by Amy Waelchli
When I think about the state of the environment–all the facts, figures, predictions, and failures–I’m completely immobilized with fear. Scientists have been issuing warnings and admonitions to get our acts together for a while now, and we’ve ignored these modern-day prophets. What can one little person do to make a difference?
I could live the life of a steward like Joseph. And so could you.
My son studied in Sunday school the story of Joseph, the part where Joseph interprets Pharaoh’s dreams in Genesis 41. In one of Pharoah’s dreams, he sees seven fat cows grazing along the banks of the Nile. Seven thin and ugly cows come along and eat them. But after the seven thin cows eat the seven fat cows, they are still thin and ugly. Joseph understands what this means, and interprets the dream for Pharoah:
God has shown to Pharaoh what he is about to do. There will come seven years of great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt. After them there will arise seven years of famine, and all the plenty will be forgotten in the land of Egypt; the famine will consume the land. The plenty will no longer be known in the land because of the famine that will follow, for it will be very grievous.
Joseph then suggests a disaster preparedness plan —during each of the next seven plentiful harvests, save for the lean years ahead. His plan is put into place, and enough food is saved that no one starves during the famine. Joseph’s stewardship, as my son’s Sunday school lesson said, “uses resources fairly.” Joseph and Pharaoh take immediate action — they might be afraid, but they don’t let fear immobilize them. There’s no room for that in the stewardship job description — we have too much work to do!
Earlier in the book of Genesis, in the first chapter, we are called upon to be stewards of creation and to use creation’s gifts fairly, justly, and sustainably.
God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth. God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” (Genesis 1:28–30) And it was so.
It is easy to read this passage and interpret our dominion over all things as meaning that we can use it all however we see fit. But dominion does not mean domination — God has given this great earth, all living things, to us as a gift. As gracious receivers, shouldn’t we treat it well? We are called to be stewards of this gift, wisely exercising the dominion God has granted to us. Like Joseph, we trust God’s presence in everything we say and do. Stewardship is our created frame of mind.
Remember last summer one day when it rained and you were bummed because you couldn’t go outside after work? Retune your thinking. In my city, it is hard to know when the earth is thirsty because so much of it is covered with houses, watered lawns, paved parking lots, concrete streets and sidewalks, shopping malls, and so on. We don’t see the dry, cracked, dusty earth. We need to look at each weather variable and appreciate the brilliance of God’s self-sustaining creation.
Get some plants for your office and home, and tend to them. Take a break, go outside, and gaze at the clouds. Relax into creation. Get off the inclement-weather-hating bandwagon. Get back to an earth-centered attitude toward the weather and the seasons and notice the earth’s changes and needs.
This is the day the Lord has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Every day, appreciate creation. Go outside, and say out loud to yourself or someone else, “What a beautiful day God has made!” And mean it when you say it. It’s amazing, the difference you’ll feel toward creation when you make a practice of being grateful for it.
We stewards also need to make changes in our lives that reflect our gratitude for creation. For an immediate impact on the earth, start watching what you eat. Truly healthy foods are healthy for both the environment and our bodies because they require minimal processing, packaging, or shipping. Instead of processed fruit or energy bars, choose the actual source material: Eat an apple! Try eating lower on the food chain several times a week. This means going meat free, focusing on vegetable combinations and other sources of protein. Explore and experiment with new recipes.
Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
1 Thessalonians 5:16–18
Do you notice the cycle here? From our thankfulness, we pray. From our prayers grows thankfulness. Prayer is not restricted to Sunday mornings or just before bed. Nor does prayer need to be formal. Talk with God about the earth; pray for the healing of the earth; pray for your strength as a steward; pray for a miracle. Do this everywhere, especially in the grocery store when you’re about to choose between the cheapest item and the fair trade item.
Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints.
Pray for your fellow stewards. Pray that each one of us does what we can to use creation fairly, faithfully. As Luther says in his explanation of the eighth commandment, we need to look upon everything our neighbor does in the best possible light. So when you talk to others about the earth, assume the best of them. Know that they will do their part when they know what is needed of them. Share what you’re doing as a steward, help them do the same, and inspire them to do more. We need to hold each other accountable as stewards by actually talking about what we’re doing successfully and what more can be done.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.
God is still creating. In our new sense of urgency about the environment, there is a new sense of hope among those of us who understand ourselves as stewards. We know that we need to practice our gratitude for the earth, make some simple changes in our lives, pray to God about this, trust that others will do their part, and let others know that we are trusting them.
Amy Waelchli lives with trust in the stewards of this world.