Readings: Genesis 1:26-28 Psalm 8 Philippians 2:1-8 Mark 10:35-45
Genesis 1:28: “God blessed them, saying, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
Genesis 2:15: “The LORD God took the man and placed him in the Garden of Eden, to till it and tend it.”
Two Sundays ago, the theme of our first Creation series was EARTH. In Week #1, you may remember that I made a couple of points. The first was that the Genesis story is not a logical, scientific account of what happened in the beginning of time. Instead, Genesis was intended God’s people engaging in theological reflection,with God as the subject. God as the first cause.
I noted that there were at least three implications of the Creation story for you and me. First, I said God challenges us to recognize and acknowledge that God is the first cause of all life that we know: Light and darkness. Sky, sea and earth. Fruits and vegetables. Daylights and nightlights. Birds and sea creatures. Cattle, creeping things and wild animals. Human beings.
The second implication was that IF God is the first cause of all creation—from night and day to human beings—then our best and highest response to God is worship and adoration. We exist as created beings to worship the Holy One who created the world and all that is in it. Coming to church may have other benefits, such as socializing with friends or Sunday School for our children. However, the foremost and deepest reason we come to church is to worship God, the loving Holy One who created us. In the face of such a mystery, we kneel, give thanks, put our hands out to receive bread and wine that represent God to us through Jesus Christ.In response to what is in our hands, we say, AMEN.
There is a third implication, however, and I left that one for this week. It is this: If we acknowledge God as first in importance in our lives and in the world, then this begs the question of how you and I take care of God’s created order.
I began this sermon with two quotes. The first quote is from Genesis 1:28. The second is from Genesis 2:15—which we did not read today. Please note that they are diametrically opposed. In the first chapter of Genesis, God tells human beings to subdue the earth and have dominion over every living thing. In other words, God’s instructions to human beings imply “royalty and domination.” However, in the second chapter, it is quite different. Here, God plants a garden in Eden. Then God places Adam in this garden, “to till it and tend it.”
It is important that you know what “till” and “tend” mean. In the original Hebrew, “till normally means serve.”  The word “tend” means to “preserve.” So to till and tend means to serve and preserve the earth. In contrast to royalty and domination, Genesis 2 focuses on humankind that serves and preserves earth. Very different perspectives, are they not?
My point is to note how a difference of perspective has resulted in how human beings have treated the planet and its creatures. One can argue that human beings have not done that very well. Some examples:
1.According to the National Wildlife Federation,the polar bear is actually a marine animal that spends more time at sea than on land. It spends much time on sea ice platforms, swimming between those. Yet global climate changes are melting the Arctic. This results in “sea ice platforms moving further apart and [makes] swimming conditions more dangerous.” Those in most danger are female polar bears and their cubs, who simply cannot swim such long distances.
Lest we think this polar situation has no bearing on Marylanders’ lives, we must remember that in God’s creation, what affects one, affects all. Global climate change is affecting us. In our local area, rising water levels in the Chesapeake Bay have flooded islands. Some no longer exist. Others are disappearing, slowly but surely. Resort areas all along the Atlantic Ocean—from Miami Beach to the Delaware Bay—have experienced erosion of beaches and barrier reefs—resulting in danger to coastal homes and businesses. However, the effects of climate change range much further than our own eastern shores. For example. . .Are your groceries getting more expensive? Mine are—especially California produce. That is because right now, California is experiencing a severe drought. Wildfires, loss of homes and businesses, and not enough water for precious crops all affect what you and I pay at the grocery store
2. Trash. According to an article from the L.A. Times in April this year, the nations of the world currently “generate 1.3 billion tons of waste.” On an individual level, “the average person generates over 4 pounds of trash every day and about 1.5 tons of solid waste per year.” Yes, you heard correctly. Over four pounds of trash every day. That amounts to veritable mountains of refuse, even when compacted. You and I live in a very civilized part of the world, so we don’t see the breadth of the problem. However, in other parts of the world, trash is a big problem. It pollutes rivers and ground water. Trash in water adds to the issues of disease and infection, especially when human waste is part of that trash. Research has shown that the more civilized and urbanized a country is, the more trash it produces. Guess which nation produces the most trash? The United States.
3.Showing God’s creation love and respect. This past summer, we have seen, in graphic, violent images, what happens when we, God’s children, disrespect each other out of anger that is rooted in fear. I will not go into details. I do not have to. You have seen, as I have, the sights and sounds of cruelty,violence and reactive behavior in the public—and private—sphere. Suffice it to say that we seem to love God less, and our neighbor less, than at any other time in history—save perhaps during the time of Nazi Germany.
This all can be so overwhelming. Yet I believe that you and I CAN do something. God calls God’s people to wake up—to see the light whose genesis is in our hearts, if we will only turn and recognize it. God speaks. God creates. God challenges God’s people to join with God as co-creators. God invites you and me to love. To care for. To see the divine, the eternal, the power of God Almighty in all of God’s created order.
Can we see God in light and darkness? In sky, sea and earth? What about in the things we eat—our fruits and vegetables? In daylights and night lights? In birds and sea creatures, in cattle, creeping things and wild animals? All, all belong to God. So part of how we honor God is to honor the creation and created beings that God has given to us.
Perhaps given the context of our current ecological crisis and even the current political climate, God does not want us to rule and dominate. Instead, perhaps God invites you and me to see and hear how God’s Son, Jesus, understood power. As the apostle Paul reminds us in his letter to the Philippians: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.”
Or as the writer of Mark reminds us in today’s Gospel, we earthly creatures think that domination, power, and money rule the world. Yet the one who came to us as the Word Incarnate had this to say about people who jockey for rule and dominion: “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, Jesus has shown us a better way than royalty and domination. With his very life, Jesus of Nazareth has shown us that in order to make things right in God’s creation, we must serve and preserve. We begin by acknowledging that God is God and we are not. Then we are drawn to worship this God. Finally, we serve and preserve God’s created order: our own selves, other human beings, the earth and her creatures.
Today, I challenge you to use new eyes and a new heart. This week, stop and really look around you. Ask yourself, “Do I worship God in the ways in which I act with God’s creation?” If you are not, then begin to do so. Use less plastic. Be intentional about recycling or de-cluttering. Take better care of God’s creation.* Treat your brothers and sisters better—the way YOU want to be treated.
In fact, here is a challenge for this coming week: Do at least one anonymous act of kindness every day this week. Love your neighbor in some concrete way. In doing so, you will show your love for God. Do these things in the name of God, who pronounces all things, all creatures, all of you, good. Do this because God created you. Because God loves you. Because God trusts you to help serve and preserve God’s precious creation. Amen.
*Addendum to this sermon. After the service on Sunday, a five year old boy (who I had baptized as a three-month old) told me that I had left out COMPOSTING from my sermon. Charles told me that his family composts and makes dirt. His mother said to him, “Why are we supposed to take care of the earth? Why can’t God do that, if God created the earth?” Charles replied, “Because God says we are the ones who made a mess. That’s why we have to clean it up.” So there you are. I also got a little lesson (yes, from a five-year old) about carbon dioxide and what it does to the earth’s atmosphere—makes holes in the atmosphere and then the earth warms more. Out of the mouths of babes. Thanks to Charles, I am now being more intentional about putting my food scraps and fruit scraps in my compost bin in the backyard.
Picture of polar bear and cub accessed at: https://www.google.com/search?q=worship&biw=1906&bih=930&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjg7c3-_qPPAhUH04MKHRVjAJ4Q_AUIBigB#tbm=isch&q=polar+bear&imgrc=tjGwZYfADmqO_M%3A.