Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church
April 28, 2019
Genesis 1: 25-31a (CEB)
God made every kind of wildlife, every kind of livestock, and every kind of creature that crawls on the ground. God saw how good it was. 26Then God said, “Let us make humanity in our image to resemble us so that they may take charge of the fish of the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the earth, and all the crawling things on earth.”
27God created humanity in God’s own image,
in the divine image God created them,
male and female God created them.
28God blessed them and said to them, “Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and master it. Take charge of the fish of the sea, the birds in the sky, and everything crawling on the ground.” 29Then God said, “I now give to you all the plants on the earth that yield seeds and all the trees whose fruit produces its seeds within it. These will be your food. 30To all wildlife, to all the birds in the sky, and to everything crawling on the ground—to everything that breathes—I give all the green grasses for food.” And that’s what happened. 31God saw everything he had made: it was supremely good.
Psalm 24 declares, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof!”
This past Monday, we observed Earth Day. Earth Day, of course, is not really a holiday so much, and in a lot of ways it frequently ticks by mostly unnoticed. But Earth Day also has a sort of reputation; some might see Earth Day as a hippie holiday, or a time for the climate doomsday-ers to trot out their agenda. Indeed, the topic of climate change is now a completely politicized “issue,” and Earth Day carries a tinge of that politicization as well. Yet together with the Psalmist we proclaim, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof!”
So why isn’t Earth Day a holiday? Why don’t we Christians more fully engage in observation and celebration of Earth Day? After all, the earth is fully, 100% God’s creation. This earth is a beautiful gift from God, for which we should be grateful, just as we are grateful to God for every good gift. We celebrate the gift of a Savior on Christmas Day. We celebrate, as we did last Sunday, God’s victory of life over death on Easter Day. Each Sunday, we give an offering, a sign of our gratitude to God. There is no reason we shouldn’t express the same gratitude to God for God’s creation, right?
Over the next six weeks, as we move from Easter to Pentecost, we will be spending time each Sunday considering a Christian perspective on major topics filling the daily news. We will delve into Jesus’ teachings and the words of the Bible to discern how Christ might respond to these current events if he lived alongside us today. By virtue of the current news cycle, some of these topics will be inherently political. I’m going to do my very best not to get political in these sermons, and I would ask that each of you do your best each week to open your minds beyond mere political thinking and be always receptive to the often challenging teachings of our Savior. If Christ is to be at the center of our lives, then our faith must speak to the matters we face every day. That’s what this series is about. Jesus really does speak, even today, and we need to always stay connected to that Word in every facet of our lives.
So it is that we begin today, a little less than a week after Earth Day, to consider what the Bible does say and what Jesus might say about climate change today. And this is certainly one of those very politically charged issues. Folks on the left point to gradually increasing temperatures and increasingly extreme weather conditions to say that we are on a destructive path that is man-made and irreversible. On the right, there are some who flat out deny any climate change or global warming, while others acknowledge some change, but are more skeptical about the causes of climate change—feeling that science hasn’t necessarily proven that climate change is a man-made phenomenon.
Whatever you may believe about climate change, there are some facts that are relevant to our discussion. First, detailed weather records have been kept since 1850. In those 168 years, the five hottest years globally have occurred in the last five years—from 2013-2018. And second, we are seeing more extreme weather. In Houston, there have been three “500 year floods” in the last three years. (A 500-year flood is an event that has a 1 in 500 chance of occurring in any given year.) Tornadoes are occurring more frequently as well. Alabama has already had more tornadoes in 2019 than the annual average, and we are only a quarter of the way through the year. Just this week, Hurricane Michael, which slammed the Florida panhandle in October was upgraded to a category 5 hurricane—one of only four to ever make landfall in the U.S. The question really is not so much whether our climate is changing, it is. Probably the more debatable question at this point is whether or not humans are the cause of that change. We are going to explore that question a bit today, not so much in light of current political or scientific viewpoints, but instead by exploring the words of the Bible as it relates to God’s creation.
“What would Jesus say about climate change?” Of course, the Bible doesn’t address the specific topic of climate change, but the Bible does say a lot about what we might call “creation care” or “earth stewardship.” It starts in the very first chapter of Genesis as God is creating the heavens and the earth. We heard the passage a few moments ago. After separating light from darkness, and creating land, and sky, and plants, God created every living thing and called it good. Then God created humanity, and blessing them said, “Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and master it. Take charge of the fish of the sea, the birds in the sky, and everything crawling on the ground.” Here is the story that Genesis is telling us: when God created humanity, it was for a purpose, and that purpose was to take care of every living thing that God had created—all the plants and every living creature became the responsibility of humans. Implied in that charge is that we would tend creation in such a way that it remains “good,” that it is always pleasing in God’s sight.
Now I don’t know about you, but that scares me a bit. God has created the whole earth and every living thing, called it very good, and then handed it over to us! It makes me think of something like Grandma’s porcelain dolls. One day you’re visiting your Grandma and she pulls this porcelain doll off the shelf, hands it to you, and says something like, “Here, sweetie, I’ve been saving this special doll just for you. You have fun with this doll, I sure did when I was your age, but remember to be careful because she will break easily!” This is the kind of toy that I never really wanted to play with because I was so afraid I would break it. And here God has given humanity this beautiful gift and commanded us to take care of it. How can you help but feel a little intimidated by the task? What if we break it?
Certainly, God has given us the power and the freedom to “take charge of the fish of the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the earth, and all the crawling things on earth.” But God’s plan is that in being the master of these things, we would care for them, maintaining the beauty and the vibrancy of all that God has created. Like the farmer who tills the land, or the shepherd who keeps the flock, God has given us this responsibility to care for creation, to ensure that it remains healthy, productive, and full of life. The problem, though, is that we’ve gotten into this bad habit of using creation only to our benefit. We selfishly exploit the power God has given us and seek to gain profit from the resources of the earth, rather than working as stewards of God’s creation. In all truth, I think humanity has broken God’s creation a little bit.
Last month, a dead whale washed up on the shores of the Philippines. In the whale’s stomach, scientists found 88 pounds of plastic, nearly half of which was plastic bags. The plastic had filled the whale’s stomach, making it impossible for the whale to ingest enough food, water, and thus nutrients to survive. It died of starvation. In the Pacific Ocean, there is a floating island made up of plastic; as of one year ago, it is three times larger than France. Two-million plastic bags are used every minute. We use plastic because it’s cheap and it’s easy. We’ve tried recycling programs, but we are now consuming so much plastic that those programs are overwhelmed and plastic is simply being dumped in landfills or the ocean. Ken and I have tried in the last few months to reduce our plastic consumption around the house. We have maybe been moderately successful, but in the process, we have discovered that it is absolutely impossible to ditch plastic entirely. It’s everywhere, but it is also breaking God’s creation. Humanity has chosen convenience over care. This is just one example of many.
Earlier in the service, Debbie read from Matthew’s gospel. In the midst of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus speaks to the crowds about worry. Reminding them that God’s creation, the birds of the air and the lilies of the field are vibrant and beautiful because God made creation that way and God cares for creation. Jesus goes on to explain that even moreso, God will care for us. We do not have to worry. We do not have to make a quick buck. We do not have to exploit creation to have what we need. In his creation, God has provided for our every need, our only task is to steward that creation with the same care as the creator himself.
So if Jesus were here among us today, what would he say about climate change?
“God created everything and called it supremely good.”
“The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.”
“Even Solomon in all his grandeur could not compare to the beauty of the lilies of the field.”
I think ultimately, Jesus would tell us to stop arguing about climate change and to just do what God has asked us to do. God desires for all of creation, for every living thing, abundant life: humans most of all. But our created purpose is not to prioritize profits or personal gain. Our created purpose is to be caretakers of all life—from the depths of the ocean to the heights of the sky and everywhere in between. We are to be good stewards of the earth, to take care of God’s creation.
Our goal should be to be such good caretakers that each day God can look upon his creation and with the same enthusiasm as the very day of creation declare, “It is good!”
Show “God’s Gift of the Earth” photo prayer video.)