The first chapters of Genesis act like the opening scenes of a movie. The creation narrative in genesis chapter 1 is like the establishing shot, You might not be into film making or its terminology but I guarantee you know what I mean… the sweeping shot to give you the big picture and set the scene. The aerial pan over the city at night, setting the police drama in its urban environment, the slow pan across the grandeur of monument valley, with it’s towering Mesas in a John Ford western, or that floating through the vastness of space at the start of a science fiction epic. In the case of Genesis it is a series of shots, a montage, increasingly full of life and colour and movement and vitality, with ellipses of darkness between to denote the passing of time. It tells the story of God creating it all, painted large, filling the formlessness void, in a series of days. There is no sound track to set the mood of awe and wonder, rather the creation itself gives praise to its creator at the end of each of those days we hear the refrain “and it is Good” and the final refrain of “and it is very good” as we get a long shot of humanity.
Then Genesis 2 and beyond zooms in on the action and story that is going to play itself out in what is to come. In the films genres we saw before it would be that we see the police car on a stake out, the lone rider heads into the small western town, or a battling space ships comes into shot. In Genesis Creation is narrowed down to a personal event, painted not on the canvas large, but in the confines of a garden, in a set geographic area, the main character of the whole epic which we call history is God, who is there at the beginning and it is going to be about God’s relationship with humanity, represented by the character of Adam and Eve. The tension and conflict in the story is introduced as these people break the relationship with God, we see the consequences of that and are invited to journey and see how that will be resolved. What we call salvation history.
Now we may not be used to thinking of Genesis through the lens of a camera or cinema, we are more used to trying to see it through the lens of a microscope trying to make it into a science text book. But as they say in the bible course, that does not do it justice, Genesis does not address that set of questions of how and when, rather it seeks to address the questions of why? The purpose of creation, the presence of good and evil, and in terms of the bibles story itself why would God make a covenant with us, Israel? It sets the scene for the larger question of why Jesus Christ came? It also invites us to ask where do we fit into this narrative?
That’s the establishing shot for this message today let’s get on with the action and I promise it’s not an epic. It’s the season of creation, a chance to celebrate what God has made and look at the challenge of environmental issues, and its Humanity Sunday, where we celebrate us as human beings in all our diversity and potential and ability and acknowledge our brokenness and need for new creation. I just want to take some time today to look at the question what does the Genesis narrative tells us about humanity and our relationship with creation? I’m not going to have all the answers but hopefully it will give us some perspective and underpinning biblical theology that will allow us to frame our thinking and our actions, in terms of the environment.
The first thing the Genesis narrative tells us is that God is the creator and creation is God’s and creation is good. It is easy to think that we are centre and focus of the world and that the world is ours but the Genesis narrative tells us up front, that is not the case. Kris and I are part of that growing demographic in New Zealand we are renters, while we speak about our place and our home, the reality is that it belongs to someone else. We have rights as tenants but equally we are responsible to the owners for how we treat the property we live in, and we don’t have the right to change it to suit ourselves with out reference to the wishes of the landlord.
It is a result of the fall but we have a tendency to think that we are God, that we can do what we like and one of the things about the ecological issues of today, like climate change is that we just may not really know what we are doing. The balance and harmony and connectedness of things in our plants ecosystem are part of God’s design and gift to the life God created here. In Psalm 104 the Psamist well before the advent of environmental science, wonders at the way in which God has given each animal a habitat for it to survive and thrive in, how it’s need are provided in those places. People see evolution as an argument against creation, and I’m no scientific genius or even theological thinker but I sense that evolution just maybe a sign of God’s providence and care for his creation.
The other think that says to us is that we are to worship God not creation, it all finds it meaning and purpose in relationship with God. The biblical narrative is that we are called to join the whole of creation to worship our creator.
That lead on to the second thing that the Genesis narrative tells us about humanity. We are created, we are creatures. We were made part of the world around us and are connected and reliant on it. We are part of our physical world. In the genesis 2 narrative that connection with the earth is made even more God forming Adam out of clay and breathing life into him. We are of this earth and we return bodily to it.
It’s humbling at least it should be to consider that. In one novel I read it mentions a Jewish rabbi who said it is humbling to think that even the nit and the flea came before us in the created order. Humanity is a late comer, we don’t appear in the creation story till Friday afternoon. It’s challenging because we are at the mercy of the environment about us. I think it something that we are once again becoming all so aware of, the fragility and smallness of our own technological achievements in the face of storm and rising tide.
The section of Psalm 103 we had read this morning tells us that God remembers it even if we don’t and that that makes us fragile and fleeting, finite and mortal. That may be a consequence of the fall, but it is our reality as humanity. It’s very humbling to be compared to the transient nature of flowers on roadside weeds and grasses. (the Image that goes with the service this week is one I took of small yellow flowers growing as weeds at the car park in Muriwai Beach. There was the grandeur and permanence of the ocean and sky and its greys and silvers, the only splash of vibrant colour amidst the greyness was these flowers here today and gone tomorrow). In psalm 8 the psalmist stands staring off at the mountains or the vast ocean or the immenseness of space and asks the question who is humanity that you should even think of us, who are we? The comforting and amazing reality is that God does think of us, God does care and God does want relationship with us.
That moves us on to the next thing that Genesis tells us about humanity, we were made in the image of God, in the likeness of God. Both male and female. We are creatures tied and connected to this earth, but set aside from the rest of creation by being made in God’s image. At The Bible course we had a discussion about what it means to be made in God’s image. Scripture tells us that God is Spirit, and we cannot imply that physically we look like God. In Greek mythology and in our own minds we might see that perfect body toned or rippling with muscles statuesque and perfectly proportioned as being God or goddess like, but it goes beyond that. When In Christ God steps into the created world, it is not like that but as a servant and willingly gives up his life for us… Humans are made for the capacity for relationship with God, to care and to love and create and value and comprehend eternity. We were created for relationship with God, as the genesis narrative says God breathed life into us, spiritual life as well physical life. That spiritual life is the thing that dies with the fall, and is made alive again in Christ, it’s the abundant and eternal life we receive in Christ.
Being made in the image of God is what gives humanity its dignity and value, there is an ethical element to it which means all human beings are to be valued, respected and cared for.. In James 3:9, James sees being made in God’s image as a why we should not curse or put down or denigrate another human being, how can we worship God and then curse those made in God’s image… It is the basis of the Christian faiths rejection of racism, the dehumanising and denigrating and hating of another race or ethnic group, we are all made in God’s image. Jesus when talking of taxes asks Peter whose image is on the coin, and concludes render to Caesar what is Caesars but to God what it God’s, challenging us that being made in the image of god calls us to put that relationship first in our lives.
Along with being made in that Image, humanity is given a task, that is to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and to subdue it and rule over it. Many have pointed to these as causes of a misunderstanding of humanities relationship with creation. That we have complete authority over it, the right to abuse and exploit and overuse, over consume. Once again maybe that is part of the brokenness that comes in the fall where humanity finds itself out of harmony and at odds with creation, but we can forget that that ruling was always intended to be in relationship with God. It is not a high point for humanity, but an acknowledgment that we are God’s servants. In the ancient near east great kings gave lesser kings the right to rule their patch, but it was that they did it as an extension of the King they served. Being in the likeness of God says that is with the care and concern and compassion of God for his creation. In Genesis 2:15 that ruling over is reshaped as being put into the garden to work it and care for it. It is very much a servant role, we might think being a gardener is a demeaning role, but in John 14 Jesus uses the metaphor of God as the gardener to talk about finding life and fruitfulness in Christ. “I am the true vine and my father is the gardener, the tender of the vine. It is not a position of privilege but one of service and caring for. In olden times it would have been being a Stewart of someone’s property, from which we get the word stewartship, to look after and use wisely. Again we see the example of our Lord and King Jesus Christ who came not be served but to serve.
Sadly, as a result of our fallenness we have seen that calling and gifting from God as privilege and licence. Part of humanities fallenness has been a disregard for the created world, we have seen the fulfilling of our wants and needs as paramount. Even Christianity down through the ages, with noticeable exceptions has been at the forefront of progress in the west and a disregard for its impact on creation. Sadly it is still a challenge for the church today as well… I’ve heard sermons that environmental issues have no place in the gospel, the idea of Jesus return seems to give some the licence to think they can use up this planet and its resources because well God is going to give us a new one. We’ll be air lifted out… But it hard to be reconciled and in relationship with our creator and have such a distain for his creation… seeing it only as for our benefit, when the genesis narrative tells us its primary purpose is to worship and give praise to its creator… The promise of a new creation is not an escape plan from a dead used up planet, it is a call to radically engage and be about new creation in peoples lives, through evangelism, in society by seeking justice and peace and in creation through the idea of stewardship and creation care. They are interlinked.
Well the end of the story maybe a riding off not into the sun set but with the risen Son but that is not where we have got in the story. In Paul’s letter to the Romans he talks of the whole of creation groaning, like in labour pains waiting for the children of God to be revealed. There is a sense that as we are being made new and restored to that right relationship to God in Jesus Christ, that an outworking of that is to develop and grow in a right relationship with the created world around us. God’s call to love him calls us to creation care, God’s law and Christs command to love our neighbour, calls us to consider how we use and treat and use the environment and the Genesis narrative reminds us that creation is Gods good gift, that we ourselves are creatures and people of the dust and that being made in God’s image is not a privileged position but one that calls us to serve and care. The scene is set for us to step in to the picture and to live out the kingdom of God and rule of God in the created realm in which we live.