Primary reference texts: Genesis 1: 26-31; Romans 8:14-25
We care for community and creation
The first generations of our movement lived primarily in rural areas and small towns. They lived close to the land and were dependent upon it for their survival. They did not explicitly convey a concern for the environment as such, because they didn’t need to. Caring for that upon which you are dependent no doubt seemed obvious to them. Barton Stone, Alexander and Thomas Campbell and others were people of their time who shared many of the same values, priorities, and blindnesses.
Our movement grew rapidly during the 19th century in part because the country was growing rapidly westward and we went with them. Born on the frontier, we were tailor made for the individualism of the time.
Why as “Big D Disciples” do we care about the Environment and make this a priority?
There are several reasons grounded in our historic identity. I occasionally hear someone say something along the lines of, “I don’t come to church to hear about the environment, about the plight of the poor, or other social issues.” I come to hear sermons from the bible.
My response is: “Tell me what’s left of the bible if you remove creation, the poor, and our relationships with one another in community? Not much.” I don’t mean this in a sarcastic way. I’m genuinely serious, and if you’re skeptical I hope to convince you this morning, at least a little.
We are people of the book, and so we prioritize those things the Bible prioritizes. As relates to our concern for community and creation, here’s a short list:
1. God made and loves creation, (Genesis 1-2) and therefore we should too. John tells us that through Jesus all things were made. Would you disrespect and degrade and destroy the things your loved ones have made?
2. Creation is a unified whole that includes humanity. (Genesis 1-2) We are not a second, separate, later and greater project. “We’re all in this together.”
3. Creation is integral to God’s salvation plan Romans 8; Colossians 1; Revelation 20-21
As evidence of this, Paul conveys that creation itself is also part of God’s salvation plan. God’s salvation is not a individualistic experience just for those who believe a certain set of ideas or even who claim allegiance to a particular person, even Jesus. Paul, for whom Jesus is everything, is the one who tells us that creation longs for redemption and will experience redemption. Followers of Jesus in this life are simply the first fruits of what God will do for all of God’s creation.
Colossians 1: 15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16 for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers--all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
4. Creation is God’s witness and teacher for us – Psalm 104 & Romans 1 & Job 12. Creation teaches us about the nature of God, classically referred to as Revelation through nature. We cannot know everything about God in this way, but we can see beauty, creativity, love, provision, transformation, regeneration, mutuality, and the cycle of death and renewal. We can see our vulnerability and need for community. We can see that power exists beyond our control or understanding.
5. Creation praises God with us, and therefore is worthy of our honor and respect as our sibling in worship. (Psalm 148) Jesus said during his triumphal entry into Jerusalem that if his followers did not praise him then even the very rocks on the roadside would raise their voices in praise (Luke 19:40).
6. Care for the poor requires care for creation
The bible demonstrates clearly God’s concern for the poor. God intervened for Jacob and his children during famine, and Paul even took up a collection among the churches because of a famine in the region around Jerusalem. We understand today the ways that human action causes and worsens the natural processes that lead to famine. We also can see with just a cursory look around that the poor are far more vulnerable to all environmental disasters.
7. We are in covenant relationship with creation – God’s first covenant with creation is in the act of creating. And our faith affirmations from those two stories declare an interdependence – we need the rest of creation for our sustenance and our companionship – “It is not good for the human to be alone.” Similarly, we are told that the plant world did not come into being until we could be present to care for it. (Gen 2). Our modern scientific understanding makes clear that the timing is otherwise, but our faith profession is none-the-less one of interdependence. Genesis 1 proclaims this covenant as one of dominion – the relationship of a sovereign and subjects, of God and humanity. Dominion is a form of covenant relationship that requires care and provision, if not affection.
What can we do?
1. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – this isn’t some liberal conspiracy. It’s not a silly hippy or hipster trend. Based on the seven witnesses above, these three practices are integral to our life of faith. We read and hear about companies pursuing zero waste – In.gredients in Austin is a new zero waste grocery store. Even nations are getting into the act. Sweden has sent less than 1% of its waste to landfills each year since 2011. They are so efficient at reuse that they have to import rubbish from other nations just to keep their recycling plants going.
What is preventing Central from pursuit of being a zero waste organization? What if we start by not using paper products except when absolutely necessary? We have glasses, ceramic mugs, plates, metal cutlery and cloth towels. In our fellowship events alone we could reduce our waste significantly by washing dishes rather than using disposables.
2. Reduce our carbon footprint and use of natural resources. Every light switch in the building has a sign saying we move money to mission by turning off the lights. And frank is doing a great job of switching us to LEDs from incandescent and fluorescent lights.
What is preventing Central from pursuit of being a producer rather than consumer of electricity?
What if we installed solar panels on the roof? We might end up selling electricity back to the grid. What if we installed water collection systems to water our flower beds and lawn, at least during parts of the year. We could reduce our use of city water by 1/2.
3. Shop and Buy sustainably. Use reusable bags and recycle any paper or plastic bags we do get. Favor reduced packaging manufacturers and retailers. Buy in bulk, even perhaps forming a coop with others.
4. Support entrepreneurs who are innovating – SyncLife Coworking can be a way that we gather, collaborate and support nonprofit and for-profit enterprises that seek to address environmental issues.
5. Neighbor those who live at the margins and are most affected – here at 4711 Westside Drive we are fairly insulated from environmental problems. Plenty of green space, not in a flood zone, no toxic dumps or manufacturing near by. But we can pursue mutual friendship with those who are not so fortunate, and help them pursue environmental justice for their families and communities.
6. Advocate – use our voices toward (the literal meaning of advocate) environmental best practices in our own homes, communities, state and around the world.
7. Study, pray and share – perhaps the most important thing we can do is dig more deeply into our faith tradition, resources and practices where we will find that God calls us deeply into living as those who receive our covenant relationship with creation as a gift from a gracious God. We are mutually dependent upon one another, and by God’s wisdom and spirit we can live more faithful, healthy and fruitful lives.
These seven witnesses of scripture to us and seven witnesses of the church to the world give us a clear biblical foundation for Christians, individually and collectively, to show care for community and creation. Any gospel that lacks this environmental emphasis is incomplete at best. At worst it mocks the love of God who created us for mutuality in relationship with God, one another, and the natural world. The entire witness of scripture from Genesis to Revelation elevates God’s love for us in and through nature and the reciprocal call to love God by loving and tending God’s good gifts in creation.