Sermon – 15 April 2012

A Holistic Redemption – Gen 1.26-31

Our Genesis text, though familiar to many of us, is one that we often fail to consider when reflecting upon what it means to be a Christ follower, a citizen of the Kingdom or Reign of God.  As a result, we’ve developed a deficient theology by neglecting the harmonious relationships portrayed in these chapters, which Jesus’ life and teachings pointed toward.  And as pastor and author Mark Buchanan put it, bad theology produces bad living.[1]  So I want to suggest that we reform our theology in order to reform our lives by recognizing that in these opening chapters of the Bible we discover the way we were intended to relate to God, to creation and to one another.

In Genesis 1-2 we find two poetic creation accounts, which differ in many ways but find common ground in asserting that humanity was formed in the image of God and was given dominion over creation. In these chapters, God and humanity enjoy unhindered fellowship.  There is no jealousy or conflict between humans because everyone seeks the life and well being of everyone else.  Humanity also lives in harmony with the rest of creation by caring for and cultivating the land and eating the fruits the land produced.  This reveals the divine ecology in all its perfection—mutuality, compassion, fellowship, cooperation, harmony, and love.

But then, in chapter 3, problems arise as humans begin to distrust the divine order or ecology.  The harmonious relationships quickly become conflicted as humans estrange themselves from the divine, from one another and from creation.  Misunderstanding abounds and everyone and everything suffers as a result.

This mistrust led to many problems, but it is the subsequent misunderstanding of human dominion over creation that I want to focus on this morning.  Rejecting the divine order resulted in the mistaken belief that humanity’s dominion over creation means we can act however we choose in relation to the world.  This perspective interprets dominion as domination and exploitation, which has been most clearly manifested in the way humanity has chosen to use the world’s resources.  Let me explain by way of illustration.

We have some farmers in our town and congregation who understand the practices necessary for fruitful produce.  A few that I remember from school are that you need to rotate crops between fields, you need to leave fields unplanted every now and then, and you should not cram as many plants as you can in the space available.  If you don’t rotate crops and leave fields unplanted you may seem more productive in the short term, but eventually you will drain the land of it’s natural fertility and make it unusable until it has time to rest and recover.  In the same way, if you plant as many plants as you can fit in the space available it may seem like you will have more produce, but the plants will not grow well and the fruit they produce will be far from ideal.  In other words, if you don’t follow responsible agricultural techniques, you will ruin both field and crop through unbridled usage and unsustainable practices.

Now, take this to a global scale, and the same truth applies.  The earth God created has limits.  There are boundaries, which ought not be crossed; otherwise we will find that we have ruined the earth through the overuse and abuse of its resources.

We presently have a global system that many believe to be unsustainable.  In other words, our current rate of consumption is outstripping what the environment can sustain long term.  We are using the earth’s natural resources more quickly than the earth can replenish them.  Moreover, current production methods sometimes result not only in bi-products that harm the environment, but also in products that are used one time and then must be thrown away.  This is a waste of resources and it translates into a waste of land because the “one-and-done” products are buried in landfills that entomb trash forever.  I believe these (and other) behavioral trends reveal that we believe creation to be something to be abused and exploited rather than nurtured and cared for.

Therefore, we must wake up and realize that dominion or rule by those created in the image of God—which is all humanity—means that we are God’s representatives on earth and our treatment of the world must reflect how God would treat the world.  The God revealed in Jesus is one of humble, loving service, which means that as God’s image, we are to be humble, loving servants of creation.  This is why in the second creation account the word translated “till” literally means “serve.”[2]  Our role is servant not exploiter.  We certainly must use the earth’s resources, but we must do so as servants, as good stewards.  To do so, we have to recognize the earth’s natural limits, and conduct ourselves accordingly as a responsible farmer acts with his or her own fields.

In addition to misunderstanding dominion as domination, I believe we have also become exploiters rather than servants of creation, because of a perspective popularized in the last century suggesting that at the end of all things we will be taken up (or raptured) to heaven and the earth will be destroyed.[3] I would submit to you that this notion misinterprets the biblical witness, and is a key factor in our lack of care and concern for creation.  Think about it, if this world ultimately will be burned up and destroyed who cares what happens to it?  What we do in or to or with creation does not matter at all if this view is correct. I do not believe it is, but I do believe it does foster a lackadaisical, complacent (and thus, destructive) attitude toward creation.

Pastor and author, Greg Boyd, offers a helpful illustration that reveals the negative consequences of this attitude.  “Who,” he asks, “is more likely to take care of a piece of property, a renter or an owner?”  The owner has a more vested interest in maintaining and caring for the property than one who is renting.  Likewise, a theological viewpoint suggesting that we are just passing through until we “fly away” in the “sweet by and by” fosters a renter’s mentality regarding creation.  This results in actions that will maintain the living space well enough for the immediate present but will give little though to the long-term well being of the property.  Usability becomes more important than sustainability; immediate convenience becomes more important than long-term costs.

Contrasting the idea of dominion as domination, as well as this “renter’s mentality” toward creation is the perspective that God is working toward a holistic redemption, a restoration, a recreation of all things.  In this alternative perspective, creation does not get burned up and destroyed in the end; it gets renewed along with you and me.

This is why in Matthew 6 Jesus calls his followers to pray for God’s Kingdom—God’s healing way of life, God’s ecology—to come upon earth in the here and now.

This is why Romans 8 speaks of creation groaning and straining forward as it looks and hopes for the redemption of all things, when creation itself, Paul proclaims, “will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”[4]

This is why 1 Thessalonians 4.13-18 speaks not of “rapture” in the sense of being taken out of this world before it is destroyed, but of humanity going out to meet Jesus and ushering him in with all due praise and adoration (as the citizens of a city do when a dignitary arrived for a visit).  Therefore, the question this text asks of us is not whether or not our car will be “unmanned” or “unwomaned” at the “rapture,” but what kind of world will we welcome Jesus to when he returns?

And this is why Revelation 21-22 paints a picture of a renewed heaven and a renewed earth.—a  world where humanity relates to God, to creation, and to one another harmoniously once again.  A world where the present life of hegemony, competition, chaos and power are replaced by the Kingdom life of mutuality, cooperation, harmony and service.

Bad theology produces bad living.  So I believe we need a new vision and a renewed theology of God’s purposes for us and all of creation that produces tangible, healing actions here and now.  Loving and serving one another; seeing all of life as sacred; asking for God’s way of harmonious life to come on earth; and being good stewards of creation by loving, serving and maintaining God’s good world.

If we’re not doing these things we are working counter to God’s good purposes, because God is everywhere and always working to make all things new—from the smallest plant to the tallest tree, from the ocean depths to the mountaintops, from the tiniest insect to the most sophisticated mammal.

God’s grand dream for the world, of which we are invited to be a part, is to make all things, to make everything, new and healed and redeemed.

May we join with God in this healing and hopeful endeavor.  AMEN.

 


[1]                   See Mark Buchanan, Your God is Too Safe.

[2]                   Theodore Hiebert, The New Interpreter’s Bible, “Excursus: Dominion or Dependence?” 8.

[3]                   The view first came to prominence in the mid-1800s through John Darby’s formulation of the rapture idea and dispensational theology, and later through the Schofield Reference Bible (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scofield_Reference_Bible), which popularized the view through its footnotes espousing this ideology.  The ultimate origin of the idea of the rapture is debated; however, many suggest that a woman named Margaret MacDonald was the first to interpret several biblical texts in this manner.  See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margaret_Macdonald_(Prophecy).

[4]                   See Romans 8.18-27.

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