23 July 2023 Genesis 1:24-31 Colossians 1:18-20 Luke 5:15-16
Lord, you have given the Bible to be the revelation of your great love for us, and of your power and will to save us. Grant that our study of it might not be made in vain by the callousness or carelessness of our hearts, but that we might wisely hear your words, note, learn, and inwardly digest them, so that we might become mature, convinced and convincing followers of Christ Jesus. Amen.
As you've perhaps noticed, the chaplains are doing a series of sermons on the eight dimensions of wellness that constitute LifeConnect in our Covenant Living communities. They are highlighting one of the dimensions each week.
Now, LifeConnect is the structure that defines the lifestyle values that we want to nurture in each of our 18 communities across the country. They were developed by Terri Cunliffe in collaboration with one of our residents and rolled out in the year 2002 — well before she had ascended the corporate ladder and become our much-loved CEO. Indeed, her whole-person wellness model contributed to her rise.
And now that I'm retired and she is no longer my boss I can safely say without sounding like a kiss-up, that her whole-person approach was truly cutting edge for the industry when she first floated it 20 years ago. Although I'd argue that it wasn't totally original — that the LifeConnect values are simply a solid contemporary expression of the biblical concept of shalom — completeness and peace as God envisions it for everyone.
The Hebrew word shalom is often translated as "peace" but in many contexts, it might be better rendered as "comprehensive wellness." Shalom means that even in the midst of chaos and pain we can proclaim “It is well with my soul.”
So, the first-week Chaplain Corrie focused on spiritual wellness, and then last week Chaplain Eric talked about physical wellness in his aerobic sermon. (I don't know how long it will be before we tap into him to lead exercise classes!)
Well, for some reason they asked me to talk about environmental wellness. Perhaps it's because I have a lot of plants. Or maybe they asked me because I've been a bit outspoken about creation care over the years. It's one of my passions as a theology teacher and pastor.
So, I'm quite grateful for the opportunity to once again highlight this very biblical idea. Let's talk about environmental wellness and how it relates to our overall wellness! Our shalom.
We start at the beginning. On the sixth day of creation in Genesis 1:24-31, we discover that from the get-go God intended that we the people would partner with him in the management of creation. He put us in a beautiful and fruitful garden with instructions to act as rangers or wardens.
Listen again as I read the account in the Authorized Boydston Paraphrase of Genesis 1:24-31.
Then God said, “Let the earth produce all the diverse kinds of animals: the domesticated critters, the reptiles, and the wildlife.”
And it happened according to his spoken command.
25 God made all sorts of animals -- wildlife, domesticated, and the creatures that crawl on the ground. God made them all! And God concluded that the animals were good and life-giving.
26 Once again God spoke, “Let’s make humanity -- the people -- in our image. That way they can be like us and thus be responsible for the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the domesticated animals, all the crawling things on earth -- and even the earth itself.”
27 God created humanity in his own image, in the divine image he created them -- both male and female.
28 At his word, God then blessed them with the ability to reproduce and multiply with such virility that they’d master all the earth. He told them to “take charge of the fish, the birds, and all the other animals crawling around on the ground.”
29 Then God blessed them further saying, “I am giving you all the seed-yielding plants and the fruiting trees for food. 30 To all living animals -- the wildlife, the birds, and to critters crawling on the ground -- I am giving all the green leafy plants for food.”
And once again, it happened according to his spoken command.
31 God surveyed the entire creation -- including the people and animals -- and declared that they were extremely good and life-giving.
That is what happened on the sixth day.
So, in the beginning, God created a harmonious environment out of chaos — the first five days. And that harmonious environment is where the biblical story begins — and ends (but I'm getting ahead of myself).
The creation account in Genesis tells a story of chaos as it was shaped into an orderly and beautiful paradise. In the context of that garden, the man and the woman were collectively "the image of God."
That is, they were made in God's image to serve together as wardens or forest rangers of the garden. But when Adam and Eve got sucked into believing that they'd be better off living free and autonomous lives — apart from God the creator — everything began to unravel.
Gardening became an ordeal and weeds started popping up.
Childbirth became a pain.
Relating to God was strained.
Chaos surfaced again.
The creation was so splintered that it needed to be re-established — restored and renewed.
But the good news is that God didn’t give up on us and he is reclaiming his broken creation through Jesus.
Colossians 1:18-20 (MSG) —
Christ was supreme in the beginning and—leading the resurrection parade—he is supreme in the end. From beginning to end he’s there, towering far above everything, everyone. So spacious is he, so expansive, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross.
2 Peter 3:13 (CEV) — God has promised us a new heaven and a new earth, where justice will rule. We are really looking forward to this!
Then in Revelation 21-22, looking forward, paradise is restored as heaven comes to earth. And the city becomes garden-like.
For us, this means that God isn’t done with creation and as Christians, we live in anticipation of its complete renewal. Our lives — actions and words — function as witnesses to what God is doing. So it is no surprise that when we form communities shaped by Christian values — we see living in a harmonious environment as a LifeConnect priority.
Here is my key idea this morning:
From the beginning it's been evident that God designed us to thrive through healthy interaction with the created environment as caregivers and receivers.
That is, when we take responsibility for the environment, the environment becomes a channel of God's renewing grace in our own lives as individuals and collectively as a society. So, with that in mind, I want to share with you my top five environmental suggestions for 2023.
Now, I know that many of you are already leading the way in environmental wellness.
Over the years you've overcome numerous obstacles to keep our recycling programs going.
You've advocated for removing styrofoam from our food service. So now we have the reusable green containers. And most of you have been returning them to food service on a regular basis… right?
I am aware of a few of you who regularly collect trash from the ground in the park when you go on your daily walks over there. It does make a difference. You are quiet heroes!
And some of you have even given up your smog-generating cars altogether. I know… I know… It's complicated. But I'm giving you the eco points anyway.
One of the reasons I wanted to move here after working here was because I saw that you cared about the environment and were doing what you could.
Well, to build on what you're already doing, I want to add five more ideas for living into environmental wellness. These are not words from on high but ideas to get your creative juices flowing. Perhaps even stimulate some debate. Constructive debate and discussion are good. It doesn't even bother me when you're wrong and disagree with me. :-)
So, here are my five environmental suggestions and then as a bonus — ONE ENVIRONMENTAL MANDATE.
SUGGESTION #1 — Take recycling to the next level by buying products made of easily recyclable material.
Recycling has become the gateway for environmental awareness in our era. It's not the main thing but it does shape our awareness. And we can continue to notch up that awareness by focusing our buying power on easily reusable or recyclable products.
For example, plastic has become a big complex issue in our fragile world.
There are about 500 million tons of plastic produced each year.
And there are now thousands of different plastic compounds in common use,
but only seven of those compounds are easily recyclable.
Are you seeing the problem?
Production companies will not be motivated to produce recyclable plastic until we insist that anything they produce has to be easily recyclable.
For what isn't recyclable ends up in landfills, lakes, and the ocean — where it is further altering the environment and not in a healthy way — but in a way that insults the creator and makes life more difficult for people and animals.
Reduce, reuse, recycle, and… REFUSE. Don't buy what can not be reused or recycled.
SUGGESTION #2 — Make an effort to reduce packaging.
For example, you can use laundry sheets in packets rather than the plastic containers which are a recycling challenge. And the cost is comparable. I'm not advocating a particular brand, but we use these Ecowise sheets that we buy through Amazon. They work as well as liquid or powdered detergents. They are easier to handle than bulky containers. And they require very little storage space — which is a big deal if you happen to live in a Covenant Living of Florida apartment.
What can you do to reduce your negative footprint by reducing packaging?
SUGGESTION #3 — Continue noticing the nature around you.
If we're going to partner with God in the management of his creation we need to have first-hand awareness of what's happening out there. Besides, if God created us for garden life it follows that nature is somehow renewing for human beings.
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, some academics noticed that many people were asking Google why the birds had suddenly gotten louder. Of course, the birds hadn't gotten any louder but as life slowed down people were starting to notice them more. Tuning into the nature around us was an act of self-preservation and a spot of emotional healthiness surfaced by a health crisis.
But we don't need a pandemic to take a daily nature bath, inside or out.
When it’s too hot outside then visit with a houseplant. Stop and notice. If no one is around, carry on a conversation with that Christmas cactus. And if you're trying to figure out what plants might work in your apartment, talk with me.
Then when you can (and the beautiful weather will return) walk under the trees in the park or one of our great Covenant Living courtyards. Notice the fish and turtles in the ponds and the birds and squirrels and raccoons and lizards — big and small.
Has anyone else noticed that the possum population on campus has been expanding? Possums are the only native marsupials in North America. I've seen them on campus several times in the last few months.
And these are really helpful animals to have around. They keep the bug population in check by eating slugs, snails, and beetles. A single possum can eat 5,000 ticks a year. They also hunt and kill mice, rats, and snakes. And they don't carry rabies. They won't eat fruit off a tree but if the mango has fallen and started to rot they'll clean it up for you.
Get out there and look for the possums wandering around campus — and the blue jays, and the squirrels, and the frogs, and the Florida chicken turtles, and the list is amazingly long — just on campus.
Your walkabouts are acts of environmental wellness in so many ways. One study published in the International Journal of Environmental Health Research found that spending time in an urban park can have a positive impact on a person’s sense of well-being. In-depth immersion into nature can actually lower blood pressure, heart rates, and levels of harmful stress hormones. 10-15 minutes a day spent in nature has been shown to reduce life-shortening stress.
The point is that when God partnered with us to care for his creation he knew that our interaction with nature would renew us and keep us healthy. So look for ways to take a daily nature bath.
SUGGESTION #4 — Consider reducing the amount of meat you consume.
Let me summarize the case for this with a paragraph from a 2022 Scientific American article.
Cutting meat consumption is a powerful and personal thing most Americans can do to tackle the climate crisis, and they can do it immediately. About 40 percent of greenhouse gases come from agriculture, deforestation and other land-use changes. Meat—particularly beef—drives climate change in two ways: first, through cows’ emission of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and second, by destroying forests as they are converted to grazing land... By eating less beef, we can start to decrease that demand.
A small painless step toward environmental wellness might then be to adopt a meatless Monday menu for yourself.
Chew on that for a while, perhaps over some grilled tofu smothered in smokey BBQ sauce at dinner in a few minutes. Seriously, it’s on the menu. And now you know what I'm ordering.
SUGGESTION #5 for ways to lean into Environmental Wellness — Work to leave a positive environmental legacy for your great-grandkids.
Our environmental wellness LifeConnect value isn't just for our benefit, but we live in such a way that we can pass environmental wellness on to the coming generations.
Your influence as seniors is still significant. It’s a little bit different but you're not done. And I’d even suggest that our ability to impact the world for future generations is greater now than ever before because we as seniors have grown in wisdom and we're not under the same pressures as younger folks. We can still model the way forward in a very confused world.
As seniors, we can with few words show them what needs to be done. We can actually model a healthy environmental future.
For example, what if we produced all our own power through solar panels from our CLOF roofs? As important as the current project of updating the campus facade is — that is also part of environmental wellness — but taking on the challenges of renewable energy could be life-changing — not just for us but the generations to come. I'm envisioning where panels could go up on top of buildings 1, 2, 3, Palm Villa, here in the Village Center, and on the parking lot covers. We have a lot of unused real estate up there.
Then if we embrace transportation that uses little or no fossil fuel we can model mobility that has a lower negative impact on the environment.
Have you noticed that many of the public buses going up and down Broward Blvd are now electric? Will the next Covenant Living bus and van be combustion-free, too? Only if we communicate to management that we’re taking LifeConnect seriously and that this is an important aspect of our environmental wellness.
Yes, sometimes sustainable technology costs a little more — at least until it catches on. But our divine calling isn't to pinch every possible penny but to lead the coming generations into a healthy and peaceful future.
Finally, THE MANDATE. The first five are suggestions to stimulate discussion and then action. But #6 is a mandate — something which I believe God is telling us to do. And that is — Be intentional about using the biblical lens to look at environmental issues.
Many Christians have shied away from thinking about the environment because they've become weary of some of the politics involved. And that is understandable. And no, you are not going to escape the politics — no matter what. But don't allow politics to become the primary lens through which you process these things.
The fact is that from the beginning God has been looking to partner with people for the care of creation. He has entrusted us with his precious handy work. He wired us for that task and we need to be creation caretakers to live into our divine calling.
Of course, we managed to mess things up in so many ways but God is gracious and merciful. He sent his Son Christ Jesus into the world to intervene, breaking the grip of sin on the world, initiating a renewed creation, and thus inviting us anew to partner with him in creation care.
You see, our personal renewal is related to the renewal of all creation. It's all a part of the same sweeping action of Christ.
2 Corinthians 5:17 (CEB) — So then, if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived!
And when we take steps toward environmental wellness we are acting as witnesses of our confident hope that God will complete his environmental renewal plan with a new heaven and a new earth, with a fruitful urban garden as described in Revelation 21-22, a wonderful garden that overshadows all that was lost in the fall of the first Eden.
Revelation 21:5 says— "Through Christ God is making all things new." I'm a literalist with this promise. And when we trust Christ as Lord and Savior we become a part of his new creation even before it is fully established. We're living according to the future. And whether you are young or old that's wellness — because from the beginning it's been evident that God designed us to thrive through healthy interaction with the created environment as caregivers and receivers.
And believe it or not, that is the good news.