Tag Archives: stewardship of creation

Sunday June 26 – July 2 in Year B (Carr21)

God Does Not Desire That Creatures Suffer  Amy Carr reflects on waiting and suffering, fairness and balance.

Care for Creation Commentary on the Common Lectionary 

Readings for Sunday June 26 – July 2, Year B (2021, 2024)

Lamentations 3:22-33 or Wisdom1:13-15, 2:23-24
Psalm 30
2 Corinthians 8:7-15
Mark 5:21-43

Lamentations 3:22-33

The activists among us might feel restive with this advice to those in lamentation: “It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD” (Lamentations 3:26). To be sure, we are aware that acceptance is one vital stage of grief after a tragic loss like that accompanying the 6th century BCE exile from Judah, destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, and loss of an independent Jewish kingdom. But when it comes to seeing and responding to environmental damage, we want to find a way to act:  to clean up after our messes and to develop policies that prevent further destruction. The activist spirit in us resists the very idea that we should wait until the end of time for God to make everything well again. Especially in a pragmatic country like the US, a creation-minded spirituality seems better informed by a doctrine of providence that perceives God at work  through our own efforts to abide by the ancient commandment God gave our species: to be stewards of the earth (Genesis 3:28).

And yet, when we contemplate the gravity of what we have done as a species to enable the destruction of habitat and the extinction of so many non-human species, perhaps we can indeed find a place for “sit[ting] alone in silence when the LORD has imposed it,” to put our mouths “to the dust (there may yet be hope),” to give our cheeks “to the smiter, and be filled with insults” (Lamentations 3:28-30). Waiting in patience for God is here not about passivity, but about opening ourselves to accountability before God. It is about opening ourselves to the consequences of our collective actions, rather than practicing denial or running away.

In Of Women Borne: A Literary Ethics of Suffering (New York: Columbia University Press, 2016, p. 217), Cynthia Wallace notes three definitions of “to attend:”  paying attention; serving or caring for another; and waiting expectantly (with hope or dread). If waiting quietly for God’s liberation involves attention to what God is doing, that means cultivating habits of noticing what is going on in the created realm, and continuing to take in new information, even when it is unwelcome—holding what is in our awareness as we ask what God’s intentions may be. Waiting as attending also means attending to the needs of the earth: acting on what we see, trusting that the larger swirl of salvation includes our committed service on creation’s behalf.

The voice of Lamentations 3 is at once contemplative and prophetic—a voice that demands we behold the “steadfast love,” endlessly new “mercies,” and “faithfulness” of God (3:22-24) not amid a life of ease, but amid enduring being held accountable by that same divine presence.

Wisdom 1:13-15; 2:23-24

More cosmological themes appear later in the Wisdom of Solomon, when natural forces become vehicles of divine action during the exodus from Egypt (chs. 11-19). Here, though, we are confronted with two claims that stand at odds with any empirical natural history.

The first problematic claim is that “death entered the world” not as an ordinary part of God’s created order, but through “the devil’s envy” (Wisdom 2:24). This echoes Paul’s history of the world in Romans 5:12 in which “death came through sin.” The second claim is related: that “God created all things so that they might exist; the generative forces of the world are wholesome, and there is no destructive poison in them” (Wisdom 1:14). Would this then mean that viruses are unnatural? Are predator-prey relationships not part of God’s intended created order?

In The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2012, pp. xvi-xvi) Peter Enns suggests that the notion that death is not natural—not part of an original divine ordering—is more challenging for Christian creation theology than a six day creation story (a metaphorical reading of which is well-established). A non-literal reading of Paul’s theology affirms the “universal and self-evident” problems of death and sin and “the historical event of the death and resurrection of Christ,” but “what is lost is Paul’s culturally assumed explanation for what a primordial man had to do with causing the reign of death and sin in the world” (pp. 123-124).

Might we likewise read Wisdom’s death-denial in a metaphorical way? Whatever it might mean to ascribe the current reality of death to demonic envy, I don’t think we need to walk away from Wisdom’s central testimony to the deathlessness of righteousness (1:15) and of God’s intention for everlasting creaturely flourishing. A Hellenistic Jewish text, the Wisdom of Solomon affirms human immortality (“for God created us for incorruption,” 2:23), yet does not peel back from the created order to a primordial world of Platonic ideas in which the natural world is immaterial (ultimately unreal). Instead, all particular creatures are imagined as mattering from the very beginning: “For he created all things so that they might exist” (1:14). God wills death for no one of them.

Here we do not find a qualified embrace of death’s goodness when death is viewed within a larger scheme of things—a view espoused by Aquinas, who used as an example the fact that a lion’s well-being depends on the death of its prey (Summa Theologiae, Question 22, Article 2; see for example http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1022.htm). Instead, the Wisdom of Solomon offers one biblical warrant for an eschatological vision in which the well-being of the whole creation depends on a liberation from death. In Evolution from Creation to New Creation, Ted Peters and Martinez Hewlett imagine God’s new creation as an “emergent whole” that “will transform, yet preserve, the entire history of cosmic creation” (161-162). This future, marked by resurrection and immortal bodies, cannot be anticipated or predicted within an evolutionary framework; it can only emerge out of our intuitions of what God is up to in ways beyond our ken—a God who “does not delight in the death of the living” (Wisdom 1:13).

The question for us then becomes one whose answer lies in the matrix of divine mystery and human action:  Whether we are demonically denying or collectively addressing the outsized effects human activity has on our planet, how do the ways we dwell together, in the here and now, participate in the emergent whole that is the new creation?

2 Corinthians 8:7-15

Given the high bar set by the twin miracles in the gospel text, we might find ourselves relieved to contemplate the more manageable set of communal care expectations in the epistle reading. Paul exhorts us to practice with “eagerness” (2 Corinthians 8:11-12) a properly proportioned distribution of resources, locally and globally:

“I do not mean that there should be a relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance” (2 Corinthians 8:13-14).

We are also reminded of a value voiced also in Exodus 16:18—the value of living in a satisfying moderation, rather than in an excessive consumption that comes at others’ expense:

“As it is written, ‘The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little’” (2 Corinthians 8:15).

Moreover, beyond living simply, we are encouraged not to be overwhelmed by the enormity of all that needs redress, but to focus our energies pragmatically on doing something with an “eagerness” that is “matched by completing it according to [our] means” (2 Corinthians 8:11); for “the gift is acceptable according to what one has—not according to what one does not have” (8:12).

We can always do more by way of political organizing and national and international policy campaigns with regard to environmental protection. For some of us, this sort of activism is our vocation. But sometimes those whose activism centers on environmental preservation can lose sight of the ways that field professionals have been developing less environmentally damaging ways of extracting natural resources. Here are some ways I have observed of practicing creation care “according to our means” for those whose career depends on logging or mining. My grandfather, Frank Carr, earned a state award for being the first lumberjack in Michigan to practice selective harvesting of timber, rather than continuing to clear cut Upper Michigan’s white pines. Yet when my father taught in a forest technology program he used to have a sign up in his office that said, “Clear cuts are biologically beautiful.” His point was twofold:  there are occasions when clear cutting makes the best sense for forest management in a given area; and there is far more biodiversity today in Upper Michigan now that there is a mix of old and new growth forest, rather than only an old growth forest that provides so much canopy there is no food for the now abundant species, like white tail deer, that rely on clearings and sunlight reaching the forest floor. For years I have also been learning from my brother about emerging environmental practices in the mining industry, from using superbugs to clean up superfund toxic waste sites (putting in those bugs was his first job after college) to water-cleaning practices in copper and gold mines in Nevada. While our society will continue to debate about the right balance of wilderness preservation and natural resource use, we might be mindful of those professionals who are working “according to their means” within their fields to better care for the earth.

Who in our congregations is practicing stewardship of land and its resources? What can we learn from them about the practices their professions are developing—practices to lift up as part of the expression of our community’s gifts?

Mark 5:21-43

A theme running through all today’s texts is that God does not desire that creatures suffer. While the Old Testament lessons offer theological explanations for the origins of suffering, and the epistle reading directs us to respond to suffering, here in Mark we witness Jesus’ direct healing of two suffering human beings who could readily recite Psalm 30: “O LORD my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me. O Lord, you brought up my soul from Sheol, restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit” (Psalm 30:2-3). The interrelationship between the stories of the bleeding woman and the dying girl points us in the direction of a cosmocentric reading of their passage from illness and death to restored life.

Taken together, the 12 year old girl and the woman hemorrhaging for 12 years represent the whole of the people of God. In addition to the implicit double reference to the 12 tribes of Israel, we see a story about a low-status woman set centrally (and as a delay tactic) within a story about a high-status child. The hemorrhaging woman may be perceived as perpetually ritually impure, and she herself is her own advocate; the dying daughter of the synagogue leader has others advocating on her behalf.  The faith of the bleeding woman makes her well (Mark 5:34) without Jesus consciously intending to heal her at all, whereas it is the work of others to bring Jesus to a fully life-depleted girl, whose resurrection depends entirely upon the conscious action of Jesus. Both women are surrounded by crowds who interrogate Jesus and exhibit the spectrum of people’s responses to his actions, from doubt to amazement.

There is a kind of technicolor theological panoply in these dramas, at least with regard to questions of where individual, corporate, and divine agency each begin and end. Turning our attention to implications for our care of the non-human world, we might start with one blurry spot in particular: the mirrored leaking of the bleeding woman and the healer Jesus.

In “Permeable Savior” (Christian Century, January 18, 2017, p. 13), Julie Morris cites New Testament scholar Candida Moss’ observation that “the Greek phrase normally translated as ‘the power went out of him’ could also be translated as ‘the power leaked out of him,’” making Jesus’ body feminized:  “leaky, porous, and permeable—like that of a woman’s.” Morris finds here an example of Jesus’ own gender-fluidity; but read with a green eye, we might notice additional layers of earth and spirit in these twin leakings.

On one hand, the bleeding woman took her physical well-being seriously, and let no gendered expectations or ritual purity norms stand in the way of her search for healing from a visible flow of blood. Jesus, on the other hand, is passive—his invisible power exuding from him just by virtue of his cloak being touched by a confident, demanding woman whose physical leaking could be stopped by his own leaking of spiritual power.

The vehicle that conveys Jesus’ spiritual power from his body to the bleeding woman’s body is the act of touching a physical object worn by Jesus. Likewise, Jesus raises Jairus’ daughter by taking her hand; her healing is complete only when she is nourished by physical food (“give her something to eat,” Mark 5:43).

The blood, the cloak, the hands, the food that replenishes, the mediation of touch: these remind especially Protestants that spiritual power is not simply about the inner life of faith. Spiritual power is also profoundly related to the seemingly unconscious, material realm that connects and sustains all of our lives. Indeed in these two stories in Mark, we see spiritual power itself portrayed as an impersonal force that is drawn forth through conscious awareness—be that the awareness of Jesus as healer, or the awareness of the most vulnerable person who cries out to God.

If we can begin to notice how the Spirit of God is active in the cries for help of all sentient beings, and active in the conviction that touch materializes spiritual power—perhaps then we can open our eyes to an ecological theology that bridges an anthropocentric focus on human well-being with a cosmocentric awareness that the unity of the church extends to the non-human material realm we inhabit.

Revised and updated by Amy Carr in 2021, from a commentary originally written in 2018.
amyreneecarr@gmail.com

Public Witness: from hand-wringing to actively loving neighbor

The 2019 ELCA Advocacy Convening (April 29 – May 1)  gathered over 100 lay and rostered  leaders to be trained as advocates. The theme: “Prepared to Care: Our Advocacy in Light of Disasters Intensified by Climate Change.” Below are some highlights as I, Phoebe Morad, experienced them. Thanks to those who support Lutherans Restoring Creation and help get our voice on the scene and for sharing this information and inspiration with your congregations and communities.

April 29th, after an 8 hour train ride from Boston: (The passenger next to me said I was taking the train such a long way to “make AOC happy,” but I said I was doing it for my kids.)

Opening worship at the glorious new space of St. Matthew’s in DC set the stage. This part had to include a bit of hand-wringing; admitting that we are full of fear and that it paralyzes us.  Director of ELCA’s Advocacy office, Amy Reumann shared that message of moving past fear in her sermon.  Washington D.C. April 2019 Service (great hymns and sample litanies)

During dinner together we heard from Lutherans across the country and globe dealing with fires, floods, immigration and agricultural devastation.  A disturbing collage of stories that are all magnified (if not caused) by a changing climate.  The positive take-away from that evening: with our combined forces of ELCA’s Global & Domestic Mission, Disaster Response, Advocacy, AND the people power in the congregations (go LRC Green Shepherds!)  we are uniquely poised to attack these issues on all fronts.

It was also terrific to have Bishop Elizabeth Eaton serve us communion as well. Photo: South Dakota Synod

 

April 30th, day two, of our training was focused on forcing ourselves into other people’s shoes.  How do we talk to people who think differently, have difference perspectives/priorities? Ani Fete-Crews from ecoAmerica’s Blessed Tomorrow’s presentation on 15 Steps to Effectively Talk about Climate utilizes current statistics about what people actually hear (which isn’t always what you say).   Time spent learning and practicing Talanoa Dialogue offered a tool for church leaders to bring back to communities with disparate views and learn how to listen to one another and find common solutions.  Hearing from pivotal leaders from island nations surrounded by the threat of rising seas and our neighbors to the South fleeing from long-term drought made the current impacts on our neighbors very real.

Her Excellency Dr. Thelma Phillip-Browne shares her concept of LIGHT from Saint Kitts & Nevis.
Conflict is not what many flee from in Nicaragua… a valley of drought for over a decade pushes families to find food.

The last day (May 1) of the convening we started out at a Mexican restaurant for (an awesome breakfast) and to be officially sent into the world – specifically to ASK our elected officials to consider the human toll of climate change.  What exactly did we ask for? Download the 2019 Advocacy Ask here which led us in conversation with our public servants.

Photo credit: Hunger Network-Ohio “Food security is tied directly to the environment and natural disaster. Droughts around the globe have led to conflict and our polluted waterways make the water impossible to drink. The Hunger Network is #Preparedtocare with ELCA Advocacy as we stormed Capitol Hill to meet with our Senators and Representatives to talk climate changes impact on our most vulnerable communities impacted by natural disaster.”

 

The energy was palpable in the ELCA DC Advocacy office as cohorts came/went to the Hill, and, it felt like  – at least for a day – we were being heard.  Bumping into other Lutherans among the offices and around the Capital was a thrill (maybe because I’m a public policy nerd).  However, the reality of complex conversations and endurance needed for collaborative work hung in the air after hours of meetings.  It was quite a refreshment to then be invited to a vibrant, grassroots reception in an inner-city church basement. With dozens of partner organizations invited to the Interfaith Power & Light’s event, we could be restored in each other’s company and be inspired by one church acting as a beacon of hope in the city.  Reformation Lutheran Church was a not only a host to this rejuvenating event, but also invited us to transformational experience called the Healing Blanket Exercise, facilitated by Prairie Rose Seminole,  ELCA’s American Indian Alaska Native Program Director.

Rooftop party with solar panels, the ELCA Advocacy Director of Energy and Corporate Responsibility and Rev. Mike Wilker.

In a contrast to the “bottom-up” mentality of the evening before, May 2nd offered a very hopeful glimpse of what is happening from the “top-down”.  Fortunately, our grassroots movement is in partnership with ecoAmerica which connects leaders from the health, policy, and religious realms so that we can leverage each other’s assets. There are MANY vignettes I would be happy to share in our next Connections Call, but if you can take the time to explore the recording below please do. Rep. Whitehouse (Dem-RI) shared a very clear understanding of what is the hold-up in his “habitat,” Dr.  Gail Christopher shared a staggering account of the impacts on health care costs, and Rev. Dorhauer talks about privilege as an impediment to the church.  If nothing else, let Shantha Ready-Alonso lead you through a guided visualization of why any of us do this work (start at minute 15 below).

Thanks again so much for being a part of this movement and helping ensure the concerns, efforts, and strengths that come from the Caring for Creation ministries within the ELCA are heard.  Meeting with leadership from all sectors of our church in person and focused on the urgent issues of climate was more effective than dozens of conference calls and hundreds of emails.  I returned home (via train of course) with a full plate of next steps and a full heart of hope.  

Let All Creation Praise! – companion site

Our ecumenical companion site, www.LetAllCreationPraise.org ,   is maintained by long-time supporter and fellow Lutheran restoring creation, Nick Utphall.     This site is an online library of commentaries, hymns, worship samples and devotions which speak to a wide variety of Christian faiths.  Rev. Utphall is pastor at Madison Christian Community in Wisconsin. Check out their site for more testimonials of working together to celebrate all of God’s gifts.

The Stewardship of Creation: A Theological Reflection

by David Rhoads

Steward is a biblical term that refers to a manager who is responsible for the goods and property of another. A steward is not therefore an owner, but one who has a responsibility to an owner to treat property with care and respect. Stewardship is a term that refers to the responsibility of a steward to manage wisely. The unjust steward was one who took advantage of his position to aggrandize himself (Luke 16:1-13).

Stewardship has come to be used in the Christian community in a broader sense for our responsibility to manage wisely the goods and property that are in our possession. The assumption is that we do not really possess or own anything. Rather, the world, including us, belongs to God, and it is arrogant for humans to think otherwise. Therefore, we are not owners but stewards of all that comes into our arena of responsibility—income, assets, property, goods, time, talents, and our very selves. Religious stewardship is management as sacred trust.

In recent times, the concept of steward has been applied in its most original and fundamental meaning to refer to our human responsibility to care for the Earth itself (Gen 1-2). Our human failure to be responsible stewards of Earth has led to the current ecological crises threatening global climate stability, the ozone layer, and the diversity of plant and animal species. Ecological problems also include the pollution of air, the despoiling of land, the degradation of fresh water, and threats to the health of the oceans. The loss of forest and arable land in alarming proportions has tremendous implications for food security. Human population, now approaching seven billion, is placing stress on every ecosystem on Earth. As Christians, what is our responsibility?

Stewardship of Creation Is Our Human Vocation

The Bible is a good place to find guidance. The concept of environmental stewardship originates with the first of the creation stories, in which God gives humans dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and the animals of the land (Gen 1:1–2:4). Traditionally, Christians have distorted the mandate to “exercise dominion” to mean that creation was made for human beings and that we have a right to dominate and exploit creation for our own wants and needs. This has led to incalculable abuses of nature.

What we now know is that the Hebrew word for dominion does not mean “to dominate” or “to exploit.” Rather, it means “to take responsibility for,” as a ruler would be responsible to assure the well-being of those in the realm. In this first creation story, human beings were created last, not as the so-called “crown of creation,” but in order to exercise responsibility for the well-being of the garden Earth. According to Genesis 1, exercising responsibility as part of God’s creation is the main reason humans were created. Therefore, being stewards of creation is foundational to what it means to be human. Caring for creation is not an add-on, not a sideline, not related just to part of our calling. It represents our proper human relationship to Earth. This portrayal puts human beings squarely in a caretaker position in regard to environmental stewardship.

We Are Called “to Serve and to Preserve”

The second creation story goes even further in clarifying the concept of environmental stewardship (Gen 2:5-15). In this story, God put Adam and Eve in the garden in order “to till and to keep” the land. However, the words translated as “till” and “keep” may be misleading. The Hebrew word for “till” is a word used to depict the service that a slave gives to a master. And the Hebrew word for “keep” means to preserve for future generations. Hence, the mandate “to serve and to preserve” the land places human beings not in a hierarchical position over creation but in a position of service to it.

Just as the later Christian message depicts Jesus as a servant-king, so humans are challenged in this creation story to assume a similar role: “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35). Care for creation is to be exercised not to serve our own wants and desires but to serve the best interests and well-being of all Earth-community together, including ourselves.

All Creation for Its Own Sake

This stewardship role for humans as servants of creation is reinforced by the idea that creation was made for its own sake. After God created each part of creation, God saw that it was “good” in its own right—even before humans were created. Furthermore, in the first creation story, God mandated not just for humans but also for the animals to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” God wishes for all species, not simply human beings, to survive and to thrive. In Psalm 104, the psalmist celebrates creation and explains that the grasses were made for the cattle and the crags for the mountain goats; all of creation has been arranged by God so that all animals receive “their food in due season.” If we are to be good stewards of Earth, there is a foundational reverence we need to bear toward all of life for its own sake, because it is God’s creation and it is filled with God’s glory.

The biblical writers invite us to delight in creation, for delight is the right basis for our use of it. We will preserve that in which we delight! And we are called to love creation. We will care for that which we love! Even more, we are invited to love creation as God loves it: not in the abstract, but concretely in terms of caring for life. The biblical Sabbath regulations require that humans give rest to the animals every seven days; and in the seventh year they must allow the land to lie fallow, free slaves, and remit debts (Exod 23:10-11; Lev 25). As good stewards, we are called to take these kinds of actions in order to serve and to preserve Earth-community.
Hence, all our actions of stewardship are to be done as part of our service to the larger will and purposes of God. In some sense, we humans are partners with God in being responsible for creation. As humans, however, and not gods, it might be more appropriate to say that we are responsible to creation. Most fundamentally, however, we are responsible to God to care for creation. This is our vocation under God.

So often we make our plans and ask God to bless them. Instead, we are called to discern the plans of God and then to ponder how we can bring our lives into conformity with them. According to the Scripture, God wills for creation to thrive in all its diversity. God wills for air, sea, and land to bring health and well-being to all creatures. God wills care for the vulnerable. God wants there to be peace and justice in the land, for humans and non-humans alike. We need to see anew the purpose of our lives within the context of God’s larger purposes for the world and to exercise our stewardship in the context of this more embracing vision.

The all-embracing vision of God for creation is violated, when there is injustice by humans against humans. The biblical authors know the close relationship between the ways people exploit Earth and the ways people exploit the poor. In the Bible, when people are oppressed, the rest of creation suffers too—the land languishes and the grains fail (Jer 2:7; Isa 24:4-7; Joel 2:2-20). We are called to steward resources not only in ways that generate sustainability for Earth’s resources but also in ways that sustain life for the poor and vulnerable. In biblical terms, we are to act out of God’s compassion for “orphans and widows.” We are called to care for the least and the lost—human and non-human alike—just as Jesus “came to seek out and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10).

Yet there are pitfalls here, and we need to face them if our vocation as stewards is not to end in the arrogant and paternalistic role of the privileged few exercising control over the world and “the poor” to serve their own interests. If the task of stewardship is to serve as a sacred trust on behalf of all Earth-community, we must be willing to go beyond our own wants and desires in order to see creation through the compassionate eyes of the God who empowers the weak and makes common cause with the most vulnerable. It is only as servants of Earth community that we avoid paternalism.

Our Oneness with the Rest of Creation

Fundamental to such a wise and humble exercise of stewardship is the experience of oneness with the Earth-community we serve. God’s covenant with Noah and all creation affirms that all living creatures are in solidarity with each other in covenant with God (Gen 9:8-17; Hos 2:18). This experience of creation’s oneness is affirmed by the admonitions throughout Scripture for all creation to worship God: “Let the sea roar and all that fills it; let the field exult and everything in it. Then shall the trees of the forest sing for joy” (1 Chr 16:29-34). All parts of creation together—human and non-human creatures and the rest of the created world—are to “praise the name of the Lord” (Ps 148).

There is a wonderful scene in the book of Revelation that portrays this common praise. John the seer says: “Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth , and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them singing, “blessing and honor and glory and might to the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be forever and ever” (5:13). What a vision! We are in solidarity with all creation; and if we do not care for Earth-community, the whole creation will not able to celebrate together in praise of our creator.

Moreover, we are also called to be at one with future generations to establish and maintain a sustainable life on Earth—to leave creation healthier and more resourceful than it was in the previous generation. There are some Christians who claim that we do not need to worry about the future of Earth because Jesus is about to come to deliver the saved from Earth. Others claim Jesus will come and rescue Earth from any problems we may cause for creation. Others see personal salvation as so important that heaven is all that matters; Earth is but a brief pilgrimage for individual souls. There may be some truth in some of these beliefs, but in no way do they begin to tell the whole biblical truth.

The Bible says unequivocally that God’s purpose is to restore all creation. The whole notion of incarnation—God becoming flesh (John 1:1)—is that the divine movement is not an escape from Earth but a movement toward embodiment in creation. Jesus became flesh to bring “new creation” (Gal 6:15). Paul testifies to this vocation when he claims that “the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains” ready to “be set free from its bondage to decay,” as it “waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God” (Rom 8:18-25) who will care for each other and for Earth. We are called now to be those children of God who exercise stewardship in relation to all creation.

There is an affirmation of creation in the biblical writings that cannot be denied. The vision of the end-time in the book of Revelation is that God will come to a renewed heaven and Earth and will dwell here among people (21:1-27). The vision of the New Jerusalem is a vision in which nature is in the midst of the city. In this vision, the river of life flows right down the middle of the city streets; it is clear as crystal and it is available to all, free of charge, so that none may be deprived of fresh water. And the tree of life is thriving on either side of the river; and it yields fruit twelve months of the year, so that no person will be hungry. God will dwell here with them and will wipe away every tear from their eyes. As we lean toward the salvation of God, this is the vision that we as stewards are called to live out in our lives and to foster in others.

Implications for Our Life and Times

In our modern culture, we have been ruthless and unjust stewards of Earth. We too often place profits above people; we put security for ourselves above security for all; and we act as if the world is there for our use alone. Much of our contemporary global economy is based upon the most efficient ways to strip resources from the land and to pay the lowest wages without regard to the health and well-being of workers. We have reduced land and people to commodities that serve financial markets. We have pursued a standard of living without regard to its impact on nature and people. Furthermore, ecological disasters have the greatest impact on the most vulnerable people—third world countries, the poor, people of color, the sick, and the elderly. These also happen to be the ones with the least resources to respond. We have a responsibility to discern our immoral and destructive ways, confess them as sins, and turn to a new way of living.

Our Stewardship of Creation Today

So what does this mean for us in the twenty-first century? Clearly, it means that we need to embrace stewardship of Earth-community at a collective and a personal level. We need to change the system and we need to change our personal behavior.

The Collective Trust. First, we need urgently to act collectively as stewards in our responsibilities to creation at the local, state, regional, national, and global levels. We need to support laws and policies and systems that promote the health of the environment—promoting cooperation with global treaties, strengthening legislation that secures clean air, safe water, and productive land; advocating for policies that reduce energy consumption and assure species diversity; placing limits on land use and on waste; and investing in environmental technologies. In addition, we need to reverse the process of economic globalization toward the use of local products and services. We need to find ways to encourage the greening of business and industry. We need to redirect the whole economy toward technologies, industries, and services that foster a sustainable lifestyle for the Earth-community. Commitment to ecological justice demands that we attend especially to the poor and vulnerable, the ones most affected by ecological degradation. This collective transformation of society is crucial, for if Earth-friendly treaties, laws, policies, and common practices are not in place, the changes we make in our personal lifestyle will be much less effective than they might be otherwise.

Also, as congregations committed to stewardship of creation, we can collectively renew our beliefs and actions to bring about a reformation in the church as an institution—transforming our worship and directing our educational programs toward creation-care, making our buildings and grounds Earth-friendly, observing best environmental practices at coffee hour and meals, and teaching our children to be Earth-keepers. We can incorporate environmental stewardship into the full identity and mission of our parishes, such that care for creation becomes part of the ethos of our life together. Thereby our congregations can become flagship communities that serve as witnesses in the towns, cities, and regions in which we are located.

The Personal Trust. Second, we need to become responsible stewards in our personal behavior, particularly in relation to that which is directly in our care. Each of us has a small piece of creation for which we are directly responsible, namely our living space—an apartment or house and perhaps some land. We are called to see our responsibility for this parcel of creation as part of our vocation as God’s stewards. Consider this: your living space is connected to virtually every environmental problem we face—the emissions from your furnace, the food in your refrigerator, the coal from the electricity you use, the water that goes in and out of your house, the products you purchase that are shipped from a distance, the treatments you give your lawn, the gas in your automobile, among other things. The choices we make about these everyday matters have a direct impact on the well-being of Earth and Earth-community. We can make a difference, every single day. We have it in our hands to make daily choices that can lighten our negative impact on Earth and help to restore God’s creation. What is more, these same practices can be extended to our places of work. We are stewards of our own local environment as a sacred trust.

There is a concept of environmental tithing that is relevant to our vocation as stewards of creation. Most people are familiar with the biblical concept of tithing, the giving of a “tenth.” The biblical tithe has been used as a marker of responsible stewardship. This tenth is given back to God—to the church, to the poor, to other causes deemed expressions of God’s will—as a symbol that the whole belongs to God. We can also apply the tithe to the stewardship of our personal resources of Earth. Can we reduce our electrical use by ten percent? Can we reduce the gas for heating by ten percent? Can we reduce the water we use by ten percent? Can we eat ten percent less food that comes from a distance? Can we eat fewer meals with meat? Can we travel ten percent less than usual? Can we invest a tenth of our financial resources in funds that contribute to sustainability? Can we set other goals to reduce our impact on the environment by a tenth—or more? And if we can, could we then contribute the money saved toward further efforts at restoring Earth? Tithing is just a beginning as we contemplate all we can do on a daily basis at home, at work, and in society to foster and maintain a sustainable world.

Our Spiritual Discipline

Making these choices as God’s Earth-keepers may involve sacrifice on our part as we seek to live a simpler lifestyle and walk lightly on Earth. In our Christian life, the key to making our world sustainable is viewing our change of behavior and our sacrifices as acts of love and kindness toward all creation—toward other people; toward other creatures; and toward the well-being of land, sea, and air. In doing these things as part of our spiritual discipline, we exercise our vocation as stewards of creation not out of fear, guilt, shame, outrage, or despair. Rather, what makes this journey sacred is that we act with a gratitude nourished by the fountain of God’s grace, an inexhaustible source of “living water” that will sustain us for a lifetime of loving creation, and that will enable us to be stewards of creation with hope and joy!