion is not to dominate, but rather to be a steward, to tend and to protect.

In Genesis 2:15-17, God places Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden to ‘till and keep it’ or we might say today to preserve and protect, really to ‘serve’ the soil.  God invites them into a partnering relationship with him.  The original role for Adam and Eve (in addition to being God’s companions), was to care for, protect and enjoy what God had created.

God has been interested in healthy relationships between humans and all creatures since the beginning of time.  “Tilling and keeping” or “preserving and protecting”., is God’s way of saying “watch your ecological footprint.”   Luke Gascho, in his book “Creation Care:  Keepers of the Earth”, points out that the books of Moses repeatedly give directions for how people should care for creation.  There are instructions in Deuteronomy for respecting trees, for caring for birds with their young, for dealing with waste and being mindful of the poor.  We also know that the prophets called for repentance and justice that included an ecological stewardship.

In the covenant statements in Genesis 9  after the flood, God made a covenant with Noah and his descendants that he would never destroy the earth.  Because of our love for God and our desire to be the image of God, we also should make a reciprocal covenant with God not to destroy the earth.  When we lovingly care for the earth and nurture healthful attitudes and behaviors, we are doing important acts of stewardship.

Jesus did not give us a list of ecological principles to live by, but he demonstrated by his actions,…. paying attention to the least of these, the poor, the women, the children, the vulnerable,… the kind of footprint we should all leave behind.  He taught about jubilee and restoration that grows out of reconciliation.  When he taught about what is needed to maintain life it was radical!  Simplify your life, don’t be driven by materialism.  When the disciples were called, they abandoned everything to follow.  When 70 were sent out at one point, they went without bag, purse, or sandals!  That reduced their ecological footprint, for sure!

(An ‘ecological footprint’ is the amount of the Earth’s productive capacity that a person uses to meet his or her consumption patterns.) As I was preparing for this sermon, I decided to fill out a lifestyle assessment tool to see what kind of ecological footprint I have on creation.  I thought I would do fairly well, after all, I recyle, compost, grow a few vegetables, use energy saving appliances, turn off lights when not in use, etc…. but I didn’t do very well.  It’s not enough!  It was also sobering when I read that, “if all the world’s people lived like we do in North America, we’d need four more planets to provide for us.”

So what do we do?  As Christians I think our role is to partner with God in ways that show and proclaim that care of the earth, stewardship of creation is an extension of our witness in today’s world…and it is IMPORTANT!

As Anabaptist Mennonites one unique contribution we might bring is our strong belief that Jesus calls us to live simply and walk gently upon this earth.  I think we need to revisit and rediscover the five life standards for living faithfully and simply as proposed and written by Doris Janzen Longacre in her important book, Living More with Less.

The five standards are 1) do justice, 2) learn from the world community, 3) nurture people, 4), cherish the natural order, 5) nonconform freely.

These standards don’t restrict and bind us, rather they offer a freedom within the belief that by using less we experience more for our community and ourselves.  What would it mean to rediscover the meaning of those for us today in 2013?  Longacre notes that while the initial steps may seem insignificant, the sum of them creates change and health.

We often wonder what can one person do to make a difference.  Patrick Gonzales, a climate change scientist wrote, “Each person can make a difference because one small positive act multiplied millions of times produces immense benefits.”

(What might be one small step that you could suggest for us here at PV to care for the earth?  How are you trying to partner with God in practicing good stewardship of the earth?)

Similar thoughts were written by Doris: “One tiny decision.  Nothing that will change the world.  But that’s the kind which form the building blocks of our lives.  It’s the sort of decision on which we often falter if we slide unthinkingly in the groove of our society.  More with less standards don’t come naturally right now in North America.  Many decisions will still be hard.  But strong standards rooted in commitment to Christ offer hope for better choices.”

Our ecological footprint can be altered through restorative acts.  Renewal occurs as we reduce our consumption and engage in activities that restore rather than destroy and abuse.  Choosing a Christ style of living with in community will result in a lighter ecological footprint.

(Revised version of Footprints poem from New Community Project materials)

As I looked back on my life, I could see the footprints I had left as I walked through this world…like footprints in the sand.  At first, the prints were deep and distinctive….as if I had been stomping along or carrying something quite heavy.  Then, later on, I noticed they gradually became lighter…and were soon joined by other footprints, both human and animal, walking alongside.   “Lord”, I asked, “why were my feet making some deep imprints for a while, but then became lighter and seemed to be joined by others?”

“My child,” the Lord replied, “in the beginning you had the idea that life consists in the abundance of possessions, and you gathered as much of my Earth as you could carry.  But then,” the Lord said with a smile, “you realized that life is much more than these things…not only lightening your footprint, but lightening your impact on the good earth.”
“And the steps beside mine?”
“At first there was no room in your world for these others, but after the change….they turned out to be the treasure you had been seeking all along.”

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