July 22, 2018 Worship-at-the-Cabin Sermon:
First Scripture Reading – Genesis 1:26-28
26 Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”
27 So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
28 God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”
Second Scripture Reading – Exodus 19:5-6
5 Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, 6 but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites.”
Third Scripture Reading – Leviticus 25:1-7
1 The Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying: 2 Speak to the people of Israel and say to them: When you enter the land that I am giving you, the land shall observe a sabbath for the Lord. 3 Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather in their yield; 4 but in the seventh year there shall be a sabbath of complete rest for the land, a sabbath for the Lord: you shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. 5 You shall not reap the aftergrowth of your harvest or gather the grapes of your unpruned vine: it shall be a year of complete rest for the land. 6 You may eat what the land yields during its sabbath—you, your male and female slaves, your hired and your bound laborers who live with you; 7 for your livestock also, and for the wild animals in your land all its yield shall be for food.
Fourth Scripture Reading – Numbers 35:1-5
35 In the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho, the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 2 Command the Israelites to give, from the inheritance that they possess, towns for the Levites to live in; you shall also give to the Levites pasture lands surrounding the towns. 3 The towns shall be theirs to live in, and their pasture lands shall be for their cattle, for their livestock, and for all their animals. 4 The pasture lands of the towns, which you shall give to the Levites, shall reach from the wall of the town outward a thousand cubits all around. 5 You shall measure, outside the town, for the east side two thousand cubits, for the south side two thousand cubits, for the west side two thousand cubits, and for the north side two thousand cubits, with the town in the middle; this shall belong to them as pasture land for their towns.
Fifth Scripture Reading – Mark 6:30-44
30 The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34 As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. 35 When it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late; 36 send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.” 37 But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” They said to him, “Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?” 38 And he said to them, “How many loaves have you? Go and see.” When they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” 39 Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. 41 Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all. 42 And all ate and were filled; 43 and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. 44 Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men.
For a good portion of my three-month sabbatical, my daily life could be described pretty much as follows:
- Wake up early in the morning, take medicine, eat breakfast, and prepare for the day, all while making numerous trips to the bathroom as a result of my flaring ulcerative colitis.
- Around 7:30 am, take Susan to work, and then, as soon after as my body was ready, make the 25 mile drive to The Rabbitbrush Retreat, which is what Susan and I call our 6 acres of desert land on 16 Road in Loma.
- Spend 3-4 hours working the land, praying, and generally marveling at God’s creation. Some days, God’s creation was manifest in hawks flying overhead, often so low that I could see the cross shape so very clearly made by their muscular torso and wings. Some days, God’s creation was manifest in scorpions or horned frogs or lizards or rabbits. One day, a cat wandered by and spent the morning meowing at me. EVERY day, God’s creation was manifest in tons of dirt to be moved, prairie dogs barking and prairie dogs sometimes popping up from holes less than a foot away, and the amazing beauty of mountains of various shapes, sizes and colors rising up from the valley all around me. As I dug into the ground, made superadobe bricks out of earth and water, and planned for future sustainable building projects, my thoughts remained squarely upon God and all God has provided for my use, for OUR use as people.
- Once the temperature edged above 85 degrees, or sometimes 90 if I was feeling good, I’d get back in my pickup truck, drive home, jump in the shower, and begin the second half of my day.
- The second half of my day typically consisted of some combination of eating, praying, reading, reflecting, writing, spending time with my family, and planning for the next day’s work out at The Rabbitbrush Retreat. Oftentimes, the praying, reading, reflecting, and writing portion of my day had something to do with what has been called creation care or environmental stewardship…you know, taking care of this world God entrusted to us as people, as God’s managers or stewards here on earth.
I’m not sure when I started down this path of thinking about and caring so deeply about God’s creation and our role as managers of it for God. I can tell you I haven’t always thought of myself as someone who would spend so much time thinking about such things.
In high school, I participated in an extracurricular activity called cross-examination debate. We debated all kinds of things, typically one topic per year. And one year, the topic had to do with clean water…which led me to learn more about creation care than I ever thought I would. I subscribed to the magazines and newsletters of environmental organizations and checked into the inner workings of various environmental groups, but it was all for the purpose of debate…not because I was really moved by the cause. Somehow, my research into environmentalism at that time didn’t translate into a passion for creation care.
As a young adult business man, a new experience set some concern for the environment in motion. As you know, I traveled to the Orient, spending quite a bit of time in China to help select factories that would make the products designed by me and my team of product managers. While in China, I visited a region/district called Xibo, where most of our ceramic mugs were made. As I traveled through this region, I saw a site I will never forget. The landscape was flat except for giant conical mounds sprouting out of the ground, mountainous mounds that were very obviously NOT natural but rather manmade. These mounds were the result of all the digging for the raw materials that made the mugs my company purchased. I saw firsthand how we, people, had completely ALTERED, had completely MARRED, the beauty of God’s creation. But even then, I wasn’t exactly CONVINCED creation care should be a priority for people.
Even so, these experiences and others like them stuck with me…as did the experience of being raised in the concrete suburbs of a giant concrete metropolis. I remember frequently complaining along with my brother that Dallas was just so HOT in the summertime, with the heat being magnified by all the concrete. It was a regular summertime occurrence that tar on the roads would melt and get stuck to the shoes, and sometimes the skin, of children looking for a place to play but having no place natural to play and so ending up in the streets.
So I can’t exactly say how or when it happened, but by the time I became an ordained minister and discovered these amazing things called church campgrounds, I found myself something of a fixture at them. And then I started leading them and, with Susan, led an annual family camp that was all about creation care.
Why do I tell you all these things? I want you to know where I’m coming from with what I’m going to say next. I want you to understand where I’m coming from because I’m no environmentalist. Sometimes I agree with the environmental movement but often I disagree. And yet, I’m passionate about God’s creation. I’m passionate about enjoying the gift of creation God entrusted with us. I’m passionate about caring for the gift of creation God entrusted us with in such a way that it will be better able to serve future generations than it serves us today. And I’m passionate about sharing with people like you what God has told God’s people through the ages about this creation care thing. And even though what you’re about to hear isn’t part of the sermon series on hope I’m preaching back at the church building for the coming weeks, it is an essential component of hope…because until we as a human race are a lot better at traveling through outer space among the stars, our hope is absolutely, positively, DEPENDENT on the prosperity of this planet. So…let’s take a brief survey of just a bit of what God taught us about creation and our role in caring for it in scripture.
Lesson One – Taking care of creation is OUR job. It’s the first job named for people in scripture. Really, it is. That’s what we’re told in the first creation story in Genesis 1 and the second creation story in Genesis 2. You heard the Genesis 1 version a little while ago; the Genesis 2 version provides a bit more detail about this job description of dominion over the earth: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it, cultivate it, work it serve it, and to keep it, watch it, preserve it.”
Lesson Two – We’re Supposed to take care of creation the way God wants us to, not the way WE want to. Let’s go back to the Genesis 1 story for a minute…because it, too, reveals a little about more about how we’re supposed to approach our job, about how we’re supposed to understand what it means to serve and preserve God’s creation, just in case we ever get confused. Y’all, it is no coincidence that the sentence that ENDS with our instructions to manage God’s creation BEGINS with God telling us we’re created in God’s image, God’s likeness. It’s a way of telling us we’re supposed to take care of God’s creation the way GOD would want us to…not the way WE want to for our enjoyment. So if you ever wonder what you should do with regard to the earth, the environment, remember, you are supposed to answer these questions from the perspective of being created in God’s likeness. Should I pick up a piece of trash I see blowing in the wind? Hmm, I wonder, what might God do in this situation? Should I shower until all the hot water runs out because the hot water feels good? Hmm, I wonder, what might God do in this situation? Should proactively look for ways to preserve natural resources for future generations, perhaps seeking ways to use less energy every day? Hmm, I wonder, what might God do in this situation?
Interlude (pause). Before we get further along with the lessons, with God’s instructions about creation care, I want to explain why further instructions were needed by God. I mean, it sounds like God was pretty clear right up front. Well, you might recall that after God made people, people didn’t didn’t do so well with the few jobs God had given them. And you remember how God responded, right? God wiped almost everything out in a great flood and started over. So we need to look at what happened AFTER God started over to see if any of the original instructions changed or got clarified.
Sometime after God started over, God decided to try something different and called a specific people to be God’s beacon of light to the world, and God revealed something about the role of those people that we read in Exodus 19: the earth belongs to God, but God would make this group of people, the Israelites, God’s set apart people to the world. Which means God was going to give them some instructions that would reveal what God wants done…with the world that belongs to God. This is important. Sometimes, as Christians, we think God’s words to the Israelites don’t matter for us because Jesus changed all the rules. While it’s true Jesus taught us how to interpret the commandments and God’s covenants anew, Jesus NEVER said to disregard what God had told the Israelites in the past. Through the Israelites, God provided a great many instructions that reveal God’s intent for all people of the world, even today. Let’s take a look at what we can learn from some of those instructions.
Lesson Three – Give Creation Time to Rest and Heal…aka Don’t Exploit Creation. When I walked into my first economics class in the MBA curriculum at SMU, the professor played a song for us and said the song pretty much sums up what economics is all about. And the song she played was The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” God pretty much said the same thing to the Israelites in our reading from Leviticus. People might WANT to plow the land every year. People want WANT to abuse the land endlessly for their own pleasure, but God made it so they CAN’T. God placed limits on what creation can do. Managing creation well means not exceeding those limits…so God taught people how to farm sustainably. Give the land a rest once in a while…so it will regenerate, renew. We can apply the same concept to all of creation: look for ways to use resources without using UP those resources.
Lesson Four – Plan your cities, and pretty much everything you do, with creation care in mind. Did you know that God included instructions for civic planning in the Bible? Somehow I doubt it. I doubt it because the people responsible for planning cities probably don’t want you to know. When God settled God’s people in the Promised Land, there was a special group, a whole tribe of people, called the Levites, who were supposed to have a special function in caring for the temple. Since those Levites wouldn’t be able to do the kinds of typical things people do to sustain a city, all the regular city-planning functions, God provided a instructions for how they should plan their cities in the Bible. It gets me wondering: if God, creator of the heavens and the earth, provided a set of city planning instructions, shouldn’t they be perfect? Shouldn’t they be the BEST? Well, it’s right there in Numbers 35. And it’s actually a lot more complex than it first appears. But it’s all about getting the proper balance between town and agricultural lands, between what we might think of as concrete and green space. It’s about caring for the environment in such a way that the environment will be able to care for us. In other words, it’s about sustainability. But the POINT is to think about this stuff BEFORE you act; it’s about ensuring ahead of time that we as people won’t do things that lead to the earth not being able to sustain us into the future.
Lesson Five – It’s Up to Us. It would be easy as a Christian to believe that God is going to swoop in and fix everything, that God is going to swoop in and act to make things right in the end, so that what we do…or don’t do…doesn’t matter. We look to the end of the Bible, to The Revelation, and we receive assurance that human history will end with God victorious over the forces of evil. If so, why does it matter at all what we do…especially with regard to creation care? No matter how bad we mess it up – if we do things that cause glaciers to melt and seas to rise so that available land mass shrinks and weather patterns become disastrously chaotic, if we create trash heaps so large that there’s little land left to make food, if we chop down all the forests that convert carbon dioxide into life-giving oxygen – no matter how bad we mess it up, God will fix things in the end, so…what’s the point? It’s a good question, but, in my estimation, it reflects only a PARTIAL reading of the Bible, it reflects an emphasis on only a FEW passages at the expense of the whole. The story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 provides an alternative perspective. In that story, the disciples were in a seemingly impossible situation, needing to feed 5,000 people with few resources. I suppose you could look at it like The Revelation as an example of God intervening to save the day, but I’d suggest you’ved missed something if you do so. In the story, Jesus could have done everything himself, but he told the disciples, “You give them something to eat.” Y’all, the whole Bible, the story of God’s relationship with people, reads like this. God COULD do anything God wants, but God has chosen to require the participation of God’s faithful. Is it possible God will get it done without us? Sure, it’s possible. God can do whatever God wants to do. But the story we have is a story of God requiring US to participate. I get the sense that if we, God’s faithful people, don’t care for God’s creation the way God made us to care for God’s creation, God’s not going to step in and rescue us…or at the very least a whole bunch more pain and suffering on the part of people than is necessary will take place before God steps in and rescues us.
I said it before; I’ll say it again. I’m not an environmentalist. You will not anytime soon be hearing me advocating any kind of mandatory restrictions on people’s enjoyment of God’s creation. However, what you’ve heard today and what you will CONTINUE to here is a person of God imploring you to CHOOSE to perform one of the primary jobs God placed people here to perform: caring for God’s creation the way God would care for it, the way God showed us throughout scripture to care for it. Choose to participate in God’s desires and efforts to care for creation in such a way that creation can continue to care for people for generations to come.