July 6, 2014

The Stewardship of Creation

Passage: Psalm 104:5-23 Isaiah 55:6-13


Seek the Lord while he may be found,  call upon him while he is near;

let the wicked forsake their way,  and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them,   and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.

For as the heavens are higher than the earth,  so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,

and do not return there until they have watered the earth,

making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,

so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;  it shall not return to me empty,

but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,  and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

For you shall go out in joy,   and be led back in peace;

the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song,

and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.

Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;

instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;

and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial,

for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.

Genesis 1:26-28 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.’ 

Genesis 2:15-18 [part of second creation account]

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. 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.’

Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.’

Just to review from last week. Humanity was created in the image of God, male and female. Not only is it not good for the Adam [dust or earth] to be alone, he is not yet fully human until the female comes into being.

Brueggemann in his commentary on Genesis posits three things about the garden scene. Humanity is given:

i)  Vocation - They are placed in the garden to ‘till it and keep it.’ While the garden is in every way lush and abundant in its growth, it requires managing. The force of the word keep is like ‘shepherding.’ To preserve, maintain, to be stewards of God’s good creation.

ii) Permission: Humans have radical freedom. They can eat of anything in the garden and the animal kingdom is under their control. Not for exploitation, but rather for careful stewardship. Freedom equates to the risk that God took in creating the creatures who have the potential of aspiring to divinity, replacing God with themselves.

iii)           Prohibition: The tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Hebrew merismus meaning everything from A to Z. In other words, become like God. Here we need to remember the abundance of the garden; the humans have no need for requiring this fruit. If they can accept with gratitude that they have been placed in this delightful garden to enjoy and flourish, all will be well. The prohibition reminds the human, that she/he are creatures, not the creator. However, they have possibilities of being related to the creator and can enter into fellowship with the creator.

Herein lies the problem. Humans have been given dominion because they have the possibility of forming communities; they have a relational capacity that the animal world does not have to the same extent. Although their origing may be the same, i.e. form dust, they have the possibility of conversing with each other and their maker in a way that animals cannot replicate.

It is tempting to take that sovereignty over the created order of things and use it for our own selfish purposes. This scripture which states that humankind has dominion and can subdue the earth has been blamed for many of the ecological problems we are now facing. However the critique misses the mark, for humanity has been given dominion all the while reflecting the image of God. In other words we have dominion in the manner which God exercises dominion - giving to us abundance; radical freedom and ultimate care.

When the disciples dispute the issue of greatness, Jesus gives them the cue to understanding how to exercise ‘dominion or sovereignty.’

Mark 10:41-45  When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, ‘You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’

Clearly, the mandate about ‘dominion’ has a different edge to it, when placed in the context of discipleship and being a steward of God’s good earth. Our problem has not been the concept of dominion. Rather we have exercised that dominion in ways which serve our own selfish ends. Taking liberties with the earth’s resources, we have devised ever more sophisticated ways to exploit this beautiful planet, whether we are discussion tar sands, coal mining, fracking or whatever.

Our record is no better when we consider the animal kingdom with its ever growing list of endangered or exterminated species. One Example: When the white man saw the seemingly endless supply of buffalo on the prairies, his penchant was to indiscriminately slaughter them, often for no good reason. Whereas the aboriginal communities had managed them carefully for centuries of time, the buffalo were now facing extinction. Ask any Newfoundlander what has happened to the cod in light of the massive fishing trawlers scooping up what used to be an endless supply of fish.

Does Jesus spend much time on such issues?

‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. Matthew 6:25-29

What Jesus illustrates is that the creator has concern for all creatures, even the birds of the air. Remember the old spiritual: “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.” Working on a slave plantation, this may not have been much comfort, but it did give some sense of hope, that under the master’s whip there was a God who would ultimately bring justice to bear.

But note as well the keen observation about the lilies of the field. So Solomon who was king in the glory days of ancient Israel with his magnificent building projects, including the temple in Jerusalem, cannot match the intricacy and beauty of a common field lily. This too, is part of the garden called planet earth.

So we struggle with so much in our current environment. Global warming is heaping ever more natural disasters upon us, but some still debate whether it is really happening. Where does one go to find clean air? When I studied in Pasadena, California in the sixties, the smog often meant that people could not see Mt. Wilson, over 1500 meters, at the end of our street. When it rained which was very infrequent, it was like waking up to a whole new city. “I can see.”

There is much doom and gloom out there when it comes to plotting a way forward. Some will even ask if it is too late to do anything about global warming. While it is true that we can reach an irreversible tipping point, many small strides can make a huge difference. Part of our difficulty in North America has to do with wealth. When I was in Malawi, they were not worried about carbon emissions from cars - there were so few. People walked or rode bicycles if they could afford them. But here, I am embarrassed to say that even in our family, car rides were taken to the local gym [a 20 minute walk]. It requires an attitudinal shift that may be difficult to effect in a rich continent because of a sense of entitlement.

On the CBC radio program “the current” this week, they talked about a study regarding wealth and the social fabric. One experiment that intrigued me was done in Los Angeles where they observed a pedestrian crosswalk with pedestrians having the right of way. Those driving BMWs tended not to stop whereas those driving lesser cars, did. Apparently those with more wealth have a sense of entitlement and ownership rather than expressing concern for their neighbour.

But here is the point. God created a very good world. It is a world in which humankind reflect the divine image when they live in community [not good to be alone] and in peace and harmony. Our God given vocation is to till the garden and manage it for the sake of all. While humans have severely marred the good creation, subjecting it to futility and bondage to decay, there is hope. Listen to what the apostle Paul has to say:

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Romans 8:18-25

In other words the entire created order participates in the exciting day when the new heaven and new earth comes into being; - “the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God.” In the meantime, if you and I claim to be Christian and related to the creator God, we need to do everything in our power and ability to relieve some of the groaning of creation.

God saw everything that God had made, and it was VERY GOOD!