Bishop Mark Lattime’s Wintertalk Sermon on Mission Mark 5
To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth
Any reflection on the fifth Mark of Mission, the mark that speaks to the stewardship of creation, would find a perfect foundation in the words of the Psalm 104. Psalm 104 is an ode to the earth as God’s creation. But more, it is a lyrical theology of God’s continuing presence, participation, and purpose in the earth and its creatures. I invite you to read the psalm in its entirety.
“O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.
“All [creation] looks to you to give them food in due season. You give it to them; they gather it; you open your hand, and they are filled with good things.”
This is the glory of the Lord, suggests the Psalmist, that the earth should be a resource for all of God’s creatures to have what they need to live—to be filled with good things, that the Lord may rejoice in “his works”
So if all the earth is intended to reveal and enable God’s wisdom, God’s love, God’s nurturing purpose, then the first point with respect to the Fifth Mark of Mission is to recognize that this sacred purpose is the integrity of creation that we have been called to safeguard. Creation has integrity as long as it serves the life-sustaining and nurturing purpose that God intends for all creatures. Our concern for the stewardship of the earth is not for the sole benefit of humankind, but for all that God has made. Said another way, with words that are growing in popularity, our concern is for Environmental Justice for all life.
Environmental Justice, therefore, is not about determining what is most profitable or even most beneficial for us as humans or as nations but what is most beneficial for the whole system of God’s wisdom as revealed in the earth and all life. Environmental Justice calls us to a broader vision of sustainable economic practices. Justice calls us to be transformed in our relationship with the earth for the glory of God.
This takes change. When I think about being transformed in my relationship with the earth, I think of how I consume. Psalm 104 speaks of God filling us with good things. Perhaps where I need to begin my transformation is in how I understand what it means to be filled. I would invite us to reflect on the connection between being filled and having enough. To be filled is to have enough. And yet, our hearts and our stomachs have been trained to always want more. When is enough enough? Or is enough never enough? This is a question for reflection that leads to transformation: what is enough?
Climate and environmental scientists speak of a rather grim future. It may be that the earth has reached a tipping point that is beyond recovery. Nevertheless, I choose to hold fast again to the words of Psalm 104: “[God sends forth God’s] Spirit, the world is created; and so God renews the face of the earth.”
God’s creative and loving purpose is never beyond the tipping point. Therefore, it remains our calling to serve this purpose through transformed living with expectant hope that the Spirit of God will bring renewal to the earth. Will we move with the Spirit’s direction in our choices for a sustainable and just economy for all creatures of the earth?
Here I invite us to reflect on the how this calling becomes an expression of the religious life. If we make seeking God’s justice and purpose the foundation for our transformed relationship with the earth, we will have as our goal a religious life. Environmental Stewardship, therefore, becomes an expression of our religion, what we bind to ourselves in service to God’s Mission in creating and in creation.
Stewardship of the Earth as religious expression: it has an interesting ring.
This past summer, the Chinook (King) Salmon run in the Yukon River was the weakest in history. There were so few fish making their way to spawn that the State of Alaska closed the fishery on the Yukon River. The reasons for the low numbers of fish are still being debated, but it seems clear that one real possibility is that the resource is being depleted through over-fishing by commercial fishing boats in the waters off shore. I would be greatly criticized for suggesting this reason in Alaska where commercial fishing is a major economic system and powerful interest. (What is enough commercial fishing?)
Despite the closure of King Salmon fishing on the Yukon River, a small group of Yupik subsistence fisherman, who depend on Chinook salmon for survival, chose to follow their tradition and caught several King Salmon. They were arrested and charged with violating State Fish and Game regulations, a violation that bears significant fines.
Recently, these Yupik fishermen filed a suit against the State claiming that the closure of the Chinook fishery on the Yukon was a violation of their religious freedom. What an extraordinary claim! The suit expresses that subsistence fishing of Chinook salmon is integral to the full expression of their identity as Yupik people who live a subsistence lifestyle. For generations upon generations, these fishermen and their communities have been fed from the abundance of God’s hand. There has always been enough salmon, and the expression of their religion was based on maintaining and sustaining this abundance.
It will be interesting to see if their claim for environmental justice will be sustained, or if the interests of limitless consumer demand will continue to claim the hearts and stomachs of the world. If so, when will there be enough? When will the people open their hearts to the Spirit’s work of transformation, justice, and renewal? Perhaps the answers are found again in the words of Psalm 104. When we look to God we are filled, when we demand we are left empty.