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And It Was Very Good
August 11, 2013
Genesis 1:26-31; John 13:31-35
Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, 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 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.” And it was so.
God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
John 13: 31-35
When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
And It Was Very Good
Every summer when I was a child, my family would escape the oppressive Houston heat and travel north to visit my grandparents at their small farmhouse in the rolling hills outside St. Louis. Family vacations at that little farmhouse were magical for me and my sister. I have vivid memories of sitting in a canoe on a glassy lake with my grandfather, my red and white bobber awaiting the nibbles of a hungry fish. I remember watching whitetail deer munch on summer grass amidst tall leafy trees. I remember the taste of sun sweet blackberries that grew in a wild tangle in the garden. I remember catching butterflies with my mom and dad in a big overgrown field behind the house. I must have spent hours exploring lazy creek beds, looking for fossils and trying to catch bull frogs.
My other set of grandparents lived still further north in Wheaton Illinois and were great nature lovers as well. My grandfather, a botany professor, is rumored to have planted half of the trees in Wheaton and was known to tap maples in winter time and brew syrup in a bathtub. I remember my grandfather teaching me the names of flowers and plants in my backyard and my grandmother lingering over a glass of iced tea on the back porch, enjoying the sunlight.
Many of my happiest memories of my childhood were set in the great outdoors. There was such a bigness to it all, a wildness, a realm yet to be explored, adventures to be had, wonders to be observed. We all have those memories, don’t we? Those moments in nature that take our breath away or fill us with awe. The first time you hiked a mountain – swam in the river at Mo Ranch, the time a butterfly lighted on your arm. Think on those memories for a moment. Breathe them in. How very good those memories are.
It is no wonder that our story as Christians begins in a garden. The writers of the creation accounts in Genesis speak of the awesome moment when God created order from amidst the chaos and darkness and void.
Light from dark, dry from wet, plant from soil, bird from fish, cow from bug, human from dust, human from human, order from chaos. When we look closely at the story of our making, we find less a historical account of geologic history, but rather, a love story. We find a story of a God who’s very nature is an ever-creating and re-creating love. We discover the story of a God who is playful in the flight of a bird, beautiful in the scattering of stars, and mysterious in the creatures of the deep.
For thousands of years, human beings have found God revealed in the wonders of creation. The writer of Romans says “For since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities—God’s eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” When we examine the nature of God through the lens of creation, we indeed see a God that is creative, beautiful, and powerful. Yet, perhaps the most striking revelation we witness is that God is loving and God wants to be in relationship with creation.
The story of Genesis tells us that God walked with us in the garden, that God knew us as intimately as our very breath. At the end of the first creation account, it is that relationship that is pronounced very good. God looked at all that God had created, the balance, the harmony with God, humanity, and nature, and it was very good.
This summer, our sermon topics have been based on tough theological questions provided by you brilliant people sitting in the pews. The question posed to us this morning is “Why should Christians care about climate change?” Good question. It seems like a lot of folks are asking this question these days.
In recent years, Hollywood has picked up on this conversation and capitalized on our worst climate change nightmares with films like “The Day After Tomorrow”. This movie gives us a glimpse of what the world would be like if our climate suddenly and violently shifted. The sudden climate shift begins subtly with alarms going off in North Atlantic weather stations. Then super storms begin to develop over the northern hemisphere.
Then as government officials begin to realize the scale of the disaster, hailstorms the size of watermelons begin to crash down on the streets of Japan, enormous tidal surges topple the Statue of Liberty, and subzero temperatures immediately freeze the American landscape as far south as the Texas Panhandle. Millions die, climate refugees flood into Mexico, and America as we know it becomes an icy wasteland. While this movie is an obvious dramatization of the effects of climate change, it does touch on that deep dark anxiety about our treatment of the planet. What could happen if this place we call home is no longer able to sustain life as we know it?
However, not everyone shares this anxiety. A funny thing happened when I would tell people that I was going to preach on climate change. I started receiving articles in my email inbox. A climatologist friend of mine sent me an article on 100 year weather data. A geologist I know sent me articles from the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. Some of my other friends sent me articles from the EPA and other government agencies. It was an amusing phenomenon to me. When I would tell people that I was preaching on Christ the King Sunday or on the magi at Epiphany, I didn’t receive the same deluge of public research.
The amount of articles I received tells me that the topic of climate change touches a special kind of nerve with people. As I was reading these articles, I realized that every single one told a different side of the story. No two articles shared the same opinion on climate change, in no two articles did the science agree, and in no two articles did the politics or economics agree. It was a preachers dream come true! So, as any good preacher would do, I went to the next obvious place for information on climate change… Google.
When you Google climate change, the top three articles also offer three different takes on climate change. So the questions started piling up. Do humans cause climate change? Is the current climate change part of a natural climate cycle determined by the tilt of the earth’s axis and the deep Atlantic currents? Is climate change even happening? There were articles that argued that global warming is actually good for human flourishing, and articles that argued that global warming would wreak havoc on the economy and tiny pacific islands.
There were articles that blamed the oil and gas companies, articles that blamed cattle ranchers, and articles that blamed the American consumerist lifestyle. It became clear to me that if you sat 10 people down in a room and asked the question, “Why should Christians care about climate change” you would get 10 different answers.
While I think this is an important question, I think there is something even deeper at stake here. If Christians only care about climate change, then we are set up to be a divided people. And when we are a divided people, we get nothing done. How does that African proverb go, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” The heart of today’s question really isn’t about climate change. The real question here is why Christians should care about our relationship with the earth.
Yes, the climate is a part of that question, but so is soil erosion, water scarcity, over-population, species extinction, and a host of other environmental concerns. If we just focus on climate change, we miss the bigger picture – we miss the opportunity to address the heart of the question.
I am not a scientist, so I will not do science from this pulpit. I am not a politician, so I will not preach politics from this pulpit either. This is a place where theology happens. As Christians, our orientation to this conversation is one that begins with our faith.
From the dawn of creation, God has sought to be in harmony with creation. A harmony struck from the perfect balance of human dependence upon the loving relationship with God and the bounty of provisions that the earth supplied. Yet as we know from the third chapter of Genesis, humankind turned away from that harmony, that relationship with God. As a result, humans had to work for their daily bread and that the earth would make our labors difficult. Thorns and sweat now accompanied humans into the fields to grow their wheat. Death entered the world.
Yet when we gather around the Lord’s Table and we pray that Great Prayer of Thanksgiving, we remember that God did not abandon creation. Time and time again God pursued us, called us to return to that perfect relationship, and time and time again we chose other gods. We chose other things to fill the void left in our souls. We turn to the idols of consumerism, of money, of power over other human beings. In our prayer of confession today, we admitted to exploiting neighbor and nature and in so doing, further shattering our relationships.
None of us are immune to being caught up in systems that harm the environment and harm our neighbors. Even the simple act of eating a non organic banana grown in the Philippines contributes to deforestation, the use of harmful pesticides, unfair wages for laborers, and tons of CO2 added to the atmosphere from the transit to America. And we look at these systems, the complexity of our world and the enormity of what it would take to make the world a cleaner, healthier, and a more sustainable place to live and we overwhelmed.
Yet we have hope in Jesus Christ! For when Jesus Christ rose from that tomb, the love of God redeemed the world. All of the world. All of creation was brought back into the arms of God. Brothers and sisters, our savior gives us a new commandment, to love one another. When love is our starting place, we begin to question our practices and choices. We begin to see the places where our relationship with this world has been damaged. We begin to see the face of the other. When our goal is restoring our relationship with God, one another, and the world, we go together, and we will go far.
Every three years, Presbyterian youth from all over the world gather at Purdue University for an event called Triennium. At the closing worship service, 6,000 Presbyterians recited the theme of week in perfect unison “I am because we are.” I am able to make a difference because we are able to make a difference. The greatest social changes in history occurred because individuals stood up to the powers that be and said we choose a different life, we choose a different reality.
What would our world be like if Christians stood together and said we choose a reality in which water shortages no longer threaten African populations?
What would our world be like if Christians worked to empower developing countries and low economic households to enjoy the same privilege of organic and sustainable food choices that we have access to?
What would the world be like if Christians walked more, replaced a few lights in our homes with CFL or LED bulbs, and shopped less?
What would our world be like if we walked once again with God in the garden?
I can’t answer the question whether or not climate change is caused by humans. I can’t answer the question whether not climate change is good for human flourishing or not. But I can say that we have the choice whether to continue practices and lifestyles that damage the planet, or to orient our lives around the goal of restoring the harmony between God, our neighbor, and the earth.
We began our story in a garden, and we end our story in a garden. The book of Revelation proclaims that God is making all things new – that humans one day will join with one another in the garden of the new heaven and the new earth. In that garden there are trees that bear fruit and clear flowing rivers, and every tear will be wiped away and death shall be no more.
Friends, the good news of the gospel is that God is making all things new, both in the here and now, and in the life to come. But God does not act alone. We partner with God as co-creators of this new world to come. We are assured that the ways of corruption, consumerism, and human exploitation will pass away. But we cannot sit back and wait for that to happen. We cannot believe that we are free to exploit the earth because one day we will be in heaven and this world will be no more. When God gave us dominion over the earth, God gave us the responsibility for its care and stewardship, not the obligation to use up and destroy it.
There is a quote from the Talmud that reads, “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work. But neither are you free to abandon it.”
So let us chose to go far together.
Let us chose the ways of life, not just for ourselves, but for the planet that was entrusted to our care.
Let love be our guide and our strength.
And on that day when all of creation is restored, the skies are clean, the waters flow clear, and man and woman walk once again with God in the garden, it will be very good. Amen.