Easter & Earth Day: No, Your Righteousness has Nothing to Do with Recycling

Jason Micheli —  April 19, 2018 — 4 Comments

Joke:

What did the guy say after being hit by a Prius?

I didn’t hear it coming.

Actually, it doesn’t work as a joke because we all know the guy would’ve heard, if not the engine, then the Prius’ radio tuned into NPR.

Until very recently, my wife and I were the doting owners of 2 Ford Broncos, which collectively got about 11MPG. We’ve only got her superior, classic Bronco now.

It’s not only kick-ass awesome, as a classic car, it’s also culpable for less of a carbon footprint than all those shiny new silent Priuses churned out every week by factories; nonetheless, driving the Bronco around on a Sunday afternoon is a reliable way to elicit self-righteous jeers from the electric car crowd. So, admittedly, I approached the question from a jaded place when a friend recently asked me for my thoughts on how we, as Christians, should reflect on Earth Day this coming Sunday.

My first thought:

Earth Day this Sunday? No, I’m sorry but according to my calendar, the one marked by colors (white, green, purple, and red) and cross and creche, this Sunday isn’t Earth Day it’s the Fourth Sunday of Eastertide- also known as Good Shepherd Sunday.

The takeaway for this Sunday is that we’re just sheep in desperate need of a Shepherd to take care of the verbs in our world; therefore, it’s not our job to make the earth come out okay anymore than it’s the sheep’s job to landlord the Shepherd’s estate.

I was only being slightly tongue-in-cheek.

Obviously the Principalities and Powers who put Earth Day on a different calendar did so for very understandable reasons. It’s freezing 3 weeks into the baseball season. I don’t really care about polar bears but I do care about Ryan Zimmerman’s On Base Percentage: climate change is real (sorry, Donald). Obviously, its good to recycle, invest in renewable energy, make the world a better place, leave no trace, yada yada yada. You’ll hear no quibble from me. We try to do all that in our house.

Recycling, reusing, reducing waste-

Those are good things to do.

But doing them does not make me or you ‘good.’

Or (sorry) godly.

According to my calendar, more important than what we do with our aluminum cans is the message (and unlike Reduce/Reuse/Recycle, it’s a message available nowhere else) that Jesus is the Good Shepherd crucified for your sins and raised for your justification whether you separate your paper from your plastic or not

All the ways we construct sentences with imperatives like “faithful Christians must_______” obscure the irrevocable indicative of our justification.

It’s true, as Christians are quick to point out, that God gave Adam (i.e., all of humanity) the role to tend the garden that is God’s creation. Christians are less nimble in noticing, however, that Jesus is called the Second Adam not you or me. The stewardship role over creation given to Adam belongs to Christ the New Adam now not to us. We’re sheep ‘in’ the Good Shepherd not ‘next’ to him; the tending role that was the Old Adam’s is Christ’s now. By our baptism, we are not the New Adam but we are in the I Am who is.

Stanley Hauerwas argues the United Methodist Church’s position against nuclear armament, in its (understandable) haste to rescue the Earth from destruction betrays a lack of eschatological conviction in Jesus Christ as the Risen Lord. Hauerwas’ point is that a correlative of our confession that the Risen Jesus is the present Lord, who has promised to return in future glory, is that it’s not our calling to make the Earth and its history come out right.

Indeed, as Christians, we believe by Cross and Resurrection the Earth and its history already have come out right. The same argument Hauerwas makes about nuclear weapons could be levied against those Christians who construe Earth Day in apocalyptic dimensions.

According to the Eastertide calendar, God has erased all our records by Christ’s death and raised us all by grace with nothing but Christ’s perfect record. By baptism, in other words, we’ve been clothed in Christ’s perfect righteousness. We’re justified by Christ alone through faith alone.

In other words:

What we do with our paper or plastic-

It can never chip away at the perfect score we permanently possess in Christ.

Ergo-

A proper understanding of Earth Day has nothing to do with our “Christian” responsibility to God (such hortatory only renders the Gospel the Law) but to our neighbor in the form of our children. What bin into which we drop our bottles and cans has nothing to do with our status as “good” Christians (the only goodness any Christian possesses is the alien goodness of Christ’s goodness reckoned to us) but it has everything to do with our status as good neighbors.

Honestly, one of the reasons people hate Earth Day is that it becomes but another occasion for self-justifying sinners like us to keep score over and against our neighbors, to practice our spiritual but not religious piety before others. Isn’t it telling how the shame-based, Law-laying language we once used for sex has just been transferred to how we speak about food and fitness and creation-care? For Christians, though, Earth Day isn’t an obligation of the Law. It’s an invitation that follows from the Gospel.

Knowing there’s nothing we “have” to do, no position we “have” to hold, to be counted as “authentic” Christians (because the only righteousness we possess is Christ’s own gratuitously imputed to us) we’re free to care for creation for the sake our neighbors and children.

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4 responses to Easter & Earth Day: No, Your Righteousness has Nothing to Do with Recycling

  1. That’s a little curmudgeonly. I jokingly tell my kids to get their extra food in the yard waste, not the garbage, otherwise it makes Jesus cry. So it’s a joke, but I still think care for God’s creation is an important part of our spiritual life. Just like care for our bodies, our relationships, etc.

  2. Sure, I get the argument. You have used it many times (thankfully because it is a overwhelmingly important teaching). Its less an argument and more a bottom line to those of us who are tempted to still believe we “earn” something by neighborly acts”. So, I will focus on your statement that, “Knowing there’s nothing we “have” to do, no position we “have” to hold, to be counted as “authentic” Christians … we’re free to care for creation for the sake our neighbors and children.”And that is important to hold to for many of our pseudo-sacred (in our mind) actions to live out our self-directed lives.

  3. Ben, my Bible has the ubiquitous John 3:16-17, which reads like this, “For God so loved the world (kosmos in Greek), that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God sent not his son into the world (still kosmos) to condemn the world (still kosmos), but that the world (still kosmos) might be saved through him.” Not only that, but Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven…” The Hebrew Bible begins with creation and on the 6th day, God said “it is very good.” Why would God say that? The first recorded interaction between humans and God is very tender, with God inventing companionship, a companionship that is a reflection of the relationship between God and humans- modeling the kind of relationship that we were created for. So, we were made to walk in the garden with God and our companions. Now, to bookend the thoughts, Revelation 22 depicts the New Jerusalem coming down to earth- we don’t go to heaven, it’s right here. And there again is an idyllic garden, “And the leaves on the trees are for the healing of the nations.” Seems like God cares about the earth more than you do. I’ll take my advice from God, thank you!

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