Scripture begins at the beginning. There is God, there is darkness, and there is a formless void.
Then God goes to work, sending God’s Spirit forth to create. There is light; there is organized darkness. There are sky, and water, and land. There are sun and moon and stars.
There is vegetation, and creatures in the air, and land, and sea.
And finally there are humans, created in the image of God, both male and female.
This ancient story was never meant to be a scientific explanation of how the universe was created. The Bible is not a science or history textbook; it is a book about the relationship between God and the world God continues to create.
On this Earth Day we look at this story and see that all of creation is sacred, imbued with God’s Spirit, called into being by God’s Word.
We see the miracle of creation – that everything was created exactly the way it needs to be for life to flourish. The earth is the exact proper distance from the sun; there is a balance between light and dark; hot and cold; the seasons. There is amazing diversity of life, from the smallest microbes to the largest whales.
All of it is sacred; all of it is necessary; all of it is connected.
At the very first Earth Day in 1970, environmentalist Barry Commoner gave what he called the four laws of ecology:
Everything is connected to everything else.
Everything must go somewhere.
Nature knows best.
And environmentally speaking, there is no such thing as a free lunch.
Almost 40 years later, we still have not learned those lessons.
Michigan environmentalist Michael Stifler says this of our current situation:
“We have come to a new place where we find ourselves at a tipping point of peak everything – climate destruction, excessive habitat degradation, species extinction, and resource exhaustion.
“We are finding that parts of our world are falling silent. Once vibrant ecosystems have become so compromised that their sounds have been reduced to a whisper.
“We have become detached, unaware of how our lives intersect with the environment and the lives of other people around the world.”
Stifler says parts of the world are falling silent, but in that silence we can hear, as Paul says, all creation groaning.
Reflecting on this verse, Virginia priest Vinnie Van Lainson says:
“I imagine hearing the ocean weeping as it is clogged with billions, literally billions of pounds of trash that I helped dump into it; the air choked with pollution I have pumped out; I hear the pain of trees being clear-cut and mountains being reduced to sludge; I hear icebergs melting, ground water rotting; and the cries of animals fading into extinction.
“I hear the hunger of mothers and fathers and the thirst of small children, 5,000 of whom die every day for want of clean water while I let the tap run just so the water I drink will be cooler.”
Clearly humans have failed at the very first task given us by God.
“Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth,” God says as the first humans are created.
Too often throughout history we have taken these words to mean that creation is there for our use, for us to do with as we will.
But what this verse really means is that God has given us stewardship of the earth; that we are its caretakers, that creation is a gift to us, one that we are to pass on to those who come after us.
It is easy to look at the crisis in which this fragile earth, our island home, exists and become paralyzed. The problems are so vast, so enormous that it is tempting to give up. What difference can one person make, anyway?
Christian poet, farmer, and environmentalist Wendell Berry has an answer to that: “The question is not how to save the planet,” he says, “but how to care for each of the planet’s millions of human and natural neighborhoods.”
That begins with recognizing the truth of that first law of ecology – that everything is connected.
“What I do matters to people I will never meet,” Van Lainson says. “The choices we make will affect countries we will never visit; the chemicals we pour down our sink will sour our neighbors’ water years from now.
“Simply waking up to the ways that each of us effects just the ground under our own homes is a start.”
There is evidence all around us that small things do add up.
Not so long ago there were intense debates about whether people would ever recycle. Now that is the norm for most of us.
It was once commonplace for people to throw litter out of their cars. Now we gasp at such behavior.
Lakes and rivers that once were foul with pollution are now clean and sustaining life. Air quality has improved. Creatures that once bordered on extinction, like the bald eagle, are thriving again.
We have the God-given ability to change things, if we have the will to do so.
So perhaps this Earth Day we can vow to begin again. We can vow to change our lives in small ways – to pledge that we will not contribute to the 500,000 plastic straws that make their way into the ocean each day; to raise or lower our thermostats a degree or two; to plant flowers that give life to monarch butterflies or birds of the air.
We can vow to support companies that strive to be good stewards of the earth’s resources.
We can refuse to vote for candidates who claim that climate change is a myth, or who work to undo the progress that has been made.
And finally, we can remember that creation is God’s gift to us, we can seek out what poet Wendell Berry calls “the peace of wild things.” Here is his poem by that name:
“When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be.
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”