Sermon illustrations

The Environment/Creation Care

Cultivating Responsibility Towards the Future

Ironically, the best way to develop an attitude of responsibility toward the future is to cultivate a sense of responsibility toward the past. … We are born into a world that we didn’t make, and it is only fair that we should be grateful to those who did make it.

Such gratitude carries with it the imperative that we preserve and at least slightly improve the world that has been given us before passing it on to subsequent generations.

We stand in the midst of many generations. If we are indifferent to those who went before us and actually existed, how can we expect to be concerned for the well-being of those who come after us and only potentially exist?

David R. Carlin, Jr., Christian History, no. 25.

Easter Island and The Collapse of a Society

Jan Boersema has argued that even one of the icons of environmental catastrophe, the “collapse” of civilization on Easter Island, was probably not nearly so abrupt or catastrophic as many assume. It is true that the island was gradually deforested, but the changes occurred slowly The result was not a sudden collapse, but rather a slow decline in the wealth, variety of food and cultural richness of the society—a decrease in the quality of life.

This created a gradual sociocultural transition, of which the inhabitants themselves may not even have been particularly aware while they were in the midst of it. Much the same might be said of the environmental changes happening today. In retrospect the major changes we are causing will no doubt be obvious (as with the deforestation of Easter Island), but they are far less obvious for many of us living through them.

This phenomenon ought to warn us of the very real risk of sleepwalking into a situation where we have unknowingly degraded our natural environment to such an extent that its former richness—and the benefits it provides for human life and flourishing—is lost forever.

Taken from Let Creation Rejoice: Biblical Hope and Ecological Crisis by Jonathan A. Moo and Robert S. White (c) 2014 by Jonathan A. Moo and Robert S. White. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Extinction Around the Globe

The loss of furry mammals captures the public eye. The extinction of another few dozen beetle species—quite possibly not yet even known or cataloged—may not. Yet such losses may be equally troubling from an ecological perspective—and from a Christian perspective too, if we consider the diversity of creation as having value before the God who cares for every lily of the field, every sparrow that falls. Human-caused extinctions are nothing new, of course: whenever humans have colonized new areas, we have inevitably had dramatic effects on natural ecosystems.

In North America early humans wiped out, among other things, mammoths, several species of deer, moose and antelope, all ten species of North American horses and nearly all of the vast herds of bison that once roamed the plains. In New Zealand the colonizing Polynesian people who arrived seven hundred years ago destroyed much of the unique island ecosystem, which was then dominated by various unique species of bird, including the giant flightless moas and eagles with record-holding ten-foot wingspans. Within a century all of these New Zealand birds, together with half the other terrestrial vertebrates on the islands, were dead.

As a result of past extinctions, our children will never experience the beauty of a golden toad (not seen since 1989, now presumed extinct), the quirkiness of a dodo (extinct since the late seventeenth century), or the spectacle of a vast cloud of migrating passenger pigeons up to 2 billion strong darkening the sun and taking hours to pass overhead (as reported from North America in the nineteenth century; before the birds were slaughtered wholesale just so that their carcasses could be used for fertilizer). From being one of the most abundant birds on earth in the nineteenth century, passenger pigeons were hunted to extinction. Martha, the last known survivor of her species, died in captivity on September 1 1914, in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Taken from Let Creation Rejoice: Biblical Hope and Ecological Crisis by Jonathan A. Moo and Robert S. White (c) 2014 by Jonathan A. Moo and Robert S. White. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com


Meals in Heaven and Hell

I once heard a description of what meals are like in heaven. The saints are seated on either side of a four-foot-wide banquet table. The table is set with delicious foods on every plate. The only thing that appears out of the ordinary is the silverware. All the utensils have three-foot-long handles. The dinnertime rule is that everyone must eat using the long forks and spoons. Amazingly, the dining room in hell is designed exactly  the same. What makes heaven heavenly and hell hellish? In heaven, the diners immediately set about feeding their brothers and sisters across the table using the perfectly proportioned utensils, while in hell each person rages at the ill-fitting utensils as they attempt the impossible task of feeding themselves.

Our relationships to what we eat and to each other are important here on earth. We humans have the ability to eat a highly varied diet. We can eat fungi, mollusks, birds, grains, fermented foods, nuts, insects, flowers, tree sap, bees’ honey, fish, eggs, cow’s milk, and plant roots.

Who figured out that the bark on one tree made cinnamon and the bark of another made poison? We will never know. Our relationship to food is vital. Food is not an option. It is a necessity we can merely eat our fill, or we can be nourished. We can choose foods that are good for us or ones that do us long-term harm. Our choice of diets can encourage sustainable, ethical farming, or we can support agriculture that is out of sync with long-term planetary and human health.

Matthew Sleeth, Serve God, Save the Planet, Zondervan.

Our Changing Landscape

What we call “nature” isn’t the same nature our great-grandparents knew. Even if they lived as far south as Baltimore, they could cut eighteen-inch blocks of ice off ponds in the winter to cool their food in the summer. Now, thanks to global warming, we don’t get enough ice up here next to the Canadian border to do that.

Today my family lives on the Connecticut River in New Hampshire, sixty miles north of Dartmouth College. Dartmouth was founded to counter the liberal trends in Boston colleges, so it’s surprising that Dartmouth was the site of one of our nations’ first college protests. Students had finally grown tired of the kitchen workers plucking forty-pound salmon from the Connecticut and serving them day in and day out, week after week. Now there are plastic bottles and tires in the Connecticut, but no salmon.

Similar stories abound nationwide: No chestnuts on Chestnut Street, no elms on Elm Street, and soon no maples on Maple Street. In 1880, the residents of New York City ate half a million passenger pigeons [now extinct]. What if they had stopped to think before they “spent” the whole species? The great auk, the caribou, the blue pike, the parrot owl, and the Carolina parakeet are the top of a melting iceberg of God’s creation. They are gone forever. 

There is nothing that can be done about these vanished species, except to learn from our mistakes.As a society, we have far fewer natural resources in our “account” than our predecessors. We need to be more careful stewards or we will leave our children a legacy of malls, big-box stores, highways, houses—and worse—potential catastrophe resulting from global warming. If people of faith have no concern for the future, who will?

Matthew Sleeth, Serve God, Save the Planet, Zondervan

Re-Wilding and Restoring Balance to Nature

In 1995, the gray wolf was reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park after a seventy-year hiatus. Scientists expected an ecological ripple effect, but the size and scope of the trophic cascade took them by surprise.?

Wolves are predators that kill certain species of animals. But they indirectly give life to others. When the wolves reentered the ecological equation, it radically changed the behavioral patterns of other wildlife. As the wolves began killing coyotes, the rabbit and mouse populations increased. Thereby attracting more hawks, weasels, foxes, and badgers. In the absence of predators, deer had overpopulated the park and overgrazed parts of Yellowstone. Their new traffic patterns, however, allowed the flora and fauna to regenerate. The berries on those regenerated shrubs caused a spike in the bear population.

In six years’ time, the trees in overgrazed parts of the park had quintupled in height. Bare valleys were reforested aspen, willow, and cottonwood trees. And as soon as that happened, songbirds started nesting in the trees. Then beavers started chewing them down. Beavers are ecosystem engineers, building dams that create natural habitats for otters, muskrats, and ducks, as well as fish,’ reptiles, and amphibians.

One last ripple effect.

The wolves even changed the behavior of rivers—they meandered less because of less soil erosion. The channels narrowed and pools formed as the regenerated forests stabilized the riverbanks.

My point? We need wolves!

When you take the wolf out of the equation, there are unintended consequences. In the absence of danger, a sheep remains a sheep.And the same is true of men. The way we play the man is by overcoming overwhelming obstacles, by meeting daunting challenges. We may fear the wolf, but we also crave it. It’s what we want. It’s what we need.

Picture a cage fight between a sheep and a wolf. The sheep doesn’t stand a chance, right? Unless there is a Shepherd. And

I wonder if that’s why we play it safe instead of playing the man—we don’t trust the Shepherd.

…Ecologists recently coined a wonderful new word. Invented in 2011, rewilding has a multiplicity of meanings. It’s resisting the urge to control nature. It’s the restoration of wilderness. It’s the reintroduction of animals back into their natural habitat. It’s an ecological term, but rewilding has spiritual implications.

As I look at the Gospels, rewilding seems to be a subplot. The Pharisees were so civilized—too civilized. Their religion was nothing more than a stage play. They were wolves in sheep’s clothing. But Jesus taught a very different brand of spirituality.

Foxes have dens and birds have nests,” said Jesus, “but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” So Jesus spent the better part of three years camping, fishing, and hiking with His disciples. It seems to me Jesus was rewilding them.

Mark Batterson, Play the Man: Becoming the Man God Created You to Be, Baker Books, 2017.

Urbanization and Natural Disasters

Increasing urbanization also means that the capacity for a single disaster such as an earthquake or flood to affect a huge and growing number of people is now vastly increased, even compared to a century ago. In 2011, there were 450 cities in the world with more than 1 million inhabitants, totaling 1.4 billion people.

Of these about 60 percent, with a total of some 890 million inhabitants, are located in regions exposed to at least one risk of a natural disaster. The number of people liable to be killed or displaced in each event is actually increasing year by year, despite our developing scientific understanding of such disasters.

It is likely that within our lifetimes there will be a disaster that kills more than a million people; already we have exceeded two-thirds of that toll in a single earthquake in the mid-twentieth century when there were fewer huge cities.

Taken from Let Creation Rejoice: Biblical Hope and Ecological Crisis by Jonathan A. Moo and Robert S. White (c) 2014 by Jonathan A. Moo and Robert S. White. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Water: A Finite Resource

Water is an essential requirement for any form of life. The earth is blessed with huge volumes of water at the surface, which is one of the main reasons why it is habitable. Seventy percent of the earth’s surface is covered by sea, and the weather continually recycles fresh water from rain through rivers and soil. One of the remarkable features of our planet is that throughout the four-billion-year history of life, its surface temperature has stayed between the limits of 0° C (32°F), when everything would freeze, and 0-100°C (212°F), when all the water would boil off into space.

This is despite the intensity of the sun having increased by one-third over the same period. Had the temperature strayed outside the range 0-100°C (32-212°F), the earth would have ended up sterile with no life as we know it. The primary reason for this stability is feedback from myriad biological processes. From a Christian perspective, it can be seen as Gods providence in sustaining a world in which life can flourish.

But even so, the water supply is a finite resource. We are polluting the seas with rubbish and chemicals and allowing their acidity to change dramatically as a result of greenhouse gas emissions. So much water is extracted from rivers that already a quarter of the world s river basins run dry before they reach the sea. The Aral Sea in the former Soviet Union, once the world s fourth largest lake, is now reduced to a quarter of its former size and is desolated due to diversion of water from the major rivers flowing into it. Once the Aral Sea was a major fishery yielding 44,000 tons of fish per year; now it produces none.

Taken from Let Creation Rejoice: Biblical Hope and Ecological Crisis by Jonathan A. Moo and Robert S. White (c) 2014 by Jonathan A. Moo and Robert S. White. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

The World Is Getting Crowded

No one likes to talk about human population. Christians in particular are rightly wary of the ways in which population discussions have sometimes served to denigrate the value of human life and the blessing that children represent. Most of today’s environmentalists also ignore the issue, because it is too controversial. Others understandably fear that talking about population in the context of environmental challenges serves only to mitigate our own responsibilities: it allows us to blame the world’s problems on other people—or on too many people—rather than considering how our own lifestyles might need to change.

The unpredictable nature of population growth and its effects (all too evident in how some past predictions have proven spectacularly wrong) and the assumption that it cannot be slowed except through coercive, top-down policies like those used in China have further contributed to the failure of the issue to find traction in contemporary discussions. Yet to ignore population growth is to ignore one essential part of the equation that at the very least has to be recognized as affecting life on earth, even if we were to conclude that there is nothing to be done about it or that other issues must take priority.

The world is undoubtedly getting more crowded. At the time Jesus walked the earth at the start of the first millennium there were an estimated 300 million people dive. Now; near the beginning of the third millennium, there are over 7 billion (7,000 million) people (see figure 2.1). What is perhaps most remarkable is how much of the growth in human population has happened very recently and at an exponential rate of increase: we did not reach 1 billion people until the turn of the nineteenth century, it took another 127 years until we added another billion, but recently we went from 6 billion to 7 billion in a mere twelve years. At the moment, the global population is increasing at a rate approaching a quarter of a million people every day.

Every additional person of course adds to the impact that we have on the planet. We need more food and more energy, we consume more natural resources and we produce more waste. Moreover, as Christians in particular must recognize, it is only right that those in the poorer parts of the world are enabled to gain improved living standards, better nutrition and better access to electricity, water and natural resources. All of this adds to the demands on the earths resources. It drives home for us the need to manage the environment ever more carefully, to seek to live in ways that enable the flourishing of life on earth. We can no longer afford—if we ever could—to be careless, to assume that the ocean is so vast that fish stocks are endless and that it will absorb our waste products without change; that the soil can be made to produce however much we demand of it; that our aquifers will provide as much fresh water as we could ever want; or that our airborne pollutants will always be so dispersed as to have no effect.

Taken from Let Creation Rejoice: Biblical Hope and Ecological Crisis by Jonathan A. Moo and Robert S. White (c) 2014 by Jonathan A. Moo and Robert S. White. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com



See also Illustrations on Creation, Nature