Sustaining an Earth the Meek Will Want to Inherit The Link Between Christianity, Social Justice, and Eco

-Stewardship The Parable of the Sheep and Goats from Mathew, Chapter 25, reads: “31When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all of the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 32All of the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. 34 ”Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 37 ”Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 40 ”The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ 41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me. 44 They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ 45 He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for the least of these, you did not do for me.” As Lutherans and as Christians, we are called to do God’s will, on the Earth, among God’s people, acting on behalf of the sick, hungry, and imprisoned. The tie between the teachings of Christ and social justice is undeniable. We are called by Christ to nurture, protect, and love the marginalized and oppressed. Over the centuries, our struggle has been twofold. First, we must recognize the face of Jesus in the poor and oppressed, and second, we must then act on behalf of the poor and oppressed. For centuries, we did not recognize the face of God in the abuses of the church and the treatment of African-Americans, women, the Jewish, and countless others marginalized by economics and society. But we are learning. We are learning to recognize the face of God in Rwanda and in Dhafur and in countless other places. We are learning to recognize the face of God in the economic slavery of coffee and chocolate plantations in the Ivory Coast. We are learning to recognize the face of God in sweatshop laborers. We are learning to recognize the face of God in the plight of immigrants. Our initiative to act on behalf of the oppressed still lags, but we are learning. However, in the face of an undeniable environmental crisis, we as Christians and Lutherans are not yet recognizing the social justice implications of our wasteful and consumptive lifestyles. And, even as we begin to see the effects on the Earth, we are not doing enough to take up the yoke to affect change. We must take action on behalf of the energy poor and the environmentally marginalized. In the parable of the Sheep and Goats, there was no indication that either the Goats or the Sheep were responsible for the plights of the hungry, thirsty, imprisoned, and sick. We are not so guiltless when it comes to the environment. Not only are we not doing enough to help the poor and marginalized, we as Americans are actually responsible for perpetuating conditions that create populations of energy poor and environmentally marginalized. Data from the US Census and the Department of Energy indicates that Americans make up less than 5% of the world’s population and use more than 25% of the Earth’s energy production. If everyone could afford to and chose to consume the energy the way we Americans consume, the Earth would not sustain us. This is the Earth that God created to sustain life. The Earth that God appointed us as stewards over, to protect her and sustain her. If the Earth cannot sustain our lifestyles, it is not the Earth that is flawed; it is we. Our traditional sources of energy are not infinite. Our consumptive energy lifestyle drives up the costs of energy for others, putting pressure on those who have a hard time just making ends meet. When our energy is used in diligent pursuit of righteous lifestyles, we are fulfilling God’s will. However, when we choose to lead lifestyles of waste and excess, we create conditions that imprison the

poor and marginalized. Those poor in energy resources. Those marginalized by a deteriorating environment. What are we doing to ensure justice in our use of limited energy resources? What are we doing to ensure our consumption of energy is not harming those workers creating the energy on our behalf? We build 4,000 square foot houses, burning the fossil fuels that could have warmed Jesus. We view a car as a status symbol, refusing to carpool, walk, or use public transportation. And as we exploit the opportunity to buy and operate extravagant personal vehicles, we ignore the struggles of rural communities where children have no ability to get to school. We drive the cost of fuel up so that a poor community cannot send an ambulance or school bus to Jesus. We consume disposable products that squander resources. We buy food products from remote regions, dependent upon preservatives and extensive shipping costs, that contribute to destruction of the environment. We expose Jesus to harmful environments as she struggles in a textile factory or as he sacrifices in fields and mines. As Jesus sacrifices on our behalf, sometimes in economic slavery with no alternatives, we expose Jesus to pollution, pesticides, carcinogens, unsafe working conditions in mines, factories, and fields.. And through it all, we maintain health care and safety for ourselves oblivious to the struggles of those suffering in developing countries. The costs of our energy addiction are most felt by the poor. For their hard labor, they deserve opportunities to earn wages in a safe and healthy environment and in the creation of energy that does not pollute God’s creation. The poor do not have the option of living in healthy environments. The poor do not have the power to change market conditions. The poor do not have the power to fund research into clean, sustainable energy. The poor do not have the luxury. We as American Christians choose to spend that luxury on ourselves rather than on behalf of God’s sheep. The damning implication is that we are marginalizing others for convenience. Jesus died so that we might receive eternal salvation, not so that we could receive temporary convenience. Convenience of being able to burn up the Earth’s natural resources at unsustainable rates. Convenience of being able to remain ignorant rather than make the simple changes to our lifestyles to affect change. Simply using a different kind of light bulb saves you money and the Earth’s energy; that is not a sacrifice. Keeping tires inflated can add 5% to your fuel economy; that’s not a sacrifice. There are so many simple lifestyle changes we can take if we are just willing to educate ourselves. (For additional tips, visit www.lutherplace.org/documents/Eco_Steward_Tips.pdf) We are indeed Goats if we are not willing to make simple changes on behalf of the energy poor and environmentally marginalized. God’s creation is in crisis. From the carbon we are emitting into the atmosphere to the social injustice we spawn, we are neglecting our duties as Christians. We are killing ourselves. We are killing the marginalized in society even faster. Wasting energy is not a victimless crime. It is gluttony. It is an addiction like lust, alcohol, drugs, greed, or power. And it jeopardizes our future. Our children’s future. The future of others. The future of God’s creation. God gave his only Son that we might be saved. We failed to recognize Him; we abused and tortured him to preserve our status. God gave us the Earth that we might be sustained. We abuse and torture this planet, asking and taking far more than we need to sustain ourselves. We are trying to sustain ivory towers that separate us and hide us from the destruction we are bringing about. So what can we do about it? First, pray. Next, take action within our own congregations. We can educate ourselves and provide leadership for the country. Educate ourselves on ways to save energy and the impacts of our energy use on the world, the energy poor, and the environmentally marginalized. Provide leadership to a society wrapped up in gluttony and convenience so that we all work for a better world, providing energy to the poor and sustaining safe environments for the marginalized. Please join us, and the worldwide movement of congregations, working to become more energy conscientious. Join us, and the worldwide movement of congregations, working to provide education and advocacy on behalf of the religious environmental movement. Fifteen years ago, Earth Ministry, a multi-denominational ministry, started in Seattle based upon the relationship between Christianity and environmental stewardship. The Lutheran Volunteer Corps now has a placement with Earth Ministry, providing a tie to the Lutheran church. With a mission focusing on the mobilization of the Christian community to build a sustainable future, Earth Ministry has numerous resources available to help churches become greener. Visit their website at www.earthminsitry.org. More than a decade ago, the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago started an initiative called the Web of Creation. They offer resources for educating the church and the world about the impacts of environmental marginalization. They have resources for helping us reduce our carbon and energy

footprints. Their work is carried on by the Environmental Concerns Working Group, actively engaged in the Metro Chicago Synod. It is time for more ELCA congregations to get involved. It is time for action. Please visit the Web of Creation: www.webofcreation.org. So many people have done so much work to lay a path. Let’s meet up on that path. Ten years ago in California, the Interfaith Power and Light movement began as a means to put our faith into action, and find tangible ways to affect environmental change. Today, there are Interfaith Power and Light organizations across the country, linking concerned churches, synagogues, and mosques. Interfaith Power and Light has helpful resources to reduce our energy costs, including resources for purchasing efficient lights or assistance with pursuing energy audits. These actions help sustain the planet and reduce church operating costs. If you want a monetary incentive to taking on the energy crisis, review the escalating utility costs your congregations are paying. With some investment today, we can reap the savings over the years. In some cases, those savings will enable churches to survive. In others, it will provide additional resources for ministry. Visit their website at: www.theregenerationproject.org. There you can find links to local organizations (such as our favorite, the Greater Washington Interfaith Power and Light coalition.) Many congregations are doing more and have been doing more for longer than Luther Place has. We are certainly not role models. However, we are a member of this movement and are passionate about helping others join. If there is anything Luther Place can do to help your congregation, please contact us at info@lutherplace.org. We can suggest action plans for your congregation and provide resources to help individuals and groups reduce their ecological footprint. And we can learn from you, walking side by side as a group of saints and sinners, redeemed through grace, living in faith, destined to sin but trying to do better. It is past time for the Christians and churches that make up the ELCA to engage ourselves and the world on the global environment crisis. It is a crisis with roots in Christianity and social justice. It is time to take up the Cross and support the gauntlet laid down by the Web of Creation and countless other Christian forums on the environment. We need to sow seeds throughout the ELCA, in every congregation. This is but another step in the ever-evolving reformation of Christ’s church. Let us join together in this inherently Christian struggle. In the 25th Chapter of Matthew, before the parable of the Sheep and Goats, is the parable of the Talent. In the time of Jesus, a talent was a measurement of weight, and in financial terms, was the amount of gold, silver, or bronze equivalent to that weight. A talent was a significant amount of money. In this parable, a rich landowner entrusts three slaves with managing ten talents, two talents, and one talent respectively. Upon his return, the landowner called upon his slaves and asked for an accounting of the money. The first two invested wisely, doubling the landowner’s money. The third, for fear of losing the money, simply hid the talent rather than investing it. While he was able to return the landowner’s talent, the landowner was displeased with his stewardship and threw him out of the household. In Matthew as in Luke, the point of the parable is that “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much, and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much.” God appointed us stewards of creation. Jesus left us with these talents two-thousand years ago. What have we done with those talents? We have created a class of energy poor and a class of environmentally marginalized. What are we going to do with the talents before Jesus comes again? “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.” – Martin Luther Submitted in faith and humility by the Eco-Stewards of Luther Place Church, Washington, DC.