Summer has lingered longer than usual this year, so that we are nearing the end of October, and only now we expect temperatures below freezing! It is appropriate, then, that our summer series on peace lingers a little longer as well. We spent time on peace with God, peace in the community, and peace with our neighbours throughout the summer Sundays. The conference material has one more section: Peace with creation; and we will take three more Sundays before we leave this building to consider this final aspect of our lives of peace.
Peace with Creation
The physical world around us in crisis: We know that. It is not just the social-political scene that threatens to boil over, but the earth itself is groaning with the fruits of human abuse. Bad fruit indeed. How are we to relate to the created world? What is our responsibility regarding creation?
Genesis 2: 4-23
Genesis one to three give us a comprehensive picture of how we are to relate to God, to each other, and to the physical world around us. We could have done the whole summer series from these chapters! In chapter three, set in the garden, God walks regularly in the garden, communing with the man and the woman. We were made to be at peace with God, in communion with God, regularly receiving strength to live by our interaction with God.
In chapter two, it is made clear that the man and the woman are co-equals in the garden. God identifies the need that the man has for relationship with a “helper as his partner”. The animal world is important in human life, but animals do not constitute a full partner. So, God makes the woman who is the full partner-helper. Chapter one makes the same point by telling us that God made the human creature in God’s own image as male and female: We need each other as fully equal partners who together live as God’s images.
These two points – that God made us for relationship with God and God made us for relationship with each other – undergirded the sermons throughout the summer. Now we come to how we relate to the world God made.
Listen to the text. Verses 7, 9, and 19 suggest an important reality. God forms the man from the dust of the earth; God causes the plants to grow from the ground; God forms the animals out of the ground. That is to say, humankind, animal kind, and plant kind all come from the earth. God made us all from the same substance. The natural world includes all of life: We are one with the physical world.
Note further. The man names the animals: This is a task of bringing order into the world. Just as God orders the world in chapter one, the man orders the garden in chapter two. Although we are one with the natural world, we are also responsible for the natural world. Chapter one uses the language of dominion, by which it indicates that we are stewards of creation, acting on behalf of God. That relationship continues in chapter two.
So, we are one with the natural world, and we have a responsibility to bring order to the world around us. These two points come together in the image of God’s work in the story: In chapter two, God makes a garden. God is a gardener, and we – acting as God’s representatives in this world – can use the same role to describe our relationship with nature. We are gardeners in God’s garden, the creation God has given us.
What Does this Mean?
At this point, wisdom would suggest that I step down and invite Lois to take the pulpit and answer the question: What does a gardener do? I won’t; I am no gardener, but I have watched her garden. Several thoughts occur to me.
God is Creator and gardener. We are created and gardeners. This reality places limits on our actions. We do not create the garden out of nothing; we do not speak a word and the garden springs into being. We work with what is already here, given to us by God.
Some people think that the physical problems of our planet are not our responsibility. Some say that the action of the sun is responsible, or some other factor has caused “global warming”. We think that our actions cannot be that important. Genesis one and two both make the point that we are just that important. We are part of creation, and God has given us the task of managing creation. We cannot escape our responsibility.
Romans 8 connects us with the troubles of this world in a remarkably direct fashion: “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” (Romans 8: 19 to 21) Paul’s primary point in that passage is to observe the glory that waits for God’s suffering people, but his language speaks directly to what I have been saying. The whole of creation is bound up in our rebellion against God, and the whole of creation anticipates its own redemption along with ours. We cannot escape our responsibility for creation. We are God’s gardeners in this world.
Sometimes I see Lois staring out of the window. When I ask what she’s doing, I find out she is planning next steps in her garden. Which plant might be better in a new spot; whether to water this evening or wait until tomorrow; which plant needs to be cut back. The planning and the work never end. The work of caring for our planet also never ends. We have been shaping the planet for thousands of years, and in the past two hundred years that shaping process has accelerated. Instead of shaping God’s garden in positive ways, we have engaged in destructive processes that damage creation.
Whether we think of the proliferation of plastics that permeate both land and sea, or the damage of pollution in our waterways, or the rise of what we call greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, we live with the destructive results of human activity. Some scientists call the age that we live in “the Anthropocene epoch” – that is, the geologic age shaped primarily by the activity of human beings, you and me.
But we are gardeners in God’s garden. We are to be pulling out weeds, not sowing them. God wants us to shape positively and increase the beauty around us. Of course, there will be times when piles of dirt litter the garden. I see that often enough at our own house. But the mess is generally a step in pursuit of greater beauty.
The gospel reading from John 20 reinforces what I have been saying – that we are God’s representatives on earth, doing what God would do. At the beginning of the gospel, Jesus is described as the Word who is one with God, sent into the world for humankind. John 3:16 – so well-known – says it clearly, “God loved the world so much that God sent his only begotten Son.” John makes the point repeatedly: Jesus was sent into the world to save the world.
At the end of his gospel account, then, John extends this sending through the words of Jesus: “As the Father sent me, so I send you.” That sending of the disciples applies to us as well. We also are sent into the world to do what Jesus did, which includes caring for creation.
Twenty some years ago, I heard George Verwer speak at Providence. Verwer founded an organization called “Operation Mobilization.” He had a passion for telling people about Jesus and how Jesus can meet the needs of the world. When he came to Providence, he spoke from the parable of the Good Samaritan and asked, “Who would we find lying beside the road today, of we walk down the roads of our world?”
He named 1) Children at risk; 2) Abused women; 3) The extreme poor; 4) People with HIV/AIDS; 5) People without clean water; 6) The unborn; and 7) The environment (see Verwer’s blog in an updated version from 2015, “Seven Global Scourges”: http://authenticmission.blogspot.com/2015/05/seven-global-scourges-by-george-verwer.html?m=1) I don’t know that these same seven remain at the top of the list of needs today, but hear what he was saying about creation. Caring for the creation is a basic part of the Christian’s mission in the world today.
Sometimes we think that Christian mission meets inviting people to faith. Certainly it does, but it also means acting as God’s representatives in all of the needs of life. And the crisis of creation that we face is a basic point at which Christ’s representatives have the responsibility to act.
We are God’s gardeners in God’s garden. I invite you to listen as George Klassen helps us hear more of what we can do. I invite you to join us in the adult Sunday School class and take some time to consider practical steps we can take as we care for God’s good creation.
Steinbach Mennonite Church
22 October 2023
Focus Statement: Peacemakers join God in caring for the earth.
Texts: Genesis 2: 4 to 23; John 20: 19 to 23.