July 14, 2019

“God’s Creation, Our Responsibility”

Genesis 1:26-30; 2:15

A sermon for Hawaii Kai UCC by Janice Ogoshi

July 14, 2019 (Pentecost +5)


This past week, did you look at the sky?  Notice a plant or flower?  Appreciate the view from your back or front yard?  I’m excited because there are lots of white flowers on our small lime tree, which means we may be harvesting limes later on this summer.  This week, Luke helped me to appreciate the night sky when he sat on our driveway one night to take pictures of the moon and stars.  Did you have the chance to praise God for some aspect of creation this week?  If you signed up for family camp next weekend, you will have another opportunity to take in and appreciate God’s creation in a different setting.  If we pay attention, we will see that we live in an amazing, beautiful world that was made by a creative, awesome God.  


Last week we reflected on the story of creation in Genesis 1, and saw that it is a confession of faith, meant to inspire worship and praise of our Creator God.  The Genesis 1 narrative reveals a deliberate design and order to creation. Those who wrote this narrative believed that God put a lot of thought, care and creativity into creation.

·     Day 1: God created light.

·     Day 2: God separated the waters and named the sky.

·     Day 3: God created land and vegetation.

·     Day 4: God created the two great lights—the sun and moon.

·     Day 5: God created all the living creatures: birds, fish, and sea creatures.

·     Day 6: God created all the animals on land.  And lastly, God made humans.


Humans were the high point of God’s creative work. They stood out from all other parts of creation.  God has a conversation with God’s self—the Trinity in relationship creating.  “God spoke: ‘Let us make human beings in our image, make them reflecting our nature so they can be responsible for the fish in the sea, the birds in the air, the cattle, and yes, Earth itself, and every animal that moves on the face of the Earth’”(verse 26, MSG).  Human beings were made in the image of God, and as Eugene Peterson put it in his translation, “reflecting our nature,” reflecting the nature of God.  


What is it about the image or nature of God that we reflect?  The creation narrative reveals that God is powerful, creative, thoughtful, loving, relational and purposeful.  Humans, reflecting the nature of God were created to be powerful, creative, thoughtful, loving, relational and purposeful.  We were made in the image of God, to reflect the nature of God.  We have some of the same characteristics as God, but we are not God.


Being created in God’s image comes with responsibility. Unlike any other part of creation humans were spoken to and given a task:  “God 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’”(v. 28).  We human beings were created in the image of God so that we could care for the creation.  Humans were set apart from the rest of the creation to rule over it, be responsible for it, to harness its resources and protect it.


The website Theology of Work describes the ruling of humanity over creation in this way:

“As we exercise dominion over the created world, we do it knowing that we mirror God.  We are not the originals but the images, and our duty is to use the original—God—as our pattern, not ourselves.  Our work is meant to serve God’s purposes more than our own, which prevents us from domineering all that God has put under our control.”  (Bible Commentary produced by TOW Project, https://www.theologyofwork.org/old-testament/genesis-1-11-and-work, accessed 7-12-2019)


In doing this God-given work of ruling over creation, keeping in mind that we mirror God, we could ask questions such as:

·     How would God go about doing this work of caring for creation?

·     What values would God bring to creation care?

·     What standards would God use to evaluate our care for creation?


This is a reminder to us that creation and all its resources were not made only for our use and exploitation.  Our responsibility to “rule” is really about appreciating the gift of creation by caring for it.  As God loves and cares for us and the world, we should love and care for creation.


Clearly, humanity has not fulfilled its call to be stewards of God’s creation.  We are experiencing the result of humanity’s abuse rather than stewardship of the environment.  Scientists have argued that climate change is a result of human activity.  Our lifestyles have polluted our oceans, rivers and streams, the air, the land.  I wonder if we had taken our responsibility to care for more seriously, our world would not be facing such large environmental challenges?  


But I’m not here to make us feel guilty in order to rally us into action.  Our reading of Scripture points to a different motivation for creation care. It is a holy responsibility, a trust given to us by God.  This earth, this creation is a marvelous gift from God, and it is a privilege and wonder to receive this gift, so our thanksgiving is our motivation to care for it.


There are lots of people in our community and world who are concerned about the earth and are dedicated to caring for it and raising awareness about our need to take care of our environment.  Organizations like the Sierra Club, Malama Maunalua, Jack Johnson’s Kokua Hawaii Foundation, the Surfrider Foundation, and many more work to raise awareness about and care for our environment.  To my knowledge, none of these are faith-based organizations. But I wonder whether the people who participate in the work of these environmental organizations have chosen this work because at some deep, maybe even unconscious level, they have connected with God in nature, and have heard God’s call to care for creation through that connection.  


I read a sermon written by a “professional environmentalist” who interestingly enough came to relate to God and became part of the church because of his work.  Steven Whitney wrote:  “I used to defend my decision not to attend church by saying that I always felt more spiritual on a mountaintop than in a building.  But while that was true, it hardly justified living a life without God.  I was missing the point.  The point is, God speaks to me through the mountains — always has.  It just took me awhile to learn how to listen.  For me, and perhaps for you, nature is the ultimate tangible manifestation of God in our midst.  And, I have come to learn that somewhere deep in that knowledge lies the basic motivation for my life’s work.  

(Source: https://earthministry.org/an-earth-day-sermon/  Accessed 7-12-2019).


Knowing God, and I daresay loving God has become the basic motivation for his work.  If we can appreciate that it is God’s creation, that God has made this marvelous, wondrous, awesome world, then we respond in worship and stewardship of this gift.


Not all of us are called to become professional environmentalists to fulfill God’s call to care for creation.  But we each have our part in taking up the responsibility of taking care of the earth.  The first step is becoming aware of the connection between our relationship with God and our relationship with creation.  This month we are reflecting on this theme of being stewards of God’s creation.  At camp we will be doing activities that help us to think about and act on this responsibility.  Next Sunday during our intergenerational activity time we will be doing a community clean-up.  These are small steps that can lead us to a more faithful relationship with the earth and our natural environment.


Awareness key in becoming stewards of creation.  Loren and Mary Ruth Wilkinson of Regent College suggested a thought experiment to help raise our awareness of creation and our place in it.  They wrote up a list of things to do and to think about, including the following:

·     Trace the water we drink from precipitation to tap

·     Calculate how many days it will be until the Moon is full

·     Describe the soil around our home

·     List the primary subsistence techniques of the culture(s) that lived in our area before recent years

·     Name five native edible plants in our area and their season(s) of availability

·     Note the direction that winter storms generally come from 

·     Investigate where our garbage goes

·     Find out how long is the growing season for various plants where we live

·     Identify five trees in our area, and find out which of them are native

·     Identify five resident birds and any migratory birds in our area

·     Learn how humans used the local lands in the nineteenth century

·     Discover the primary geological event or process that shaped the land;

·     Point north from where one is sitting right now

·     List the wildflowers that are the first to bloom where we live (I would change this to list the indigenous wildflowers where we live.)

·     Identify rocks and minerals found nearby

·     Note how many people live next to us, and their names (Yes, people are part of creation!)

·     Notice how much gasoline we use each week on average

·     List the developed and potential energy resources in our region

·     Describe the plans for large development in our area

·     Identify the largest wild region nearby

(Source: R. Wesley Smith, “Becoming More Mindful of Creation” in the Caring for Creation issue of Christian Reflection, ©2012 The Center for Christian Ethics at Baylor University.)

This thought experiment is all about becoming more mindful, more aware of the environment in which we live.  It’s not meant to make us frustrated or embarrassed about our lack of knowledge or action.  It is meant to help us become more aware of God and God’s characteristics.  And when we know God better, we worship God more.


R. Wesley Smith wrote, “As we begin to understand creation as one of God’s great gifts to us—a means not only of food and shelter, but of knowing God—we realize our lives are directly connected to our environments and we begin to take more responsibility for the world, especially the local ecosystem in which we live.…Earth-care requires that we closely observe our places and the various interactions therein, and recognize the effects of our own actions on them.”  (Source: R. Wesley Smith, “Becoming More Mindful of Creation” in the Caring for Creation issue of Christian Reflection, ©2012 The Center for Christian Ethics at Baylor University.)


Mindfulness may lead us to take action:  small steps are good first steps.  Try to decrease your use of single-use packaging, like cups and straws.  Bring your own cup to worship on Sundays for your coffee or water.  Decline when the server offers you a plastic straw at the restaurant.   Walk rather than drive to the store.  Do it not because you worship the earth, but because you are thankful to the God who made it, and you want to care for this wonderful gift.


God created the world, and all of us—all that is seen and unseen.  The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.  This creation is an amazing, wonderful gift from God.  And we have been blessed with the responsibility to care for it.  And when we care for the earth, we reflect the image and nature of God.  So friends, as God calls us, let us respond by becoming more faithful stewards of God’s creation.  And as we do so, may others come to see and give praise to God the Creator.



A prayer from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer:

O merciful Creator, your hand is open wide to satisfy the needs of every living creature: Make us always thankful for your loving providence; and grant that we, remembering the account that we must one day give, may be faithful stewards of your good gifts; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.