Sunday, April 23, 2017

Phil Kniss: Curators of Creation

Easter 2: Creation Care
Gen. 1:28, 31; 2:8-10, 15; 9:8-10, 14-17; Col. 1:15-20; Psa. 104

Watch the video:

...or listen to audio:

...or download a printer-friendly PDF file: click here

...or read it online here:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

Ever hear that verse before?
Of course.
But probably not to open a sermon about Creation Care.
Seems odd,
to not go to that verse first,
when pondering the care of creation.

For people of faith,
the love of God for the world ought to be our primary motivation,
to take care of this world we live in.

Because that verse has often been associated with
God’s love for us sinful humans,
we often forget how broad that statement really is.

God loves . . . the world.
God really loves this whole world.
God loves everything God put in this world,
large and small.
God loves Mount McKinley . . . and Mole Hill.
God loves the Amazon River . . . and Blacks Run.
God loves the California Redwood . . . and the Shasta Daisy.

And of course, God loves us. God loves us most of all.
God created us human beings,
and placed in us God’s own image.
And God wants us to reflect that image,
and to return that love.
Of all creation, God wants to be in a unique relationship with us.
But God loves the whole world.
We would know that if we read it in Greek.
That word we translate “world”?
that word we often shrink, to mean only “human beings”?
The word is cosmos.
John 3:16 reads, literally, “For God so loved the cosmos.”

In the church, any conversation about Creation Care,
has to start with the love of God for the Cosmos.
Dig a little deeper into this word cosmos,
and you see it means “something ordered,”
an “ordered system.”
The most accurate way to render the first line
of John 3:16,
is “For God so loved the whole created order.”
We diminish the richness of this verse,
when we read that phrase “loved the world”
as, “loved the world of people.”

It’s hard for us to even imagine what God’s love for the world is like.
We have nothing in our own experience to compare it to.
We have never created a world.

We might start by saying God loves the world
like Rembrandt loves his most magnificent painting.
But that doesn’t say quite enough.
We might say that God loves the world
like my mother loves me.
But even that is a pale reflection of the whole.

God put this world together
with such love and care and purpose
and tenderness and awesome power,
it simply is too much to grasp.

And if that were too much to ponder,
we are then told by scripture
that God took this awesome work of love and power,
and handed it over to us humans,
God’s image-bearing representatives,
and said, “Here. Take care of it for me.”

The well-being of creation is not left to chance.
God, and the whole created order,
is depending on us to do our job, and do it well.

What is that job? Let’s turn to Genesis.
We will hear parts of Genesis three times,
From the first creation story in Genesis 1,
and the second version of the creation story in Genesis 2,
and the story of God’s covenant with creation after the flood.
Let’s hear the word of the Lord, from Genesis 1:28 and 31 . . .

28 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.” 31 God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

Dominion. Subdue.
Sticky words, for our relationship with creation.
From time immemorial, whenever we need justification
for damage we inflict on the earth,
we pick out those words, and use them.

When we clear-cut virgin forests without replanting,
as was more common in previous generations.
When we chop off the tops of mountains to get to coal,
which still happens.
When we knowingly destroy wildlife habitat,
or foul our waterways,
or burn so much carbon we change the global climate,
in every case,
people of faith have pointed to those words, and said,
“We have the right.”
The reasoning goes,
God has given us authority to tame the wildness of creation,
and use it for our purposes.
We have the divine right to rule over creation,
to use it this way.

There are many ways we twist scripture,
at some cost to ourselves and others.
But it’s hard to think of any more disastrous
misinterpretation of sacred text,
in terms of the long-lasting damage resulting
to our physical and spiritual well-being,
to our relationships,
and to the cosmos itself,
than our effort to make this a text about “our rights.”

We must reread this and recover its true meaning.

Yes, in our interaction with creation, we have rights, in a way.
But they are specific and narrowly defined,
and God maintains ownership.

Our rights are similar, in many ways,
to the rights of a curator of an art gallery.

Some of you are artists.
You know what it’s like to create something
of value, of meaning, of beauty,
something that eventually took on a life of its own,
and then you finished it, and let it go.
You toiled over it many days.
Then you stepped back, looked at it,
and saw that it was good.
And then you rested from your work, for a day,
soaked up its beauty and goodness.
You understand Genesis 1 better than any of us.

Some of you have submitted your work to a gallery,
a public show,
or perhaps to a museum.
And those entities had a curator.
One who had both rights and responsibilities
to treat your art in a certain way.
There may even have been some contract you signed,
that spelled out their legal rights,
which gave them some freedom to work with your art
in a way that fit their purposes.
But you still owned the work.
And you had protections as well,
against them using the art in such a way as to ruin it.

When you look for a curator for your work,
you look for one that understands your needs as creator of art,
one that understands their sacred trust.

If a gallery manager kept communicating to you,
over and over, in multiple ways,
“Remember, we have the right
to do what we want with your art,”
you would probably look for a different gallery.

A curator may have the legal right to hang a piece of art
on the exterior wall, outside, on the sidewalk,
exposed to sun and rain and the curious fingers of passersby.
And if they purchase your art outright,
and make it part of their permanent collection,
they have the right to do whatever they want,
including stuffing it a box in the basement,
painting over top of it,
or cutting it up for scrap.

They have the right.
But they wouldn’t stay in business long.

If we want to talk about our rights, with God’s created order,
then lets talk as curators of creation.
By definition, a curator is one who cares for something, a guardian.

When Genesis 1 says to exercise dominion, or rule over,
it’s a command to care for, on God’s behalf.
God never turns over ownership.
In Psalm 50, God says, “every animal of the forest is mine,
and the cattle on a thousand hills.”

If we don’t care for God’s creation,
in a way that authentically reflects
the love and beauty and purpose and tenderness
of its Creator,
we are failing in this directive given to us in Genesis 1.
We are no longer ruling as God asked us to rule—
as a vice-regent, a representative, a curator—
we are seizing ownership,
over the pained objections of the true owner and creator.

This role of curator is spelled out further
in the second story of creation that we have in Genesis.
So now . . . let’s hear the word of the Lord from Genesis 2:8-10, 15

8 And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. 9 Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. 10 A river flows out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it divides and becomes four branches. 15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.

Here again, our role is clear, if we open our eyes and read it.
God is landowner, designer, creator
of this Garden of Delights that is the earth,
and indeed the cosmos.
We are the gardeners, hired to till and to keep, it says.
To keep the garden.
That is, to preserve, to treasure, to guard,
to ensure that it fulfills the intent of the Creator.
We are earth-keepers.
That is our divine mandate, recorded in scripture.
To do otherwise, is an insult to Creator God.
And it is sin.
I don’t know how else to put it.

But a few chapters later in Genesis,
it gets taken a step further.
There is a covenant at stake.
Let’s hear the word of the Lord from Genesis 9:8-10 and 14-17.

8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, 9 “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, 10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark.    14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” 17 God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”

God is in a covenant with us, and with all living creatures.
After the great flood God made a covenant with all creation
and put up a rainbow as a reminder.
We think too narrowly of the rainbow.
It’s not there just to help us remember
that God is not going to destroy humankind again.
God said it’s a reminder for God.
It’s to remind God of the covenant.
“When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it
and remember the everlasting covenant between God
and every . . . living . . . creature of all flesh that is on the earth.”

How often do we stop to think about the fact
that God is in a covenant relationship
with the black rhinoceros and ruby-throated hummingbird
and every living creature on earth?
We should think of that at least as often as we see a rainbow.

God’s love for creation was not a once and done thing,
when God sat back on Day 7 and enjoyed his good work.
God continues to love creation.
God continues to delight in it.

The psalmist understood this so well.

We read two sections of Psalm 104 today,
in the call to worship,
and in the reading before the sermon.
Read it again, at your leisure,
see how many times some particular species of animal is named.

God delights in them all.
Including a little rodent that runs around in the rocks
in Africa and parts of the Middle East—
the hyrax, or rock badger, or coney,
as the NewRSV referred to in v. 18.
Also mentioned are cedars, firs, storks, wild goats, and more.
And the Leviathan, or sea monster, in v. 26,
(or could be a reference to a whale),
an animal that, the psalmist says to God,
“you formed to frolic there” in the ocean.
Got that?
God formed a creature to frolic.
Sounds like the Great Creator was doing more than
functional work, being productive.
Sounds like God was having fun, creating entertainment.

That’s our creator God,
who dearly loves, who delights in,
everything that God made.

This is where we start and end
conversations in the church about the environment.
This is a matter of Christian discipleship,
and speaks volumes about our relationship with God.
Yes, it is about the well-being of the planet,
and about the well-being of the world’s poor and vulnerable,
who pay the biggest price when it comes to climate change.
But it is fundamentally about grasping the broad and deep love of God
for all of creation,
and the sacred trust God has placed in us.
It is ultimately, about our spiritual well-being.

God give us the courage to live into this high calling.

So let’s sing a glorious creation hymn
that comes from our old red hymnal,
and that we sang yesterday at Hubert Pellman’s memorial,
since it was one of his favorite hymns.
It’s about all parts of creation, especially the heavenly bodies,
sun, moon, planets,
proclaiming the greatness of their creator God.

You’ll find the final line of the hymn
on a small piece of paper in your bulletin.
So hold that in your hand, along with the back of your bulletin,
as we stand and sing together.

—Phil Kniss, April 23, 2017

[To leave a comment, click on "comments" link below and write your comment in the box. When finished, click on "Other" as your identity, and type in your real name. Then click "Publish your comment."]

No comments:

Post a Comment