Word of the Week

Here in Oklahoma City/ Weatherford, OK we're dealing with the effects of freezing rain and snow. What a winter we've had! Tonight The Federated Church leadership and I decided that it was best to keep everyone safe and warm tomorrow by not having services in our building. But this doesn't mean that there might not be opportunities for study, reflection and worship in your own home.

At the Federated Church, we're on the 2nd week of our Lenten sermon series called: "Lessons from the First Family." We're sticking close to the first 4 chapters of the book of Genesis (off lectionary) to seek to uncover what it means to live into our humanness. Who were we created to be? And who are we actually? Last week we began the first moments of creation and treasured the statement: we are beloved.

This week's theme is: We are caretakers.

So join me for online church this morning. Here's what I suggest:

Sermon-- We Are Caretakers

Last week, our journey into the first chapter of Genesis brought us to this place: we, as a human race were created in the image and likeness of our God, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. We came to being in loving community. And, you and I were called the beloved children of God.

What a wonderful truth to land upon! I hope that this is something you’ve been thinking about this week: God loves you!

But, today as we keep reading into the book of Genesis what we discover is another descriptor of what it means to be human: caretakers.

God looked at man and woman. He blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

For just as God cared for all things in creation, the image bearing ones of us were asked to take on similar roles.

We are told to occupy the earth.

We were told to multiply our human race upon the earth.

And we were told to rule over the creatures of the earth.

Some translations even use the word dominion. We are told to have dominion over all living things.

And dominion is one of those words that so easily can be taken out of context. It’s a strong word, even a forceful word -- and a word that makes many of us think we are completely in charge.

Dominion is a noun that means power or right of governing and control. And it’s a word that’s been used throughout ancient and modern times to describe structures, land and territory and to describe who is in charge.

So it’s easy to think in this context that our role - when it comes to the created world - is to rule with an iron fist as we wish. We are given the freedom to do as we will without any consequences to our actions.

But is this what our role as caretakers of the earth is all about?

I don’t think so. Because when we remember WHO the narrator in this passage actually is, then our responsibility falls into a different light. We need to remember that the protagonist of this story is God. A story that says “in the beginning God.”

Or as the Psalmist would later write, “The earth is the Lord’s an the fullness thereof.”

We are only told then to fulfill our caretaking responsibilities AFTER God gave them to us. Our role is to care take, to bless, but not to run the show.

When I was a young child, I loved playing with my best friend, our neighbor, Daniel. He and I would always come up with creative outdoor games to entertain ourselves for hours when our parents wanted us out of their hair, especially during the summer months. Our games usually had something to do with plants and dirt because Daniel loved that most of all.

When Daniel and I played in the big open field in our adjoining backyards I, especially loved picking dandelions and blowing on them, watching the petals scatter in the field. And though my parents told me time and time again that dandelions weren’t like bubbles from a jar and I shouldn’t blow on them to scatter their seeds throughout our yard—of course this is exactly what I liked to do.

What child doesn’t? It was fun.

And similarly, this is how many of us feel about our relationship with the created world.

We know that our actions may not leave our earth in the same shape we found it . . .

We know that goodness of land and sky and sea can’t be abused forever and still maintain the same beauty . . .

We know that our natural resources aren’t found in unlimited supply . . .

but we just keep blowing on the dandelions anyway.

Our relationship with the created order—with the plants that give us oxygen, with the birds that fly above our homes, and with the animals that roam in our fields is not one of respect as God has asked us to care.

Though some of us might take special interest in caring for—so many of us don’t.

When groups of Christians start talking about what our relationship should be as human beings to the created world—the conversation often gets tricky to say the least.

There are so many branches of the Christian family tree, which are so obsessed with the life to come that anything embodied living on this planet of ours seems to be a conversation of little value.

Statements I’ve heard often: “What does it matter if we destroy our wetlands, pollute our oceans and the lists of endangered animals increases by the day?” they say. “We’re more concerned with Jesus’ return to earth and that’s a time when what is living on this earth won’t matter so much anymore.”

There are even a number of politicians in Oklahoma, who are vocal about the non-existence of global warming (though our weather gets more wacky all the time). It’s a stance taken out of their Christian beliefs, they say, a stance that asks us to spend more time focused on human relationships, not the non-human ones.

But where does this leave us with our seemingly scriptural command to become caretakers of this planet?

There is a growing movement within Christian circles, even theologically conservative ones to re-examine our whole relationship to creation.

Jonathan Merritt, an award-winning journalist for the Religious News Service recently wrote a piece entitled, “Green Plus Christian Isn’t New Math: how concerned Christians should be about environment care” in which he said:

Americans make up only 5 percent of the world's population, yet consume over a third of Earth's paper products. How does this influence the gospel message in countries like Nicaragua, Honduras, and Ecuador, where deforestation causes so much suffering and injustice? Living out the gospel includes caring for creation. It is inappropriate to claim that creation care—or any social issue—composes the foundation of the gospel. But the gospel calls us to a radically sacrificial, compassionate lifestyle.[1]

He goes on to say that caring for the earth and lovingly treating the land that God has given us is not an issue for the right or for the left to state an opinion on for political purposes, but is part of what it means to give testimony about our Creator. It’s part of our gospel witness! All living things are important.

This is what I most know: Just as God has loved us richly and lavished on us every blessing, we too are to be good stewards of what we’ve been given on this earth.

For, God looked at the world and called it GOOD when the period of creation was completed. And too, we were told to honor the good all around us by not taking more than we need and sharing what we have access to with those who do not have the same.

But it’s Lent, so you might be thinking this morning, aren’t we suppose to be talking about the cross and sin and Jesus, or something?

Why bring up creation care during a season of the year such as this?

Well, I know it might be unconventional, but could there really be a more perfect time than Lent to re-examine our relationship to the world in which you and I live?

For if the goal of this season of the year is to stop and re-align our lives with the ways of Jesus—then isn’t how we treat every living thing a part of this relationship?

I know for me when I saw this sermon coming on the calendar, it was one that I sort of dreaded having to preach because I know it is a part of my walk with God in this world that really needs so much work.

Perhaps you understand—

For it’s easier to buy a beverage in a cup I will soon throw away that might pollute the landfill than it is to tote around a mug that can be re-used.

For it’s easier to over consume meat without any cares for where it came from or how the animals I’m eating were treated than it is to make an environmentally sound choice when it comes to what to eat for dinner.

For it’s easier throw a soda can in the trash bin at work than it is to go out of our way to take it to a recycling center.

For it’s easier to drive a car that is big and pretty and takes a lot of gas and puts out harmful gases into the air than it is to make a choice to travel in a smaller car which might get us blown off the highway.

For it’s easier to not reuse paper bags or Ziploc bags or to not squeeze every drop of toothpaste out of the tube than it is to consider how our small choices are, in fact, not small choices, but huge statements about how we feel about God’s world.

It’s a lot easier, isn’t it NOT to care about the earth? It’s so much easier to create a soul-centric theology that cares nothing for the body and the space in which the body dwells!

But, is this the way in the kingdom of God?

The easy way? If you’ve been listening at all the past couple weeks to how the scriptures have guided us, you know that the kingdom way is not the easy path.

The path God gives us is one of caretakers of this world, no matter how hard it might be.

A couple weeks ago, Pope Francis, who is named after all after St. Francis, the patron saint of all creation—said this in a recent sermon:

A Christian who does not protect creation, who does not let it grow, is a Christian who does not care about the work of God; that work that was born from the love of God for us . . . And this is the first response to the first creation: protect creation, make it grow[2]

Friends, being fruitful and multiplying in this earth is more than about having babies and raising them right. It’s about how the space which we inhabit can be cared for in such a way that it brings glory to our God. How can God’s glory be manifest in all the earth?

The state of creation—the hues of our skies, the age of our trees, the diversity of our animals, and movements of the bugs on the ground are a great witness, all signs which point back to this being our Creator God’s world!

So, let us confess to God and one another the ways in which we have failed to care for the earth—both the conscious and unconscious choices we’ve made. And let us go forth into this new week with awareness.

Awareness of the stars. . .

Awareness of the snow beneath our feet . . .

Awareness of the wind . . .

Aware so that when it comes time to make choices about what we eat, what we wear, how we walk on this earth -- we’ll make these choices in light of the great responsibility God gave us all: as caretakers!

Sure, this world is not all there is and it’s not our permanent home, but for now-- it is and we must take care of it.


God, we confess to you that even though you’ve entrusted your creation to us, we’ve not treated what you’ve loved with care. We’ve wasted carelessly. We’ve pretended as if the resources you’ve given us will go on forever. We’ve forgotten that we share this planet with other living creatures. We’ve forgotten to say thank you for the glory which is our earth. We’ve acted as if we were the Creator, not the creation in how we’ve cared for all you’ve made. Forgive us, Lord.

God’s faithfulness is new every morning. Every morning we have a new day with creation, with the Creator and all our brothers and sisters. Every day is a new chance for forgiveness, healing, and new life. Seize the day, go forth with God, and live into the blessings of love, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

Now let us join together in the prayer the Lord taught us to pray: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, As we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

[1] http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2010/june/26.46.html [2] http://www.religionnews.com/2015/02/09/pope-francis-christian-not-protect-creation-not-care-work-god/