You have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone, which do not see or hear or know; but the God in whose power is your very breath, and to whom belong all your ways, you have not honored. (Daniel 5:23)
Episcopalians read the story of Daniel interpreting the writing on the wall for King Belshazzar in our Daily Office readings for today and tomorrow (Daniel 5:1-12 and Daniel 5:13-30). These readings just happen to fall on Earth Day and the day after this year. For those wanting something chosen intentionally for Earth Day, our calendar provides a collect and lessons remembering John Muir, Naturalist and Writer, and Hudson Stuck, Priest and Environmentalist. But in many ways, I find the readings from Daniel more appropriate for Earth Day 2015.
Daniel names Belshazzar's sin: praising idols instead of the true God “whose power is your very breath”. Daniel notes that Belshazzar should have known better because he had seen his own father, Nebuchadnezzar, suffer the consequences of his pride. The writing on the wall spells out the consequence. God “has numbered the days” of Belshazzar’s kingdom. By the time Belshazzar saw the writing on the wall and understood the message, it was too late.
Our sin this Earth Day is that we have set idols of material and psychological comfort and comparatively short-term economic gain above following God’s commandment to care for God’s creation. Like King Belshazzar, we should know better. We have all of Scripture to tell us stories of people who set selfish goals ahead of obedience to God, and we have science to tell us what to expect to unfold from our failure to care for creation at least as much as we care for our temporary wealth and comfort. Scientists also tell us that this a critical point in our history. We know that we face worsening climate disruption under the best of circumstances, and if we don’t cut our greenhouse gas emissions very significantly and very soon, those disruptions will be more and more catastrophic. Our days may well be numbered.
Creation care is something that the church in the United States tends to tack on to our thinking, our prayers, and our budgets after other items considered more essential to our mission. Environmental stewardship is treated like something new instead of an essential piece of Christian spirituality that we are reclaiming and re-acknowledging.
Repentance is in order this Earth Day. We repent certainly for the damage we have done to God’s creation and the effects of that damage on our sisters and brothers and other living things around the world, but we also need to repent for the damage we have done to our relationship with God through our failure to care for God’s beloved creation. Like Belshazzar, we have allowed our hubris to get in the way of a wholesome relationship with God. The Catechism teaches (p. 848, The Book of Common Prayer) that sin is “the seeking of our own will instead of the will of God, thus distorting our relationship with God, with other people, and with all creation.” Surely that is a sin to confess before God this Earth Day.
The Anglican Communion adopted the Five Marks of Mission several years ago. The Fifth Mark of Mission is “to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth”. A look at budgets at all levels and at where we put our energy, prayers, attention, and our investments show that environmental stewardship, considered essential to the church’s mission, is poorly funded and often neglected. By including creation care in the Marks of Mission, we demonstrate that on some level we know this is essential to the church’s work, but yet we fail to act as if this were an essential piece of the church’s work.
Please pray with me this Earth Day for us to truly repent and to find the grace, wisdom, and love to heed the writing on the wall before it is too late.