Creation Is Waiting

– contributed by the Rev. W. Stuart Ritter, Broad Street Presbyterian Church, Columbus, Ohio

When people of faith pay attention to the Bible and the Holy Spirit, things happen. We can make a difference in the world. I’ve been saying that in a variety of ways since arriving here in November. I say it because I see so much happening here… and so much potential that remains to be tapped.

Broadstreeters are active, committed and engaged in a great variety of programs and ministries — but we’re still in the process of “becoming” the people (and the church) that God is calling us to be. We’re on a journey that began with Abraham, and it’s up to us to see that it doesn’t end in disappointment.

When people of faith pay attention to the Bible and the Holy Spirit, things happen. This morning, on this 39th annual Earth Day, I’ll try to put some teeth into that claim.

It may seem counterintuitive (or downright irrational) to assert the power of Christian faith when we see how Christianity is being marginalized in American life. Organized religion in general, and Christian Churches in particular, are viewed by many Americans as archaic institutions, hollow vestiges of a bygone era.

Even the Pope knows it. Have you been following his current visit? In New York yesterday, at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the Pope lamented that the church is so often viewed as “legalistic and institutional” — the same words I remember his detractors using to describe Joseph Ratzinger before he was Benedict XVI.

Nonetheless, when people of faith pay attention to the Bible and the Holy Spirit, things happen. Here at Broad Street, we’re steeped in all sorts of traditions and we have more than our share of “sacred cows,” yet there are miracles happening among us:

Conventional wisdom says it’s folly to launch a capital campaign during an interim time; but we’re doing it, and people are starting to respond.

A process dedicated to tightening the budget could be deadly; but there’s as much energy and excitement in our Sustainability Task Force as any group in the church.

More than 60 people participated in our first Leadership Forum two weeks ago with Darrell Guder, and I hope even more of you will join us for the second one next month with Greg Finch.

Viewed from within the church, these are signs of health and strength that don’t suggest anything like a “legalistic, archaic institution.” Things are happening here. But still, that doesn’t guarantee that we’re making a difference in the world. Impacting society and caring for Creation take faith, commitment, determination, and action.

Earth Day gives us an opportunity to assess the church’s role in facing a critical challenge of our time. It prompts us to ask ourselves — as individuals and as a community of faith — what have we done, what are we doing, and what do we need to do, to be responsible stewards of God’s creation?

Paul wrote to the church at Rome, “The creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God.” Was he talking about us? We know we are God’s children, but how are we to be “revealed”? Perhaps we’ll find a clue as we think about our relationship to the natural environment.

What I love about Earth Day is that for nearly 40 years it has brought us — sometimes kicking and screaming — into an uneasy alliance of politics, science and the church. Back in the early 1960s, it was the brainchild of Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin. A national focus on the environment was encouraged by President Kennedy, but the dream of “Earth Day” wasn’t realized until 1970.

That first Earth Day — a “teach-in” on college campuses — inspired Bill Gibson, a Presbyterian Campus Minister, to organize what became the Eco-Justice Task Force, now a program of the National Council of Churches. Bill was just starting his ministry at Cornell when I graduated in 1968, so I didn’t get to know him for another 20 years — but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Dr. Gibson was equally at home in the worlds of religion and academia, and he had the credibility to draw members of both communities into his project. Remarkably, Christian social ethicists and Cornell scientists came together to build the case for responsible environmental stewardship. This unlikely coalition of church and science emerged from a small room at the First Presbyterian Church in Ithaca, New York, boldly speaking truth to power.

Even in those early days, it was clear that the Eco-Justice movement had important implications for international economics. (I don’t think anybody had coined the phrase “global economy” in 1970.)

Recognizing that a single natural disaster could wipe out crops, food supplies and livelihood for thousands of people in remote areas, Gibson and his colleagues understood that abuse of the environment by one society could have disastrous effects on another.

From the beginning, Eco-Justice focused on issues well beyond the just treatment of God’s Creation. Bill Gibson knew that when people of faith pay attention to the Bible and the Holy Spirit, things happen.

In 1990, I had the privilege of serving on the General Assembly committee that reviewed the work of the Eco-Justice Task Force. In a meeting room in Salt Lake City, it was Bill Gibson who helped me confront the broader implications of Paul’s words that we read this morning: “The whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now.”

As politics, science and faith have converged around a growing sense of urgency in addressing environmental justice, it’s gratifying to know that the Presbyterian Church didn’t wait for someone else to take the lead.

For four decades, the movement hatched at one Presbyterian church in upstate New York has been tweaking the collective conscience of humanity. The faithful, dogged persistence of people like Bill Gibson has helped us recognize environmental stewardship as a matter of “social justice.”

When people of faith pay attention to the Bible and the Holy Spirit, things happen. Now we understand that most of the world can’t afford the choices we make every day. The simple truth is: We can’t claim to love our neighbors while trashing the world that sustains them.

If we want to follow Christ’s commandment, we’d better make sure we’re living responsibly. Caring for God’s good Earth reveals to all Creation that we are God’s children. We can’t wait for another generation to change the balance; for “the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God.”

The time is now. It’s no coincidence that the theme of this year’s Earth Day is “The Poverty of Global Climate Change.” That poverty could soon be overwhelming. Creation can wait no longer. The time for responsible choices is now.

A movement is hatching today in this Presbyterian Church, thanks to our Green Committee. They’ve helped launch the Ohio chapter of Interfaith Power and Light — a nationwide effort to raise consciousness and make meaningful changes in our patterns of energy consumption.

And today, the Green Committee is asking each one of us to make a pledge — not a pledge of support, but a pledge of action, to do our part in saving and renewing the Earth.

When people of faith pay attention to the Bible and the Holy Spirit, things happen.

Bill Gibson didn’t live to see “The Poverty of Global Climate Change” proclaimed as the theme of Earth Day. But Al Gore’s film, “An Inconvenient Truth,” was released six weeks before Bill died, and he knew that the movement hatched in a church, supported by scientists and hotly debated by politicians, had begun to make a difference in the world.

Thanks be to God.

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