“Consider the Lilies”
Relationship is the essence of creation. We live as created and Creator, as well as sibling, partner, and members of the interdependent life we are given. God has created in such a way that everyone’s faithfulness is needed to live well. We live each day trusting each person will keep to one lane on the road. We are a ‘love your neighbor’ religion. More deeply, Jesus also asked us to consider the lilies.
Let us reflect for a moment on our relationship with creation. According to the July second issue of The Week, 72% of the west is under severe drought conditions as it is reckoned according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, and more than 25% is in an ‘exceptional’ drought, the most extreme category. The current drought is on track to become the worst in at least 1200 years according to Kathleen Johnson of University of California: Irvine. For many, wildfire is now a climate condition and not a season. According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the entire Badger state is impacted by global climate change. Communities of color, tribal nations, and low-income communities feel the impact physically and economically when we experience deaths due to extreme heat and flooding events impact drinking water. Toxic waste is often left behind in our cities. A spiritual and physical staple to Native Americans in Wisconsin, wild rice is an early indicator of climate change. Wild rice is vulnerable to a range of climate impacts, from changes in water levels to increases in temperature. Climate change may move the plant’s habitat farther north, which threatens a way of life for many tribal nations in Wisconsin. These conditions and many more cry out for climate justice.
While some may deny the human impact on climate change, our faith calls us to respect the nest that God has given us and our neighbor. When Genesis 1:26 says, ‘let them have dominion over…’ that word we render, ‘dominion’ in the Hebrew means, ‘responsible care.’ It is the care of shepherding the whole for the purposes of the shepherd. In Philippians 2:5-11, Paul reminds the church that, ‘he emptied himself.’ God’s self-emptying in Jesus Christ is the way of God’s living in the world for the redemptive and salvific good of creation. If we join God where God is, we live in ways that empty our consumption patterns of waste. We empty our lives of greed, and we consider living with the earth in ways that more functionally love our neighbors. God’s self-giving in Jesus the Christ does not worry about running out of self-giving compassion but trusts that self-giving love is enough for the healing of the universe.
It sometimes costs more to change the light fixtures in the church or make cooling and heating systems more energy efficient. Once the windows are installed, we have made a long-standing decision about efficiency. Perhaps the pandemic taught us that we can be nimble about ministry and rely less on buildings. Might we make these considerations more easily if the earth were in our prayers? Climate justice is another way of increasing racial justice and radical inclusion. John Wesley called us to personal and social holiness. What might happen to our social holiness if we regularly and prayerfully considered the lilies? What might be our witness if the church’s self-giving cared for the planet and its people more than the church’s preservation? Let’s consider our carbon footprint and planetary health as an opportunity to witness to our reliance on Jesus the Christ who’s self-giving makes us whole. Thank you for your ministry in the world God loves.
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung has served as resident bishop of the Wisconsin Annual Conference since September of 2012. Prior to leading the Wisconsin Conference UMC, Bishop Jung served eight years as bishop of the Northern Illinois Conference (Chicago area).