Genesis 2.1-3; Colossians 1.15-29
The Gift of Creation
One of my favorite country songs has a refrain: You don't miss your water until the well runs dry.
It refers to our tendency to take precious things for granted, especially the ones we love.
You don't miss your water until the well runs dry.
What about the other beloved things that surround us?
The air we breathe, the gardens we tend, the food we eat, the birds we watch, the animals we keep, the animals we love to marvel over and so much more.
— these are all precious things.
And it seems that almost all of them we take for granted will be there for us.
For seven years I lived among farmers as their pastor. I learned a great deal from them but especially one very simple lesson: people less likely to take for granted what they tend day by day. I discovered to that the journey from the fertile earth to the dinner table is a painstaking careful journey and one largely forgotten by the grocery shopping world. For farmers, global warming, soil depletion, acid rain are not abstract scientific discussions, they are the stuff of daily life. The same is true for us though we live off the farm.
My wife and I tend to little gardens around our home. It’s just enough for a pastor to get his hands dirty paying attention to earthly delights. When I stop long enough to pay attention, plants and flowers and birds became for me what they are: good gifts from God without which my life would be depleted. Have you ever experienced this? What good might happen for the community of creation if you and I stopped long enough to pay attention?
Though I fail often, I keep seeking to give thanks for simple pleasures in creation.
I notice the air cool and damp,
birds singing, insects clicking, bees buzzing, bugs crawling;
vultures soaring, woodpeckers tapping
even pesky gnats around my ears;
trees bursting forth with an array of colors;
smell of wet grass and freshly laid mulch.
It really is as Genesis said:
very good, very precious,
not taken for granted
simply received as gift of grace and work.
What do you notice when you pay attention to creation? For what do you give thanks?
Do you want to know how to care for creation? I say start with gratitude. Thankful people are caring people.
The Genesis story–which is our story–claims that the whole creation is good, very good, because it is God's creation. It's not our creation, never has been, nor will it ever be. It is God's creation–all the wonder, beauty and terrible complexity of it bear the holiness of God. Within this community of creation, all things have their proper place, including human beings whose primary purpose is to tend the community, be stewards of this marvelous community teeming with life.
Some Orthodox theologians claim that the Hebrew word in Genesis for good, is more accurately beautiful. I rather like that. Try it. When all is done, God saw that it was beautiful.
What I desire most is the capacity to see with the eyes of heart what the poet Gerhard Manley Hopkins saw: "The world is charged with the granduer of God,
it will flame out, like shining from shook foil."1
Or Francis of Assisi singing so joyfully the reality of God's love in all creation.
All creatures of our God and king:
Flowing water, rushing wind,
burning sun, silver moon,
fire so masterful and bright
all call forth praise to God our creator.
Francis was captivated by the conviction of divine love permeating all creation. For such a vision he was called "God's holy fool." O God, bring us today more holy fools for the sake of all your creatures!
In case you are tempted to dismiss Francis’ vision as that of a medieval hippie, listen to John Calvin, the dour Presbyterian. Calvin said “the world is God’s theater of glory, and humankind (he said man) should regularly visit this theater to witness the wonders of God.”
Even the Apostle Paul joins in, making the breath-taking claim that all things in heaven and in earth have their origin in God. "All things," Paul writes in his letter to the Colossians, "have been created through Christ and for Christ who is the image of God and in Christ all things find their coherence." Will you imagine this? Creation is not only a physical world, but a living sacred creation.
Unless we name the perilous condition of God’s creation our affirmation of God's goodness will lead to mere romanticism, flower power with no power, a “Go Green” bumper sticker plastered on an SUV.
I think the church needs to confess that we have failed to affirm consistently by word and action what our scriptures claim is the sacredness of creation. Our failure is comprehensive and has led to disastrous results. I certainly include myself in that failure. The scriptures, by which we live, assign us the role of stewards of creation – God’s assigned caretakers, tenders of this sacred beauty – and we have neither cared for the earth, nor tended the beauty.
We have ignored the consequences of our actions and the consequences of our government’s long history of neglect thereby assigning the disaster to future generations and especially the poor.
We thought and some still think,
that it is possible
our earthly home–God's creation–
without ever suffering the consequences of our action.
Yet, we know that we cannot endlessly pollute our streams, our air, our land.
The ground can only hold so many chemicals before we are drinking them.
We can't continue to destroy what cannot be replaced. How much longer shall we debate while our home is crumbling around us?
It's like the man who was cold and chopped up his house piece by piece for fire wood. We are chopping up our home, and the home for the creatures of God with whom we share this home.
The Apostle Paul said it this way: the wages of sin is death. Our sin – the failure to be faithful stewards of God's gifts – may be the death of all creation.
If we stop at confession that would bring us despair. The beginning of the good news is that most of these is now common knowledge. It’s now cool to be Green. Actually that is a step in the right direction. And so is the purchase of better light bulbs, energy saving appliances, more energy efficient cars, and every other small step. It’s all good and much more is needed. Writing in the New Times, Tom Friedman says what is needed now for the challenges we face is a renewed ethic of stewardship.
What if Saint Mark took seriously this call to an ethic of stewardship? What if we agreed to a covenant that being a faithful Christian involves caring for the community of God’s creation? What if we decided to Go Green, not only because the planet is burning up, but in gratitude to God and for the sake of generations to come? Could Reduce, Reuse and Recycle become for us sacred obligations and spiritual disciplines?
None of this is easy. The damage has been done. But if we are to avoid ever greater ecological disaster, a total reorientation of our ways of thinking and acting is necessary.
Nothing less than a conversion will do.
The hour is late. It's time to wake up.2
So when you have done what you can, remember:
at the end of the day
when we have done all that we can;
loved all creation well
labored faithfully for the things that matter most,
then we may rest in the gracious mercy of God
in whom we live and move and have our being.