"The Great Pacific Garbage Patch" by Pastor A.J. Houseman
Have you ever heard of The Great Pacific Garbage Patch?
That there is a giant patch of garbage all stuck together in the pacific ocean roughly twice the size of Texas?
Yeah, it is alarming. You can read all about it on the National Geographic’s website.
And you may be wondering what we are doing to clean it up? … Nothing.
It is far enough from any country’s land mass that no country claims responsibility over it and isn’t going to spend the money on it. AND even if we started now, The National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Debris Program has estimated that it would take 67 ships one year to clean up less than one percent of the North Pacific Ocean.
And you may be thinking, well Pastor A.J. is it hurting anyone? And the answer is yes. It is hurting quite a lot.
You see there are different types of suffering in our world.
Suffering is the pain that humans and all of creation experience emotionally, physically, and spiritually throughout life caused by natural and moral evils. Natural evil is the evil that human beings and creation experience at the hands of nature and natural law.
Natural evil is maybe not even evil at all. Carnivorous animals are created to hunt and kill their prey. Animals who are herbivores also kill and eat plants. The world is created with life and death, with an ever-changing evolution of renewal. It is inevitable that all created things will die, that is the natural law, and through this death we see new life being born in its wake.
As a tree dies and rots it becomes fertilizer for new plants to grow. An animal that is killed for food gives nourishment and life to the animal that consumes it. As the earth itself revolves around the sun it ages and changes. The earth has changed significantly in it’s billions of years of existence, both giving life and fostering death. For humans, life is limited too, even the healthiest person on earth will die, and this is natural.
On the other hand
Moral evil is the evil that is inflicted upon humans and creation by sinful human beings. I define sin as an action or omission of action that causes harm to one another, ourselves, or creation. This moral evil is inherent into all human beings. Martin Luther describes this as Simul Justus et Peccator, we are simultaneously Saint and Sinner.
As created beings we have a capacity to do enormous amounts of good and also enormous amounts of destruction to ourselves and the world around us. This type of suffering which is embedded into the world is systemic AND individual. We, individually, make choices that cause suffering or helpful means of compassion.
And our structures of society can also cause suffering to other humans and creation by its very nature of how it is designed. To keep the rich rich and the poor poor. And our endless desire for consumption has a toll on our Earth. This type of sin is called structural evil. The sins we all participate in just by being a part of our society.
See we contribute to the destruction of our planet each and every day as humans. Sometimes we know it and often we do not. The emissions from our cars, the amount of plastic that we use each day that might end up in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The unethical sourcing of the clothes that we wear, it all contributes slowly to damaging the created world that God entrusted we, human beings, to care for.
Dr. Cynthia Moe-Lobeda is a theological ethicist who currently teaches at California Lutheran University. In the next few weeks I will mention things from her book, “Resisting Structural Evil: Love as an Ecological-Economic Vocation” quite a lot. This is a live changing, eye opening book, and I highly recommend reading it. In one place in Resisting Structural Evil, she brings to our attention trash export. Did you know that in the United States we export our trash and recycling? We send it to poor places in this world for those people and those places to live with our waste pollution.
Who are we hurting? … the least of these among us, our created world, and maybe by subsequent, God.
The work of reconciliation has a few pieces to it. In order to resolve or restore dissonance, we first have to recognize it and our roles in it. This is the repentance piece.
Most Sundays, we begin our services with confession and forgiveness. We all say together something like this, “we confess that we are captive to sin… we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone… we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.”
What are the things we leave undone? How about all the steps we could be taking to try harder to limit the damage humans cause on this world.
What about the things unknown? These are the structural sins that we don’t even realize that we are a part of.
Dr. Moe-Lobeda says in Resisting Structural Evil, “original sin may signify the socially transmitted state of being entangled in structural injustice from birth by virtue of participation in a society built on social injustice and ecological violence.” **(p. 63)
Step 1: repent. Step 2: do something about it. This is the piece of love and compassion… our mission as followers of Christ.
In our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus puts us to this challenge. He stands in the arena and says, “shoulder your cross and follow me. To gain life, we must lose ourselves in this.” Jesus beckons us, he calls us to join him in the reconciling works of God.
And you might be thinking, but Pastor A.J. this is just how it is. This is just the way the world works. Well, just because this is the way it has been, just because this is the socially ingrained way of living and being, doesn’t mean we have to continue to live this way!
Jesus was a game changer. Jesus acted with vulnerability and courage, taking on the world’s sins. Let us shoulder our cross and follow him. The very nature of being a Christian is to be a game changer.
What if, what if we began to treat the Earth as a neighbor. What if we put to practice what Jesus asks of us, “love our neighbor as yourself.” or the Matthew 25 stuff, “to clothe, feed, care for the poor and the sick. Because when you do this to one of the least of these, you do it to me” What if we began to see the Earth as one of the least of these?
The Earth is sick. The Earth is losing her Ozone layer making her naked to the sun. The Earth is made poor and hungry by the continual stripping of her resources without replenishment.
Let us follow the call to stand in the arena and show compassion for the created gift from God all around us. To fight for it, to serve her as our neighbor. Sharing the compassion of God’s love with the physical world around us.
But remember this, like everything we are called to do as followers of Christ, we are not expected to fix it alone. The weight of the world is not on your shoulders. We are in this together. As Vicar Elizabeth Eckman shared with us, “ubuntu: I am because we are.”
Marked with the courage of Christ, let us go out into the arena and compassionately fight for God’s created world. Amen
**Moe-Lobeda, Cynthia D. “Resisting Structural Evil: Love as Ecological- Economic Vocation.” Fortress Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota. Copyright 2013