Sabbath and the Environment Earth Day, April 22, 2007
Introduction – the Goodness of Sabbath keeping – poem Wendell Berry p.5
Sabbath is founded in God’s Creation
Out of all Ten Commandments, the Sabbath is the only one that is connected to creation – we are to rest and keep the Sabbath holy because God created for six days and rested on the seventh.
– to keep the Sabbath is to stand in solidarity with creation, and to proclaim the truth of creation to the creation! – Just as we celebrate on Sundays to proclaim the resurrection every week, we observe the Sabbath to proclaim that God created all that there is. If someone asks why we rest on one day a week, we can respond that God created the world in six days, and on the seventh he rested.
God invites us to care for creation
Keeping the Sabbath is actually the second command that is connected with creation. The first is the command to care for creation – it is found in Genesis 1:28
Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.”
Difficulty of that word “subdue.” – Way back in 1967, Lynn White Jr. wrote an article in Science Journal that said that all of our ecological woes can be attributed to this command to subdue and Christian’s obedience of the command. – rather ethnocentric way of looking at the earth’s troubles, but Christian have had to respond to White’s remarks ever since.
That said, the word “subdue” has lead to a great deal of bad thinking about our relationship with the earth among Christians.
James Watts, the minister of the Interior under Ronald Reagan, and an evangelical Christian was quoted as saying that when Jesus returned he would be angry be cause we hadn’t used up all the earth’s resources. – this quote might be apocryphal, but it points to a very strange attitude toward creation that is based not in creation or God’s commands, but in an understanding of the end times that I believe is unfounded. Audubon Magazine described this understanding of ruling over creation in this way: “This view holds that the earth is merely a temporary way station on the road to eternal life. It is unimportant except as a place of testing to get into heaven… the earth was put here by the Lord for his people to subdue and use for profitable purpose on their way to the here after.”
I believe that we have misunderstood this creation command. If we are to take dominion over creation, we need to understand the type of reign that God desires. In the gospel, Jesus describes how he intends for people to exercise authority.
Matthew 20:25-28 Jesus called them together and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."
We are to rue over creation the same way that Jesus rules over us: Jesus rules by serving. In this way we need to rule over creation by serving it: caring for it and doing what it takes to keep it safe and beautiful.
God commands a Sabbath for the Land
Last week I talked about how it is not just us who needs to keep the Sabbath, but we should make sure that everyone under our responsibility has the opportunity to enjoy the gift of Sabbath rest as well. This includes the Earth. In fact, the Israelites were commanded to give the Land a Sabbath year every seventh year.
the land itself must observe a sabbath to the LORD. 3 For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops. 4 But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of sabbath rest, a sabbath to the LORD. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards.
Sabbath is very connected to the Land.
God is so serious about giving the land its Sabbath that he warns the people that if they do not obey his commands, he will give the land its rest.
34 Then the land will enjoy its sabbath years all the time that it lies desolate and you are in the country of your enemies; then the land will rest and enjoy its sabbaths. 35 All the time that it lies desolate, the land will have the rest it did not have during the sabbaths you lived in it.
This exactly what happens – the people refuse to obey all of God’s laws for generation after generation until finally, God patience runs out and the people are exiled for seventy years.
2 Chronicles 36: 20 He carried into exile to Babylon the remnant, who escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and his successors until the kingdom of Persia came to power. 21 The land enjoyed its sabbath rests; all the time of its desolation it rested, until the seventy years were completed in fulfillment of the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah.
God is serious about our relationship with the Land.
Fast-forward a few thousand years, and how are we doing in terms of our care for the environment and giving the land a Sabbath rest?
Not so good, eh?
I think that if James Watt had got his idea of the end-times from the gospels
The Lord answered, "Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But suppose the servant says to himself, ’My master is taking a long time in coming,’ and he then begins to beat the other servants, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers.
When Jesus returns, he is not going to ask us if we used up all the trees, he is going to see if we have done what he asked us to do. This parable was spoken against the Pharisees and their abusive relationship with the Jewish people, but It speaks to us as well as we have been given the task of caring for creation and giving the land its Sabbath rest. Instead we have beaten up creation and ate and drank from it’s bounty. God’s word through Ezekiel ring true today:
Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet? Must my flock feed on what you have trampled and drink what you have muddied with your feet?
The good news is that Jesus has not returned yet, and we still have time to reform our ways and become the faithful and wise servant and not the wicked servant.
But the question is, how do we become the creation keepers that we are called to be?
1) Keep the Sabbath – it teaches us that we do not have to constantly grasp for more and more and deplete the earth. Much of the stuff in landfill is cast off stuff we didn’t need in the first place!
2) Pray – Cheryl and I have talked about how the earth is so sick now, that nothing short of a miracle will heal it. It is a good thing we believe in healing! It’s a good thing Jesus healed so many people on the Sabbath. This is God’s promise: "When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:13-14
3) Do what you know – most of us know what we can do to do our part to care for creation. http://www.myfootprint.org/ http://greenopolis.ca/ Water Bottles
Giving the land rest
How do we do this? – none of us here are farmers – maybe I won’t mow or weed my little patch this year!
Maybe we need to fast from consumption more often to give the land rest, other Ideas?
Call to understand that the earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it – we are it’s care givers.