Genesis 1.26-31

Psalm 8

Paradise & Parking Lots

Fourth Sunday of Easter

“At the far end of town where the Grickle-grass grows / and the wind smells slow-and-sour when it blows / and no birds ever sing excepting old crows… / is the street of the lifted Lorax. / And deep in the Grickle-grass, some people say, if you look deep enough you can still see, today / where the Lorax once stood – just as long as it could – before somebody lifted the Lorax away.”

And so begins one of my very favorite Dr Seuss books, The Lorax, a story about the beautiful Truffula Trees, “those bright-colored tufts of the Truffula Trees! Mile after mile in the fresh morning breeze…” The Truffala Tree, as we all know, is the natural habitat of Brown Barbaloots and Swomee Swans and yes, even the Humming-Fish, until that old Onceler, in spite of the Lorax’s dire warnings, chopped down every Truffula Tree in creation, and the Brown Barbaloots and Swomee Swans and Humming Fish disappeared, and the Lorax himself was lifted away.

When I was in college, I had a poster in my room that was a photograph of the earth as seen from space; it was that “big blue marble” photo that became so iconic in its day. I think it was taken by the crew of Apollo 17. Superimposed over the photo of earth was our text from Genesis this morning, and it was in the form of a checklist, consisting of four items: “Be fruitful: check. Multiply: check. Replenish the earth. Subdue it: check.” What was the only phrase without a check? Replenish the earth. Replenish the earth. Not much has changed since those college days. Although our awareness and understanding of how human activity affects our environment has grown tremendously since that first Earth Day in 1970, while we remain experts at being fruitful, and multiplying and subduing the earth, we still struggle to find the will to replenish her.

“O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes, to silence the enemy and the avenger.”

            I was more than a little surprised by an op-ed piece in Monday’s Boston Globe. It was titled, “American Energy Dominance Means Massachusetts Wind,” and it was about the importance of sustainable energy like wind power as part of a comprehensive energy strategy. I was surprised because it was written by Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, who isn’t exactly known as a champion of clean and sustainable energy. And sure enough, as I read further I saw that the strategy is not a move away from fossil fuels or coal, but rather an add-on. The repetition of the phrase “energy dominance” throughout his article was particularly telling. Coincidentally, also on Monday, The New York Times published an article about both Zinke and Environmental Protection Agency Director Scott Pruitt, describing efforts to overhaul restrictions on methane emissions, fast-tracking oil and gas leasing processes, opening nearly the entire continental shelf for development, and perhaps most significantly, reducing the previously protected Bears Ears National Monument in Utah by 85% in order to gain access to the oil and natural gas deposits below. Simply adding Massachusetts wind power will not undo the damage done. Subdue the earth indeed.

“O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!   When I look at your heavens, the work of your hands, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?”

            Since we’re on the topic of this week’s newspapers, on Wednesday the Chicago Tribune ran a book review with the headline, “Do You Believe in God? Then You Have a Moral Duty to Fight Climate Change,” writes Jim Antal. You folks will remember Jim from our Installation service back in January. He’s just published a book titled, Climate Church, Climate World: How People of Faith Must Work for Change. Those who have heard Jim speak know he is a passionate defender of creation and is adamant that people of faith understand the care of creation as a fundamental precept of Christian faith and practice. In his book, Jim writes,

“I believe that people of faith the world over have the capacity to determine the trajectory of our common future… Here in America, if Christianity continues to emphasize personal salvation while ignoring collective salvation, if we continue to reduce the Creator to an anthropomorphic (that is, human-centered) projection who privileges and protects humanity, however alienated we may be from God’s created order, then the practice of religion will continue to diminish and it will add little to the redemption of creation.”

Or to put it in terms of our text from Genesis, if we think we may be fruitful and multiply and subdue the earth without also engaging the hard work of replenishment, we are gravely mistaken. And Jim has consistently put his ministry where his mouth is, so to speak, submitting to arrest on several occasion while vigorously witnessing to the need for change.

“O Lord, Our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! Yet you have made mortals a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.”

            The story of creation that Nancy read for us this morning is a familiar one:

“Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’ So God created humankind in God’s image, in the image of God they were created; male and female God created them.”

I got to thinking this week about what it means to be created in the image and likeness of God. For one thing, it means to be both male and female, since that’s pretty clear in the creation story. It is to exercise stewardship of those with whom we share creation, the fish, the birds, the cattle, the plant yielding seed, the tree with its fruit. Indeed, it is to exercise good stewardship of all of creation: “Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth and subdue it.” But it occurred to me: if you and I are created in the image and likeness of God, what was God doing at the moment we were made in that image and likeness? God was creating. God was creating. Is there a sense in which you and I then are also creators, or co-creators, with God?

            It wasn’t until I came to the United Church that I started reading Richard Rohr, a Franciscan Friar known for his inspirational speaking and writing; in fact, it was some of you who directed me to Rohr’s daily reflections, and it was in early March that he began to focus on the idea of Creation. One of this morning’s bulletin quotations is taken from his piece from March 1 titled, Participating in Creation, in which Rohr suggests that, yes, part of bearing the image and likeness of God means that we too participate, not just in creation, but in creating. “We need to understand God’s artistic work in order to appreciate it properly and relate lovingly to the Creator,” Rohr writes; “we [also] need to know something of the work in order to join it, to participate in creating the world from here on. This last is the real way of loving, that is, by joining in the life of the beloved.”

“O Lord, our lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have given humanity dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the air and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the sea. O Lord, our lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”

This is not a dominion of dominance, of the superior over the inferior, or even of creator over creation; but rather it is the stewardship of creation given by the creator to those who continue to create. Creation was not a static moment, something that ceased to happen at the end of Genesis’ sixth creative day, but rather it is something that continues to unfold; it goes on still today, and you and I are called – we might even say designed – to be faithful creators of God’s ongoing and ever-evolving creation.

            At the end of The Lorax the Onceler realizes, with horror, what he has done. And so he tosses to his listener the very seed of salvation:

“Catch! calls the Onceler. He lets something fall. / It’s a Truffula Seed. It’s the last one of all! / You’re in charge of the last of the Truffula Seeds. And Tuffula Trees are what everyone needs. / Plant a new Truffula. Treat it with care. Give it clean water. And feed it fresh air. / Grow a forest. Protect it from axes that hack. Then the Lorax and all of his friends may come back.”

And so as we leave the Lorax who speaks for the trees, our final word this morning comes from the one who loaned me this morning’s sermon title, singer Joni Mitchell; who sings about trees in her 1970 hit, “Big Yellow Taxi”:

            “They took all the trees and put ’em in a tree museum / And they charged the people a dollar and a half just to see ’em / Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone / They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”

            Amen.

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