The Eighth Day of Creation
by Louise Westfall
In the beginning, God created…sun, moon and stars, birds of the air, fish of the sea, and the rolling, evolutionary origin of every species under heaven, including human beings. In the beginning, God created. And on the seventh day, God rested. So the pattern continued–six days of work, one day of Sabbath rest…until that earth-shattering “first day of the week” we celebrate as Easter, when God intervened in the endless cycle of birth and death and the human wreckage of violence and suffering to declare Behold I make all things new. The early Church celebrated every Sunday as the “eighth day.” Creation was complete in six days, and God rested on the Sabbath—but at the Resurrection God started something new.
The surprising and gracious thing to me is that this new thing didn’t result in an entirely different world, a paradise set apart from the earth. No, the biblical vision is described as “heaven descending to earth,” with the planet preserved and restored, and all its inhabitants thriving. Come to find out the heart of Christian faith–that God so loved the world—extends not only to all humans, but to the physical planet, the organic and inorganic parts alike. Our task is not to transcend this world, to get out of it alive, but to take care of it, the way God intended, to protect and serve and renew it. When Jesus taught us to pray, he expressed it clearly, that God’s kingdom come and God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Today’s Scripture text is an example of how believers lived after that “eighth day of creation.” Things were different. Priorities shifted. New practices began. Hmmm. A reading from the Acts of the Apostles, in the second chapter at the 43rd verse. Listen for God’s Word to the church for a time that may well be the start of something new.
Sermons about earth care typically follow a similar pattern: a recitation of the grave threats to a flourishing planet humans have caused: through greed, our love affair with fossil fuels, and an extravagant carbon footprint, with the resultant, unjust consequences toward the poor and marginalized, who bear the brunt of climate crisis first and most of all. Evil is decried and the sermon builds to an impassioned plea for change, and a commitment to actions–from divestment in the fossil fuel industry, support for stricter environmental controls and advocacy for sustainable agriculture and natural resource policies, to individual practices like composting and recycling and driving less.
There’s a lot to recommend that pattern (and I’ve preached a lot of those sermons myself!). But there are some aspects that bother me: for example, when we condemn the fossil fuel industry, yet continue to relish our ability to drive and fly and live in climate-controlled homes…When we demonize people involved in the industry, or forget about those caught in the transition to renewable energy sources. My brother Tom retired to a farm near Sterling, Colorado, after his career in social work. Our phone visit this week naturally turned to the pandemic and how we’re all getting along. He said there has been a dramatic spike in clients at the local food bank, much of it from people who have been employed in the region’s formerly booming gas and oil businesses. One young man had spoken to him through tears: I’ve worked hard since I graduated high school. Me and my family have never had to get help to put food on the table!
Reality is always more complicated than the ideal. Much has been made of the pandemic’s potential silver lining in the fact that its onslaught has brought about a cleaner, greener earth. Photographs of clear skies over Los Angeles and Kolkata, India are startling when contrasted with the smog-clogged air just a few months ago. Sheltering at home has meant less driving, greatly reduced air travel, more “slow food”–but also unprecedented unemployment, business failure, financial hardship–experienced most painfully yet again by ones less able to absorb it.
The resurrection changed the early church’s practice of community, extending it to include economic support of those in need.
Friends, our responsibility to be stewards of God’s creation is much more nuanced than “people versus profits.” It isn’t a matter of politics, of liberal tree hugger against conservative corporate fat cat. We simply can’t–nor should we–draw a bright line between environmental issues and economic ones, as if the two were entirely different–and in opposition to each other.
Fact is, creation itself is a marvelous, divinely inspired web of interconnection, interrelatedness. The God who created the monarch butterfly also created the processes whereby rotting organic material is transformed into coal and out of the earth itself bubble oil and natural gas. Part of our divine mandate is to exercise responsibility for creation, tending it and caring for the earth so that it is a home for all to live and thrive. In the creation story the man and woman became exiled from the Garden of Eden (a word which means “delight”), as a consequence of their selfish choice. On the “eighth day of creation” we are invited back to the garden.
And I think this might be a place and a space to think more creatively about climate change and how to address it than anywhere else. I know we’ve all been relishing being outdoors more this past month–I’ve seen your photos of sunrises and sunsets, of bright flowers, including dandelion bouquets, birds at yard feeders; I’ve heard about your gardening adventures, mulching, weeding, and patio planters. Even the “stay at home” orders have made exceptions for getting outside for walks, bike rides, and exercise. Being in nature is essential to our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health. Returning to the garden is one way to describe our very salvation.
On the eighth day of creation we see the world through new eyes. The resurrection changed the early church’s practice of community, extending it to include economic support of those in need. So too it broadens our understanding of what a thriving, sustainable community looks like in our time. It helps us bridge political divides and the false assumption that good business and a healthy environment are incompatible. The road back to the Garden of Delight will require cooperation and collaboration among all stakeholders, which is to say, among every human and every nation.
…because at the heart of it, earth care is a spiritual matter. Taking care of the planet is part of the Divine mandate to love one another. That is, to seek the well-being of others as we seek our own. Our families and communities. People who are suffering through poverty, hunger, and more. Earth care is another way to love our brothers and sisters who live in neighborhoods most vulnerable to extreme weather incidents, and childhood asthma; another way to love our brothers and sisters losing jobs as coal miners and wildcatters; another way to love brothers and sisters who miss the connection between wealth disparity and human suffering; another way to love our as-yet-unborn brothers and sisters to whom we bequeath this garden home.
Central participates in Presbyterians for Earth Care—an eco-justice network to connect, equip and inspire the church toward wiser, more loving, and more effective actions. At their last in-person meeting before stay-in-place orders, passionate conversation around these matters united elders and teenagers and millennials and families and boomers. This week in a follow-up letter to the congregation, chair Sherwood Shankland made some great suggestions about things to do even amid the pandemic. Pray (of course). Learn. Plant something. And this one: Watch. Watch for a “moment of wonder” every day. See what God is doing, even now. Imagine what God is inviting us to do. For love of the world. For love of earth’s people.