In nomine Jesu!
About a month or so ago, Pope Francis, in concert with Bartholomew, patriarch of the Orthodox communions, issued a call for all the world to observe September first as "a day of prayer for the care of creation." I know today is not September 1, but it's close enough for us to use the prayers, readings, psalm and Gospel for the stewardship of creation that our worship book prescribes (you can find them on page 63 in the front of Evangelical Lutheran Worship) to take his suggestion seriously. In addition to what we do here today, every subscriber to our weekly e-letter "Church Life at Saint Peter's" will receive these prayers and readings by e-mail tomorrow evening so that, individually, but together with Christians throughout the world, we can focus and pray and plan for the care of creation together. I think this is the beginning of yet another annual ecumenical tradition.
Now in preaching today, I don't propose to engage in any of the arguments about whether the climate is changing, because it is; or about whether that is the result of human activity, because much of it is; nor will I engage the mostly American fundamentalist Christian belief
that we should be exploiting all the earth's resources â€” into oblivion â€” in order tohasten the day when Jesus comes again. Instead, I want us to look seriously at the biblical witness we have before us today to find some resources to address what is quickly becoming a dire global situation.
In identifying our perpetual root problem, Jesus gets it exactly right today: "Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of â€” his next word - pleonexia - is translated greed or avarice, but it literally means "much-having" â€” Be on your guard against all kinds of much-having, for one's life does not consist in an abundance of possessions." "â€¦all kinds of much-having" is about as close to the root of our global ecological crisis as one can get. It cuts across every distinction between rich and poor, developed and developing, individuals, societies and national entities. Striving for all kinds of much-having describes what virtually every human being and every human-designed institution has been doing since the beginning of time. Strife because of that striving has been the inevitable result. Between the time when "we brought nothing into this world" and "the time when we take nothing out," much-having has continued to be one of
the driving forces of our life. It really doesn't matter what the resource is or what we intend to use it for, much-having it is a driving force. Rich, poor, young, old, male, female, American, Asian, Christian, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, much-having is a global way of life. Not having is universally unacceptable. Much having is a constant universal goal. For generations, the best of us have been content with seeking out ways to make our much-having equitable. Capitalism, communism, socialism and several other economic isms all have that as their stated goal. Today, we propose to satisfy global much-having through technology.
Already in 1999, no less a personage that the Dalai Lama proposed and rejected that solution. He wrote:
What is essential is that we find methods of manufacture that do not destroy nature. We need to find ways of cutting down on our use of wood and other limited natural resources. I am no expert in this fieldâ€¦I know only that, it is possible, given the necessary determination.
He then continues with a couple of examples in Germany and Sweden. He goes on:
So, clearly, solutions do exist to limit damage to the natural world without bringing industry to a halt.
This does not mean that I believe that we can rely on technology to overcome all our problems. Nor do I believe we can afford to continue destructive practices in anticipation of technical fixes being developed. Besides, the environment does not need fixing. It is our behavior in relation to it that needs to change.
The environment does not need fixing. It is our behavior in relation to it that needs to change. On this, the Dalai Lama, Moses and Jesus and the global scientific community all agree. They also agree on one other thing: What is needed is a paradigm shift.
So Jesus offers that paradigm shift to us today. In his parable, he sets up the rich man, as the paradigm of our whole, plausible, reasonable, right-handed, wrong-headed struggle to be masters of a situation that is radically out of our control â€” to be captains of a ship that, for all of human history, has been taking on water faster than we can bail. In Jesus parable, the rich man's land produces "abundantly." He goes on
an asset-savings binge, "I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones," and, like all of us, he congratulates himself on his lifestyle: "You have ample laid up for many years. Relax, eat, drink and be merry." Then Jesus delivers the judgment on the rich man and, because he is a paradigm for everyone else, on all of us too. "Fool! This night your life is required of you; then who will own all this stuff you've spent so much time exploiting and saving?"
It's not Jesus' last word. In a quiet last line he adds, "This is how it is for one who lays up treasures for himself and is not rich in God's sight;" and then Jesus offers himself as the alternative paradigm. Jesus, who gives himself up, is the only rich man in the world. We, who spend our whole lives in pursuit of much-have-ness, come to the end only to the poverty of death. But in Jesus â€” who made his grave with the wicked in their moral poverty and with the rich man in the death of all his possessing; in Jesus all the pointless pursing and all the sad incomprehension are turned to our good. Jesus waits for us in our deaths. Quite literally, there is nothing we need to do except die. That's the new paradigm: If we want to save the earth, if we want to care for the creation, if we want to leave
a legacy to those who come after us, all we have to do is die to our much-have-ness. What follows death is always resurrection. That's how God saves the creation. That's how God saves and uses us.
Job 38:1-11; 16-18; Psalm 104: 1, 13-23;
1Timothy 6:6-10, 17-19; Saint Luke 12: 13-21
Amandus J. Derr
Saint Peter's Church
In the city of New York