I would like for you to close your eyes and do a bit of imagining with me.
Imagine the sound of your mother or father saying, “I love you.”
Imagine the sound of waves hitting the beach.
Dog people: imagine the sound of a dog barking with joy.
Cat people: imagine a cat snuggling into you and purring.
Imagine the sound of a waterfall.
Imagine the sound of a song bird.
Imagine the sound of an elephant.
Imagine the sound of a light breeze blowing the leaves of a tree.
These are some of the sounds of God’s creation.
Now, imagine the sound of a tornado.
Imagine the sound of a wildfire.
Imagine the sound of a hurricane.
These, too, are sounds of God’s creation and they are becoming louder and more intense and more numerous. (You may open your eyes.)
Yesterday was Earth Day, an event that has been celebrated for more than 50 years and may be the largest civic observance in the world. It’s estimated that more than one billion people in 192 countries took part in Earth Day activities.
Of course, Earth Day is not a one day event – especially for people of faith. We do not recycle only one day a year. We do not switch to LED lightbulbs for only one day. We do not conserve water or go meatless or walk instead of drive only one day a year.
The Creator of the Cosmos provides us with an amazing planet that not only sustains our existence with oxygen and water and temperatures in a range we can tolerate, but gives us the precious gifts of colors and creatures, flowers and forests, mountains and meadows, valleys and volcanoes, streams and seas.
Psalm 8 declares: “O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established;” The psalm is like the blast of a bugle trumpeting God as the Creator of the universe. Echoing the creation story in Genesis, the psalmist professes his astonishment at God’s handiwork.
The ancients were awed by the enormity of the universe, but, in fact, had no idea how incomprehensible it really is. Astronomers inform us that our galaxy – the Milky Way – is 100,000 light years in diameter. And there are one hundred billion galaxies. Attempting to fathom those numbers makes my head hurt!
As the psalmist ponders the vast universe, he asks, “God, what are human beings that you are mindful of us?” In such an enormous universe teeming with wonders too great to behold, how could God notice us? But, as the psalmist continues, it is not only that God is mindful of us, but charges us with caring for the earth and all that is in it.
God has given us this remarkable planet of emerald forests, indigo oceans, crimson mountains, golden deserts, and white, ice-capped poles. All of this so that we cannot simply exist, but thrive.
However, the psalmist does not end there. In addition to being the recipients of this incredible gift, God has given us the responsibility of caring for it. The psalmist writes, “You have given (us) dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under our feet, all sheep and oxen, and the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea.”
Both Psalm 8 and Genesis 1 characterize our role as having dominion over the creation. How we exercise our role pivots on our understanding of the word “dominion.”
For most of human history, people viewed the earth as a vast wilderness with an endless supply of resources. To many, exercising dominion over the creation was a green light to snatch whatever resources they desired. I assume they figured that if they chopped down all of the trees in one area, it was not a problem because there were more forests than they could count.
However, in the past 100 years, the situation has changed radically. The world’s population has grown so immense – more than 8 billion – and our technology so powerful that nature has morphed from a storehouse of endless resources to a fragile ecosystem that we possess the potential to destroy.
What does it mean in the 21st century to have dominion over the earth? While synonyms for dominion include “rule” and “dominate.” They also include “govern” and “manage.”
We must see ourselves as God’s representatives, and we must understand dominion as the same sort of rule God would exercise. The biblical image of dominion is a shepherd who cares for those under his/her influence.
In our day, there is constant talk of individual rights, but little desire to acknowledge responsibility. To be given dominion over the creation is to be given the responsibility for the resources of the planet. God wants us to protect the creation, not devastate it; to nurture the natural environment, not simply consume it; to renew the earth, not exhaust it.
The poles of our planet regulate our climate and weather patterns, and they are warming faster than anywhere else on the planet. Journalist Aryn Baker despises cold weather, but over the past three years she has spent a number of weeks with climate scientists in Antarctica. She speaks for many of us when she writes, “There is an incomprehensible disconnect between what climate science says must be done – an immediate shift in how we produce energy, travel, and eat – and what we, and our leaders, are willing to do. At what point does the distant threat of ecological collapse assume the fierce urgency of now? When the sea ice is entirely gone?…By then it will be too late.”1
The ice is melting in both the Arctic and the Antarctic. The ice reflects the sun’s rays back into space. But as the ice at the poles disappears, the sun rays are “absorbed by the dark ocean, accelerating rising water temperatures and ice melt, altering ocean currents, weakening the jet stream, and changing wind patterns. The effects ripple through the global ecosystem manifesting in greater drought, heat, floods, and storms. (As Coast Guard Admiral Karl Schultz puts it): What happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic.”2
Climate change is not simply a looming problem. It is affecting our health, our environment, our food supply, our water supply, and our economy. Every day we do not act, the situation deteriorates.
Please do not think this is simply a scientific concern. This is a faith matter. Climatologists are among the modern day prophets beckoning us to care for God’s creation. They are screaming at us to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by making changes in our daily lives. You can do the planet and your personal health a huge favor by giving up beef, by driving less, and giving serious thought to buying an electric vehicle for your next car. Are your lawn mower, weed trimmer, and leaf blower spewing gas fumes into the air or do they run on batteries or electricity?
There is plenty we can do as individuals to demonstrate our fidelity to God by reducing our carbon footprint. However, we know that more than individual action is needed. Businesses can invest in clean energy. Government officials can implement policies that encourage switching to clean energy and reducing greenhouse gases.
And we can continue to act collectively as a church. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) recently recertified Westminster as an Earth Care Congregation. That makes 13 years in a row! I’m so proud of our congregation for putting in more than a thousand LED bulbs; for generating more than a third of our electricity through our new solar panels, for the well-researched Chimes articles that enlighten us to ways we can care for the earth, and for installing electric vehicle charging stations. On Easter morning between worship services, I glanced out at our charging stations and was thrilled to see three EVs being charged. I’m looking forward to the Sunday morning that one of you comes to me with the complaint that there are only four charging stations and they’re all taken.
As we know, the choices we make affect the direction of our lives. However, our decisions not only influence the course of our lives, they impact the lives of others. Further, the decisions we make have repercussions for the future – both short term and long term.
I’m sure it’s my age, but these days I do a lot more thinking about how my decisions impact my grandchildren. Make no mistake. Our grandchildren are going to judge us on this one. Will they curse us for squandering our opportunity to take meaningful action or thank us for passing along a healthy planet in which they can thrive?
We can use our resources wisely. We can preserve the grandeur of the earth. We can safeguard its beauty. And what better way to express our gratitude to God for the gift of life, than to protect and perpetuate God’s amazing creation?
God of the galaxies, how can we ever thank you for the gift of this beautiful planet with its diverse contours, its fascinating creatures, and its rainbow of colors that dazzle our eyes? How can we ever express our gratitude for the atmosphere, the water, the chemical elements, the vegetation, and all that makes our planet inhabitable?
Gracious God, we know we are responsible for caring for your stunning blue planet, and yet we often seem indifferent. We act as if the earth will always rebound from the carbon dioxide we pump into the air, the oil we spill, the waste we dump, the waters we pollute, the forests we destroy, and the species we drive to extinction.
We hear the constant message that we must change our ways, but we fail to act. Holy God, jar us from our lethargy. Forgive us and transform our irresponsibility into respect – respect for your creation and respect for life; surely this is how we demonstrate our respect for you and the wondrous gift you have given us.
Loving God, we pray that we may take nothing for granted –
Neither sunrises nor night skies,
neither water nor food,
neither oxygen nor trees,
neither songbirds nor polar bears.
Remind us that your creation is a gift – a precious and sacred gift.
Eternal God, may we muster the will to make the long overdue changes that will preserve and protect our remarkable planet and may we count ourselves among those who strive to create a more sustainable and just world.
Now, hear us as we join our voices together in the prayer Jesus taught us to pray, saying, Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen.
We take your confidentiality seriously. Please know that only the Prayer Ministry Team receives this information.
We take your confidentiality seriously. Please know that only a pastor receives this information.