"Plastics," Pastor Fred
“I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.” Thus begins chapter 21 of Revelation, the beginning of John of Patmos’ vision of the kingdom and reign of God, on the verge of coming to pass, through the faithful response of the saints, the followers of Jesus.
For the Hebrew people, as reflected in the Jewish-Christian scriptures, the sea was the place of the sea monster, and the origin of chaos, from whence evil arrives in the world. So when John envisions that “the sea would be no more,” in the new universe that God was instituting, everyone recognized, that that, was a very beautiful thing! No more sea – no more chaos monster! Evil would be conquered, to make way for the new Jerusalem, that was coming down out of heaven.
The Hebrews, came from a nomadic people – great herders of flocks, and then later became builders of cities. The only fishing they did was in the fresh water of Lake Galilee. Shell fish were unclean – not kosher to eat, and they stayed away from the Mediterranean, for the most part, using it for travel occasionally, as did St Paul on his journeys to Greece and Rome. But Paul had mostly negative stories to tell, of ship wrecks – no fishing tales or Princess Cruise Lines!
In this, they got the science of the oceans wrong, as we now know. Without the oceans, we would not have the order of seasons, with their balance of rain and sun, across the globe. And without oceans, we wouldn’t have half of the oxygen we breathe!
Not that this takes away from John of Patmos’ vision. The meaning of a new creation in Revelation is clear. God will end chaos and suffering, and we will live in the new creation God has prepared for us, right here on a renewed planet earth!
Unless, of course, you take the bible literally, in all the wrong places, and you might interpret the coming of the kingdom and realm of God to be dependent on the sea, literally, being no more – in other words, to be okay with its death! More on that, in a bit.
First, let’s celebrate with American explorer Victor Vescovo, who broke the record for diving to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, within the last few weeks. The Texas businessman-turned-extreme-explorer, reached the floor of the Mariana Trench, the deepest part of the ocean, not once, but twice in a week’s time. At 35,853ft. deep, it’s a mile farther than a trip to the top of Mt. Everest. It’s so deep, that sunlight doesn’t reach it. It’s known as “the hadal zone,” or Hades, at its deepest point, because it is as far down as you can go! But at the bottom, from his titanium cocoon, Vescovo communicated with his team back on the surface, describing how serene and beautiful it was, while his crew clapped and cheered.
The headlights of his craft illuminated translucent creatures all around him, and he was struck at how alive his surroundings were. He identified new species, including a shrimp-like crustacean. But as he slowly steered around the ocean bottom he spotted something human as well. It was a plastic bag, he reported – trash at the bottom of the sea!
“I was disappointed to see human contamination in the deepest point in the ocean,” Vescovo said. “With over 7 billion people on the Earth, the oceans are going to be impacted negatively by humans, but I hope we can at least minimize it in the future.”
It reminds me of the famous line in the 1967 movie, The Graduate (if I might digress, deeper yet!), when Benjamin, played by Dustin Hoffman, is talking with his father's friend by the family pool, who advises him, "I've got one word for you, Benjamin: plastics." That was his tip to the graduate, to get into the business of producing plastics, the hot new thing, and sure way to achieve the American dream.
The movie meant it to be – a sign of the older generation’s greed, and a neglect of the environment that Benjamin’s generation, in that Summer of Love, was walking away from. But it could also be seen as a prescient predictor of big oil’s domination in our lives and economy, to this day. Plastics, of course, are petroleum products! Not only are they in the belly and DNA of practically every fish in the ocean. But now the salvation of the planet depends on keeping at least 80% of our petroleum, our oil and gas, in the ground, before it’s too late to stop the warming of our planet, and the disastrous consequences to our climate.
So, it makes a difference how we interpret Revelation, for how we understand how God is asking us to be care-takers of creation. For most of our western history the church has left Revelation to the “Premillennial Dispensationalists,” the John Nelson Darby’s of the world (1800-1882; British preacher), who garbled it’s message so badly, it then became easy pickings for Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins to produce their shamefully exploitative Left Behind books and movie series. Though the language of Revelation is full of violent and apocalyptic images, it never offers that as the Christian response, but only as the oppressive tactics of the Roman empire, aligned against God’s creation.
For John of Patmos, the writer of Revelation, who lived at the height of the Roman persecution of Christians, the taking up of arms to win against the ruthless Roman soldiers, was never on his radar. How could Darby, and Luther for that matter, Tim LaHaye and all the rest of us, miss John’s point, which is plainly given in Revelation, for example, chapter 13:9-10.
“Let anyone who has an ear listen: If you are to be taken captive, into captivity you go; if you kill with the sword, with the sword you must be killed. Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints,” John writes.
John, and the 7 churches he wrote to, were indeed in fear of being captured in those days. They considered using the sword to resist. But John says that true Christians follow the lead of Jesus. If you are arrested you must go. You cannot win with the sword, for those who live by the sword, die by the sword. By your faith, you must endure, like the saints before you. And Saints were those who, like Jesus, were martyred before ever renouncing their beliefs. Not until Ghandi, and MLK, have we considered this to be heroic again.
The scandal of the Left Behind interpretation is that they completely misunderstand the Hebrew, Judeo-Christian understanding of the kingdom and realm of God. They claim God will destroy the earth, which God made and called very good and asked us to care for, and God will beam us out of here to somewhere else. They think taking up the sword will win the day. And in Revelation, they turn the truth, and vision that John of Patmos had, completely around.
John saw “the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, [to a new earth], prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” Here, in the new creation on earth, ‘God will wipe every tear from our eyes, and death will be no more, for the first things – will have passed away.’
There is no apocalyptic battle we are called to fight, no mission to Mars that can save us. God has created this world, and all of us in it, good, and made us responsible co-creators with God. Plastics, is not the answer. Nuclear war – as some fundamentalist Christians actually believe – is not the answer.
By faith, we have everything we need already. The ‘new Jerusalem’ kingdom is ours, by our renewed birth – our baptismal life of faith, buried and raised again, to live the life of our savior, who declared, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.” Drink from “the spring of the water of life.”
Let us walk wet, in our baptism, as followers of the risen LORD, and co-creators with our God, care-taking the only home we have, until all things are made new.