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Edward F. Markquart

Books of the Bible - Romans
Christ's Spirit and the Earth

Romans 8:18-25

During this summer, we have been preaching a series of sermons. When we get into Romans, chapter eight, one of the finest chapters in the whole Bible, we meet the theme of us human beings wanting to be set free. A few weeks ago, we said that we human beings wanted to be set free of our flesh, our sinful nature, our unhealthy habits of personality, our defects of character.  We talked about the four particular faces of the flesh or sinful nature: our sexuality, anger, alcoholism and other addictions, and sinful ambition and envy. These are facet of our flesh, four areas of human weakness, four areas of our personality which are particularly vulnerable to sin. And we want to be set free of these sins. We all have parts of our personalities that trip us up and we pray to God, “Lord, please set me free from my foibles, set me free from my failures, set me free from the persistent things that I do wrong. Thank you for your forgiveness. I pray that you will now help me to grow in holiness, in wholeness, in goodness that changes  these defects.

Today, the Apostle Paul takes his argument one step further. In the epistle lesson for today, he says that the creation itself, God’s world, wants to be set free from sin. Just as I want to be set free from my compulsive deficits of character, so also the creation itself wants to be set free from the power of sin upon it. The earth is like me and I am like the earth; we both want to be set free of the power of sin in our lives. We both want to grow in holiness, in wholeness, in goodness.

Today, I would like to reread two verses for you, “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. The creation itself waits with eager longing for its liberation. The creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God.” Just as we, the children of God, are freed from sin, so the Apostle Paul looks forward to the time when the creation is free from sin.

All systems have warning signals.  For example, we have some plants in our house. And if we haven’t watered our house plants recently, they start drooping over. That is a warning a warning signal. What we do when the house plants begin to drop, we get some water, water the house plants, and miraculously, their leaves perk up and look healthy again. If you don’t water the house plant, the results are clear:  the house plant will die.

Cars have warning systems. On our dashboard are little red lights, and if something is wrong with one of the systems in the car, these red lights flash on the dash board. These are warning lights, warning signals, and you are to respond immediately to fix the problem. The point is, you had to fix the problem, and if you don’t, the results are catastrophic. I know catastrophic. That is, years ago, Jan’s car did not have little red lights for a warning system but needles instead of red warning lights. I did not watch the needles since I was accustomed to red lights.  The engine overheated; I blew up the engine. Let me tell you, it was catastrophic and costly.

Your body has warning systems. Everyone’s body has warning systems. A person can get light headed, have a lump in the breast, or get short winded when you climb the steps. You then know that it is time to go and see the doctor. There are literally hundreds of warning systems within our body, and when something isn’t right, we know we need to go see the doctor. Our bodies all have warning systems, and if you ignore the warning systems, you will die.

Marriages have warning systems. Like all human bodies have warning systems within them, so also all marriages also have warning systems within them. When a husband and wife are not talking with each other; or when the husband and wife use some excuse to away from the house; or when a husband and wife conveniently don’t physically and gently touch each other, these are usually warning signs that there is something wrong in the marriage. And like in every other situation, if marriages don’t recognize their warnings systems and do something about the problem, the marriage will be destroyed.

The same is true for our bodies, our cars, our house plants, and almost everything else under creation. The whole world has warning systems into it.

Do you remember when you were attending grades school and some one would push the fire alarm and it would go “clang clang clang.” Or today, the fire alarm goes off in a grade school and there are sounds of sirens and flashing lights.

It seems to me today the alarm has been set off around Mother Earth. It is as if there are all kinds of warning systems that something is wrong with Mother Earth right now. We have a choice: we can do nothing and this earth will become a catastrophic mess. I mean, you can ignore the warning systems on the planet and the planet will become even sicker than it is today and will die. Similarly, you can ignore warning systems on a car and it will destroy the engine. You can ignore warning systems on the human body and it too will die. You can ignore the warning systems in your marriage and it will die. And if you ignore the warning systems on Mother Earth, it too will die. That is just the way the world is. We have all kinds of warning systems going off about the state of health of the earth, and we have a choice, to do something about these warning signals or not.

I have two images of the earth in my mind. I have the picture of the earth from outer space, the image of a most beautiful blue planet against a backdrop of black infinity. The earth is so incredibly beautiful when photographed from high above the planet from a space capsule. The other image I have of earth is a close up picture of a duck caught in an oil spill. This duck gets caught in an old spill and it is covered with gunk. Someone is trying to clean the tar, the oil, the thick goo off of the duck. If the goo is not cleaned off of the duck, the duck will die. A question is asked: How do you prevent further tar, oil spills and gooy gunk from spilling on the earth? I feel that the earth is gradually being coated with a coat of gunk, a coat of oil and gradually we sense the earth may be dying.

Per the children’s sermon for today, I feel that one of the favorite rooms in God’s house is suffering from the consequences “kiddy litter.”

Let me give you some illustrations of the warning systems on the earth. In the past while he was alive, many of us watched the television series by Jacque Costeau, the Frenchman who would go down deep into the ocean in his bathysphere and studied the depths of the oceans. Jacque Costeau told us that the plankton in the ocean was dying rapidly and the percentage of plankton in the ocean floors was going down dramatically. Why is this so important? Because plankton is the number one resource for oxygen in the earth. If you don’t have plankton, you don’t have oxygen. If you don’t have oxygen, you don’t have people. So we ask questions: what is causing this depletion of plankton in the oceans? What is going on? What is happening to the plankton in the oceans?

Let’s say that we don’t go thousands of feet under water but that we go fifteen miles up into the atmosphere. Let’s go up to the upper ceiling of the ozone layer that surrounds the earth. We all hear about the ozone layer. There is a fear that there is a depletion of the ozone layer around us, that there are holes in the ozone layer above the polar caps. A few years ago, we were reading about fluorocarbons and we were not supposed to use our aerosol cans of spray because it was contributing to the disintegration of the ozone layer. We don’t hear much about that today. But because we do not hear much about that today, that does not mean the problem has gone away. … What happens when the ozone layer is depleted? Our protective shield from the sun’s rays will be diminished and we will have an enormous increase in the rate of skin cancer plus other problems.

We also know that there is a problem with the non-renewable natural resources. If you read the book, LIMITS TOG GROWTH, by MIT scholars, they discuss the exponential growth in the use of non-renewable natural resources. According to them, using our non-renewable natural resources at the current rates of consumption, the human race will be out of many of these resources like coal, cobalt, copper, iron, lead, magnesium and mercury within one hundred years. It appears to me that our grand children and great grandchild will face a significant shortage of many of the non-renewable natural resources if we continue to use these resources at the current rate we are using them.

So we talk about warning systems on this earth: the plankton, the ozone, the non-renewable natural resources. But we haven’t talked about the world population. The exponential growth of the earth’s human population is frightening. Already, the population of the earth has more than doubled in my lifetime. When I went to college, I recall that the population of the earth was two billion people. Then it was four billion. Within a few years, it will be six billion people on this earth. Six billion, then eight billion living on this little claustrophobic place called Earth. Six billion people dumping and polluting. And wait until the simplicities of the Third World countries develop their technologies and increase their standards of living, the pollution rates will accelerate.

What I am suggesting to you is that there are all kinds of alarms going off on this earth that God has entrusted to us. If you do nothing about the warning systems in the human body, it will die. If you do nothing about the warning systems in your marriage, it will die. If you do nothing about the warning systems in your car’s engine, it will die. If you do nothing about the warning systems in your house plants, the plants will die. If we do nothing about the warning systems on the earth, it too will die.

In today’s epistle lesson from the Apostle Paul, he says that the whole creation is groaning in agony, groaning like it has the pains of child birth, groaning like it has the pains of labor when having a child. Paul says, that this groaning and pain of the earth is the result of the consequences of sin. Unwittingly, nature has become involved in the consequences of human sin, the results of the sins of the human race.

The earth is not sinning willfully; the earth is experiencing the consequences of the sins of the human race. Paul is profoundly true. That is, sin is often the consequence of not what I do, but what someone else has done and I experience the consequences of their sin. For example, an alcoholic driving a car while under the influence of alcohol and his drunken driving kills my child or grandchild. It is not my sin that causes the death in my family but I experience the consequences of the alcoholic’s sin. So it is with the earth. The earth did not sin itself but has experienced the consequences of sin by humans.

In the text for today, just as you and I want to set free of our deficits of character, our unhealthy pieces of our personality, and just as God supplies us with the power of the Spirit of Christ that transforms our human spirits so that we make the necessary changes in our personal lives, so God also wants to free the earth itself from the sinful consequences that the earth is experiencing. Just as you and I want to be freed from the power of sin in the unhealthy pieces of our personalities, so also the earth wants to be freed of the power of sin and those destructive habits that are destroying the earth. The earth itself wants to be set free. The earth wants to be liberated from this destructive power of sin.  Both we ourselves and the earth want to be freed of the power and consequences of sin.

So what are we going to do about these alarms that are going off in Mother Earth all around us? Do we bury our sins in the sands and say, “It is too big of a problem for me. We can’t do anything about it. And so we do nothing except eat, drink and be merry and let our great grandchildren face consequences of our collective actions today.”

By contrast, I have yet to meet a very sick person who was diagnosed with cancer say, “I quit.” No, it is just the opposite.  Every person that I know who gets cancer wants to do something about it. They want to do something about that cancer, no matter how serious that cancer is. Everybody is like that. Similarly, I believe that Christians that are led by the Spirit of Christ want to do something about the cancers covering our earth.

In the Biblical text for today, it says that the whole creation is groaning in labor pains and then it says, “We are saved by hope.” When the Spirit of Christ is upon us, as we said last week, we know that we are the children of God, and as the children of God, we are filled with hope, we abound in hope, we bounce up with hope, and so we are hopeful as we participate in the liberation of the earth from the cancerous consequences of sin.

So what do we do? We need to be reminded that the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof. “This is my father’s world and let me not forget.” This is my father’s world and not my little sandbox. This past week, I have been trying to think of an analogy. That is, I am a guest in the Father’s house, in the Father’s mansion. My wife and I don’t live in a mansion, so the closest thing I can come to as a mansion is my brother’s home in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and he lives in a home which was the old governor’s mansion for the governor of Wisconsin. His house is unusually classy, formal and elegant. It is always immaculately clean and neat, and when we are there as a family, we would never mess us his home, we would never mess up his mansion. We are guests in my brother’s home. I will mess up my own home and my own living space, but not my brother’s mansion. I know I am a guest there. No “kiddy litter” left by me or mine in my brother’s mansion. It would not be right.

But, in the Bible, I am not a guest in the Father’s house but a child living in my Father’s house, and the earth is one of God’s favorite rooms in his house. In fact, I think that the earth is one of the most desirable rooms owned by God the Father. Of all the spaces and places in the universe, I think the earth must be one of the best living spaces.

I, as a child of God, do not own the Father’s home, but live in it. I live in the Father’s house which is not my own. Similarly, in our own home in lower Woodmont, we love our home in Woodmont just as God loves his home, the earth. Our kids don’t garbage up our home on Woodmont, and similarly, we God’s children do not garbage God’s house on earth. Our  don’t mess up our house, coat it with oil, gunk it with goo. It is our home, and our children take good care of it. Our kids take pride in their home. They take good care of their home which is owned by their mother and father.

What do we do about the earth being gripped by the consequences of our sinful behaviors:  We need to be reminded that the earth belongs to the Lord, and that the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof. As my children love and care for our home in lower Woodmont, so we, the children of God, are to love and care for Gods home.

So what else do we do about the warning sirens? We need to clean up our messes in this earth. We need to clean our messes up, as we would do in any home in which we live. There is a man who lives in our neighborhood whose house and yard are a mess, and he never cleans up his messes. I feel sorry for this particular man’s neighbors, because he does not clean up the messes that he leaves behind him and his messes just accumulate. We need to be like normal people; that is, we need to clean up the messes we have made in our home. We want to clean up the messes we leave behind us in our parent’s home.

As said in the children’s sermon, we need to clean up the “kiddy litter” that is being left over all the earth. A friend from the congregation was recently down in Florida recently told me that there was no “kiddy litter” along the highways of Florida. The highways were clean. When you drive on the highways in the state of Washington, our grass roadsides are terrible there is so much junk in them. I go for a walk in the morning up our canyon road by our home, there is so much “kiddy litter” along the roadside that it is upsetting for someone who loves the canyon road. We need to clean up our “kiddy litter” and persuade other people to do the same.

We also need to continue to create and enforce legislation that is designed to protect the land. I have friends that fish in Lake Erie that was once almost dead but was cleaned up. People talk about cleaning up the hot spots, the nasty spots, in Puget Sound and the Duwamish River.

We need to develop an ethics for the future. I like the book by a theologian, Dr. Carl Braaten. The title of the book is ETHICS AND ESCHATOLOGY. He says that when we have developed ethics have to do with our past and present. We focus on our sins of the past or the present. Dr. Braatan is suggesting that we ask ourselves questions about the future: what I am doing today, how will it affect the world one hundred years from now, a thousand years from now? Not just for yesterday and not just for today, but for tomorrow. A system of ethics is primarily to be concerned about the future: how will my current action affect coming generations. 

That is why I hope that when it comes to nuclear technology, that we continue to do something about nuclear waste. Today, we are continuing to face the problem of what to do with nuclear waste that is to last for ten thousand years. How do we address nuclear waste and solve these serious problems? 

It seems to me  Dr. Braaten was right when he said that we need to be constantly developing the ethical questions that are future oriented: How is the world going to be affected by our actions in one hundred years from now, in a thousand years from now.

Romans, chapter eight. In Romans 8, we hear about the Spirit of Christ twenty-one times in one chapter. It is as if the flood gates of the dam of the Spirit have been opened and the mighty power of the Spirit of Christ flows in us God’s children. With the Spirit of Christ flowing in us  and empowering us, we put to death the defects of our character. With the Spirit of Christ flowing in us and empowering us, we put to death the cancers that are killing the earth, for we are God’s children, filled with hope for the future. Amen.

CHILDREN’S SERMON Today, for the children’s sermon, I would like to talk about “kiddy litter.” The word, kiddy, is spelled, k I d d y.  There once was a boy and a girl who came home from McDonald’s one day with lunch. They had been over to McDonald’s, got a take out lunch,  came home and sat in their living room with their sacks from McDonald’s.  They had both gotten a Happy Meal, with fries and nuggets, and coke, along with  surprise toys, plus of course straws and napkins. When the two children finished the nuggets, they threw the wrappings for the nuggets on the living room floor. Then they finished the fries, and threw the paper bags for the fries onto the floor. Strange kids. Then they drank the cokes and then threw the paper cups and plastic straws onto the living room floor. They then opened the toys that were wrapped in plastic and threw the plastic onto the floor and actually threw the toys onto the floor after they had played with the toys.  After he was all finished, they said, “That was a good lunch. I think I will go.” What strange kids. That is what can be called “Kiddy Litter.” Tell me, if I were the owner of that house and the parents, would I like what those kids were doing? No. Those kids were making a  real garbage dump in my living room. … Likewise, the earth is God’s living room. The earth is the most special place in the whole universe. This earth is part of God’s house, and God has this real problem with “kiddy litter.” All these kids and adults are throwing litter in God’s living room. God does not like it one bit and I don’t blame God for feeling that way. God just doesn’t like kiddy litter. Amen.

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