On Not Giving the Snake the Last Word

That bright morning the sun pleasantly warmed the awakening world.   Another light in the sky, however, caught the attention of a stegosaurus nonchalantly munching in a grove of ferns.  The quickly moving light, flaming bright — or was it the thunderous sonic boom as it raced through the upper atmosphere that caused it to cock its head and stop its chewing. 

This cataclysmic event was the rude beginning of what would turn out to be a “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day” for our gentle stegosaurus and a whole lot of other creatures on Planet Earth.  And for a bunch of plants and fishes, too.

In a flash, a mountainous wave rose up, carrying the now-deceased dinosaur and a mish mash of mud, boulders, fish, trees and animals from the usual temperate climes near the Great Gulf Water.  Inland it all rushed, petering out near what we now call Arkansas.  And in the next moment, it all went sloshing back again to the Gulf.  Reptiles, spiders, plants and all.  Along with not a few ichthyosaurs and fishes.

In the days and years to come, thick darkness hung over the planet.  Much of the vegetation died and they that dined on it were soon gone, along with those that dined on the diners.  All around the world.  Welcome to the new world of the cockroaches, opossums and a few birds.  And a spider or two.  Much of the ocean life had also died as well.  But not everything.

Whether coincidence or not, volcanic activity in the newly disturbed planet soon belched enormous clouds of toxic gasses into the darkened skies over the ensuing eons, making the survival of most anything at all highly problematic.  The greatly acidified ocean was hell on clams and oysters.  Brachiopods, crabs and lobsters. 

The greatest natural disaster to befall Planet Earth?  No, this had happened before in various configurations.  Five or so times previously.

Out of this latest cosmic disaster arose an entirely new fauna and a land teeming with a multitude of mammals and creepy crawlies.  And Humankind.

And Humankind, that wonderful humanoid, Alley Oop – or whatever his name was.  Next door neighbor to Fred and Wilma Flintstone.  There he sat, atop the heap, with a mind to comprehend it all and will to take charge.  Planted in this renewed Garden.

The earth slowly settled down.  It must have been a wonderful garden.  Up sprouted everything these new humans needed for food, clothing and shelter.  Seas bountiful with fish.   So many fish in the Massachusetts Bay it was claimed that one could walk across that body of water stepping from one codfish to the next.

It must have been a wonderful Garden, indeed.  Until men and women began to mess with it.  Soon the imperial mammoth and giant sloth were gone.  Extinct, never to be seen again.  Until dug up millions of years later by us moderns and put in a museum.

How did all this take place?  How did the destruction begin?  Our story from Genesis says it was the fault of the cleverest of inhabitants lurking in the underbrush – that damned snake.

“Who told you that you were naked?  Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”  The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me the fruit from the tree, and I ate.”

That’s right, shift the blame.  Throw her under the bus.  Of course, you had absolutely no responsibility?  Right!

However the Fall happened, we presumed to plunder the Garden until much of it was gone – the beginning of another great extinction.  We gave no thought for tomorrow.  No thought for that delicate web of life of which we are a part.

As my theology professor was wont to note, “Sin is the one theological doctrine for which we have empirical proof.”

We may chuckle at this primitive story.  We may dismiss it out of hand as a simplistic myth of our early prehistory.  But the truth remains – the God’s honest truth — we’ve really screwed up the garden.  Just about stomped it to death and paved it over. 

We humans have ushered as many of our fellow critters into extinction as did that meteor and all the attendant volcanos so many eons ago.  The “Sixth Extinction,” scientists label this present ecological disaster.[1]  

Someone once asked the great theologian Karl Barth if he believed in “original sin.”  “Isn’t that how it usually works out?” he responded.

How often it is, we let the snake have the last word.  Nothing to see here, folks.  Just keep moving.

We now stand on the brink of the next great extinction.  Our age is now being labeled the “Anthropocene.”  Earth’s destiny, now influenced by humans as the greatest geological factor, will succumb to global warming.  Caused by – us.   We humans.

“More, more, more,” hisses the snake.  In the halls of Congress, in board rooms and in shopping cart lines.

To the extent we remain in its thrall, that cunning, mesmerizing serpent gets the Last Word.  BUT NOT QUITE. 

There’s another Word, a saving Word – a Word that echoes down the ancient halls of time, through the dusty roads of Palestine.

In the midst of a convoluted theological debate with religious authorities, Jesus has become an embarrassment to his family.   In fact, they’ve come to take him away.  He’s clearly out of his mind.  Maybe demon possessed.  When told that some members of his family are outside to take him home, he cuts to the chase.

“Who are my mother and brothers?”  And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!  Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

We have agency.  We can heed that Word which life and abundance.  Yes, we are NOT God.  We are but one of the creatures, though a very clever one – often too smart for our own good.  And we can choose an alternative to that of the snake…a blessed alternative.  We will do just fine living in harmony with the flora and fauna of the Garden.  Snake needn’t have the Last Word. 

We can choose the life intended by God for ourselves, our neighbors and our planet.  Everybody and everything doesn’t have to die.  Stop listening to that hissing in the background.

Here what our brother Paul has to tell us.  He get’s it

 “Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.  So we do not lose heart.”

We do not lose heart.  We will come to our senses, our authentic selves, as a part of the great living web of life.  We do not lose heart.  There’s still time – but not much.

There’s still time for those who cherish this, our Mother Earth.  It’s time for our primitive selves to grow up.  Time for Alley Oop to put down the club and put on a suit and tie.  Time to grow into his full humanity.  And listen to God’s restorative Word.

That happened this past week.

In several board rooms some “Mean Greens” took back a little bit of control from Exxon/Mobile and Chevron oil giants this last week

Bill McKibben and others have been warning us for over a decade about the disastrous course on which we have set our planet – that we need to clean up our act, literally, if we are not to shove the planet into climate catastrophe.

Two environmental activists were elected to the Exxon/Mobile board of directors, maybe even four.  They’re still counting the votes.  Time for Alley Oop to take his seat at the board.  Time for Wilma Flintstone to join him.

Chevron also was the target of climate activists who forced management to cut their customers’ carbon footprint.  And in the Netherlands, the court ordered Royal Dutch Shell to slash emissions harder and faster than they had been planning for. 

Maybe a few of our Alley Oop fellows, Barney and Betty Rubble, are growing into becoming world citizens.  Maybe there’s some hope for us all yet.  The snake doesn’t get the Last Word.

As my friend George always said, “Keep your eyes on the prize and celebrate the incremental victories along the way.”  So, grab a slice of cake.

This doesn’t mean our work is done.  President Biden has appointed enough folks from the fossil fuel industries to shut out the Sunrise Movement agenda.  We still look to miss by a wide margin the goal of keeping global temperatures under a 1.5 degrees Celsius rise.  We still are on the brink of going over the cliff of more irreversible tipping points.  Kiss your polar bears goodbye.

Follow the science.  Time is running out like the grains of sand in an hourglass.

Whoever does the will of God that we might all thrive, she, he, is our authentic sister and brother.  And a true companion on our brief journey through creation.

The saving Word is that in Christ we have the power and the vision.  Oh, sure, there will still be some weeds in the garden, some loathsome creatures.

That poor stegosaurus and all the rest?  I love visiting them in museums but am thankful they are not out in the front yard munching my nasturtiums and periwinkles.

I am very thankful that more and more of us are learning to live respectfully in the Garden in which we’ve been placed.  Who are our true relatives?  Brother, Sister Lizard, among others.

On the way to lunch am delighted in seeing my lizard friends out on the walkway sunning themselves, and am happy to greet them.  I like it a lot that they are a considerably smaller and much cuter than their dinosaur relatives.

For all things bright and beautiful…for activists willing to raise heaven on the Exxon/Mobile board of directors…for Alley Oop, the Flintstones, and our paleolithic forbearers who survived the dire wolf and saber-toothed tiger to stick around to have offspring…for those willing to head back to the White House and risk arrest again in support of Planet Earth and Bill McKibben’s 350.org movement…for those doing the Will of God – It’s like weeding.  The job’s never done.  THANKS BE TO GOD for all who lend a hand (and a dollar or two).  “It’s a Wonderful Life.”  AMEN.

[1] Elizabeth Kolbert, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History (New York, NY: Henry Holt, 2014).

“On Not Giving the Snake the Last Word”

Rev. Dr. John C. Forney

Second Sunday of Pentecost, June 6, 2021
Proper 5

Genesis 3:8-15; Psalm 130;
2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1; Mark 3:20-35

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