Sunday, July 19, 2009

Freed to Love

2 Corinthians 5:14-21 14For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. 15And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.
16From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. 17So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

The Green Bible has a study guide that I’ve been using in this sermon series “Creation Care as Justice.” This week I enjoyed the questions in that study guide enough that I wanted to share them with you.

What assumptions do you make that hold you back from acts of justice and mercy?
We could probably start with assumptions about people being valued differently. We know that some corporations seem to believe people are valued lower than profits. We’ve heard stories, for example, about people who die when insurance companies won’t approve treatment because it isn’t cost effective. And about corporate officers who lay off thousands of employees to cut costs while they receive large bonuses. We know about people being valued as less than because of their station in life. Maybe we’ve watched a TV cop shows where a particularly insensitive patrol officer is chastised for characterizing a crime against a prostitute or drug addict or gang member as NHI, no humans involved. We may have seen that poor neighborhoods are the last to get any kind of repairs or city services. All of these assumptions about the relative values of humans can and does get in the way of justice.

How can the idea that we are all part of God’s creation help overcome those assumptions?
According to Paul, as followers of Christ we no longer regard anyone from a human point of view. Now we look at others as God does, loving one another as Christ commanded us to do. In Christ, our prejudices against each other fall away. And perhaps not just our prejudices about people.

Bill Cosby is a very funny fellow, right. Long before he did the voices for the Fat Albert cartoon shows, or starred in any of several TV series, that line was the title of the first of a young stand-up comedian’s record albums, released in 1963. I loved his comedy and I got all of his records. I could recite long bits of his routines, and I still use Cosby-isms sometimes. There’s one routine that has been coming to mind this week, and I don’t quite remember the whole thing, but it had something to do with his girlfriend getting upset when he didn’t swerve to miss a cat in the road and he responded “What? You want me to wreck a $2,500 car for a 25c cat?” (Remember, back then the average cost of a new car was $2,600.) In the 1960s I thought that was really funny. Today, the idea that a car is more valuable than a living creature . . . not as funny as it used to be. I keep remembering that God told us to take care of the earth and everything on it.

Albert Schweitzer is known as one of the great philanthropists of the 20th century. His philosophy was called Reverence for Life and believed all God’s creatures should be equally valued, human and non-human alike. He let ants eat at his dinner table and hand fed his pet pelican Parcival with fish caught especially for that purpose. He treated all who came to his hospital no matter who they were or how much they could pay. He believed that all were equally worthy of care. Like most European men of his time, he held invalid assumptions about the capabilities of women and persons of color which kept him from believing they could be his equals, from true reconciliation. Still his philosophy, his Reverence for Life, has helped many embrace the knowledge that humans are only part of God’s creation and that we are responsible for all of the world.

How might caring for creation be seen as an act of love for our fellow human beings?
Ronald L. Farmer, Dean of the All Faiths Chapel at Chapman University, recently published his first novel, Awakening. An important part of the story is the main character’s first hand education about factory farms. He has inherited the family farm in Oklahoma and travels there from Claremont to decide what to do with the property. He discovers that many of the farms and homesteads around his family’s farm have been purchased by a giant corporation, where everything needed to raise a pig from conception to market is supplied. The big farms have meant an increase in employment, more shopping centers, housing and construction. It all sounds ok until he begins to learn what that means for the pigs and for the people of the community.

I’ve raised pigs and I don’t have any problem eating pork – or at least, I didn’t before I read this book. In my experience, pigs are smart and friendly and clean and live well in community with each other. Mother pigs love their babies. Pig farmers care about their pigs and work to make sure they live in a healthy environment. Healthy pig, healthy people eating that pig.

But the life cycle of the factory pig, as Farmer describes it so graphically, is such that I am seriously considering shopping for non-factory pork. Breeding sows are kept in tiny cages, are kept constantly pregnant or nursing, and the babies are weaned much earlier than nature intends. Once baby pigs are weaned they are kept in overcrowded cages standing on wire mesh above their own waste for their entire lives, which are sadly very short. They are fed hormones and antibiotics to help them grow big enough to butcher faster – which is really unhealthy for people. The work is so nasty that turnover is very high, illness and accident accounting for much of it. Factory housing is set up on a “company store” basis and wages are kept so low the workers can’t get ahead or move away. The stench that comes from the farms fills the air for miles and miles around the farms, and the tanks of pig waste that are being processed for fertilizer leak, within ‘acceptable’ parameters, into the ground water, also not healthy for humans. There’s much more in the novel, and in the back of the novel are recommended source materials if you want to study this more.

This goes way beyond swerving to miss a cat, or hand feeding a pelican. I don’t have any doubt at all but that caring for this part of creation, the pigs and cattle and chickens raised for our consumption on these factory farms, is certainly an act of love for humanity. For the workers who work in horrible conditions for little pay and no medical care. For the people living nearby whose air and water are being polluted. For the people who eat the meat saturated with growth hormones and other chemicals. Once again we see a situation where profit is considered to be more important than people, and much more important than animals or the environment.

Mind you, I don’t reject profit or capitalism. I do reject the notion that profit is more important than humans or animals or the state of our environment.

How does this tie into the ministry of reconciliation?
17So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.

One of our greatest trespasses against God has been our disregard for the earth and the creatures sharing it with us. The very first job God gave us was to care for the earth, to be stewards of creation. In Christ, in this new creation, God entrusts the message of reconciliation to us. Even after all we have done, or allowed through our inaction to be done, even then, God doesn’t count our past against us, but reconciles us to him through Christ. Having been forgiven we now must go out and continue the work of carrying the message to reconcile all in the world to each other and to God. As the earth and all its creatures are healed, so too will the people be healed. As the people of the earth are reconciled to each other and to God, they will also be reconciled to all the creatures of the earth.

The call of all Christians is to love one another. Christ frees us from our prejudices and the tendency to see the worst in others, so that we can care for each other as God cares for us. I believe there is good in everyone, that there is a God-spark in everyone, because in creating us God breathed the Spirit of life into us. I believe all people are capable of change, and that even the most hardened sinner, even the most unloving of all God’s children, can be loved until he or she learns how to love. Let us go out from this place today to carry the message of reconciliation, so that all persons might know each other as beloved children of God. Let us go out asking God to help us accept each other, as Christ accepted us.

1 comment:

Mary Jo Bradshaw said...

I love my Green Bible, and your post is very insightful. Thanks for caring about this precious planet we share!