Growing up one of my favorite places to go was the Greensboro Science Center. It boasts a science museum and zoological park focused on aiding conservation efforts. In 2013, the Science Center expanded to include an Aquarium that includes an Octopus tank that was featured on Animal Planet’s Tanked television show. Every year we would take field trips to the Science Center and that tradition continued once I became a teacher. After passing the African Penguins exhibit you travel further into the aquarium through a tunnel and are met with scores of tropical fish, and digital interactive exhibits to learn about marine life. What greets you as you enter this portion of the SciQuarium is a giant seahorse sculpture in bright neon colors, it’s really quite beautiful to look at until you look closer at what it’s made of and the source of the materials. You see, the sculpture is made up of plastic bags, bottle caps, straws, and other detritus that represents the 8 million tons of plastic that enter our oceans each year. The exhibit teaches about ways to help protect ocean-life. Things like switching to a reusable water bottle, using cloth bags instead of plastic, or going without a plastic straw.
Less than halfway through wildfire season, California has lost approximately 3.6 million acres, in addition to homes and lives. A month into Hurricane Season storm names transferred to letters of the Greek alphabet because we quite simply ran out of names on the 2020 list. We’re experiencing the busiest storm season, second only to 2005, and if we get additional 4 storms by January we are poised to overtake that record as well.
For the last six and a half months (and counting) our country and the world has been battling a pandemic where death counts have now reached over a million, 20% of which come from the United States alone. All of these things have something in common. They’re all a result of a lack of stewardship of creation.
Our Gospel reading this morning is an immediate continuation of Jesus’ interaction with the temple leaders we witnessed last week. This time, Jesus ups the ante in a battle of words with a new parable about tenants in a vineyard. A landowner planted a vineyard and leased it to tenants to care for while they traveled. When the harvest time had come, the land owner sent their slaves to collect their share. Rather than complying, the tenants seized the servants, beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Then, the landowner tried again, but the tenants killed those slaves too. So the landowner sent his son instead, someone the tenants would surely respect, but when the tenants saw the opportunity to gain his inheritance they seized the son, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.
Jesus shares this parable in order to call out the religious leaders for their mistreatment of God’s vineyard and God’s people who reside there, God’s messengers, and in 4 days time God’s own son as well. It’s a harrowing tale to be sure. You see, as theologian Debie Thomas writes, the tenants have forgotten something very important: their vocation and the fact that they are not the owners of the vineyard, but rather stewards of it.The tenants own nothing and instead are called to care for, tend, safeguard, cultivate, and protect the vineyard on behalf of one another.
Today we commemorate the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, a 12th century monk who cared deeply about creation care. St. Francis and our gospel remind us that we brought nothing into this world and in turn we will take nothing with us when we move from this life into the next. A prayer called the Prayer of St. Francis echoes that call to care. It goes:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy;
O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
We too are stewards, not owners of creation and it is our vocation, our calling, to care for it so that those who come after us can live in a clean and safe home too. Debie Thomas continues, The coming of God’s kin-dom will bring healing to all of creation, but that doesn’t mean that the stewards of creation are off the hook….When we hoard, exploit, abuse, or ignore the work of God’s hands, we wound and reject God’s heart.
Just as children of all ages who walk into the Greensboro Science Center learn every single day, there are countless ways, large and small, to care for creation. Everyone has a part to play. It’s why we wear masks, why we are taking such precautions with in-person worship; because we don’t own a solitary thing around us. It’s our job to care for creation and one another. All of it belongs to God, the vineyard owner, and is precious beyond measure.