Environmental Stewardship Commission

Episcopal Church in Minnesota

Upcoming Activities:

Next Meeting:

Friday-Saturday, March 31-April 1, 2006 at St. Andrew's by-the-Lake Confessor Episcopal Church, Duluth, MN

Special Project for 2006:

Mary Brown Environmental Center in Ely, MN Details now available.


Resolution on the Spirituality of Food Production

Resolution on Church Buildings and Grounds

Resolution on Creation Season

Resolution on Green Congregations

On our Website:

Environmental Events:
Special Project for 2005:

Lectionary Reflection

For River Sunday

Year A, Proper 21

The reflections on this page are part of a request from David Rhoads, Professor of New Testament, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, for MEESC members to offer ecological sermon notes for the alternative lectionary lessons for Creation Season Sundays in 2005 for use by pastors. This is the fourth of the selected Sundays, September 25, 2005, which corresponds in the Lectionary used by the Episcopal Church as Proper 21.

In the "alternative lectionary lessons" of the Revised Common Lectionary, the readings are from the following: Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16; Philippians 2:1-13; and Matthew 21:23-32 OR Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32; Psalm 25: 1-8; Philippians 2:1-13, and Matthew 21:23-32

Psalm excerpt for today (Psalm 65:9)

The river of God is full of water

Sermon for River Sunday by John G. Gibbs, PhD

Rivers of Water

The Gulf Coast catastrophe has shocked us all. From northern Minnesota where I type this, as throughout our nation from all our communities, however remote from scenes of that disaster, widening circles of shock and empathetic bewilderment extend outward from hearts broken, minds at high alert, and in some cases from faith shaken.

No first day of September was ever in our experience like this. At this moment when I am writing on September 1, some wonder about our vulnerabilities being magnified by such close proximity to the 4th anniversary of 9/11. What will happen this September 11? Will there be another record-breaking hurricane next week or next month? What will be the social and economic consequences across the nation of gasoline and heating-fuel prices far above the capacity of millions to pay? How will the ten thousands of survivors be fed, clothed, housed, given water, be wrapped around with new communities, and warmly challenged to hope again?

To be sure, valiant and sometimes very sacrificial actions have already been undertaken to relocate those who can be moved, and to bring aid and comfort to those who are trapped amid the ruins. Alarmed notice has been taken, statewide emergencies declared, federal assistance summoned, voluntary contributions made. All these bespeak the national sense of community that remains alive among us for our common good. For that we all need to be thankful and supportive, even self-sacrificial.

At the same time, irresistible currents of catastrophe have all of a sudden laid bare for all to see some systemic deficiencies in American life. Those structural injustices cannot be addressed, much less transformed, by ad hoc reactive emergency aid. Look at your TV, and see what structural injustices have arisen among us, injustices that hold humanity and landscape in common bondage. Floodwaters and howling winds not only of that hurricane, but also of our human folly, have assailed too many of those who suffer.

Displayed in living color on our TV screens hour after hour are evidences of our racism, our economic injustices, and our ecological insensitivities. However many white folks have been grievously damaged by that hurricane, even to the point of death itself, within the inner city predominantly black people stand stranded behind open windows, on rooftops, or in flood waters up to their necks. Who can deny it?

The poorest have been hit the hardest, for their shelters were all along the weakest, and "savings" have for as long as a lifetime been a dream impossible for them to secure. Who can deny it?

Wetlands that used to protect New Orleans have been depleted by the very engineering that was supposed to save the city, all in defiance of ecological realities. Who can deny it?

The evidence comes in deluges from our TV screens, evidence that screams for us to change. We are not responsible for disasters that come upon us, but we must be responsible for our reactions to them, not only today and next week, but long-term for years to come, and for the common good. Indeed, our reactions must be displaced by proactive planning and enacting. That means: we must change, and eco-justice must be done.

Formerly "mainline" churches have for too long been AWOL about these matters at local levels, no doubt fearing reprisals from those who have vested interests in this or that oppressive status quo. Nevertheless, we must change and eco-justice must be done. For understandable reasons we within progressive Christianity have been cautious about taking prophetic stances so long as politics is the art of finding proximate solutions to insoluble problems, as Reinhold Niebuhr used to say. Nevertheless, we must change and eco-justice must be done. Knowing that leaders who get too far out ahead of their people cannot be effective, and cautioning ourselves to "go slow" on that account, we have understandably pulled our punches. Nevertheless, we must change and eco-justice must be done. We refrain, too, from rushing in where the angels of expertise fear to tread. Nevertheless, we must change and eco-justice must be done.

Eco-justice? What is That? It is wholeness and health in relationships. It is "wellness" or balance in relationships within humanity, and between humanity and the whole earth. It is pristine peace from God, peace that "passes all understanding" when it reshapes our economic institutions to produce "bottom lines" not only of trans-national wealth, but much more "bottom lines" of human rights and living wages for all. Eco-justice is God's peace built into our banks, our stock markets, our social services, our community infrastructures, our communications media, our departments of natural resources, our federal, state, and local governments. Eco-justice does not favor labor over land or land over labor, but embraces both in sustainable equilibrium.

Eco-justice is human development that the ecosystem can sustain across the centuries and millennia of our history. Eco-justice is a set of sustainable relationships between human communities and the environing eco-communities of flora and fauna upon which we all depend, and which we must preserve, tend, and husband.

Eco-justice cares as much for a thousand years from now as it cares for today. Eco-justice is pro-active for the future. It exercises foresight. It builds for the long haul those kinds of social and economic institutions that sustain the earth. It respects the "good" that God put into air and water and all created living beings.

Eco-justice tries to get out in front of natural and human-caused disasters. It does so by building those kinds of economic and social structures that leave no child left behind in poverty and ignorance, that condemn no race or color of people to substandard housing, that enable all persons and families to look ahead and save for their future, that encourage us to work together for universal health care, and that respect the forces of nature and build accordingly.

If you ask, "What is the text for this sermon?" I answer that the thrust of the Bible as a whole portrays God's eco-justice and calls us to make it our own. From the sagas of creation in Genesis to the visions of new creation in Revelation, God's People are expected "to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with [their] God" (Micah 6:8). Nothing else is as "good" for us as that. Only doing justice, loving kindness, and walking in humility with God brings the "common good" to suburb and inner city alike, to black and white and yellow alike, to red states and blue states alike. Why? Because doing justice changes us, loving kindness changes us, humility before God changes us, and not only us but also whatever world we build, whatever institutions we construct, whatever civilization we envision.

This was supposed to be a sermon on the fourth Sunday of Creation Season that focuses on "water" and "rivers of water." But we had to start where we are, feeling often overwhelmed by winds and waters of hurricane force on our Gulf coast. Starting there, we see earlier hurricane forces of our own making, of our own neglect, and of our own failures to change for the common good. By God's grace we can make those changes in lifestyles and in institutions that will bring to others "a cup of water to drink because [we] bear the name of Christ" (Mark 9:41).

What a change it will be in us and in our society when the "living water" that Jesus offered to the oppressed Samaritan woman at a well (John 4:7ff.) shall transform us and all we build and hope for until systemic injustice is overcome, and eco-justice is accomplished for the good of us all.

"There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God" (Ps. 46:4) That legendary sacred river flows from God's throne until the salty waters of the Dead Sea become fresh, and fruit trees flourish in desolate desert (Ezekiel 47:1-12). Because "the river of God is full of water," the earth is "greatly enriched" (Ps. 65:9), and redemptive change is possible for all of us.

Loving our nation enough to see her misdeeds and work for her change, we remember that "river whose streams make glad the city of God," we partake of its "living water," and we share it with our neighbors on the Gulf coast and anywhere else. The river of God does not stand still.

John G. Gibbs, PhD, a retired theologian, attends Trinity Episcopal Church, Park Rapids, MN. He originally wrote these notes in 2005. John and we welcome your comments. Please address your comments or additional reflections to John Gibbs or any MEESC member, or mail them to:
MEESC c/o C. Morello 4451 Lakeside Drive Eveleth, MN 55734-4400 USA

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