Thank you for having me to speak with you this morning. I am the Canon for the Environment in the Diocese of California, and that tittle allows me to talk about Stewardship of Creation when I am doing supply work in this Diocese whether or not anyone wants to hear about it.
There was a time when talking about the environment was considered political and not received very well. In some parts of the country that is still true, but not in California as I am sure you are well aware. I like talking about care for creation and particularly climate change because I think the more we talk about it the more we are inspired to do something. The changing climate is probably the most important issue and problem we have in the world today.. It is affecting the economy, the weather everywhere which disrupts crops and harvests, habitat for animals, the oceans and marine life, forests and the ice shelves in both the poles. But I am not a doomsday person because I think we will solve this problem. My message this morning is to inspire the notion that we, you and I, as the children of God are called to take care of our world. Our only fragile earth. I think our purpose here is to not only care for each other, but to protect and care for the planet earth. Without a healthy earth WE will have a hard time being healthy ourselves.. You remember that God put Adam in the garden to til and to keep we are the gardeners, and we aren’t doing a very good job of it., we are getting better, but we have a long way to go. And no where did God say, “just look after the apple tree”. The commandment was to take care of all that I have put here in the garden.
In this Gospel lesson Matthew provides us with a profound insight into the heart of God through Jesus’s embrace of the tax collector who is basically an outcast. It shows us that God cares about all of the people and anything and everything that falls outside of the social norms. For me that includes people who are different. People on the other side of the world. It also includes things we don’t see every day like orangutangs or tropical forests. God created these things and the people who are different from us. God created everything and called it good. It is all about getting along and taking care of everything and everyone. We are instruments of God’s mercy and love and our job is to show that love and mercy to all that we encounter without judgement or discrimination. Love your neighbor as yourself is one of the ten commandments and doesn’t it make sense to include all of creation as a neighbor? Many species are endangered, some have already disappeared. According to Gus Speth, 90% of our large predator fish are gone, half of our tropical forests, and 20% of our corals are gone. And few of us even know about that problem.
As we think about Matthew’s words we have to consider whether or not we are seeking out marginalized people and creatures. Creation is about all of us, black, white, brown even green, trans, gay or bi. Jesus looked beyond the external appearances and social labels. He saw worth in everything which reminds me of St Francis who came a thousand years later, but wanted to be like Jesus. He treated animals and birds as if they were equals and gave all his belongings to the poor.
While Francis is often referred to as the first environmentalist because he spoke to a wolf and to the birds. And won’t harm anything, I went to Assisi and studied his life only to discover that he really wasn’t an environmentalist. His desire was to mimic Jesus and as I said he wanted to be like Jesus which meant treating everything that God created as sacred. That was his life and if we take Jesus call to the tax collectors to follow him as a call for his disciples to embrace the marginalized, isn’t it a call for us to do the same? we are being asked to protect what is marginalized.
Today there are many people who are marginalized, but so is nature marginalized. Little is done to protect our land, air, water or trees until a disaster happens and then we frantically try to repair the damage. If we had listened to the scientist thirty years ago and started sooner to transition to renewable energy and to practice efficiency and protect our rivers and streams from pollution, we might not be witnessing never before such frequent wild fires, more flooding, more draught, food scarcity, severe hail storms and more frequent tornados and hurricanes. We were warned about all of these things, but profit and money won out over doing the right thing.
The good news is and there is plenty of it. Not only is society more aware of the outcast people and many are talking about them and helping others to understand how to be more accepting of them. We have parades and days to honor them. It is true of Creation, also Much has been done to promote less use of gasses that pollute the air. Laws are being passed to make energy efficiency a must. There is generally more awareness of how important protection of Creation is : how it will improve our health and the lives of our children.
Because this has been a serious homily I want to leave you on a lighter note. Not something I usually do, but I had to preach on this same Gospel about two years ago at Grace Cathedral. We have an Evensong Service every Thursday at 5:30. There didn’t use to be a sermon involved, but when Malcolm young arrived as our new outstanding Dean, he implemented a short sermon basically addressed to the boys who sing in our choir. I often attend Evensong as a reader so the person asking me to do the sermon on that evening knew that I would probably be there and she was backing out at the last minute. I hesitated, but said yes. This Gospel from Matthew was read and I stood up with my sermon prepared. Because the Gospel was to be interrupted for boys between the ages of 8 and 14, I geared it to them. I asked them to think about following someone who they didn’t know just because the person looked at them and said “follow me”. Would you do that and would it be wise? Then I went on to say that my son, when he was about six years old ran away from me when we were at an event at the SF Zoo. I turned my back and he had disappeared. There had been a parade of animals or people dressed as animals. Eventually his Dad and I found him in the lost children’s room being read to by a lovely volunteer. My son had followed a gorilla! The point I was making is that you don’t know when you might be inspired to follow something or someone just be cause of who they are or what they look like. Why did the spirit move Matthew to follow Jesus? The boys were to think about what might inspire them to follow a stranger.
I have never been asked to give the homily or sermon at Evensong since. I think I the other clergy thought I was comparing Jesus to a gorilla.
James Gustave “Gus” Speth is the former dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, founder and president of the World Resources ...