“I beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called… with all humility …There is one body and one Spirit.. one hope…one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Creator of all, who is over all and works through all and is within all…You must stop living the kind of life the world lives. You must give up your old way of life; you must put aside your old self; which is being corrupted by following illusory desires…Your mind must be renewed by a spiritual revolution.”
How are we to hear these words from Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians today when smoke from climate-exacerbated fires filled our air this past week? When many in Congress seem to be more concerned about stoking division than addressing our problems? When the map of COVID vaccination rates looks a lot like voting patterns in our last Presidential election? When our divisions threaten not just our ideas about how we are to live but our very lives?
Paul was addressing a community divided by differing religious roots, who came to follow Jesus in spite of extremely different philosophical ideas, cultural traditions, and life experiences. Paul’s appeal to them is to embrace what unites them rather than be distracted by their differences. He recognizes that it is only through unity that we can live as God calls us to live.
Hidden within Paul’s words is also a message that we need to take to heart today – an invitation to oneness not only with other people but with the earth. Paul, I am quite sure, could never have imagined the issues we are facing today with a climate on fire. But, his words are prescient.
His first invitation to us is to live with humility. Often when we consider the meaning of the word humility, we might first think of someone who is self-deprecating or self-effacing. Someone who is not proud or boastful.
However, the root of the word humility comes from “humus” – the same root of the word for human – which means “of the earth.” From this perspective, to be humble is to remember who we are: people of the earth.
In 2009, when I was a student at One Spirit Interfaith Seminary, Frank Menusan, a Native American elder, taught that humility is at the foundation of Native spirituality. In this perspective, humans ought to acknowledge who we are in relation to the earth – that we are no better than any other part of the creation. In fact, the earth can continue without us.
Humility is also an invitation to remember that there is one Creator – and all of us are beloved children. According to the religious perspective of Sikhism all people, equally, have to bow before God, so there ought to be no hierarchies among or between people. Humility before God can be a pathway to unity.
Because Paul does not want us to miss the point, he is emphatic about the call to oneness – one body, one spirit, one hope, one faith and so on… one God who works through all and is within all.
When we hear this, conditioned as we are by our Western context, we likely only hear a call to oneness with other humans. This has been a fundamental error in the Christian worldview since the advent of the modern West and the emergence of the Renaissance, Scientific Revolution, and the Enlightenment. In his seminal 1967 essay, “The Historical Roots of our Ecologic Crisis,” Professor Lynn White made the case that a theology of dominion over nature paved the way for the abuses of earth that began in the industrial era.
The traditional Christian view that many of us grew up with – drenched in dualism – that humans are superior to earth; men superior to women; whites superior to blacks; Europeans superior to indigenous people – Professor White and others now recognize as a perversion of the Biblical vision of the goodness of creation and the call to live in unity with God, the earth, and one another.
When Paul says that God works through all and in all, we can understand that he does not just mean all people. The spiritual revolution WE NEED is to recognize that the presence of God is in all the created world! The unity we are called to live is with each other and the earth.
Indeed, Paul continues to be right. We can no longer live the way the world lives. We have to give up our old ways of living. We must give up our illusory desires: for more, for faster, for what’s in it for me and “my people.”
Our planet is giving us a very clear message, a message that echoes Chief Seattle, “We are part of the earth and the earth is part of us…What befalls the earth befalls all the children of the earth…All things are connected like the blood that unites us all…Whatever humans do to the web, we do to ourselves.”
Our Climate Emergency is no respecter of national borders, political philosophies, religious understandings, our personal viewpoints, or any other human-made distinctions. The fires that burned on the West Coast created the smoke that covered parts of Canada and the U.S. COVID-19 doesn’t care whether or not you think vaccines are safe. It’s going to do a lot more damage to the unvaccinated than the vaccinated. Without a truly unified response to the pandemic, the virus will continue to mutate and find hosts that will keep all of us from living more fully.
Paul’s call to put aside our “old self” is a call to lay down our fear-driven, ego-driven agendas, and instead to recognize and embrace the ways that Christ’s love frees us to lead lives of self-sacrificial love.
There is a circle here… By recognizing and living out of our oneness with the earth, we promote the well-being and unity of humanity. As it is now, the richest nations in the world contribute most to our climate emergency and the poorest nations and poorest peoples are most likely to suffer. It is our responsibility to live differently – to live in harmony with nature – for the benefit of others, especially the poor who are most effected by our climate emergency.
Likewise, it is going to take all people coming together to protect the earth. Healing the earth is not just a project for some of us, it is a calling to all of us. All that we do as Christians, as followers, comes only after we are set free to love and that love MUST include love of the earth. To lead a life worthy of the calling to which we have been called in 2021 is to live in line with God’s intent for all creation.
A Native Mexican elder, (Jose) Sanchez likes to say, “To live as a whole human being is to live in balance, understanding our connection to people, to Earth and to spirit; to hurt one of these is to hurt all of these; to love one of these is to love all of these.”
At a time when so many people are disconnected from church and religion; when people are more likely to be connected to their devices than nature, we are called to embrace a renewed spiritual worldview and to engage in a spiritual revolution. It is time for a resacralized worldview that recognizes the Divine in all people, all creatures, and the Creation and takes action to heal the divisions we have created between ourselves and others; between ourselves and the earth.
As truly horrific as our climate emergency is, the earth is trying to tell us something: we are to think and act as one – or we humans will be none. And our own experience here at the AVC shows us that when we get together with others – with a singular, unified purpose – to be active, healing stewards of the earth – we discover that our connection to God and each other grows stronger. We have never faced a greater challenge. We have never had a greater opportunity. The author of “Nature’s Best Hope,” Douglas Tallamy, suggests: “It is quite possible that historians will call the coming decades ‘The Age of Ecological Enlightenment.” Let’s hope and pray and act as if he is correct.
Rooted and grounded in love, we must engage in a spiritual revolution – to walk a new path and write new stories of unity with each other and all of creation. The creatures of the earth, including our children and grandchildren, are counting on us. Amen.