Earth Day Selected Sermon
April 22, 1997
“O Lord, How manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures”(Psalm 104:24)
The Endangered Species Act has been an important way that we as a nation exercise our God-given responsibility to serve as guardians and protectors of God’s creation. The Act has helped the recovery of such endangered species as the American bald eagle, the peregrine falcon, the American alligator, the gray whale, and the whooping crane, as well as a host of lesser known but important plant and animal species.
Protecting endangered species is not merely a matter of politics and economics, but one that touches the very deepest of human values. People of faith celebrate creation as the gift of a loving Creator. “O Lord, how manifold are your works!” sings the psalmist, “In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.”(Psalm 104:24) For the psalmist, the astonishing variety of life on earth was a cause for wonder, praise, and thanksgiving. Each creature, from the wild goats of the high mountains (v.18) to the creeping things in the depths of the sea (v.26), is an indication of the power, wisdom, and continuing care of God. Lutheran theologian Joseph Sittler wrote, “I have never been able to entertain a God-idea which was not integrally related to the fact of chipmunks, squirrels, hippopotamuses, galaxies, and light-years.”
Biblical tradition affirms that humankind occupies a special place in creation. Of all creatures only humankind is created in the image of God (Genesis 1: 26 – 27), made a little lower than angels (Psalm 8), and given dominion over other creatures (Genesis 1: 26 – 27). Often these texts have been interpreted so that the rest of creation is viewed simply as “resources” for human use, or worse, used as biblical warrant for the abuse and exploitation of creation. Old Testament scholar, Walter Brueggermann, offers a corrective to that interpretation of dominion:
The dominion here mandated is with reference to the animals. The dominance is that of a shepherd who cares for, tends, and feeds the animals… Thus the task of “dominion” does not have to do with exploitation and abuse. It has to do with securing the well-being of every other creature and bringing the promise of each to full fruition…. The role of the human person is to see to it that the creation becomes fully the creation willed by God.
— Walter Brueggermann, Genesis (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1982,) pp. 32 – 33.
God has woven creation together like a beautiful and marvelously intricate fabric. Human greed and exploitation, however, are pulling the threads out of this fabric one by one. As many as 75 to 100 species are becoming extinct each day. If that trend continues it will only be a matter of time before the entire fabric unravels and the eco-system collapses around us.
Creation does not belong to us; creation belongs to God. We are not the owners of creation, we are but God’s stewards. Christians affirm that there is only one Lord of creation, and that Lord is Jesus Christ, in whom, through whom, and for whom all things in heaven and on earth were created (Colossians 1: 15 – 20.)
O God, enlarge within us the sense of fellowship with all living things, even our brothers and sisters the animals, to whom you have given the earth as their home in common with us. We remember with shame that in the past we have exercised our high dominion with ruthless cruelty so that the voice of the earth, which should have gone up to you in song, has been a groan of pain. May we realize that they live, not for us alone, but for themselves and for you, and that they love the sweetness of life.
–St. Basil the Great (329-379)
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