Genesis 2:4-15

We are the off-spring of the Industrial Revolution. A few hundred years ago, our ancestors decreed that the earth and all therein were “resources” to be used for profit based on technical advances in labor, production, and science. This revolution did many things—some good, some bad—but it fundamentally transformed how we understood the earth. Our world became an object to be managed or mined. Over the decades, humans moved to cities away from the land, severing both spiritual and physical connections humans had known through most of history. People became estranged from the land. Generations ago, no one would have wondered about the connection between God and the earth. In a pre-industrial world, Creator and creation were part of the same theological ecosystem. For the better part of the last two centuries, however, most of us have forgotten the earthly perspectives of the Bible. Except farmers. They remember.[1]

I recently was reading a book called Grounded: Finding God in the World, in which the author shared a story about meeting a farmer. The author, Diana Butler Bass, shared her encounter with this man as she was writing the book. Upon telling him of her project, she asked him if religion played any role in his farming. He said, he wasn’t a religious person, despite being raised Episcopalian. She asked him if he considered himself secular, to which he replied, “Well, no.” He said, “there’s no such thing as a secular farmer. The seasons are spiritual. The soil is spiritual. Farmers are a spiritual lot…The earth speaks to me,” he said. “The soil, spirit, and us, it is all of a piece. We can know that, or we can ignore it. But it is real.”[2]

This interconnectedness to the earth is something humans have inherently understood for centuries, and only in the last 200 years or so has humanity  understoodd itself as separate from what Christians call God’s creation. To this point, I am reminded of the story of the creation in the book of Genesis. The Bible tells that God formed man from the dust of the ground. The name “Adam” comes from the word “adamah” meaning “dirt, dust, earth, or ground.” In the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes, the writer tells that all are from dust, and to dust all shall return.[3] While modern science would dispute the notion that humans are literally dirt, these early biblical writers weren’t writing a science textbook but rather trying to express a theological truth; human beings are interconnected to God’s creation.

If I may pause here and reflect briefly on the tension that has existed over the years between religion and science. Battles are still being fought between scientific discovery and the accuracy of scripture. Often it seems we are forced to pick sides between godless evolutionism and unscientific creationism. Thankfully, there is a middle ground. The Bible was never meant to be a science textbook. Nor is the Bible and science inherently at odds. Science tells us how; the Bible tells us why. Science can tell us how things happen, but cannot explain why they happened. In the story of creation, or truthfully, stories of creation, in their pre-scientific culture, biblical writers explained why God created the world and called it good.

Beyond the seeming dichotomy between the Bible and science regarding how the world came to exist, we are often forced into another false dichotomy when it comes to caring for God’s creation. Again, environmentalists are often labeled as secular tree-huggers who worship Mother Nature, whereas Christians are often assumed to not care about the environment. Here again, I believe the Bible shows us a middle way, a call to take care of the creation God has given us.[4] The ancient story of Adam and Eve teach us that “Creation care is at the very core of our Christian walk.”[5]

You remember the story of Adam and Eve, right? God creates Adam, puts him in the garden of Eden to serve it and keep it, tells him what he can and cannot eat (remember the one tree he can’t eat), has him name all the animals, then creates a partner for him called woman named Eve. As the story goes, Eve was in the garden one day when the serpent came and tempted her to eat the fruit of the forbidden tree. She takes and eats, then gives to Adam to eat as well. Sure enough, God finds out and isn’t happy. God punishes the serpent, Adam and Eve, and kicks them all out of the garden. And so, we are told, begins humanity’s life on earth. From this ancient story of Adam and Eve there are three things I think we can learn; the principle of stewardship, the principle of contentment, and the principle of consequences.

First is the principle of stewardship.  Adam was told by God to till and keep the garden, to manage and maintain it. Adam was told to be a steward, or a caretaker, of God’s creation. After all, as the Psalmist writes, “the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.”[6] The earth and its resources were not his to do with as he pleased, rather they were God’s resources he was to care for. My wife and I still own a condo in Springfield, Missouri. Being as we live some 800 miles away, we pay a management company, or a property steward you might say, to manage and care for the property.  Imagine if one day they decided to start raiding the property for resources, as we often saw after the recession; taking the appliances, stripping the copper, even taking the light fixtures. I think we would all agree they weren’t being good stewards, they were rather acting as owners of something that wasn’t truthfully theirs.

Since the time of the Industrial Revolution, we have confused stewardship with ownership. We have assumed the earth is ours and we have the right to do with it as we please.  Biblically speaking, the earth is the Lord’s and we are stewards of God’s creation. Stewardship doesn’t see every majestic mountain as a potential site for strip-mining operations. Nor does it view forests as board feet of marketable lumber. Nor does it asses open space as a lucrative site for housing development…For us, whatever we “own” is really entrusted to us by God, borrowed and used for a time, after which we must let go one way or another.[7] Like Adam and Eve, we are just stewards of God’s creation.

The second thing we can learn from the story of Adam and Eve is the principle of contentment. Remember that Adam and Eve were told they could eat of any fruit in the garden except the fruit of the tree of good and evil. Of course, what did they do? Eat of the fruit of the tree of good and evil! One could say Adam and Eve got in trouble for “over eating.” Over eating is something many of us are familiar with. Yet, when we are constantly bombarded with advertising and images of delicious, alluring food, it’s hard to resist. It’s why experts tell us not to go shopping on an empty stomach. Even if we’re not at the grocery store, we’re still likely to spend more.[8]  Being hungry (or discontent) amps up our desire to acquire. It’s no wonder we’re told in the Bible that godliness with contentment is a great thing.[9] So much of our consuming is driven by a discontented desire for more, an emptiness we are trying to fill. We spend thinking these items will appease the yearning in our soul. Truthfully, our “over-eating” fails us in two ways, it doesn’t fill the hunger in our soul and it leads to a reckless consuming of God’s creation, the same creation we are told to care for. Just like Adam and Eve, we need to remember the principle of contentment.

The third thing we can learn from the story of Adam and Eve is the principle of consequences, something Adam and Even found out firsthand.  Adam and Eve tried to hide or run away from the consequences of their actions. There is no such thing as running “away” or throwing anything “away” in God’s creation. What goes around, whether it is a physical pollutant or spiritual one, ultimately comes around.[10] I’m reminded of this truth each time I’m driving east from my home in Thornton and look east on the horizon. Scanning south to north I see the buildings of the Anschutz medical campus, the white peaks of DIA’s main concourse, and the growing man-made mountain of trash on Tower Road. While we may say we are throwing something “away,” we’re really just moving it from one place to another.  Our actions of endless consumption have consequences we cannot easily run away from. If you’ve ever seen an abandoned strip mine, a clear-cut forest, or polluted river you know nothing is truly “thrown away.” Just like Adam and Eve, we need to remember that actions have consequences.

For the first one hundred years of our existence, Henderson was an agrarian community. People who lived here managed and cared for the land as farmers and ranchers—stewards of God’s creation.  Farmers understand the principles of stewardship, contentment, and consequences perhaps more than anyone. We of Henderson Community Church are at our roots, people of the land, caretakers of God’s creation. What better people than us to teach others from this ancient story of Adam and Eve the principle of stewardship, the principle of contentment, and the principle of consequences. We know that our scriptures compel us to act on our faith in reverence, love, and respect for all of God’s creation, for that’s what we of Henderson Community Church have been doing for over a hundred years.

via mynewplace.com

In recent years, as our community has changed from agrarian to a bedroom community of young families—we have the opportunity to teach people the importance of caring for and connecting with God’s creation just as the people of this church have done over the years. Our recycling bins, our compost pile, our community garden, and our soon-to-be-installed LED lighting are example of the creation care legacy of our church ancestors.  As we move into the future, what are other ways we can continue that legacy? What are ways we can show the community the importance of caring for God’s creation? And what are things we can do increase our creation care? Solar panels? More efficient heaters? Engaging the community in creation care? From the scriptures and from our ancestors in this church, we know that creation care is important, let us be content with what we have been given, honoring and protecting God’s creation.

 

[1] Diana Butler Bass, Grounded (New York: HarperCollins, 2015), 35.

[2] Diana Butler Bass, Grounded (New York: HarperCollins, 2015), 35.

[3] Ecclesiastes 3:20

[4] Calvin B. DeWitt, “Reading the Bible through a Green Lens,” in The Green Bible ed. Michael G. Maudlin and Marlene Baer (San Francisco: Harper One, 2007), I-25.

[5] J. Matthew Sleeth, ‘Introduction: The Power of a Green God,” in The Green Bible ed. Michael G. Maudlin and Marlene Baer (San Francisco: Harper One, 2007), I-20.

[6] Psalm 24:1

[7] Brian McLaren, “Why I am Green,” in The Green Bible (San Francisco: Harper One, 2007), I-48.

[8] Kate Ashford, “Shopping Hungry? You’ll Spend More,” Forbes.com <https://www.forbes.com/sites/kateashford/2015/02/25/shopping-hungry/#261ed7419dd0> (accessed April 21, 2017).

[9] 1 Timothy 6:6

[10] Ellen Bernstein, “Creation Theology: A Jewish Perspective,” in The Green Bible ed. Michael G. Maudlin and Marlene Baer (San Francisco: Harper One, 2007), I-55.

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