Sunday, October 20, 2019

Phil Kniss: But wait! There’s more!

The Diversity of Creation 
Gen 1 and 2 selections; Psalm 104:14-26; Matthew 6:25-30

Watch the video:

...or listen to audio:

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

...or read it online here:

There is no end to the bounty of our Creator God.
Bounty. Abundance. Beauty. Diversity.
Our God is excessive, extravagant, lavish, immoderate,
and yes—I’ll say it—liberal in love and delight 
for all things wonderful in this world.

It’s just that we skeptical and cautious and self-protective human beings
don’t quite believe that.
Or . . . if on some level we do grasp that it’s true,
we immediately wonder . . . why?
Of what use is this excess in Creation?
To what useful or practical end? How does it help me?

Despite our skepticism, despite our instinct to manage and contain,
God’s bounty and diversity just keeps coming at us.

At the risk of being flippant and sacrilegious . . . 
God, like a cosmic hawker of Ginsu Knives—
after we are already wide-eyed in amazement
at the great deal we are getting—
says to us . . . “But wait! There’s more!”
With God, there is always more!
More that we have not seen.
More that we have not begun to understand.
More that we know is out there,
but will never grasp.
More that is, frankly, wasted on us.
Like exotic sea creatures on ocean floor,
never directly seen by the human eye.

So what gives us the notion
that God created this universe for our use and pleasure?
Why does it even strike us as odd or wasteful,
that God would have created things
that we will never see nor enjoy?
Or to move beyond earth,
why do many of us not want to ponder the possibility
that God may have other worlds out in the universe—
worlds that God loves,
beings that God interacts with,
lives that God may also choose to dwell with,
in their world, in their way?
Why do we make ourselves the center of the story,
instead of God?

Well . . . it’s been going on a long time.
Since Adam and Eve and their kids, as a matter of fact.

It’s kind of the whole story of humankind and God,
laid out for us in 66 books of the Bible.

As we heard in today’s selections from the first book, Genesis,
God created a beautiful and abundant world,
full of every imaginable kind of living thing,
and commanded them to be fruitful and multiply,
to make even more,
and then asked us humans, the pinnacle of Creation,
to tend it and till it and love it on behalf of God.

But human beings soon turned away from that invitation.
Instead of being God’s collaborators, 
they became God’s competitors,
and tried to remake the world to serve them,
instead of to serve the Great Creator.

Instead of celebrating, with God,
the abundance and beauty and diversity of created things,
they contained and consolidated.
With selfish anxiety, they tried to tame the wildness,
they reduced themselves and others
to the lowest common denominator.
Something they could manage and control.

The sad story begins in chapter 3 of Genesis,
when, with the tempter’s encouragement,
they start obsessing about the tree 
from which they cannot eat.

Unable to accept the limits of their humanity,
and just trust and delight in God’s abundant provisions,
they take, and eat.
And things go downhill from there.

Son Cain, unable to accept that his younger brother
has something he doesn’t have,
unable to trust God to provide what is needed,
takes matters into his own hands,
lets his jealousy take over, and murders his brother.

And not but seven chapters later,
the whole world is caught up in this sin of selfish anxiety,
not trusting in God’s abundance and diversity.
Instead of obeying God’s command to be fruitful, multiply,
and spread out, and fill the earth,
they decide to contain and consolidate.
They conspire with each other to stick close together,
build up their political power,
construct a tower 
and make themselves the center of the story.

God sees where that will lead, and intervenes.
God scatters them around the world, as intended,
speaking different languages,
inhabiting different cultures,
living in the beauty and bounty and diversity
God spoke into existence at Creation.

And I’m not yet halfway through Genesis.
I could just keep going in my Bible,
paging to the right,
jumping ahead two more chapters here, and three chapters there,
finding story after story after story,
where God’s people did not trust 
God’s abundant and beautifully-created diversity,
and instead struggled to control and manage,
and usurp God’s rightful place in the order of things.

The disobedience of Abraham, 
who passed off his wife as his sister for economic gain, 
The cruelty of Jacob, 
who scammed his older brother out of his inheritance,
The shame of Jacob’s sons,
who sold off their privileged younger brother into slavery,
The sin of the Hebrews delivered from slavery in Egypt,
who preferred the food security back in Egypt,
over depending on God for daily manna in the desert,
The rebellion of the nation of Israel,
who rejected the direct rule of God,
and asked for a human king like the other nations,
. . . and the stories go on and on.

Again and again,
we humans fall to this temptation.
We are unwilling to trust in God’s abundance and diversity,
and we clamor for control of our lives and circumstances.
Nearly every calamitous story in the Bible
can be traced to this sin of distrust in God’s abundance,
the sin of putting ourselves at the center of the story.

That wonderful psalm delighting in Creation, Psalm 104,
tells a different story.
All the many gifts in God’s good creation,
are for the benefit of all creatures,
and for the glory and praise of God.
Parts of the psalm were in our call to worship.
Let me read a bit more of it.

“You cause the grass to grow for the cattle,
and plants for people to use,
and wine to gladden the human heart,
oil to make the face shine,
and bread to strengthen the human heart.
The trees of the Lord are watered abundantly,
the cedars of Lebanon that God planted.
In them birds build their nests;
the stork has its home in the fir trees.
The high mountains are for the wild goats;
the rocks are a refuge for the coneys.
You make darkness, and it is night,
when all the animals of the forest come creeping out.
The young lions roar for their prey,
seeking their food from God.

O Lord, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom you have made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
Yonder is the sea, great and wide,
creeping things innumerable are there,
living things both small and great.
There go the ships,
and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it.”

Here is a picture of a God almost giddy
with the pure joy of creating strange and different things.
Everything God made has a different part to play in the whole,
and together these beautiful and diverse elements,
sing a song of praise to God.
I love it that the psalmist even saw fit to praise God
for creating a sea monster,
purely for the purpose of play.
Leviathan was not useful to humans.
Leviathan’s life purpose, given by its Creator,
was to “sport” in the sea.

This reminds me of the children’s song about all God’s critters.
Sing with me if you know it.
“All of God’s critters got a place in the choir,
some sing low,
some sing higher,
some sing out loud on the telephone wire,
some just clap their hands, or paws, or anything they got now.”

This delight in the abundant diversity of creation
runs all the way through the creation story in Genesis 1,
which we heard part of this morning.
Did you notice how often the word “kind” is used in that story?
Ten times, we are told God made plants or creatures
“of every kind.”
We are clearly being told something of importance.

And near the end of the creation story,
the Triune God has a discussion with Godself, Genesis 1:26:
“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.”

I am so glad we have that verse!
Yes, I know it’s been misused terribly for eons.
I know it has served as a convenient excuse
to justify out-of-control consumption of resources,
or outright destruction of species.
After all, God gave us dominion over it.
And yes, I know some environmentally-minded people
with noble intentions,
try to downplay or re-interpret the word,
to make it sound like we have less authority than we do.

I understand why we want to downplay it,
but that is misguided.

If we understand rightly our relationship to the Creator and Creation,
we will embrace that authority and dominion whole-heartedly,
but with awe and wonder and humility.
This is an amazing thing God has done!

God put all this abundance and diversity on the earth,
and then asked us human beings to take care of it,
on God’s behalf.
And gave us full authority and power to act on God’s behalf.
But—God never said to us,
“Here it is. It’s yours. Do with it what you want.”
No, not at all!
That distorts scripture, 
and again, puts us at the center of the story.
God does not transfer ownership.
God gives us an important job, and the means to do it.
We are given the awesome and amazing and sobering power
to act on God’s behalf
in the care of God’s creation. 
We are empowered to be servants!
We are to serve God and serve God’s creation.

Did you know that according to Genesis 2,
that is literally God’s instruction to Adam and Eve?

V. 15 says, “The Lord God took the man 
and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.”
Till and keep.
We modern readers might think that
“till” means to dig up and manipulate the earth, or that
“keep” means to possess.
In the Hebrew, “keep” is a verb meaning “guard, protect, preserve,”
and “till” is a verb to work, and to serve.
In other places in scripture
that same word is used to describe serving a ruler,
or serving God,
as subjects.

So, far from being permission to push the earth around
and over-use it and abuse it,
we are here directed by God,
to serve the soil,
to keep and guard the earth,
to ensure that God’s plan for this world—
which still belongs to God and not to us—
that God’s plan comes to fruition.

That’s the kind of dominion we have.
And we should bow in amazement that God trusts us to do that,
and gives us the power and authority to do it.
Let us not renege on our responsibility and power.

Clearly, we already have, and often do,
renege on our duties as God’s earth-keepers.
God’s gift of created diversity is shrinking, on our watch.

Ironically, in the process, we caused a different kind of diversity,
that God actually hates.
God did not envision a world so unequal and imbalanced—
where nations like ours can rest in ease and luxury,
while other nations crumble in poverty and oppression.
Or where gluttony for fossil fuels on this side of the world,
makes God’s children in other parts suffer typhoons.
Or where towns like ours get arranged into diverse sectors,
and zoning codes help ensure
that the wealthy can safely avoid
rubbing shoulders too often with the poor.
Diversity, in itself, is not what we worship or romanticize.
Some social and economic diversity is a result of disobedience.

But our focus today is on the Creator God 
who loved an abundant and diverse world into being,
and gave us orders to guard it and serve it,
so the earth could be filled with that beauty.

How are we doing with that divine commandment?
Last month a new study was released
finding that the bird population in North America
is down by 3 billion since 1970.
That is almost a 30% loss in bird population.
over 20 species of birds have gone extinct over that time.

How can we square this with the words of Jesus 
in the Sermon on the Mount:
“Look at the birds of the air;
they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns,
and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.”

God loves the birds and feeds them.
These birds, that God put us in charge of,
gave us dominion over.
So maybe putting out backyard bird feeders and birdseed,
helping birds thrive,
is more than a little hobby.
Maybe it’s a spiritual practice of collaboration with God.
Same with beekeeping, or using good farming practices.

Whatever we can do to partner with God,
in perpetuating and supporting the bounty and diversity of creation,
in fulfillment of God’s directive to us,
is, in fact, an act of faithful discipleship.

What a wonderful job to be given!
The more bountiful and diverse the species of our world,
the more loud and glorious is the praise of God.

Let’s sing a hymn that may be new to many of us,
that speaks of God’s work as a weaver,
and of us as collaborators.

Restless Weaver, ever spinning threads of justice and peace; 
dreaming patterns of creation where all creatures find a home; 
gathering up life’s varied fibers, every texture, every hue; 
grant us your creative vision. With us weave your world anew.

—Phil Kniss, October 20, 2019

[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