Not that I’m wishing for it to happen any time soon, but when the day comes, I’m looking forward to reading aloud to my grandchildren. Especially anything written by Dr. Seuss. I loved Green Eggs and Ham and The Butter Battle Book. I’m a big fan of The Cat in the Hat and Thidwick the Big Hearted Moose and The Sneetches. I’m pretty sure I’ve read all the Dr. Seuss books more than once.
Part of what makes Dr. Seuss books so appealing is their ability to address universal themes in a fun and sometimes irreverent manner. I’m talking about big themes like war and peace. Justice and diversity. Cleanliness and etiquette and hospitality. To those themes I want to add one more important theme this morning and refresh your memory about the Dr. Seuss book that spoke to it. The theme is environmental justice and the book I’m referring to is The Lorax.
How many of you remember the Lorax? Or perhaps you’ve seen the animated movie version? With the Swamee Swams and the Humming Fish and the Barbaloots in their Barbaloot suits. It starts out as a book that is charming and amusing, but by the end, the story turns tragic and the message is ominous…
Near the climax of The Lorax, the Truffula trees have been chopped down and the landscape is desolate. The sky is filled with smog. The animals have left and nearly all the people have left and there are only two human beings remaining. The old man named the “Onceler” who ignited the whole mini-industrial revolution firestorm in the first place. And a young and curious visitor to whom the Onceler tells his tale of woe.
The Lorax was published back in 1971. It turns out, probably not coincidentally, that The Lorax appeared in bookstores one year after the first Earth Day was celebrated in 1970. And now in 2015, having marked the forty-fourth anniversary of The Lorax and having commemorated the forty-fifth Earth Day this past Wednesday, it’s a good time to measure how far we have come as human beings in our ability to care for the earth and promote environmental stewardship.
In the year 1970, Lake Ontario was so polluted that no one dared swim in it. Large numbers of Americans and numerous citizens in other countries habitually tossed litter out car windows without giving it a second thought. And “recycling” hadn’t yet made its way into our cultural consciousness.
Now four and a half decades later, you can swim in Lake Ontario. It’s rare to catch anyone in the act of public littering. And most of us recycle as part of our daily routines. So we have come some distance since 1970.
Unfortunately, over the last forty-five years we have also managed to create new environmental problems…problems with potentially devastating short and long term consequences. While the scientific community has not reached full consensus, many scientists point to specific evidence of global climate change. Coupled with natural habitat destruction, oceanic pollution, sea levels rising, ice caps melting, and the eradication of various species of plants and animals, our work as environmental stewards is hardly worth patting ourselves on the back over. In fact, taking concrete action, both individually and collectively, to protect our environment and all the living plants and creatures who dwell therein should arguably be at the top of our human “to do” list.
The World Wildlife Fund Living Planet report recently put it this way…
“In less than two human generations, population sizes of vertebrate species have dropped by half. These are the living forms that constitute the fabric of the ecosystems which sustain life on earth—and the barometer of what we are doing to our own planet, our only home. Nature conservation and sustainable development go hand in hand. They are not only about preserving biodiversity but just as much about safeguarding the future of humanity—our well-being, economy, food security and social stability—indeed our very survival. A majority of the world’s population does not have the capacity to cope with the impact of climate change without suffering a potentially irreversible loss of wellbeing and risk of loss of life. The populations most gravely at risk are over half a billion people in some of the poorest areas that are also highly prone to climate change—in particular, the semi-arid countries from sub-Saharan Africa to the Middle East and Central Asia, South and South East Asia, and small island developing states.”
Is it an exaggeration to claim that we are in the midst of a dire global predicament? And if we are in global crisis in relation to the environment, what do we do about it? Not just as human beings and citizens of the United States and the world, but also as practicing, active Christians…people of faith who have been asked by God our Creator to take responsibility for the world God entrusted to us.
Recall the words of Psalm 8 we just heard together. “What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor. You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet, all sheep and oxen, and all the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.”
Psalm 8 reminds us that human beings have been honored by God. At the same time, Psalm 8 makes it clear human beings are not God. We are, as the Psalmist reminds us, a little lower than God. Yes, human beings are special in that we have been granted a God given role as humble stewards of God’s world. But in the end human beings are also mortal in that we are made from the earth and to the earth we will one day return.
When it comes to living sustainably, to being good stewards of the land we have inherited, and to caring for the world with the same attention and intention God would, the problem is that we have too often made ourselves equal to God. And when you and I put ourselves on God’s level, we assume we have a God given mandate to exert control and power over all of God’s creation…with the end result being that we have subdued creation and tamed the environment and destroyed the earth. Indeed humanity has fallen short of good earthly stewardship and I suspect God looks around at what we’ve done and haven’t done with God’s creation and holds us responsible for our environmental failures…dare I call them environmental sins…?
Thankfully, the wonderful thing about God is that God believes in second chances and reparation and making things right. You and I have the ability to repair and recreate the world. Moreover, we know that our God is a God of resurrection, who promises to forgive us and restore us to fullness of life.
Which brings us back to the question raised a few minutes ago. If we are failing in our God given role as earthly stewards, if we are acting sinfully in regards to caring for the earth, and if we have reparations we need to make as God’s people to set creation right again, then what do we do about it?
Following this morning’s 10am worship service, you will have a chance to hear about one intentional and concrete way Wapping Community Church is doing something about it. Thanks to the funds this congregation continues to raise through the Providing For Our Future campaign, we are planning on re-roofing major portions of this church building. And once the church has new roofing, we plan to have solar panels installed on those roofs by the end of 2015.
Will the solar panels on top of our church building help us save money on our yearly electrical bills? Yes they will. But more than financial savings, those solar panels will be a sign of our congregation’s commitment to reduce our environmental footprint, promote conservation, and practice environmental justice. And those solar panels will symbolize our care for the environment to generations of churchgoers who will sit in these pews after we’ve gone.
Most importantly, those solar panels will be a sign to God. Not a sign that we consider ourselves equal to God. But a sign that we understand our God given role to sustain the creation God has given to us and to leave this world in the same condition we found it.
On this Sunday morning when we celebrate the successes to date of the Providing For Our Future campaign, it’s also a Sunday to celebrate the ongoing “greening” of Wapping Community Church. For we as a congregation take seriously what it means to be active, practicing Christians. We are a faith community dedicated to justice and mission on behalf of our world and all living things in our world…
At the very end of The Lorax, the young boy who represents all of humanity, arrives at the ramshackle home of the Onceler, the fabulous factory where the Sneeds were once processed and produced. It’s a depressing page in the book, with gray skies, a dead landscape, and a sense of pervasive hopelessness…
Except for one word the Onceler utters. “Unless.”
As the Onceler drops the very last Truffula tree seed out his window and down into the hand of the young, waiting boy below, he offers a final hint. “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
Do we care a whole awful lot? Do we care enough to repair and recreate and change how we live for ourselves and for future generations? Together God invites us to be caretakers of God’s creation...actively committed to making our world better. Amen.