May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.
SCRIPTURE LESSON Genesis 2:4-22, GOD’S WORD
4 This is the account of heaven and earth when they were created, at the time when the Lord God made earth and heaven.
5 Wild bushes and plants were not on the earth yet because the Lord God hadn’t sent rain on the earth. Also, there was no one to farm the land. 6 Instead, underground water would come up from the earth and water the entire surface of the ground.
7 Then the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the earth and blew the breath of life into his nostrils. The man became a living being.
8 The Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east. That’s where he put the man whom he had formed. 9 The Lord God made all the trees grow out of the ground. These trees were nice to look at, and their fruit was good to eat. The tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil grew in the middle of the garden.
10 A river flowed from Eden to water the garden. Outside the garden it divided into four rivers. 11 The name of the first river is Pishon. This is the one that winds throughout Havilah, where there is gold. 12 (The gold of that land is pure. Bdellium and onyx are also found there.) 13 The name of the second river is Gihon. This is the one that winds throughout Sudan. 14 The name of the third river is Tigris. This is the one that flows east of Assyria. The fourth river is the Euphrates.
15 Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to farm the land and to take care of it. 16 The Lord God commanded the man. He said, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden. 17 But you must never eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil because when you eat from it, you will certainly die.”
18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is right for him.”
19 The Lord God had formed all the wild animals and all the birds out of the ground. Then he brought them to the man to see what he would call them. Whatever the man called each creature became its name. 20 So the man named all the domestic animals, all the birds, and all the wild animals.
But the man found no helper who was right for him. 21 So the Lord God caused him to fall into a deep sleep. While the man was sleeping, the Lord God took out one of the man’s ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. 22 Then the Lord God formed a woman from the rib that he had taken from the man. He brought her to the man.
SERMON Our Place in Creation
As we head into a season of Thanksgiving, among the things for which we are thankful are the gifts of creation. We should show our thanks not only with prayerful words but also with prayerful action that some call creation care.
The poetry I am using for much of our liturgy is Dorothy Darr’s contribution to that cause, calling us to stewardship of God’s creation. This past month I’ve been reading not only research data but also a theology of creation care in various essays and books. Over three Sundays we’ll look at past, present, and future in terms of original paradise, the world now and our stewardship responsibility, ending with God’s intentions for a new heaven and new earth.
We begin today by looking at God’s original intentions from the creation stories of Genesis 1 & 2. Remember that these are 2 separate oral traditions. One is poetry that could even be liturgy. The other is a narrative folk tale. Their purpose is neither science nor history but theology. Their intent is to tell us about God’s relationship to creation and our place within it.
You know Genesis 1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” (NIV) The poem lays out the stages of creation in 6 days and a 7th day calls for rest. God calls forth light, separates the waters, reveals dry land, brings forth plant life, then animals each in their environments of water, air, and earth. Everything that is needed to sustain life has been provided. Intrinsically interconnected ecosystems are delicately balanced. God is the master artist of the universe, and God’s intentional work and design is behind everything that science seeks to understand. This God declared each stage of creation good. God created humankind in God’s own image, male and female, and placed them in this perfect paradise we have called Eden, declaring the whole thing very good.
Christopher Wright speaks to the goodness of creation in his essay, “The Earth Is the Lord’s.” (In Keeping God’s Earth edited by Noah Toly & Daniel Block, Wright’s’ essay begins p. 218) First, Wright points out that this insistence on creation as good is in contrast to other ancient near east traditions in which the world was created out of malevolence. The goodness of creation in Biblical perspective also reflects the character of God, the Creator. Second, each part of creation was declared good before humans were added, therefore the goodness of creation is independent of us. Creation itself is valued by God not just for our sake. Third, God has a purpose for creation, both aesthetically and functionally. Others have pointed to creation worshipping God, as we read earlier, for example, in Psalm 19, “Heaven is declaring God’s glory; the sky is proclaiming his handiwork.” Fourth, creation has a future. James Nash claims, “Creation is not yet all that God planned for it to be…Creation is going on to perfection.” (Wright quotes Nash from Loving Nature: Ecological Integrity and Christian Responsibility. The quote is in Wright’s essay, p. 219.)
Now we come to the theological problem that some environmentalists blame for humanity’s abuse and destruction of creation. In English it has often been translated as dominion, but not everyone agrees on what authority or responsibility is intended by that word. Wright ties together the concepts of being made in God’s image and having dominion. “By making us in the image and likeness of God, he equipped us to rule.” (p. 227) Hebrews words used in the text, kabas and rada, imply exertion and effort…but not violence or abuse.” (p. 228) On the one hand we are able to “utilize [the] environment for life and survival” (p. 228) as do all species. This is what is meant by subdue. But on the other hand, God gives us the unique role of dominion. “God…passes on to human hands a delegated form of his own kingly authority over the whole of his creation.” (p. 228) Several authors along with Wright hold this concept, that the divine image in which we were created and the role of dominion which we were given both relate to representing God’s kingly authority over creation.
We’ve talked before about the biblical concept of an ideal king. Wright suggests it is one who serves his people or leads them like a shepherd. Jesus would then be the best example of king. Biblically, a king should seek justice for those who cannot speak for themselves and defend the rights of the destitute. (based on Proverbs 31:8-9) In terms of the environment, this also means “to do biblical justice in relation to non-human creation.” (p. 231)
Now, turning to Genesis 2, we are given further hints of our role in creation. In particular verse 15 helps us see that dominion is not about lording it over creation, but is indeed a servant role. God placed the first human in the garden of creation to tend or farm it and watch over or keep it. This implies care for all of creation: water, soil, air, minerals, plants, animals, all of it! It also implies preserving creation.
I learned a general rule whether camping with church groups or scouts not just to do no harm to the environment but to leave it in better shape than we found it. Earth was designed to sustain us, but it is our responsibility to be sure the earth can continue to sustain future generations, both human and non-human, life in all its varied forms.
Adam, made from adamah which means soil, is not a name as much as a representation of the first of all humankind. He was given the task of naming all the creatures, establishing a relationship with them. (This concept comes from Paul Young’s theological novel, Eve) We continue this naming process as varieties of species are discovered and categorized. But first Adam was assigned the task of tending the garden. The clearest modern equivalents are to be a gardener or a farmer.
Douglas Green, in his essay “When the Gardener Returns” says we may think of Eden as “a botanical garden or park with a rich diversity of exotic plants and trees…The name describes a well-watered garden of lush vegetation.” (Green’s essay is also in Keeping God’s Earth; this quote is on p. 271) Even referring to Adam as a gardener in the ancient near east had a royal connotation. From Assyrian and Ammonite kings to Israel’s King Solomon, kings were remembered for orchards, vineyards, and gardens they planted and even for irrigation projects.
Daniel Lagat, a professor in Kenya, wrote Christian Faith and Environmental Stewardship, just published and available last month. In it he writes that we “were created to act as true representatives of God in the garden.” (p. 7) “This awesome responsibility comes with authority but also with consequences.” (p. 8)
We are all aware of the consequences now faced: polluted water and air, contaminated food sources, melting ice caps and sinking islands, diminishing forests, extinct species, and so much more. In the past week there was disturbing news that in the 40 years since the first World Climate summit, things have gotten worse instead of better. Some Canadian cities have more lead in their water supply than Flint MI did. Rules in the US to protect our water supply from disposal areas related to coal plants have been given longer to put into effect which means more years of toxins entering that ground water.
It’s time to wake up and reclaim our assigned task, to clean up what we can of the current mess and by changing our attitudes, habits, and lifestyles wherever possible, to leave our planet in better shape for the future. In this way, we will honor God and fulfill our purpose as caretakers for God’s creation.