Wasting our Inheritance, Sermon 05.01.11

Wasting our Inheritance, Sermon 05.01.11

Genesis 1: 20-31 and Luke 15:11-32.

The younger son is going through what makes tough times for the whole family: not feeling himself in the bright light of day. It doesn’t do much to improve his life either!

But under cover of night, when no one is really watching what he’s up to,
much less able to reign him in, in the less accountable back rooms of our world, the younger son’s feeling FINE, at his best– albeit consuming, guzzling, as if there are no limits, partying as if there’s no tomorrow…

All his unsettled feelings, as if he doesn’t fit in, can’t find his place in the full light of day… before his responsibilities to his family and others… …He’s heard “uncomfortable feelings” can be “environmental,” the company one keeps…

Our younger son, he’s pretty sure the issue is not so much his own, but someone else’s. How easy for us is it to locate any trouble in the other person!

Since, it’s Ecology Sunday here at Old First, let’s say, if the trouble isn’t really the younger sons, maybe it’s those heavy-handed, self-righteous environmentalists– always trying to “in loco parentis” us, or like some judgemental big brother, always worrying and commenting, “tsk-tsk-ing” really, that we’re:

~driving too much,
~not turning off the lights when we leave a room,
~refusing to separate our recycling, much less compost,
~keeping the heat cranked in the winter,
and turning the house into an icebox in the summer.

In short, it feels to the younger son, as if there are always eyes watching, fingers pointing, disapproval waiting to greet him. Everywhere he turns, ecology narcs and environmental police. As if everything he does just spoils the farm, messes up the environment and heats up the atmosphere.

…All those big brother disaster scenarios about global warming
and increasing volatile weather,
and, lord, don’t get him started on when the oil runs out…

Our younger son, he just can’t take all the pressure. It feels sort of like some kind of unholy and unhealthy interest in every last thing he does, down to the littlest details.

It’s gotten too tight at home:
Too many rules.
Tickets if you don’t separate the garbage right.
Paying extra for 6 pack of beer just to put a return deposit on the bottles.
Buying bags at the supermarket.
And all the taxes that already add to the price of gas–
they say soon North America may end up like Europe
where governments add as much as 75% to the cost of a gallon
just to fund greener alternatives like public transportation.

All the warnings, the endless regulation …why, a man can hardly be a man anymore!

And so our younger son convinces himself: “the limitations inherent at home and truly being himself are incompatible.”

Delayed reward or responsibility to anyone beyond yourself, they just aren’t our younger brother’s strong suits. In fact, he pretty much dismisses them as the poor’s excuses for robbery. Sort of a Robin Hood wherein the weak make claims on those who are strong and self-directed.

And keeping up, living within the needs of this old farm is a dead-end, anyway!

So our younger son decides to find some place far away, a frontier sort of place where all the regulations aren’t closing in and crowding a real man out.

He explains to his father, with hardly a note of self-consciousness or embarrassment in his voice, ‘I think I’d like to take my share of the farm early, so I can be free. I’ll just take what’s mine and go…”

Claiming his inheritance early. What’s his is his. He’ll decide where his own future lies.

But he can’t do so if he doesn’t withdraw his investment, liberate his capital, pull out of the family collaborative.

He knows, his needs got to come before those of the greater community.
He’s just talking about privativing resources. We hear about this sort of thing all the time. It’s more efficient. Let people themselves, the people most immediately and directly effected, make their own decision about their lives. Of course, his older brother, that self-rigtheous SOB, he’ll say that the little brother is just “doing whatever he wants, the larger world be damned…” Well, damn him then!

Claiming our inheritance early. it’s another metaphor for the environmental disregard we often show. And self-centeredness. Giving our personal druthers preference over the longer term or wider needs of our world.
Our unwillingness to take seriously the common good,

“What’s mine is mine. And no one can tell me what I should to do with it.
I’m not responsible for despoiling the whole world; how much difference will it really make that I keep buying bottled water, or thowing away those plastic bottles afterward? I’m just one person anyway. And I’ve got to make my own decisions… according to my own needs. And I don’t like people always breathing down my neck. I need room, space to be myself, to be able to do what I want. Like it used to be in the good old days.”

Claiming our inheritance early. You might call it borrowing from the future.
It’s all an apt metaphor for OUR carefree or squanderous living when it comes to the environment. We use up, consume, throw away, pollute, poison, gluttonize spoil, and discard today as if there will be no tomorrow,
or better, as if there’ll be no one tomorrow who will be left wanting for what we despoiled today.

Although energy conservation, recycling, global warming, cleaner fuels,
reducing air and water pollution, public transportation in our bigger cities,
the dangers of deforestation globally, reusable shopping bags and water bottles may have become mainstream in North America, (or at least no longer unheard of!)

…it’s still taken for granted, our default position more often than not
that we can do what we will, get away claiming our own, going our own way, “one person can’t make that much difference or do that much harm anyway…” somehow our individual acts won’t matter, can be sort of forgiven, our garbage won’t pile up, and the environment will miraculously turn out to be like the father in our parable today, or what we would expect from MOTHER earth– selflessness, sacrifice and second chances.
…So loving as to risk being accused of enabling behaviors that get us in a mess in the first place, until we end up having made a pig sty of our lives and of our world, with nothing more to eat than cobs of corn that aren’t enough for pigs.

…And then, even at such a late date, somehow, by grace, that doting Father’s forgiveness or a loving Mother’s indulgence, once we finally get the half-baked notion that it’s time to go back, time to care finally for what god gave us in the first place, we seem to expect that creation will come running out to greet our repentant selves.

That the poisoned waters. And the cleared rain forests. And the super waste sites. The holes in the ozone. And the whole atmosphere heated up too many degrees will somehow, magically, be forgotten, fixed for us, healed. And life can still be or again be about welcome and rings and robes and fatted calves.

But if our planet can’t support such a party any longer…

During Lent, I participated in a Carbon Fast. For more than the 40 days of preparation for the new life of Easter, we tried to become conscious of how our living harms the world God’s called us to be stewards of. And disembodied, diaspora community tried to act together, to make all sorts of incremental changes…hoping a bunch of small differences, made by enough people, might begin to reverse the tide of despoiling our created world. Or at least get some other folks’ interest, notice. Spread the change of habits a bit further.

It made me think. But even more, I was challenged by a colleague, Jim Antal, the UCC’s Massachusett Conference MInister, who said, “Preachers need to be bringing up the environmental crisis at least every 4 months,
so in 15 years we can preach on something other than the remorse over ecological catastrophe.”

It depends what news outlet you tune into, but I imagine most of us at Old First know that North Americans, on average, not only claim a disproportionate share of the world’s natural resources, we are also responsible for a disproportionately harm the environment:

~Our footprint is the largest of any continent in the world, almost twice the size of industrialized Europe;
~Per capita, we’re the worst culprit of ecological deamage, after the United Arab Emirates.
~If everyone in the world lived as North Americans do, it would take 5.3 earths to support the current world population.
~As the world’s largest energy consumer, producer, and importer,
the United States is the world’s single largest emitter of greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels, accounting for ¼ of all greenhouse gas emissions on the planet.
~North Americans own more and bigger cars and use 4.5 times the amount of gas used by Europeans.
~31% of America’s natural fresh water resources – mostly in the western part of the country – are chronically endangered.
~North Americans generate more municipal waste, and spend more money treating it, than any other country in the world.
~And evidence suggests the problem has been getting worse in recent years.

You all know I don’t believe in using the pulpit into scaring people into going straight, clean or green. Why then this list of our sins?

I guess I hope that at church we might hear this information differently. Less our big brother judging us. And more a loving parent, in all humility, trying to tell us what’s good for us. And turning out to be right.

My question is: Has the church taken this issue seriously enough? Aren’t we as Christians called by the practice of our faith to a standard of good stewardship? Is Genesis’ creation story just a nice myth, pretty Hebrew poetry OR IS IT GOD’S WITNESS, A CHALLENGE TO US IN THE FACE OF ECONOMIC DISASTER?

It’s easy to look and see how Adam and Eve blew the great opportunity that God gave them. Will the generations after us shake their heads too? Will our ecological disobedience be a second fall?

Or more immediately, could your personal decisions be a 24/7 confessional issue? Isn’t our choice between either wanton wasting of our inheritance, self-centeredness OR returning to God to ask for mercy and help?

Yes, the love of the Father is incredible, transformative and redeeming,
as too with mother earth, but notice, even the Father is limited, and must await the younger son’s return.

God original intention was that all life was contained in a perfect garden tended by 2 naked vegetarians. Stewardship of creation isn’t some social or ecclesiastical movement since the 60’s (although that’s about the time the potential for extinction of life on earth become imaginable). But stewardship of creation is weaved into the fabric of God’s making a good world.

But still the choice is ours… Will we come to ourselves, and realize the good that God’s meant for us in creation (from the beginning and to eternity), and pull ourselves out of the mess we’ve created, and return to being responsible, accountable participation in caring for the most sacred trust given to us?