This sermon was delivered at Cobleskill United Methodist Church on April 25, 2021.
Fourth Sunday of Easter
Genesis 2:4b-9, 15-17
4 God made the earth and the heavens, 5 when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the LORD God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; 6 but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground— 7 then the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. 8 And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. 9 Out of the ground the LORD God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. 15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. 16 And the LORD God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” 18 Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” 19 So out of the ground the LORD God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner. 21 So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.”
When the Apollo 8 crew circled the moon in 1968, they provided the first glimpse we had ever had of our own planet from a distance. It was a lunar mission to orbit the moon, but it ended up revealing more about our earth than it did about the moon. It was the first time we had seen the Earth as a little blue dot in the midst of a vast expanse of darkness. How precious. How fragile. The astronaut crew knew that their Christmas broadcast home during the lunar orbit was going to get the most listeners as anything ever had worldwide. And knowing the weight of their words, they chose to read from Genesis chapter 1, an origin story of our God-given home sacred to many people. And it makes sense that they chose this. The astronauts were spiritually moved by what they saw out the window of their space craft. And we were, too, back at home. I wasn’t alive when these images of Earth were first sent back, maybe you were and maybe you remember that moment.
The connection between ourselves and our physical home is a sacred connection. And Genesis chapter 1 and chapter 2 capture this so perfectly. We as human beings don’t exist in a vacuum. We exist in relationship with the created world around us. It’s God’s design that we be intrinsically connected to the Earth. One of the moving parts of the creation story in Genesis chapter 2 is that man is literally made from a handful of dirt. The Hebrew name for dirt, or earth, is Adamah and so the man made from the earth is Adam.
In church we typically spend a lot of time talking about human being’s relationship with God and our relationship with other human beings. In these conversations it’s easy to let the earth itself slip into a minor role. Perhaps it’s just the stage upon which our lives unfold and God gives us our salvation. But to let ourselves slip into this way of thinking, that the earth is just a backdrop to the rest of our lives, is to ignore a key part of what God is trying to tell us in the Bible. The earth isn’t a backdrop or a stage on which our lives happen, the earth is a participant in the story itself.
One of our dear friends named Pat Watkins is a preacher and has spent most of his ministry advocating for the earth. In fact, he was appointed as the first ever missionary to God’s creation by the United Methodist Church. He has a core teaching about this Genesis story that helps us read it with new eyes. Our origin story in Genesis 2 is all about relationships. A relationship between God and human. A relationship between humans and humans. And a relationship between humans and creation. And one by one just as each relationship is formed, something happens that breaks each relationship. For example, humans’ disobedience to God leads to human expulsion from the garden. The relationship that was formed gets broken as humans break their relationship with God. The entirety of the rest of the Bible is the continuation of that story with God seeking to restore the relationships by repairing connections between humans, their natural environment, and with God.
So, again, this reading of Genesis illustrates that the earth isn’t a backdrop or a stage on which our salvation happens, the earth is a participant in the story itself. As people of faith, we’ve got to get a grasp on that. We have misunderstood the earth as something that exists for our own pleasure and our own enrichment alone and it has led to a massive breakdown in the sacred relationship God first set up.
And the brokenness doesn’t just end there.
Exploitation of the earth has consequences on the relationships between humans, too. What very often happens is that people with less resources and less privilege experience the damaging effects of a hurting earth more than those who do the actual exploitation. We see this among people who can’t afford to move out of the shadow of a growing landfill; or away from the polluted run-off of a powerplant, or out of a flood plain in the valley below a mine where silt has filled the river beds.
Broken relationships with the earth lead to broken relationships with each other and ultimately broken relationships with God. We can’t profess to be faithful Christians if we’ve neglected the earth.
Restoration of these relationships is God’s goal and it should be ours, too.
But how? I love the work that Jo shared last week that her daughter is doing in Louisiana, working with a company to help them reverse the effects of their pollution on vulnerable neighbors of people. It’s amazing and hopeful that jobs like these even exist in the world. But the rest of us can have an impact, too.
When we begin to think about how we as individuals can care for creation it can be overwhelming. Who are we on such a little planet? But again, here is where our faith comes in. If Christians saw caring for the earth as a piece of their faith, as part of their discipleship, as a command from God, then all of sudden on individual’s action is not isolated. Our actions are part of a wave of action. And that’s when it begins to have power. Focus on three things: Eat more local food, eat less meat, use less plastic.
“Each person, human or no, is bound to every other in a reciprocal relationship. Just as all beings have a duty to me, I have a duty to them. If an animal gives its life to feed me, I am in turn bound to support its life. If I receive a stream’s gift of pure water, then I am responsible for returning a gift in kind. An integral part of a human’s education is to know those duties and how to perform them.” ― Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants
God wants us to be in a good and right relationship with God, with our neighbors, and also with the earth. And I think when we begin to work toward this restoration, we will find that our souls are renewed, and that our cups runneth over.
Grace and Peace,