Sermon: Caring for Creation
St. Paul’s – Brookings
Fr. Larry Ort
Genesis 1.1-31; Psalm 33.1-9; Romans 1.18-23; John 1.1-14
Earth Day and Creation Care
As we read Genesis 1, you may have noticed how often the text said, “And God saw that is was good.” There are seven such pronouncements. On the first day of creation, after having created light, “God saw that the light was good.” The phrase is missing from the second day account when God created the dome called sky in the midst of the waters. On the third day, the phrase appears twice: first, in response to the appearance of dry land and seas, and second, in response to the creation of flora. On the fourth day, the phrase is used to assess the creation of the greater light to rule the day (the sun) and the lesser light to rule the night (the moon). On the fifth day, the phrase assesses the creation of fish and fowl. The phrase also appears twice on the sixth day: first, in response to the creation of the wild animals, cattle, and everything that creeps upon the earth, and second, after the creation of humankind whereupon God saw everything God had made and saw that “it was very good.”
Let’s imagine for a moment that the Deists are right, that God created, saw that it was very good, wound up the giant clock by setting natural law in place, then went off somewhere to have a good time, maybe to some celestial sandals resort. Do I believe that? Not for a moment! But let’s imagine it.
Now for whatever reason, God comes back to see what we humans have been doing. God is curious – after all, given billions of galaxies and billions of billions of suns and planets, we may be only one of God’s experiments. And what does God find? Is it any longer “very good”? Well, for one thing the unicorns are missing! But wait a minute, many other animals are extinct. And the air – there is something different about it; the carbon dioxide content has dramatically increased. And look at the oceans! What are these floating gyres of garbage? Much of the oil previously trapped in vast reservoirs is gone; they appear to have spread it abroad in several places. And what of the lush rain forests that have been turned into palm oil plantations? Admittedly, these humans have used their ingenuity and have done some highly creative things, but they do not appear to have been cognizant of, or to have cared about, long-term consequences. And God said, while weeping, “What was very good is no longer so.”
Although this is an interesting piece of imagination, and although the allusions to ecological issues are true, our God has not been absent. Our salvation history reveals God’s steadfast love for us. Pause for a moment and think of how the beauty and love of our salvation history is expressed in the Prefaces of the Eucharistic Prayers. Turn to page 362 of the Book of Common Prayer:
Holy and gracious Father: In your infinite love you made us for yourself; and, when we had fallen into sin and become subject to evil and death, you, in your mercy sent Jesus Christ, your only and eternal Son, to share our human nature, to live and die as one of us, to reconcile us to you, the God and Father of all (BCP, p. 362, Eucharistic Prayer A).
Now, turn to the top of Page 368:
We give thanks to you, O God, for the goodness and love which you have made known to us in creation; in the calling of Israel to be your people; in your Word spoken through the prophets; and above all in the Word made flesh, Jesus, your Son. For in these last days you sent him to be incarnate from the Virgin Mary, to be the Savior and Redeemer of the world. In him, you have delivered us from evil, and made us worthy to stand before you. In him, you have brought us out of error into truth, out of sin into righteousness, out of death into life.
And page 370:
At your command all things came to be: the vast expanse of interstellar space, galaxies, suns, the planets in their courses, and this fragile earth, our island home. By your will they were created and have their being. From the primal elements you brought forth the human race, and blessed us with memory, reason, and skill. You made us the rulers of creation. But we turned against you, and betrayed your trust; and we turned against one another. Have mercy, Lord, for we are sinners in your sight. Again and again, you called us to return. Through prophets and sages you revealed your righteous Law. And in the fullness of time you sent your only Son, born of a woman, to fulfill your Law, to open for us the way of freedom and peace. By his blood, he reconciled us. By his wounds, we are healed.
And last, page 373:
We acclaim you, holy Lord, glorious in power. Your mighty works reveal your wisdom and love. You formed us in your own image, giving the whole world into our care, so that, in obedience to you, our Creator, we might rule and serve all your creatures. When our disobedience took us far from you, you did not abandon us to the power of death. In your mercy you came to our help, so that in seeking you we might find you. Again and again you called us into covenant with you, and through the prophets you taught us to hope for salvation. Father, you loved the world so much that in the fullness of time you sent your only Son to be our Savior. Incarnate by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, he lived as one of us, yet without sin. To the poor he proclaimed the good news of salvation; to prisoners, freedom; to the sorrowful, joy. To fulfill your purpose he gave himself up to death; and, rising from the grave, destroyed death, and made the whole creation new. And, that we might live no longer for ourselves, but for him who died and rose for us, he sent the Holy Spirit, his own first gift for those who believe, to complete his work in the world, and to bring to fulfillment the sanctification of all.
I encourage you to study and to meditate upon these prayers. One of the dangers of reciting one of these prayers at each eucharistic feast is that they tend to become commonplace. Yet one of the benefits of recitation is that these words slowly become a part of who we are – part and parcel of our being. We need to occasionally approach them in search of freshness. Each of these prefaces points to God’s love expressed in creation and the Incarnation, ultimately calls us to new life and reconciliation, and foretells the completion of God’s work in the world and the sanctification of all. Each one reveals the presence of love, mercy, and grace.
In John 1.16, we read: “From Christ’s fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” (NRSV). This is so true; perhaps truer than we will ever realize, for God not only created through the Word, but moment by moment continues to hold creation in being. From this perspective, God’s grace is ever present and continuous.
The Scriptures tell us that creation itself yearns for redemption. In Romans 8, Paul writes, “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage and decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8.19-21; NRSV). The psalmist also refers to this anticipated redemption:
Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it. Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord; for he is coming, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with his truth (Psalm 96.11-13; NRSV).
God gave us the task of caring for creation. Will he find us faithful stewards? Most of us make several moves during our life – we live in different places. Many years ago, I encountered the idea of leaving every place one lives in a better state than one found it. This principle encourages good stewardship. How have I enhanced God’s creation in this small corner of the earth that I inhabit. How have I enhanced relationships? What have I done for my community, my state, and my country? Have I been a faithful steward? If not, it’s never too late to start. Amen
“Nature never taught me that there exists a God of glory and of infinite majesty. I had to learn that in other ways. But nature gave the word glory a meaning for me. . . And if nature had never awakened certain longings in me, huge areas of what I can now mean by the “love” of God would never, so far as I can see, have existed.” -- C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves, p. 37.