We are entering the Season of Creation, an annual time of the liturgical year that has been substituted for the month of September leading up to the Feast of St Francis, patron Saint of ecology and animals. This is a time for us to reflect on our place in creation and our responsibility as part of creation. This is a Jubilee for the Earth! Participating in the earth to… live it’s best life.
So you were probably as surprised as I was that the readings suggest weren’t from Genesis! That we aren’t starting at the beginning where everything was good. This time, we did pass on reading 2 of the scriptures, they weren’t Genesis either but the instructions for Passover in Exodus.
So here we are, with the prophet Ezekiel and the letter writer Paul–one with a warning and the other a command of love. We’ll start with the easier text.
Ezekiel was training to be a priest in the temple in Jerusalem in the 580’s BCE. The northern Kingdom of Israel had already fallen to the Assyrians over 100 years ago. The southern Kingdom of Judah, where Jerusalem was found, had been fighting the Babylonians, the new empire, for years. Imagine living in the chaos of war at your gates, crops destroyed, water limited, knowing your closest neighbor couldn’t hold off the waves of a conquest and you’re fighting their conquerors, conquerors.
When Babylon first conquered the armies of Judah, they didn’t destroy the city yet. They took the leadership, moved them to Babylon, as a way to dismantle the power, to make the city weak. Ezekiel was one of those sent to Babylon. It was at the rivers of Babylon, on his 30th birthday, the year he would have been installed a priest in the Temple he had his first vision.
Ezekiel calls out the powerful of Judah for not following the God who led them out of Egypt and lead them to their land, who called the prophets and held their community together. They worshipped other gods. They didn’t care for each other. Maybe it was visions, maybe it was recognizing the world that he was living in, he cried out how can we live? He cried out on behalf of God, repent! Live fully and wholly for me and you’ll live. I desire you to live.
But Jerusalem fell and it was a massacre. More deportations but slaughter of many and ruin of the Temple. It seems, by the point that Ezekiel said this prophecy, systems had already been in place, the wheels were in motion and there was no ending the might that had been Babylon. Until some 50 years later when they fell to the Persians.
But maybe the people of Jerusalem could have done something, before it was too late. Maybe they could have listened to the words of the prophet to follow the laws of the God who had called them chosen, which, according to many, and according to Jesus, and according Paul, were really about how we love each other.
I remember the time I saw creation dance. My parents owned a house on a lake in northern Wisconsin, and one November night I went down to the dock, and there were so many stars and northern lights, and then they moved and danced and swirled like a Van Gogh.
I don’t remember the first time I heard the earth cry out. It might have been the tornado that devastated my grandma’s small town in Michigan, or driving through Yellowstone after the fires in 1988 that destroyed nearly 800,000 acres and killed 3000 animals, or pictures of the 1989 EXXON Valdez oil spill where 10.8 million gallons of crude oil filled the ocean and best estimates suggest killed 250,000 seabirds, 2,800 sea otters, 300 harbor seals, 250 bald eagles, 22 killer whales, and billions of salmon and herring eggs, many animals it took 25 years from their numbers to recover, or lakes bursting from their boundaries, islands that were home to people, cultures, and animals disappearing beneath the ocean, famine in the Sahara, fires in the Amazon, Australia, California. Tornadoes, hurricanes, droughts, flooding… The earth cries out.
The earth is crying out that the wheels are turning, the machine of the worst of capitalism is set on a path of destruction of the earth, of its inhabitants, animal and human and plant. And there are no winners this time, we all lose when we lose the goodness of creation. How will we respond to the crying out of the earth? How will we live God’s laws in face of this crying out? How will we love?
We say something or we do something. There are prophets who have heard the cry of the earth and have responded by raising their voices, too.
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the archbishop of Constantinople and Patriarch of the Eastern Orthodox Churches said: “Crime against the natural world is a sin,” “To protect the oceans is to do God’s work,” he says. “To harm them, even if we are ignorant of the harm we cause, is to diminish His divine creation.”
Norman Habel is the editor and a contributing author of the Earth Bible, a Biblical interpretation that incorporates ecology, eco-ethics, and eco-theology. “Many people would say it’s a kind of New Age movement in many ways, and that Greenies are a little bit loony in many ways But it’s very clear now that more and more people see the crisis of the earth and the crisis for our planet as being something that we all have to face. It’s not something that we can ignore.”
Vandana Shiva, an Indian scholar and activist said: “Being a planetary citizen does not need space travel. It means being conscious that we are part of the universe and of the earth. The most fundamental law is to recognize that we share the planet with other beings, and that we have a duty to care for our common home.”
And the voices wouldn’t be complete without mentioning
Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg who has inspired an entire generation of kids to participate in her “Fridays for Future” protest movement. Her speeches are collected a book, She has said that she hopes the book causes panic. “I want you to panic … I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.”
Ezekiel cried out to Jerusalem on behalf of God “Your house is on fire! Get your act together!”
Church, our earth is on fire.
I know, we really like Sunday morning sermons that we can leave feeling good about ourselves, and while I hope you don’t feel bad today, this is not that sermon.
Jerusalem was called to act, we are called to act. What are we going to do? How are we going to respond? How are we going to live the law of love not just to the neighbor who looks like us but our rabbit and salmon neighbors, elephant and tiger neighbors, whale and sea cucumber neighbors. The Sandhill Cranes and the Wild Turkeys, the White tail deer and squirrels I see every time I drive in on Sawyer Road are our neighbors, the creatures of the deep, of the night, of the desert are our neighbors, too. Maybe we are the neighbors they need. How will we love them?
The giant redwood, wheat stock, raspberry bush and apple tree; the daisy, lilac, and even the dandelion were made by God and called “good.” They feed the bees and clean our air. They are our neighbors, too. Maybe we are the neighbors they need. How will we love them?
Ezekiel’s last prophecy wasn’t about the fall of Jerusalem, it was about how the people of God were not and would not be abandoned. They would be restored.
Church, you are not abandoned. God has not, will not leave us, and will keep calling us back to care for all of God’s creation simply because it is God’s and it is good.
Eco-justice theologian Karen Baker-Fletcher interprets the Bible from an environmental, African-American, and womanist perspective. In her book Sisters of Dust, Sisters of Spirit: Womanist Wordings on God and Creation, she writes “We are responsible for giving life back to that which has given us life — God and the elements of our planet,”
We give life by celebrating, by advocating, by using less, by standing up with the marginalized who end up with highways through their neighborhoods and pipelines through their water tables to make it more convenient for the powerful. We give life by supporting resources and industries that invest in creation and don’t destroy it.
By giving back life to that which gives us life, we are participating in the life and the love of the Creator, in the creative work of God, in remaking the world, by bringing back all that is good, that is how we support the earth in Jubilee and loving our neighbor.
There’s still time, there’s still room to hope, our hope is fueled by love and love must have action and take wings to love all of our many neighbors.