These are challenging days, aren’t they? All around us we see examples of people who have been living beyond their means, falling prey to prestige and the trappings of wealth and victims of the financial world run amok. We’ve seen the fallout of this in real estate foreclosures and banks bailouts. This fall we watched our stock market plunge in a frightening free fall, then bounce back with a giddy confidence, only to plummet again. And we saw photos of stockbrokers with their hands on their heads, staring at their video monitors with eyes wide open in disbelief like Edvard Munch’s painting The Scream. The pivots of the financial temples have been shaking and I don’t think those traders have been crying, “Holy, Holy, Holy.”
Now at the same time as we have been worrying about the results of crumbling financial structures, we’ve been watching our world begin to crumble as well. Just this week, on CNN, whole communities of Eskimos have been forced to abandon their villages in Alaska due to flooding caused by melting glaciers. We’ve read reports, we’ve seen movies about climate change. Yet we feel like maybe this problem is just too big for us to really make a difference about individually. So along with an economic bailout, it seems that we also need an ecological bail out. But will our worry about financial insecurity ambush our ability to care for others and, in turn, our planet? Many would agree.
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman recently linked the economic crisis with that of the environment. He’s convinced that the current financial crisis is the product of the market and mother nature hitting the wall at once, telling us that we need to grow in more sustainable ways. He’s labeled it, “The Great Disruption.” But Friedman also raised an issue of our moral capacity, saying, “If we are so worried about our 401Ks collapsing, how then can we also worry about our sea level rising?” So he poses a compelling question: How in these anxious times are we to care for anything, let alone ourselves? But as people of faith, we have been given a higher calling. We don’t have the option to bail out of caring for our neighbor or caring for creation. Why? Because the Bible tell us so. As Christians we are called radically to re-think our relationship with consumerism and our responsibility to care for creation.
Biblical theologian Ellen Davis reminds us that although the formal science of ecology is only but a couple of generations old, the Bible still has much to teach us about it. She says, “At first blush, the concept of biblical ecology might seem contradictory, you know, like an oxymoron, you know, like jumbo shrimp.” But the word ecology also means the study of relationships, and Davis reminds us that Scripture is chiefly concerned with mending our relationship with God, each other, and non-human creation.
As the global family celebrates Earth Day, the debate still continues about the “inconvenient truth” or fiction about climate change and the dangers of diminishing resources on our earth. But as people of faith, we need to move beyond these distracting arguments. We need to rise above it and see the world as God does, in all of its fragile beauty. There is no doubt that the damage of this planet is caused by human consumption and our manner of life. Ellen Davis says then that the Bible reveals this: “That the ecological crisis is at heart a theological crisis. It is a massive disordering of our relationship with God, the Creator of heaven and earth.” Rahm Emanuel has recently quipped that “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” But he’s right because in crisis there is also opportunity. After all, the root of the word crisis simply means to choose. And it is a deeply biblical word. How we choose in everything will make the difference. And sometimes, admittedly, we don’t always make the best choices. We might throw away a soda can at the mall, instead of bringing it home to recycle. Or on a hot summer day, we might go out and leave our air conditioning on so that it is cool when we come home. So we have to ask, “Have I written my legislator this year to advocate for climate concerns? Am I reducing my carbon footprint by taking public transportation whenever I am able? And do I shop at a grocery store that supports local farmers?”
Now some of these choices might seem insignificant in the midst of these great global concerns, but our every day choices do matter, especially as followers of Jesus. So we are summoned to ask ourselves, “Do our choices reveal Jesus?” As writer Annie Dillard says, “The way we live our lives and our days is the way that we live our lives.” So if balancing our choices, such as caring for the global family and surviving the economic downturn, makes you feel like you’ve hit the wall, then today’s gospel has a word for you. Jesus says, “Consider the lilies: they neither toil nor spin, and yet God cares and provides for them.” So what lessons can we learn from the lilies? They’re deeply rooted in the earth and in harmony with God’s plan for creation. In the bleakest of times they break forth out of frozen soil and bloom triumphantly as they reveal signs of new life.
Sister Joan Chittister, in her writings, provides an image of what it’s like for us to be like the lilies. She says. “It is necessary to walk through nature, softly, to be in tune with the rhythm of life, to learn from the cycles of time, to love and protect nature, and to discover in nature the presence and the power of God.” In a world turned upside down with economic destruction and ecological destruction, where do we turn to find news to gladden our hearts? Well today’s Scripture tells us such treasure can be found in the book of nature. The reflection of God’s love in the material world, the book of nature is a fertile place to start. New creation is alive, present, and ready to be accounted for if only we are wiling to embrace the opportunities. Have you taken a walk through Olmsted Woods or a stroll through the Bishop’s Garden, right outside the doors of this Cathedral?
Overnight it seems that the world has awakened from its winter slumber. Creation is astir. Outside in that garden, plucky squirrels friend each other as they dart among dogwood and magnolias, pink and white, while warblers and wrens chatter and twitter, with no electronic gadgets whatsoever. New life abounds and it quickens the soul. So here on this third Sunday in Easter, a time of new life, it’s interesting to see that two gardens are pivotal to our Easter story. The garden of Golgotha, the place of broken relationships, betrayal, and death; and the Garden of Resurrection, where Christ’s radical decision opens the way to new and abundant life for all creation.
In theologian Vigen Guroian’s beautiful book entitled Inheriting Paradise: Meditations on Gardening, the author picks up on the image of gardens, signifying new life for all creation. He tells this story: “In the summer, his children discovered two turtles and they placed them in his garden. The next year, during an early thaw, he dug up two heavy mounds with his shovel. The turtles had burrowed down for a winter’s sleep and he’s awakened them all too soon. So he found a safe place and dug them in again, even though his wife thought the turtles might be dead. He was convinced, with fingers crossed, that they would come up and amazingly they did in Easter week.” “Lilies,” said Guroian “signify resurrection,” and I can understand why. We know their fragrance draws us into the garden, so he’s planted them along the pathway. But he says, “I also have a pair of turtles who plant themselves in my garden each fall, like two gigantic seeds, and they rise on Easter with earthen crowns upon their humble heads.” And with the women at the empty tomb, Guroian marvels at his turtles and at new life, and he knows that Christ is awake and alive and always wiling to lead us back to the garden, to the garden of delight.
Jesus calls us back to the garden to study the book of nature, so that we might know the author of life and in so doing that we might grow in compassion and action as we seek to restore the integrity of creation. It is in rest and refreshment in the gardens, in contemplation, and in prayer that we find the power of God to sustain us in all our caretaking endeavors, both economical and ecological. Joan Chittister reminds us of this: “Every day we make our souls new again. Every day we rethink old decisions and we make new ones. Every day we grow a little more into self or a little more into God.”
Beloved, each day a choice is placed before us. We can plant ourselves in a world grown old, crumbling from over consumption, anxiety, and greed, or we can plant ourselves in a new creation, where alive in Christ, our souls bloom green. In new ways we discover that we can sustain our world for generations to come. So today, like every day, the decision is ours. So where will your garden grow?