Year by Year, Earth Day by Earth Day: Are We Good Stewards?

given on Sunday, April 22, 2012

Earth Day began with the story in Genesis 1:

1-2First this: God created the Heavens and Earth—all you see, all you don’t see. Earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness. God’s Spirit brooded like a bird above the watery abyss.
3-5 God spoke: “Light!”
And light appeared.
God saw that light was good
and separated light from dark.
God named the light Day,
he named the dark Night.
It was evening, it was morning—
Day One.

God created this earth, and it is our responsibility.  Sometimes we forget that.  But God left the instructions very clearly as he ended the sixth day of his creation as recorded in the last verses of Genesis 1:

He created them male and female.
God blessed them:
“Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge!
Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air,
for every living thing that moves on the face of Earth.”

29-30 Then God said, “I’ve given you
every sort of seed-bearing plant on Earth
And every kind of fruit-bearing tree,
given them to you for food.
To all animals and all birds,
everything that moves and breathes,
I give whatever grows out of the ground for food.”
And there it was.

31 God looked over everything he had made;
it was so good, so very good!
It was evening, it was morning—
Day Six.

Day Six and that leaves the seventh day, a day God said, “Rest.”

Growing up, Dad insisted that on Sunday we rest.  He rested, I thought way too much.  Of course, the Sunday routine was get up, eat breakfast, and get to church.

No time to waste in the morning.  If we did not have any special plans with one of the grandparents, Mom would start a roast in the electric skillet, always adding the potatoes and carrots so everything would be ready when we got back from church.

Sabbath, or Sunday in our culture, was busy until the dinner was cleared from the table and the Sunday paper was opened up.  Dad was soon asleep with the paper in his lap.  He rested.  Mom rested.  My brother and I were to do our homework first, then we could rest.

Very few families follow this Sunday routine today—or at least it does not seem to be the routine.  Many are doing those weekend chores of grocery shopping, cleaning house, mowing the lawn, or whatever other tasks need to be done before going back to work Monday morning.  But while I was growing up, Sunday was a day of rest.  We were farmers, but Sunday was always kept as a day of rest.

Farming has changed though.  Drive through any country road on a Sunday afternoon, it is not surprising to see tractors running in the fields.  Whether it is planting season, or time to cultivate, or harvest time, when is Sabbath?  When is it time for rest?

Preparing for an Earth Day Sunday, looking through the support materials available on line, I found the sermon start on the Global Board of Ministry, “A Time for Rest:  Sabbath and Energy.”  After reading through it, I think it was mis-titled because the topic was the land more than energy:

The Sabbath is a day of rest not only for people, but for the land as well. The Bible dictates that the land is to have a Sabbath every seven years. In ancient Israel, this was a very real agricultural practice.

Every seven years the farmers were not to plant and harvest the land.  I had never heard that practice before.  The practice I knew Dad had used was primarily crop rotation.  Three crops, or four if you included a pasture year, were routinely rotated every year.  One field, three and sometimes four years a field was planted, cultivated and harvested with different crops—soybeans, corn, wheat, and clover or fescue for hay.

From Dad’s experience and training, crop rotation was giving the soil a rest.  Each crop drained the soil of certain types of nutrients; other crops replenished it.  At least this is the way I remember it; and I am not an agronomist, my son is.

I do not ever remember any field ever being unattended any one year and certainly not routinely left to rest every seven years.  As I read through the article, I was reminded how important our soil is.  We cannot feed a world if our soil is destroyed.  The article recognizes this concern, but cautions us about what happens if we fail to follow God’s direction:  “But the Bible is equally clear on what happens if the land is not granted a Sabbath. The land will take it by force.

Today is another year, another Earth Day; and we desperately need to remember the value of rest.  Today’s conservation techniques can work if we use them.  Stewardship of our world is critical and how to manage the soil is just one tiny portion of this world.  Consider the air we breathe, the water we drink, and all the minerals and ores of the inner earth.

Rest may be a key step to preserving our earth and the article provides the reason that rest is a critical component of our Christian responsibility:

. . . learning to work with God’s Creation by allowing both the land, and ourselves, a chance for rest and renewal is an important and still relevant implication of the Sabbath.

Today is Sunday, a day of rest, and we need to use this Earth Day as a reminder of how Christians are to manage the care of themselves, but also the earth.  Our society has decided that following God’s laws and seeing the world through God’s eyes is not as important as squeezing out as much profit as possible from this earth.

The painful truth is included in the article, too:

Today, rather than allowing time for the soil to rest and rejuvenate as God intended, we are doing everything we can to get as much production out of the land as quickly as possible. It is not only our production of food that we have sped up; our demand for cheap and reliable electricity has also led to developing inexpensive but damaging ways to produce energy. We are trying to extract as many sources of energy as we can with little regard for safety and public health. But that is not what God intended. God created for six days and rested on the seventh.

The truth hurts.  The careless management of our earth is destroying our soil, but it also is destroying our air, our water, our fauna, even our inner earth riches.  The rest our human bodies needs should tell us that all other living elements of this earth need rest, too.

Dear Creator,

         Hearing the truth can be painful.

         Yet we know that if the earth is to sustain us,

              we need to work to protect it.

         As we rest, let the earth rest, too.

         As we make decisions on soil management,

              remind us of all the earth’s needs.

         When our minds rest and reflect on this earth,

               speak to us so we can find ways to speak out.

         When we hear the news of damaging practices,

               tell us what we should do as stewards of this earth.

         Let us see the world through your eyes;

              so we, too, can rest and echo your words:

              “it was so good, so very good!.”–Amen

Here is the article to which I refer in the sermon:

A Time for Rest:  The Sabbath and Energy

“Do not say to yourself, ‘My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power . . .” Deuteronomy 8:17-18

         The Sabbath is a day of rest not only for people, but for the land as well. The Bible dictates that the land is to have a Sabbath every seven years. In ancient Israel, this was a very real agricultural practice. It was and remains necessary in order to let the soil replenish its nutrients after growing crops and providing food for six years.

Today, rather than allowing time for the soil to rest and rejuvenate as God intended we are doing everything we can to get as much production out of the land as quickly as possible. It is not only our production of food that we have sped up; our demand for cheap and reliable electricity has also led to developing inexpensive but damaging ways to produce energy. We are trying to extract as many sources of energy as we can with little regard for safety and public health. But that is not what God intended. God created for six days and rested on the seventh.

Keeping the Sabbath is difficult because it requires trust in God’s providence. (Lev 25:20-21 “Should you ask, ‘what shall we eat in the seventh year if we may not sow or gather in our crop?’ I will order my blessing for you in the sixth year, so that it will yield a crop for three years.”) In fact, the Israelites did not always keep the Sabbath year either. Trusting that there will be enough food is not easy. This is not just true of food but can also be true of energy production. The idea of a Sabbath year of rest, or even a slow- down, from energy production can also be frightening. But the Bible is equally clear on what happens if the land is not granted a Sabbath. The land will take it by force (Lev 26:34-35, 43-44, 2 Chronicles 36:20-21). Taking a year off of production would be impractical, and wouldn’t resolve the underlying issues of our energy economy, so it would be a mistake to take the Sabbath year as a prescription for our current situation. However, learning to work with God’s Creation by allowing both the land, and ourselves, a chance for rest and renewal is an important and still relevant implication of the Sabbath.

[Accessed on April 20, 2012 at http://www.umc-gbcs.org/site/apps/nlnet/content.aspx?c=frLJK2PKLqF&b=3079307&content_id={8CDCEEFF-21F0-417A-A0C0-B401852A08A9}&notoc=1]

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