Celebrating God's Creation

Over the past several years I've shared with some of you my usual process for writing a sermon every week. My sermon preparation typically involves reading the scripture, prayer, study, reflection, writing, asking questions like "so what, how do we apply the scripture to our life now," editing, re-writing, and practicing.

As I began my preparation for today's message I started out anticipating using my usual sermon preparation process. But after I finished reading the scripture, praying about it, and reflecting on it some, I decided to forgo the normal study time of reading other books, looking at commentary and so forth. As I reflected on the text and began to formulate some thoughts about creation and what God's creation means, I realized I don't have to read to understand God's creation; I just need to step outside and experience it first hand.

This past week when I sat on my deck, and as I walked around the yard and neighborhood some amazing things happened. I actually noticed the wonder of God's handy work; I saw things I had never seen before, not because they weren't always there but because I had never really paid attention to them.

As I walked around my back yard I realized that usually when I walk around I'm cutting the grass, not really paying attention to Creation itself. I realized I spent more time killing dandelions then I did simply enjoying the life giving trees and grass. And I spent more time mulching the gardens, so they look nice, rather than exploring the wonderment of the shrubs and flowers I was throwing mulch around.

Now I walk a fair amount around the neighborhood, but this week I set out to walk not with exercise in mind but with enjoying creation in mind, and to my amazement I saw things I never saw before.

It wasn't long until I realized that when I was walking for exercise I tended to focus on man-made things like peoples houses, their cars, how they sealed their driveways, what type of lawn mower they use, and so on. But this past week I purposely went walking looking to experience God's creation. I noticed trees, bushes, and animals that had always been there; I just never saw them because I was focused on something else.

I share all of this with you to simply say we need to pay attention to creation; it's a gift, a gift from God to be enjoyed, used, but not abused.

In our scripture reading today we hear very clearly that God created the heavens and the earth. We don't know how, but we do know God created everything, and through his creation we learn about who our God is. We learn that God is creative, and that as the creator he is distinct from the creation itself.

We also learn that God is eternal and in control of creation. God didn't simply create the world then step out of creation until some future date. If he did this, I suggest we wouldn't be here today; none of us would have ever been born. Humanity would have destroyed this world long ago.

God is still very much active in creation. God continues to create the four seasons, the rain, the sun, all the colors, the air we breath, and the resources we need to live a healthy and joy filled life.

Also within our scripture reading we learn about ourselves. Since God chose to create us, we are valuable in his eyes, we have purpose, and we have a job to do. In verse 26 the author of Genesis writes "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."

Later in verse 28 the author of Genesis also writes in speaking of humankind, "Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, and over every living creature that moves on the ground."

It's unfortunate that our pew Bible uses the phrase "rule over" in conveying our role in God's creation, because "rule over" connotes the idea of having absolute authority over.

After looking at a direct translation from the Hebrew text to English a better phrase to use is "have dominion over." Now, to us in our culture this can mean the same as "rule over." But in Hebrew the word they use for "have dominion over" actually is understood to mean, care-giving and nurturing, not domination. I wonder if the world would be any different today if we simply understood this phrase the way it was intended.

Today we celebrate Earth Day in the church, so I would like to take a harder look at how humanity is treating God's creation. Are we ruling over it, as understood by our contemporary understanding, or are we caring for and nurturing God's creation based on a more complete understanding of scripture?

As disciples of Jesus we all realize we are to be good stewards of all that God has given us. Among other things this means we are called to be stewards of the entire creation. We are called to use the world's resources wisely, we are called to use the creation to bring glory to God not to ones self, we are called to manage and care for all of the created order in a manner pleasing to God.

All creation is under the authority of God and all creation is interdependent. Our covenant with God requires us to be stewards, protectors, and defenders of all creation. In the Bible, a steward is one given responsibility for what belongs to another. And the Old Testament relates this concept of stewardship to the vision of shalom.

Often shalom is translated "peace," but the broader meaning of shalom is wholeness. In the Old Testament, shalom is used to characterize the wholeness of a faithful life lived in relationship to God. Shalom is best understood when we experience wholeness and harmony as human beings with God, with others, and with creation itself. The task of the steward, our task, is to seek shalom.

Now the concept of stewardship is first introduced in the creation story. In Genesis 1:26, the Bible affirms that every person is created in God's image. But this gift brings with it a unique responsibility. Being created in God's image brings with it the responsibility to care for God's creation.

God chose to give human beings a divine image not so we could exploit creation to our own ends, but so we would be recognized as stewards of God. To have dominion over the earth is a trusteeship, a sign that God cares for creation and has entrusted it to our stewardship.

You know we have no claim on God's creation. Just because we hold a deed saying we "own" the property our house or farm sits on doesn't mean we really own it. To own something means to have absolute control over it. Well in the case of land and other resources we don't really own it, it doesn't go wherever we go, and when we die we don't take it with us. In reality we are stewards, entrusted with a piece of the earth, to meet our basic needs, to help others meet their needs, and to bring glory to God.

Now ultimately our stewardship of the world and its resources is always accountable to God who loves the whole of creation and who desires that it exist in shalom. The intention of creation was that all should experience shalom, to know the goodness of creation.

In the Old Testament, "fullness of life" means having enough, sufficient, to experience the goodness of creation. By contrast, our age has come to define "fullness of life" as more than enough. The desire of many for excess begins to deny enough for others, and shalom is broken. That all should participate in creation's goodness is a fundamental of stewardship.

The truth is this world has enough resources to meet the needs of all creation. The problem is a minority of the world's population uses a majority of the world's resources, to excess in most cases.

Another theme of shalom is that in creation we are all related. Humans are not self-sufficient; we need God, others, nature. The story of the garden in Genesis 2 attempts to picture the complete and harmonious interrelatedness of all creation. There is shalom only when we recognize and live to care for the whole.

Now when we violate the rules of the garden what happens? We are dismissed. In ecological terms, when we violate the principles of ecology, we suffer environmental damage. As the story of the garden shows, God's intention of shalom was not carried out. Sin intervened, and the shalom was broken. But God offered a way to restore shalom - redemption. And as God's stewards we have a role in that redemption.

Stewardship, then, is to become involved wherever wholeness is lacking and to work in harmony with God's saving activity to reconcile, to reunite, to heal, to make the creation whole once again. Stewardship has to do with how we bring all of the resources at our disposal into efficient use in our participation in the saving activity of God.

Environmental stewardship is one part of our work as God's stewards. As stewards of the natural environment we are called to preserve and restore the air, water, and land on which life depends. Moreover, we are called to see that all life has a sufficient share of the resources of nature.

So what are we to do? Well Earth Day serves to remind us that we have a responsibility to the earth, and we are accountable to God in how well we exhibit creation stewardship.

Now typically on Earth Day people plant trees, clean up parks, and do other things to care for the environment, and this is important work. But Earth Day needs to be a 365-day a year initiative. We all can participate in good creation stewardship just by taking care of the property entrusted to us by God, we all can be better stewards of the creation by asking ourselves what can I do to preserve the part of creation I interact with, so that future generations might have a might have an appropriate place to live?

With our hope rooted in Christ and with more obedient living as stewards of the earth, we can participate in God's healing of creation. Since the beginnings of the Methodist movement, there has been a concern with what we today call "environmental concerns." John Wesley's emphasis on "cleanliness" came as he observed a land of open sewers, impure water, unplanned cities, and smoke-filled air.

In the mines and mills, squalor and filth were everywhere, as was disease. The substantial decline in the death rate in England from 1700 to 1801 can be traced to improvements in environment, sanitation, and a wider knowledge of concepts of basic health such as those advocated by Wesley.

As responsible Methodists and children of God we ought to support measures, which will lead to a more careful and efficient use of the resources of the natural world. In your bulletin you'll find a short excerpt from the United Methodist Social Principles that I commend to your reading later today.

We ought to look carefully at our consumption patterns and seek to live a simple and less resource-dependent life. We ought to support or initiate programs, which will recycle solid materials of all sorts, and promote the use of using products made with recycled materials. We ought to support policies and efforts that promote clean air, clean water, and clean living.

We ought to participate actively in community environmental programs and urge the establishment of such initiatives in communities without these programs. We ought to look for ways to use all our natural resources for the good of all human kind not just for the few. We need to look for real and tangible ways we can care for the earth through good stewardship by not wasting resources or over using our resources to the point they can no longer be used.

We can no longer sacrifice the environment for the sake of excess, greed, and exploitation. The world is not ours, its God's. We must take care of the earth in any way we can. So I ask you to be more aware of how you treat the creation and look for ways to restore your part of creation to shalom.

All people have the right to the resources of the universe to provide for their health and well being; and God's creation is intended to be used for the good of all as a precious gift.

As a country and a world we have made progress but we can do more, and it begins with you and me. So again, I encourage all of us to focus our stewardship energy in making our piece of creation all it can be, so that its use might bring glory to God, and serve as a model of stewardship for others. Amen

Read other messages by Pastor Wade