God Creates, We Steward
“God Creates, We Steward”
April 16, 2023 , Cobleskill United Methodist Church - Pastor Anna Blinn Cole
Second Sunday of Easter
Genesis 1:26-31 26 Then 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.”
27 God created humanity in God’s own image, in the divine image God created them,[a] male and female God created them.
28 God 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.” 29 Then 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. 30 To 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. 31 God saw everything he had made: it was supremely good. There was evening and there was morning: the sixth day.
Psalm 8 God, brilliant Lord, yours is a household name.
2 Nursing infants gurgle choruses about you; toddlers shout the songs That drown out enemy talk, and silence atheist babble.
3-4 I look up at your macro-skies, dark and enormous, your handmade sky-jewelry, Moon and stars mounted in their settings. Then I look at my micro-self and wonder, Why do you bother with us? Why take a second look our way?
5-8 Yet we’ve so narrowly missed being gods, bright with Eden’s dawn light. You put us in charge of your handcrafted world, repeated to us your Genesis-charge, Made us stewards of sheep and cattle, even animals out in the wild, Birds flying and fish swimming, whales singing in the ocean deeps.
9 God, brilliant Lord, your name echoes around the world.
Happy Easter! Today is the Second Sunday of Easter. In the church we believe Easter is such a big moment in our tradition we think it ought to be celebrated not just for one day, but for a whole season. So even after the Easter candy has been reduced to clearance and the eggs have (mostly) all been found and the lily blossoms begin wilt, we will continue celebrating the Risen Christ for a full 50 days.
Speaking of tradition, the Second Sunday of Easter is often the day when we read the story of Thomas, or “doubting” Thomas, as he is known. We aren’t focusing on that scripture today but I want to give you a really brief summary because there’s a tie-in. After Mary Magdalene encounters Jesus next to the empty tomb, she comes running back to the disciples to report on what she has seen. The disciples do not believe her. And then, as if he knew this exact thing would happen, Jesus shows up in the room where the disciples are gathered. They see and they believe. The only thing is, poor Thomas must have been on a bathroom break. He misses the entire thing. When he later returns and famously says, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” Whether he liked it or not, he immediately got branded Doubting Thomas.
I don’t blame Thomas for doubting because I think it’s a very human reaction to something like the Resurrection that we can’t see or really even understand. I would have probably responded the same way. Doubt is a human reaction to just about everything that seems contrary to our personal experience.
That’s why I think doubt is a good place to begin our next series. The focus for our worship during the 50 days of Easter will be on the gift of God’s creation. But not only that. This is a conversation that weaves together the season of Spring bursting all around us with the larger Easter narrative of life overcoming death, irrational and impossible as it seems. But it’s also a conversation that must examine the fact that we as human beings were created as stewards and caretakers of God’s earth… A complicated job that we’ve not always done well. And sometimes we doubt the role we’ve had in the changing health of our planet.
We want to see it to believe it.
That’s the way I felt this week, anyway, when I heard there was a large brush fire west of Richmondville. Pictures of smoke on social media weren’t cutting it. A forest fire right here in Schoharie County? It wasn’t until I went on my daily walk and got up out of the valley and smelled the smoke with my own nose and saw the smoky haze with my own eyes that it really hit home. The mountainside really was burning. The ground was too dry and the days too hot and windy, the fire spread quickly and by evening there was a line of burning flames moving up the steep slope.
Thankfully, people were paying attention. Helpers were close by. Hard-working volunteer fire departments from near and far gathered to work together as a team. Community members rallied to bring food and drinks. A local church offered their parking lot as a basecamp. And within two days the fires were contained. It was a small taste of what some other communities out west experience from the dangers of forest fires, but it was close enough to home and just big enough to make the threat very real and scary.
So, when God says to humans in Genesis that human beings were created for the purpose of being in charge of creation and protecting it, is putting out forest fires what that means?
Yes, I suppose it does. But there’s more, too.
Have you heard of Robin Wall Kimmerer? She’s a mother, scientist, professor and member of the Potawatomi Nation and she lives in Syracuse where she teaches Environmental Biology. She’s written a wonderful book called Braiding Sweetgrass, in which she weaves together a sense of wonder and humility about the natural world and the gift that it is to us if we’re willing to pay attention. She says, “Paying attention is a form of reciprocity with the living world, receiving gifts with open eyes and an open heart.” Again, so you can let it soak in: paying attention is a form of reciprocity with the living world, receiving gifts with open eyes and an open heart.
Paying attention is a form of reciprocity. God’s gift of creation is sending us cues to listen and watch and respond all the time, and yet, does it take a fire or a flood for us to pay attention to the ways in which the earth might be hurting? Climate activists have been giving warnings for years about the rise of extreme weather events and natural disasters induced by a warming planet. But sometimes I think we have selective listening.
“I used to think,” said one such environmental lawyer, that “the top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that with 30 years of good science we could address those problems. But I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy... and to deal with those we need a spiritual and cultural transformation...” The man who said this was James “Gus” Speth, co-founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Now when I hear of an organization called the “Natural Resources Defense Council,” I think that must really be what the Bible means when it says humans are to take charge of and protect the “fishes of the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the earth, and all the crawling things on earth” (Gen 1:26). And yet organizations like this have not been able to solve the problem of why storms are getting bigger, sea levels rising, and temperatures warming. Why? Because all the scientists and all the lawyers in the secular world can’t solve this problem because this problem is ultimately not a scientific problem. It’s a spiritual problem.
The protection and care of the natural world is a gift we were given by God. And instead of treating that which is placed in our care as a gift, we’ve treated it as an opportunity to benefit ourselves. For hundreds of years we’ve taken passages like Psalm 8 and Genesis 1 as a Biblical permission slip for doing what we want with creation. Seeing ourselves as the superior species placed in charge by God, the rest of creation at our disposal as a means of bettering our own lives. But at what cost?
But are we paying attention? Have we noticed that this is unsustainable? Are we paying attention to the warning signs that tell us that human greed, apathy and selfishness will bring the natural world down, and humanity with it. Or do we still doubt?
There’s another kind of doubt, too. The other kind of doubt seeps into your head when you are paying attention to how humans are doing a lousy job of caring for God’s earth and you think to yourself, But I am just one person. I doubt I can make any difference.
The reality is, doubt is pervasive. Either kind of doubt stops us in our tracks. And we forfeit passages like Psalm 8 over to more human-centric and narrow understandings. We consign ourselves to inaction because we’ve lost sight of the divine calling that’s actually present in plain sight in these sacred texts. The birds and the fish and the forests and the skies and the oceans aren’t just collections of cells that make up the natural world. They are a reflection of God. They are holy. The earth and the fullness thereof is God’s handiwork. They are God’s beloved creation. They are infused with God’s spirit. And because the natural world is holy and a reflection of God, our one and simple task as pieces of this creation is to not stop paying attention. We have been gifted with agency and the ability to make a difference and even small things done with love and care can help steward what God has entrusted to our care. Pay attention to the beautiful sunsets and flowers, yes. But also pay attention to the things we do that waste the gift. Pay attention to the things we do that abuse the gift. Pay attention to the things we do that take the gift for granted.
I’m really looking forward to keeping this conversation going. Because you know what? When one person starts paying attention and making small adjustments to their impact on the earth, it’s good. God smiles, I’m sure. But when a group of people get together and start paying attention and learning and growing, the impact is multiplied. God rejoices. The doubt is slowly replaced with hope and Easter becomes real for every corner of the natural world.
Grace and Peace,