The second car I ever owned was a white 1968 Rover 2000. Lloyd George the great white whale I used to call it… and really if it was a whale it would probably be that most kiwi of cartoon whales and be ‘beached as bro”. Really it should have had another name… lemon… not because I painted it pastel yellow but because it sucked as a car… it was always breaking down…. I took it out to Piha one night and it broke down on the way back, in fact it did it several times, this before cell phones so I left it to walk home and get help. When we came back it had the window smashed and the stereo was gone. I took a girl out on a date, and it broke down, and no it wasn’t one of those excuses you give to the girl’s parents for having her home late… it broke down… fortunately outside a mates house so I was able to borrow a car to get my date home on time… The car spent as much time parked up on the lawn waiting for repairs as it did on the road.
Anyway I created a story for this car. I decided that probably it was the last car off the assembly line on a Friday afternoon. Probably during industrial unrest in the factory, where the workers were upset and contemplating industrial action, industrial sabotage. It was definitely after the workers had been out for a liquid lunch or had their Christmas party and they were racing to get it finished so they could head off for the weekend or the Christmas break. It was slap dash… it will do… last minute… no good… a real lemon… and even worse by the time I got it, third or fourth hand. In fact at the end of it sitting unused for several years while I was a poor Bible College student I gave it away to a mechanic who at least could do the work on it himself.
However as we’ve looked at the Genesis creation narrative we see that … God never created a lemon… well he did… those wonderful tangy sour fruit that help provide Zest and zing with the flavour they bring… maybe I should get a job writing jingles… God does not make junk. God did not suffer from Friday afternoon brain fade. As the high point of the creation narrative on Friday after lunch it tells us that God created human beings, male and female and made them in his image. There was something unique and special about us. He blessed humanity to be fruitful and gave them a purpose in connection with the rest of his creation.
Over the past three weeks we’ve been reflecting on the creation narrative in Genesis 1 and what it has to say about the Creator, creation and us. We’ve seen that genesis 1 speaks of the eternal nature of God, in the beginning God, that God created all there is, that God is sovereign and not only spoke and it came into being but is actively involved in an ongoing basis with his creation: This narrative is viewed by its writer from the perspective of this Creator God being in relationship with his people, We view the creation narrative as the pointy end of the story of God which leads and finds it fulfillment in Jesus Christ. WE saw that Genesis 1 speaks of creation, as being temporal and physical, subject to time and space, That God provided for all his creatures and established habitats for them and that God created it good, It is valuable precious, in fact the wonder and marvel of creation is a form of worship and praise to God. Today we are going to look at what it has to say about us and in particular look at what it has to say about creation care as part of our Christian faith and discipleship.
Genesis 1 tells us that human beings are made in the image of God. What constitutes that image has been a matter of much conjecture. People have seen it in our ability to reason, in particular our ethical reasoning, our ability to love, to create, some commentators note that for the early Jewish writers they didn’t philosophically differentiate between the more spiritual aspects of humanity and the physical, there is something about the whole of us that reflects God. Others focus on the fact that we were made in God’s image male and female, note the equality of God’s plans, that it has to do with our ability to love and have relationship, that enables us to have a relationship with God, to know God and enjoy him always as the shorter Westminster catechism says is the chief end of humanity.
In Daniel Quinn’s novel ‘Ishmael’, which is an attempt to address the ecological problems we face, Ishmael, a wise old talking gorilla, hey it’s a novel, challenges his human protégée’s perspective that humanity is the centre of creation by telling him the creation story from the perspective of a cockroach…(I think as it’s been a long time since I’ve read it).. where the created order finishes with the cockroach. It sees itself as the high point of all that is made… the very pinnacle of the evolutionary process… and sees that the world is then theirs to do with as they will… That is why they seem to think they have the right to turn up in your cupboards. It was designed as a critique of the Genesis narrative and its focus on humanity.
But that is a miss reading of what Genesis has to say about us. Yes humanity does come last in the created order, and yes Genesis tells us that we were made for a special relationship with God. However, as a rabbi in Leon Uris’ novel ‘Mila 18’ about the Warsaw ghetto says ‘We were created last to give us humility, as we remember that even the flea and the tick came before us in the order of creation’. It says that the created order was there before us and was made good. It says that we are part of and connected with all creation. It is a miss reading of the Genesis narrative also because creation does not finish as the sun goes down on Friday night, remember for the Jews a day starts and finishes at sunset. The high point of creation is the Sabbath, when God rested.
The writer of the genesis narrative is identified by scholars as having a priestly liturgical understanding of creation, which focuses on the Sabbath as the high point of creation, where God rested from his work. The high point of creation is that we are designed for relationship with God. You could say the creation narrative starts with God and finishes with God as its central focal point.
Now one of the things people wrestle with when they come to Genesis is a seven day literal creation. If you’re a doctor who fan you’d probably call it ‘the timey-whimy thing’. Again the writers focus is not on the mechanics of creation, and I simply have to say I don’t know… It is mentioned elsewhere in scripture in the Ten Commandments in Exodus 21, not as a scientific fact but as the basis for the people of Israel having a day off. We forget for a slave population this was revolutionary, this is the start of labour law reforms. Something we need to remember and recapture in the face of the encroaching tyranny of our 24-7-365 world. Elsewhere is scripture in the Psalms and Job and in John, the scripture writers can speak of God’s creation without clinging to the literal week of creation. John’s emphasis is on Jesus as the eternal creating word of God. But that seven day narrative does point us to that relationship with God, the worship of God as creations highpoint and purpose.
The creation narrative also speaks of God giving humanity sovereignty over creation. I fear that has been misunderstood as well. It says that we were to subdue the earth and rule over it. People have seen this as a God given right for us to do what we want with creation, to exploit it and use it for our benefit. They forget the historical political background to this passage. All through the Genesis story God has been seen as sovereign, like the kings of the Medes and the Persians, he speaks and it comes into being. In giving us dominion over creation it is not giving us autonomy, but rather to serve God as a lesser king might serve a greater king. To rule in a way that reflects the ethics and purposes of that greater king. In New Zealand we have a good understanding of this, in the news over the last month we’ve being saying good bye to our governor general Sir Jerry Mateparae and this week we are appointing a new one dame Patsy Reddy. They are the representative in our country of the head of state, the queen. They are not able to do what they want, they must reflect the values and desires of Her Majesty. That is the same here… we are invited to be God’s vice-regents. This means we treat and care for creation because it is our Lord’s possession and we reflect his values and purposes. In the other creation narrative in Genesis two you see that authority manifested in God bring us all the animals to name.
The problem is that as we see as the story of our origins in Genesis moves on is that relationship with God is broken. Humanity sins and as a result of that the whole of creation is affected. The image if God in us is marred, we find instead of a peaceful coexistence with creation trusting in God’s providence that humanity and nature find themselves at loggerheads. We have to work hard to grow food, we have to contend with weeds, our relationship with each other is also broken; Adam blames Eve, Cain kills Able it escalates from that.
Creation care and the restoration of creation becomes part of God’s plan and purpose to restore right relationship. AS we saw in our New Testament reading today from Romans 8: that creation groans in the pain of childbirth as it awaits the children of God to be revealed. The restoration and renewal of creation really looks for the restoration of that relationship with God. It is a gospel matter. In the early 1970’s there was the first inklings of ecological crisis and in trying to address it a collection of world leaders called the club of Rome coined the term problematix, that the ecological crisis was a matrix of interlocking problems. One of the issues they saw was that few people were able to look forward and beyond the here and now and their own sphere of living, that to solve the problematrix needed people who could do that. The gospel actually gives us the ability to do that. To see God active through history, and moving towards a conclusion, not that it’s a ticket out of here when it gets to messed up, but that see we are here for the good of people beyond ourselves. That God wants to reconcile all things to himself.
Gus Speth, who helped found the Natural resource defence council and was dean of the Yale school of forestry and environmental studies agrees with that, he said this on a BBC radio interview.
“ I used to think that top global environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse, and climate change. I thought that with 30 years of good science we could address these problems, but I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed, and apathy, and to deal with these we need a spiritual and cultural transformation. And we scientists don’t know how to do that.”
The Christian faith is able to tackle those issues. But to do it we need to find ourselves seeing creation care as part of our discipleship. That life transformation includes that. Sadly we have become rather enslaved to our western materialistic life style. Our imaginations are informed by our western world, our aspirations and expectations reflect not gospel values but our society’s values. Sadly like the rest of our culture we are addicted to our excess… and we need to repent. One of the ways that the scriptures talk of that restored relationship with God is the word shalom ‘peace’ finding wholeness. Sadly that word has been hijacked by billy graham in his little book ‘steps to peace with God which focuses on a making a decision to follow Jesus, and does not go the whole way of seeing the word as being… In right relationship… yes with God… but also with the spiritual realm… with each other… with the created order… with our material possessions. At its most vibrant the Christian faith has been lived counter culturally, you can see it in the Celtic monks connection with the natural world, st Francis of Assisi, much of the urban monastic movement, with a focus on simple living and closeness with creation. William Wilberforce’s faith lead him to not only lead the move for the abolition of slavery but to set up the RSPCA as well, to care for animals.
Here are some thoughts about what it means practically. It means recycling and all that stuff we are encouraged to do. The church needs to have a voice in the ecological debate… Pope Francis’s papal paper on creation is a completing step in that direction. We need to put our money where our mouth is. Luke’s gospel says the depth of faith is shown in how deep it impacts our pockets. It was good to see at the last PCANZ general assembly that our denomination voted to divest itself of any investment in the petrochemical industry. I’m not a great gardener but it is good to see churches make commitments to growing food locally. One of the ways we can serve our community is to make the time to clean up parks and streets. Some churches meet together on a Sunday to do just that and then have a meal together and worship afterwards, they invite the community to join them. Eco-missionary work will be a growing trend in the future as Christians are prepared to go to the places and people most affected by pollution and climate change and be part of caring for those affected and changing things. Dorothy Brockets son Garry is a pioneer in that with his biofuel projects in Bangladesh. Using technology to help with recycling and resolve poverty and sharing the gospel as you do it.
You know the world is not a 1968 rover 2000… it’s not a lemon starting to break down all the time, it is a precious gift given to us by its creator, who invites us as part of being his family through Jesus Christ, to care for it and its people. Let me finish with the words of Columnist Paul Harris… “there are many Christians around the world who are deeply engaged in caring for creation. But we are still just beginning. Our worship and work and witness will be incomplete until our responsibility to conserve the glorious God-given diversity of earth’s creatures (and their and our habitat) becomes second nature.”