Seward United Methodist Church
Monday, May 21, 2018
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Stewardship of Creation

Genesis 1:1-5 and 26-2:15

 Today is Trinity Sunday.  You’ll notice that in our Scriptures for today, there is mention of the Triune God.  In Genesis, God the Father creates.  He creates by the spoken Word, Word being one of the names for Jesus.  And the Spirit of God hovers over the waters.  When God creates human beings, he breathes or “spirits” into them life.  Creation is an act of the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

 I skipped over most of the creation story in chapter 1.  I think it’s familiar to us, and I want to focus on three great ideas found in this text, which together give us a picture of God, the universe, and our relationship to both of them.

 First, God created.  That is no longer taken for granted.  There are alternative origin stories.  There have always been alternative stories, other mythologies, but most have begun with some kind of divine origin.  Now there are more stories out there that have no place for God.  We hold on to a Creator and a creation because it forms the foundation for the rest of our story.  

 God created.  The how and the when are not as important.  Sometimes Genesis is read like it’s a textbook, even to the point of some people going back and tracing all the lineages and declaring the exact time of the creation.  For example, according to Gerhard Hasel, the earth was created in 4178 BC.  That’s pretty precise for someone who wasn’t there!

 It is interesting how the order of creation in Genesis is very similar to the scientific understanding of the order in which different species arose.  But I don’t think we should force this.  Our faith is in a Creator God, not in a particular interpretation of Genesis.  It is true that the Hebrew word for “day” can also mean “period of time.”  It’s not an assault on the Bible to suggest the earth might be more than 6000 years old.  

 There are basically three understandings among believers about the creation.  There is “Young Earth Creationism,” which says the world is less than 10,000 years old, taking the days of creation as literal 24 hour days.  There is “Old Earth Creationism,” which takes the days of creation as non-literal, and supposes the earth is at least tens of thousands of years old, perhaps much more.  And then there is “Intelligent Design,” which accepts the scientific understanding that the earth is about four billion years old, but which says that God designed it such that processes like evolution are under his control.  They explain the creation story as a “myth” that people were capable of

understanding.  I don’t think any of those views is incompatible with faith.  I find something to like in each of them, and I find something not to like in each of them.  At the end of the day, I’m not really concerned which one is correct.  I believe in a Creator.  The how and the when are inconsequential compared to the belief in a Creator.  

 If there is a Creator, then the universe does not exist by chance.  We are here on purpose.  We’re not a cosmic accident.  We were made by God.

 Not only that, but we are given the title of highest honor in the creation.  We are made in the image of God; both male and female are made in the image of God.  The rest of the creation story is kind of impersonal; God simply speaks things into being.  But when it comes to human beings, God says, “Let us make human beings in our image and our likeness.”  Genesis 2:7 describes God creating human beings carefully, lovingly, crafting them by hand and breathing into them the breath of life.  

 Now, are there two different creation stories?  You might hear someone say that.  I was told that once, that Genesis 1 and 2 each tell a different story of creation.  That’s not the case.  It’s just the Hebrew way of telling a story.  When they told a story, they would begin by saying something like, “This is the story of the time such-and-such happened.”  They would tell the whole story in one sentence.  Then they would “back up” and re-tell the most interesting parts of the story in greater detail.  In this case, chapter two “backs up” and tells the most interesting part of the creation story in detail, which is the creation of human beings in the image of God.

 We are said to be made in the image and the likeness of God, in Hebrew the TSELEM and DEMUTH of God.  What does that mean?

 It’s often understood to mean some particular trait of humanity that makes us different from the animals.  For example, we have language.  Now animals communicate with each other, but they don’t write Shakespeare.  We have reason and thoughtfulness.  We have free will.  We don’t have to act by our instincts.  We can choose to do something that goes against our instincts.  We have creativity.  We have conscience, a sense of right and wrong.  We have self-awareness.  We think about the meaning of our lives, and we question our place in the universe.  All of those things are unique to humans, or at least much more pronounced in us than in animals.

 But there is something more to the image of God.  The image of God is our capacity to have relationship with God and our ability to reflect the likeness, to show the

character of God.  God is good.  God is holy.  God is just.  God is merciful.  God is kind.  God is loving.  We have the capacity to reflect that character to the world.  That’s what it means to be made in the image and likeness of God.

 In ancient Near East thinking, an idol, that is an image, the same word, in some way carried part of the essence of the real thing.  That was how idols worked.  Some part of the essence of the “god” was contained in the idol, so by appeasing the idol, you were also appeasing the “god.”  Kings would erect images of themselves throughout their kingdom to bring their essence to those places.  We are called to be the “idols” of God, not a very comfortable thought.  We are called to bring his character, some part of his essence, into the world.  

 This tells us that we have intrinsic value.  We have been given value by God for who we are, not just what we can do.  Not long ago I heard a young woman talk about why she was uncomfortable going to church.  She said, “It’s not so much that I’m afraid of other people judging me.  I’m judging myself.  I’m saying, ‘I’m not good enough.’”  That’s a lie.  All human beings have value.  None of us are “good enough” in the moral sense.  We’ve all sinned.  But we’re all good enough in the sense that we are valuable to God.  Sin has effaced, damaged, the image of God in us, but it has not erased it.

 As creatures made in the image of God, we are charged with overseeing creation.  We have the awesome power to destroy other life.  And we have.  We have brought about the end of many forms of life on this planet.  

 Unfortunately, this text has been used to justify the abuse of creation.  There was a professor from UCLA, named Lynn White, Jr., who in the 1960s wrote a piece called, “The Historical Roots of Our Current Ecological Crisis,” in which he blamed the rise of Christianity in the western world for the ecological crises of today.  

 He wrote about the “Triumphalist” understanding of Genesis 1:28, where God tells human beings to “subdue the earth.”  The Triumphalist understanding is that God tells us to master the earth, rule over it, subdue it for our gain and pleasure.  Turn forests into lumber, minerals into fuel, animals into food.  Use it all for our gain.  

 None of those things is inherently evil.  It’s not wrong to turn a tree into a house or to turn coal into electricity.  The problem is we don’t know when to say, “Enough.”  

 God knows when to say, “Enough.”  That’s the meaning of Sabbath.  To Sabbath is to stop, to say, “That’s enough.”  Sabbath is enjoying the goodness of what is rather than what could be.  Sabbath is enjoying the tree for being a tree rather than turning it into lumber.  We don’t know when to say, “Enough.”  We never have enough food, enough money, enough stuff.  We never have enough.  We are greedy.  We lack contentment. 

 The Triumphalist understanding is wrong.  It’s wrong because it forgets God.  God, and God alone, is the measure of all things.  God has appointed us as his viceroys, his stewards, to care for creation.  But that status is a delegated status.  We don’t have that status in ourselves.  We have it because God gave it to us.  

 Every part of the creation is called good.  And we can only rightly use the earth as God would use it.  A steward or a viceroy is not free to act against the wishes of the master or the king.  God created it carefully and made it good, so we should use it carefully and keep its goodness.  It is wrong for us to use it wastefully.  It is evil to abuse and destroy the earth because to do so is to ruin what God made good.  

 But we do a lot of that.  One of the things I notice as a runner and a hiker and a paddler is just how often people litter.  When I run on the roads around New Florence, I see trash everywhere on the sides of the road.  It’s obvious many people just chuck it out the window.  Even in the deepest, darkest forests of Ontario on canoe trips, I see litter.  That is not just poor ecology; it is also poor theology.  It’s an abuse of the creation, and therefore an abuse of the Creator.  It demonstrates a poor understanding of God, his creation, and our relationship to both of them.  

 We might not think being a good environmentalist as part of our walk with Christ.  But if we’re going to understand our relationship to God and our role as a steward of creation rightly, then it most certainly is.  We honor God when we take care of the world he made good.

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