by Rev. Jan Rivero
Let’s be honest. Scripture is confusing. Loving God and following Jesus are difficult, in part because our job description is filled with mixed messages. Take the creation story, for example. Right out of the box, before the end of the second chapter, we have two versions of how the earth came to be and how it, and everything on it, should be maintained. Genesis 1 posits that God’s first commandment to the humans was “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” OK. That’s not so bad. We can have children, kill spiders and generally be in charge of the planet. That works, right?
Not so fast. Genesis 2, who scholars say had a different author, postulates that the first commandment was more subtle. “God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.” I’d say that was probably written by a woman, but then you get down to the part about that tree and the fruit and the next thing you know, the woman is blamed for everything bad humanity has ever done. So, no. But this second rendering of the story perpetuates our confusion about how to be most excellent stewards of creation. Instead of a clear command there is a more gentle “suggestion” if you will.
What I really want us to think about together this morning is this notion of caring for the earth as the true first commandment. The one that came before Moses. The one that entrusted to humans this incredible gift: planet earth. Whether explicit, as in Genesis 1, or implicit, as in Genesis 2, our first responsibility as human beings from the beginning was to care for this gift. The air we breathe. The waters of the rivers, lakes and seas. The land that provides resources to meet our needs. The diversity of creatures for our sustenance and our delight.
We had it all. Then knowledge got the best of us. We got all puffed up and we messed up. Big time. And here we are, at this pants on fire moment in the history of the world. And it’s not just our pants that are on fire. It’s the Amazon rainforest. The Australian outback. Southern California. We’re burning it all down. We had one job. And we messed it up.
And by we, I’m not talking about you and me personally. That’s part of the problem, of course. We inherited the consequences of gazillions of decisions made before us, and trying to undo them is like trying to unscramble an egg. So understandably we feel rather helpless. We do what little we can — drive that hybrid, install a few solar panels on our roofs, turn down our thermostats. We do what we can but it all seems insignificant — one person can’t possibly undo thousands of years of abuse. And then along comes Greta.
I love Greta. Not just because she’s Swedish or because she has a developmental disorder. I love her because she is bold, gutsy. And she’s right and she’s not afraid to speak truth to power. She is inheriting a broken planet and she’s trying to slow down its irreversible destruction. She is calling us back to work, back to our first responsibility. She is reminding us of the first commandment to tend the earth.
Even Pope Francis is calling us back to work. Just last month he said, “In the first creation we must respond with the responsibility that the Lord gives us. Even for us there is a responsibility to nurture the Earth, to nurture creation, to keep it and make it grow according to its laws. We are the lords of creation, not its masters. A Christian who does not protect creation, who does not let it grow, is a Christian who does not care about the work of God; that work that was born from the love of God for us.”
It’s not too late. We’re not too late for work. We have one job. Are you up to the task?