Sacrifice / Freedom / Obedience / Water – Emily Meyer encourages us to follow the lead of Indigenous Water Protectors – and young people around the country – so that future generations can offer one another a cup of cool water.
Care for Creation Commentary on the Revised Common Lectionary
Readings for Sunday June 26 – July 2, Year A ( 2023, 2026)
Genesis 22:1-14 and Psalm 13 or Jeremiah 28:5-9 and Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18
Sarah asked Abraham to sacrifice Ishamael – out of jealousy and covetousness on behalf of her son, Isaac. God asked Abraham to sacrifice his only remaining child; the child for which Abraham and Sarah had prayed and longed for decades. Both are stories of sacrifice that have challenged readers and scholars for centuries: how could any parent obey such a command – to kill their own/only child – with such alacrity and commitment? This seems like both an other-worldly sort of ‘faith’ (and a misplaced one, at that), and an extraordinarily ungodly demand made by the Divine.
Yet it is also a reflection of reality: many people – individuals and communities – are regularly asked to sacrifice their most sacred, most beloved, most cherished relationships, possessions, beliefs, etc. Rather than explain this away as Divine decree, though, it is time we recognize these demands as human actions requiring human sacrifice.
The creators of the Revised Common Lectionary are tossing a little slow-pitch softball at preachers ready to swing into full substitutionary atonement mode this Sunday – casting Jesus into the familiar role of the replacement sacrificial Lamb, crucified on Mt. Moriah, which in Jesus’ day was called Jerusalem, so that all of us could escape the sacrifices necessary to appease God’s wrath.
Except, of course, that an atonement theory really only comforts the comfortable – those who really don’t have to sacrifice all that much to make it through daily life; those who don’t have much of a care in the world because they aren’t predisposed to feel any responsibility for their own actions; those who, as Paul puts it, are “slaves of sin, [who are] free in regard to righteousness;” living and doing as suits their immediate interests and wants with little or no compunction about how their way of being and doing impacts the world and other humans.
Any “good Lutheran” will argue that guilt-free living based on substitutionary atonement is a contortion of salvation by grace through faith – and Romans 6 is Paul’s argument against such use, abuse, and misuse, of grace; Romans 6 defies what we might call “cheap grace,” asking instead to wonder, “What is freedom for?”
This, of course, is Martin Luther’s query in The Freedom of a Christian: What is Christian freedom for?
The 4th of July is a good time to wonder about freedom in America. Popular jargon says that “Freedom isn’t free” – meaning we all owe a debt to American soldiers who have “paid the ultimate price” for “our” freedoms. Other popular jargon invoke “liberty” as a personal right to live lives careless of their impact on other humans or the planet.
But Jesus, Paul, and Luther all remind us that human freedom is not so much about absence of responsibility to the common good; human freedom is for the other: the Divine promise of “salvation” – no matter how we care to understand or define the term – is offered as a means to free us from concern about our personal well-being so that we can turn to the other with compassion, hospitality, openness, a “cup of cool water.”
I recommend reading the Caldecott Award winning children’s book, We Are Water Protectors, in conjunction with Psalm 13. The parallels are unmistakable: centuries of injury, fear, hatred, and loss culminate in the Black Snake of an oil pipeline coming to “destroy the land.”
For Ojibwe women, oil pipelines are a demand for sacrifice: of the water they are born to protect; of the water they cherish as medicine; of the water that remembers; of the water that binds ancestors to future generations; of the water they appreciate as the source of all life. Ojibwe women understand themselves to be Water Protectors as a spiritual act. Destruction of watersheds: rivers, springs, aquifers, lakes, and marshlands – these are deep wounds, felt physically in the hunger they create; felt culturally in the loss of hunting, fishing, and gathering practices that have been a way of life for centuries; felt spiritually in the loss of sacred spaces and countless relatives: all the living things: plants, fish, animals, birds, microbes – all of these are beloved relatives whose lives are sacrificed to pipeline construction, presence, and leaks.
Waadookawaad Amikwag, or Those Who Help Beaver, a group of community scientists in Northern Minnesota, monitor 45 groundwater breaches – one less than a mile from the Headwaters of the Mississippi – all of which are leaching toxic sludge into numerous watersheds and the Mississippi, decimating 1855+ Treaty lands and waterways and destroying the ancestral way of life for Red Lake, White Earth, Leech Lake, and Fond Du Lac peoples: Anishinaabe families all along the pipeline went hungry this year – for the first time in centuries unable to gather enough manoomin – or “wild rice” – to subsist through the winter.
Add to the climate hazards, cultural degradation, and poverty, activist’s court cases and the drug and sex trafficking that blossomed along the corridor, and the list of generational impacts gets horrifically lengthy.
We Are Water Protectors is a story that continues: in Minnesota with Pipeline 3; in Wisconsin with Pipeline 5; in West Virginia with the Mountain Valley Pipeline; in Alaska with the LNG Project. The list continues to grow.
Water Protectors continue to ask, “How long?”
And they are not alone. Our children – all children – are being sacrificed – not by God’s decree, but by the greed of oil conglomerates and by our own fossil-fuel-using hands.
Climate Defiance, a young-adult led direct action organization confirms that young people are not finding a ram in the bushes, writing, “Our leaders have failed to save us. So we will save ourselves.“ Young people in Montana are suing the state in an attempt to save themselves: “Why Montana kids are suing the state over climate change“; “Youth climate trial opens in Montana”; “Groundbreaking youth-led climate trial comes to an end in Montana”. Our young people are suffering massively from depression and anxiety – and many can point to the fact that their elders, adults, leaders are not addressing the climate crisis with any sense of urgency – or care, compassion, or concern for the well-being of future generations, even and including generations already born.
There is no “happy ending” in We Are Water Protectors: the Standing Rock DAPL pipeline went through.
Like Psalm 13, though, “winning” doesn’t determine hope, courage, faith, or even joy:
How long, O God?
We trust in steadfast love, rejoice in healing, and sing of God’s bountiful blessing.
We Are Water Protectors concludes:
With our songs.
And our drums.
We are still here.
“We are still here.”
Our young ones are not content to be sacrificial lambs. They are leading the way. They are building their own hope by creating their own futures.
How might the faithful, the Body of Christ, join with our young ones, our Indigenous Water Protectors, one another, so that future generations will be able to offer Jesus’ little ones a cup of cool water?
Song suggestion: Water Is Life, Sara Thomsen, Song Inspired by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and all who joined together at Standing Rock to protect the Missouri River. It continues as a call to all of us to stand courageously to protect the waters everywhere.
 See Waadookawaad Amikwag: https://waadookawaad-amikwag.org/mississippi-river-frac-outs/
 Personal/Classroom presentation by Dawn Goodwin, Gaagigaashick, White Earth Nation, and Debra Topping, Nookomis, Fond Du Lac Band, May, 2023. See also Waadookawaad Amikwag Presetation, Treaty Peoples Commemoration, June, 2023 (https://youtu.be/OWe3sy7UA70).
 Jonquilyn Hill; Vox, June 12, 2023: https://www.vox.com/climate/2023/6/12/23755678/montana-climate-change-lawsuit-young-people-coal-global-warming
 Ellis Juhlin; NPR – Weekend Edition, June 18, 2023: https://www.npr.org/2023/06/18/1182941092/judge-hears-cases-in-montana-climate-trial
 Dharna Noor; The Guardian, June 20, 2023: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2023/jun/20/held-v-montana-climate-trial-youth-end