This is the sermon I preached this Sunday at Christ Lutheran Church in Fairfax. The text is 2 Samuel 11:26-12:13.
There's a Kenyan proverb that says, "The Earth is not a gift from our parents, it's a loan from our children." We have an awesome responsibility in taking care of this planet. It's the only place in this entire universe that we know of where we can live, and even if we found another place, we don't yet have the technology to get there, and God only knows how long it would take for us to develop it. So we need to be careful with our planet.
God has charged us to be stewards of the Earth, and for the first 250,000 years, we've done a pretty good job. But in the past few decades, some have called our stewardship into question, and protection of the environment has become a major political issue. We have not been treating the Earth as if it were on loan to us, to be returned in the same, if not better condition, in which we inherited it. Some would say that we've been treating it like it was just another one of our disposable things, to be used up and thrown away, that we've been squandering it.
As the years have gone by, most people have come to accept the fact that human beings have had a negative impact on the environment, and that if we don't change our ways things are going to worse. We hear about the effects of our activities all time: global warming, melting polar ice caps, the polar bears, pollution, over fishing. But, that's just too much to talk about in one sermon. So today, I just want to focus on one thing: water.
Did you know that we're facing a severe water shortage? Scientists estimate that if things do not change by 2050, many parts of the world will be in a water crisis, including the Bay Area. Wars will be fought over water. People will die, not just because they lack the water they need to survive, but as victims in the battle over this precious resource, that some have already started to call blue gold.
Think about it. Think about how precious water is. There's no replacement for water. Think about how much we fight over oil. Oil is not nearly as important to us as water. We've already started developing alternative energy sources, and if push comes to shove, we can always burn wood. But we are still fighting over oil. Imagine how much more intense the fighting would be for water.
We've become so accustomed to the availability of water that we completely take it for granted, except to take something for granted would involve more thought than we currently give to our water. No one is saying that we are willfully using water in a wasteful way, but we're not treating it like the precious resource that it is. We do waste it. It's a sin of indifference, and we are passing the consequences of this sin onto the generations that will follow us.
Now, David was no stranger to sin, and his sin in our reading today was a little bit more blatant than indifference. In the verses leading up to our reading, David had Uriah sent to the front lines of the battle for the express purpose of having him killed. Uriah dies, and David takes his widow, Bathsheba, who is pregnant with David's child, as his wife.
And now, the prophet Nathan has come to him and has told him this story of a rich man killing a poor man's beloved little ewe-lamb so that he could feed it to a visitor. And, David is so enraged by this, he yells, "This man deserves to die!"
Isn't it interesting how quickly David was moved to rage over the death of a lamb, when he himself had just killed a man so that he could cover up his adultery? We often find ourselves in situations like this, where we point out the specks in the eyes of our neighbors while ignoring the logs sticking out of our own. And then Nathan tells him, that David himself is that rich man in the story, and David admits his sin. And then, Nathan tells him, "God has put away your sin; you shall not die." But, it's strange that the lectionary reading ends here, because in the very next verse, Nathan tells David that because he has scorned God, the child that he is to have with Bathsheba will die.
I looked up the Hebrew verb in the last sentence of our reading because it seemed a little odd. God has "put away" your sin. This verb "put away," "avar" in the Hebrew, is more commonly translated in the Bible as "pass over;" it's the same verb used in the Passover story, when God passes over the homes of the Israelites during the tenth plague, which was the death of all of the firstborn.
But sometimes, it can mean that something is being transferred from one place to another, like when someone passes you the salt at dinner. If God was "passing over" the sin, then there would be no punishment required, but if the sin was being "passed on" then someone would still have to answer for it, and in this story, it's David and Bathsheba's child.
Now, I have trouble believing that God would kill David's child as a punishment for his indiscretion, but I do believe this text is lifting up the reality that there are consequences for the choices that we make. That's just the way the world works. If you don't do your homework, you're not going to get a good grade. If you show up late for work every day, you're probably going to get fired. If you drive home drunk, there's a chance you might kill someone. You might even end up killing yourself. And if we as a society don't take care of this planet that we live on, we're not going to have much of a planet to pass on to our children. Right now, we are in the very real danger of passing the consequences of our sins along to the next generation.
The average American uses 100 gallons of water every day. The average African family only uses 5. This number doesn't even take into account the amount of water that's needed to generate the electricity that the average American uses every day. 250 gallons of water! That's not hydropower, this isn't electricity coming from a dam, that's the amount water that's needed to convert gas, oil or coal into electricity for the daily use of the average American consumer.
The last 100 years have been referred to as the golden age of water, when water was safe, seemingly unlimited, and almost free. But now, we are coming to an era in which we are not going to have water that is all three of those things at the same time. Right now, we use purified, potable water to flush our toilets and water our lawns. It doesn't make any sense. But, what are we going to do about it?
It may seem like we have a lot of control over our lives, and in some ways, we do. If you wanted to, you could go home right now, and change everything about the way that you live, and maybe you could cut your water use in half. But think about it. How many people are there in the United States? How many people are there in the developed world? Let's say you manage to save 50,000 gallons of water every year. That's like 3 swimming pools. But if every other American is using 6 swimming pools of water every year, your 3 swimming pools of water, that's just a drop in the bucket.
And, that's the way that corporate sin works. We're part of a system. Individually, we each contribute to the problems, but even if we could pull ourselves out of it, which would be extremely difficult to do, the machine keeps moving without us. It's almost impossible to stop. It's going to take something bigger than us to save us from ourselves, something that can move us as a society. We can change the way that we live and we can talk to people about changing things on a larger scale, but ultimately we have to allow the Holy Spirit to work through us, to move us as a community to change the way that we live.
Luckily, God has shown some interest in us in the past, and I think that God is already moving to change the way that we do things. Like the prophet Nathan that was sent to David, so that David would be forced to face his own sin, scientists and environmental activists have been working to spread the word of our wasteful nature. The laws are slowly changing, and people are starting to understand the impacts that their lives are having on the world around them. None of this would be possible if not for the Holy Spirit softening our hearts, so that we would listen.
Las Vegas is the perfect example. We often look at this city in the desert as a symbol of decadence and sin. It's the driest of the of the largest 250 cities in America, and yet, when you walk down the strip, you will see some of the largest and most elaborate fountains in the world, lush plantings, a replica of the bay of New York, complete with water and a pier, and signs tempting visitors inside the casinos where you can see enormous aquariums filled with sharks and bottle-nose dolphins, in the middle of the desert.
But, things are not always as they seem. The city of Las Vegas has put into place programs that they have developed so that they could save water. They offer incentives to people encouraging them to pull up their lawns and replace them with zero water plantings. The golf courses are strictly limited in the amount of water they can use, and the water that they do use to water their grass, is grey water. The entire city has systems in place to recapture water that is used indoors, and they now recycle 94% of that water.
It can be done. If it can be done in Las Vegas, then it can be done in the rest of the world. We just need to change the way that we think about water, and the way that we use it. If we listen to the modern day prophets, and maybe even become prophets ourselves, then we can make a difference, and we can save this world for our children. God didn't make the Earth only to have us destroy. This beautiful planet is filled with so many wonders that a person could never hope to see them all in a single lifetime. We have to preserve it. We need to reverse the turning wheels of our collective indifference before it is too late, and we pass our sins onto our children. If we open our hearts and our minds to God, if we start listening to each other and stop politicizing these issues that affect us all, then we can be the stewards of the Earth that God expects us to be. And there will be enough water for everyone. Amen.