12 September 2010
Genesis 1:1-3, 2:7
The purpose of today’s sermon is to reacquaint us with God in the role of creator. Genesis chapters 1-3 tell the story of God’s creation of the earth. God as creator exists from one end of the Bible to the other, but in preparation for this sermon I decided to deal with these first creation accounts. I did not, however, feel it to be appropriate for me to read to you the entirety of these 3 chapters, (you’re welcome) so I’m going to attempt to glean several truths from the scriptures and read portions of these chapters throughout the sermon.
Creation is Good! “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. And God saw that the light was good.”
Seven times in the story God saw that creation was good; God called creation good six times before humanity ever came on the scene, by the way. It’s important that we remember that. Perhaps our task as God’s people is simply to also observe just how good creation is, not how good it is in its ability to make us wealthy or comfortable, but how good it is simply because God made it and because of its incredible beauty.
God provides food for the animals and humans. “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 to 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.’”
God provides our food, not Monsanto . We are still very dependent on the natural world for our food; we just no longer seem to recognize that. We think we can manipulate God’s creation and even make it better than what God designed it to be. That frightens me.
It sounds to me like we’ve misunderstood another truth. “God blessed humankind, 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 granted us dominion.
The fact of human domination of the planet is, I think, beyond dispute. The writer of Genesis would not have imagined in a million years just what we’ve learned in terms of asking the earth to serve us. God created an ecosystem that has worked great for several billion years now. So far, we’ve not been able to do better, and I fear we never will.
Perhaps dominion has to be balanced with another truth of creation; “So God created humankind in God’s image, in the image of God he created them.”
If, in fact, we’ve really been created in God’s image, then we have to exercise dominion in the ways in which God does. Later in Genesis, in the Noah story, God made a covenant with the animals and with the earth itself. As people created in God’s image, do we also make such a covenant? Does industrialized feedlot production of beef, pork, and chicken, for example, reflect such a covenant with the animals?
God created pigs to exude pigness. They were created to root around in the dirt and mud; that’s what makes them happy pigs; that’s who they are; that’s who God created them to be. When we ask pigs to be something they’re not, we’re denying their pigness; we’re denying God’s intention for them. We’re saying to God; we know better how a pig should be a pig than you do. Do you know that scientists are working on finding a stress gene in pigs, so we can breed them without that gene so when we put them in feedlots with 25,000 other pigs, it won’t stress them out? That just seems insane to me.
Denise and I were missionaries in Nigeria when I turned 40. I grew up in eastern NC, which means I grew up on barbecue. So Denise thought it would be fun to have a pig-pick’in for my 40th birthday and invite the village to my celebration. She asked Sardona, who was one of the United Methodist pastors in our village and who also raised pigs, if he’d cook a pig for us for my birthday. He was happy to oblige, but on the afternoon of the day before the party, we noticed Sardona walking up the path to our house with a pig on the end of a rope, like he was walking a dog. Denise said, “Sardona the party’s not until tomorrow; what’s up; what are you doing here today?” He said, “The pig has to spend it’s last night with you.” And he tied it to a tree in our backyard, where it spent its last night. Sardona had made a covenant with that pig. He had ultimate respect for that animal who was going to give its life for the celebration of my birthday. Evidently Sardona needed Denise and me to make such a covenant too.
Having dominion and being created in God’s image would indicate to me that our dominion would be motivated solely out of a sense of love and care and respect for all else that God has made because God loves and cares for all else that God made; and that we would exercise our scientific knowledge and technological expertise as a way of preserving God’s creation rather than exploiting it; in other words, our dominion has to be motivated by something other than wealth and greed. In the Kingdom of God, the economy is not the only consideration for every decision that is made.
The creation of humankind was not the climax of creation; in fact, we were created on the same day as the rest of the land animals; we didn’t even get a day to ourselves; can you believe that? Paul says in Colossians, “all things were created through Christ and for Christ,” not for you and me. I love the Woody Guthrie song, “This land is your land; this land is my land, from California to the New York islands.” But the truth is, it is not your land; it is not my land; it is God’s land and it was created for Christ! “All things were created through Christ and for Christ.” No wonder we didn’t get a day to ourselves.
No, the climax of creation was the Sabbath, the seventh day, and not just a Sabbath for God, but for us, and for the land, even for the animals. Sabbath keeping; it’s probably the most important thing we can do to care for God’s creation.
Humanity was created out of the dust of the earth. “Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” Did you know that if you take two handfuls of good, living, healthy, organic soil, there are as many living organisms in those two handfuls of soil as there are people on the planet! It was out of those two handfuls of earth, that you and I have been created. How can we be any more connected to the earth than that; than to have been created out of it?
But that wasn’t enough for our creation, was it. God breathed into our nostrils the breath of life. So how can we be any more connected to God than to have God’s breath breathed into our nostrils? By virtue of the fact that we exist as living, breathing human beings, we have a relationship with the earth because we were created out of it, and we have a relationship with God because God is our very breath of life. Some Biblical scholars don’t even translate the Hebrew word as “human being” but as “groundling” because it was out of the ground that we emerged.
Shortly after God created Adam, God was afraid Adam would be lonely and decided to create a partner for him. And most of us think that what came next was the creation of Eve, but we would be incorrect. “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.’ So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air; and brought them to the man to see what he would call them.” A few verses later, the writer states that none of the animals were found to be an adequate partner for Adam, at least not in that sense, and so then Eve was created. But there must have been some notion on God’s part that there could be some sort of a partnership between humanity and the animals.
Adam was put in the garden to care for it. “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to till it and keep it;” not to use it all up, not to wipe it out, not to exploit it, not to see how much money he could make from it. Adam was placed there to care for it.
God’s first commandment to Adam had to do with food and eating. “And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” God had just asked the earth to bring forth vegetation for food, and then said, “but there’s one tree you got to stay away from.” And of course, you know the story, they couldn’t resist. They ate the food they weren’t supposed to eat, their eyes were opened, and they discovered they had no clothes on. Do you realize that if Adam and Eve had obeyed God, we might all be naked vegetarians to this day? I have a bumper sticker that says, “God’s original plan was to hang out in a garden with some naked vegetarians.” That sounds like a pretty good plan to me. Just think about that for a moment; try to envision a world full of naked vegetarians; look around you; use your imagination. It would be a far more peaceful world, one in which our ecological footprint would more than likely be far smaller. Maybe Lakeside should start a movement, the naked vegetarianism movement. And Charles Swadley is your leader. Somebody needs to bring it up at Church Council.
Long story short, Adam and Eve lost their relationship with the garden; God kicked them out because, according to God, “See the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil.” No longer does God have the exclusive right to determine good and evil. We have taken on that responsibility ourselves. Our task is to define good the way God defines it, for example, as God sees creation and calls it good; and to understand evil the way God understands it.
Gus Speth, dean of the school of forestry at Yale University recently addressed a group of religious leaders. He said, “I used to think the top environmental problems facing the world were global warming, environmental degradation and ecosystem collapse, and that we scientists could fix those problems with enough science, but I was wrong. The real problem is not those three items but greed, selfishness, and apathy. And for that we need a spiritual and cultural transformation. And we scientists don’t know how to do that. We need your help.”
When our relationships are not right, relationships with each other, with God, and with God’s creation, greed, selfishness, and apathy emerge. It’s not about hugging trees; it’s about greed, selfishness, and apathy; it’s about the reconciliation of all things in heaven and on earth, to Christ Jesus our Lord. I know of no organization other than the church that can effect such a spiritual and cultural transformation. I’m afraid the mantle falls to you to make that happen! Who else is going to do it? Who else is there? No, I’m afraid it’s up to you! Amen.