The following, based on Psalm 148, was offered by Rev. Jennifer Copeland at Raleigh’s Church of the Nativity on September 23 as part of an ecumenical prayer service on the eve of the Pope’s address to Congress.
The composer of this Psalm obviously had a copy of the first chapter of Genesis in front of her when she sat down to sing. Or maybe the bard who wove that story of creation had this song before him when he laid out the sequence of events that we have come to love as the creation story. In the beginning…
Either way, the progression is pretty clear.
- Light and dark
- Land and water
- Plants and trees
- Animals and fish
- Humans, lots of kinds of humans, according to Psalm.
Like a procession into worship, we get creation in an order, just so. Lucifers – bearers of light – come first, followed by all the things and people necessary for the fullness of this hour, and the line-up ends with the highest ranking ecclesial person on site. Tonight, a bishop. In creation, humans.
Humans. The highest rank in all creation. I think there are a couple of ways to consider that. You’ve probably heard them before because you’re the kind of people who come out on a Wednesday night for a service focused on the environment.
You already know there are two camps:
- We’re in charge; we can do whatever we want to do.
- We’re in charge; we are responsible for everything we do.
I’ve always hedged toward the second one, we are responsible; usually I’ve adopted a holier than thou attitude about humanity’s lack of responsibility. I do a lot of nagging about recycling, about where to set the thermostat, about Styrofoam – I hate Styrofoam…I spend a lot of my time reducing, reusing, and recycling. I do this religiously; better than I pray some days.
And I have finally reached the same conclusion Martin Luther reached when he was driving himself crazy obsessing over sin. I have concluded that all my efforts are self-serving. I want to help save the environment because I want humans to continue existing. But the truth is, the environment would be better off without us. In that case, why not run it in the ground quicker so that it can sooner begin to repair itself? We, humanity, are the most vulnerable in this hierarchy of creation. We’ll take down some species with us – we already have – but short of a divine reversal of creation, the environment will be here after humans have made it uninhabitable for humanity.
What a shame. What a shame that we would allow God’s crowning achievement in creation to drive itself to extinction. There are many reasons – moral, social, economic, and even religious – for all of us to reduce, reuse and recycle. We know the statistics, 12% of the population – us – uses 60% of the world’s resources. We all know our carbon footprint. Mine is four and a half, in spite of recycling everything within site and keeping my thermostat three degrees on the uncomfortable side of hot and cold. We know the arguments; we’re the kind of people who gather to pray…Well, I’ve already said that.
Of all those reasons – moral, social, economic, and religious – I want to suggest a different twist. I want to suggest that we redirect our efforts from getting something to giving something. You’d expect this from a Methodist. What if all our efforts toward the environment are refracted through our love of God rather than our fear of extinction? What if every time I make a responsible environmental decision it becomes an offering to God?
Will that change my behavior? Probably not; I’m pretty well behaved now, at least regarding the environment. But it will change my heart. I will no longer focus on the environment for myself or even my great-grandchildren. I will focus on God, which necessarily directs my focus to God’s creation. Now I’m not in the environmental movement to save my own skin, to keep the planet inhabitable for humans. I’m in this because of my love for God.
I offer to God my used paper, empty bottles, crumpled aluminum, thermostat settings, and letters to the General Assembly. I offer my effort on behalf of the environment as a holy and living sacrifice in union with God’s gifts to us. Amen.