This parable reminds us that we are all tenants in God’s creation. All of us have different circumstances, gifts, and resources that were given to us by God not just for our own sakes. They are gifts from God to allow us to work on His behalf to the best of our abilities and circumstances. It seems to me this parable is perfectly timed in the church year to coincide with the Fall planting season as well as St. Francis Day celebrations. The parable speaks of stewardship on a variety of levels even though it was originally aimed at a congregation that never heard such language. We are the “other tenants” to whom the “vineyard” has been given when it was given to us when Jerusalem lost it due to mismanagement.
So, it seems to me to appropriate to spend a few minutes reflecting on our individual efforts at practicing stewardship, care for the earth, ecology, the environment and climate change in light of the words in our creation story: God saw that it was good.”
Why should we care about creation? It’s a good question. Some may react: Aren’t people more important than nature? Doesn’t taking care of the earth distract from sharing the Gospel? Isn’t earth care just a liberal political issue? Shouldn’t I be more concerned about other causes? If we turn the conversation on its head we’ll see an entirely different viewpoint.
First of all, we should care about creation because it brings glory to God. From the very beginning, in Genesis, we read that God looked at creation and said this is “very good.” Scripture depicts praise to God coming from trees, fields, the seas; the sun, moon and stars; lightning, hail and snow; wild animals, cattle, birds and all the creatures of the earth. If these bring glory to God, then who are we to carelessly destroy them? Why care? Because caring for God’s creation means caring for that which brings God praise and worship.
Second, we care about creation because doing so helps other people. The second greatest commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself. The majority of major world problems today are rooted in environmental issues. For example, polluted drinking water and deforestation all play a significant role in increased poverty, hunger, and human trafficking. The bottom line is that caring for God’s creation produces positive results for people. Why care? Because God calls us to put the needs of others before our own needs.
Third, environmental issues are ethical issues. The way that we treat the earth reflects our values. There are ethical questions that directly correspond to environmental issues, and like it or not, the world is watching to see how God-fearing, God-loving persons respond. By living out of our corporate commitment to feed the hungers of the people of God we have a powerful opportunity to “be Christ” to a needy world. Why care? Because as Benedictines, as Christ-followers we aim to do what is right and wish to point others to God through our individual and communal living.
Fourth, we should care because God told us to. One of the first directives in Scripture is to do what God told Adam and Eve: tend and keep the garden. In creating us in his own image, God gave us a great privilege, and a great responsibility. Why care? Because God’s Word told us to care. Beyond that, as Benedictines we live with Benedict’s reminder to keep all things that belonging to the monastery clean and regard all goods as sacred vessels of the altar, aware that nothing is to be neglected.
I’m sure there are other answers you could give to the question: Why care? Simply put, stewardship values extend, through our cooperation, God’s care for creation – the work of the Divine Hand. A truly caring people strive to look to the needs of others, seek to be educated and react ethically to environmental issues, as Benedict reminds us, without murmuring, to our call to care for the earth.
We can’t do everything, but we can do something. We can’t do it all alone, but together we can make an impact. Look at something as simple as recycling bottle caps, aluminum cans and plastic bottles. We can limited the accumulation of “stuff” we personally create … perhaps only a handful alone but if we each contribute what we’ve used or collected from “around”, look at what we’ve kept from landfills and at the same time contributed to the project of St. Leo students to project to collect funds for purchase of a wheelchair for a needy child. And we can support our talk with our actions.
We can make an honest effort to consolidate trips to town, wait until we have several errands or passengers for the trips we do make. The gas we save, the wear and tear on the car may seem minimal but the “minimals” add up, just like pennies and coins in a jar where we throw our extra change. If you wait until Christmastime to count and wrap them … well – it makes a tidy contribution to the gifts for the elderly. If not all the time at least some of the time. If not in all ways, at least in some ways. We can take baby steps that turn into hops and skips and then dare to risk giant steps.
Despite the Saint Francis’ and all the statues in gardens, for generations of believers Francis’ feeling for nature has been admired rather than to emulated. Let us do more than simply admire. Let us strive to remember God gave us the privilege of caring and tending this garden we call Earth.
I believe we see a glimmer of hope this week that more people are waking up to the reality gun violence and the possibility of nuclear destruction. No one can close their eyes to the devastation of the Las Vegas massacre. In the wake of that reality, though, we have news on the side of peace. The Norwegian Nobel Committee has announced their decision to award the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize to ICAN: the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons “for its efforts to stigmatize, prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons which could destroy the planet.”
ICAN exemplifies the thinking of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German theologian martyr: “It is in keeping with being a saint to go beyond the call of duty, to dare to be a bit ridiculous, to be a little more extravagant … to try something beyond the ordinary. Action”, he said, “springs not from thought, but from a readiness for responsibility.” So let us pray for the insight and courage to dare to be ridiculous and a little extravagant.