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entrusted: planet

READ: Genesis 1-2:4

One of my favorite books in the last decade or so was written by a man named Daniel Qiunn, and the book’s title is “Ishmael.” In it, the character of Ishmael is an overly evolved ape who can communicate and have deep intellectual conversations with a man, who has agreed to be the ape’s student. Ishmael’s argument is whether humans will save the ape. And that statement becomes a metaphor for whether humans will save the earth — or destroy it. It’s a fascinating and important book. And in one of the scenes, Ishmael is explaining to the man the reality of what is happening to the planet. And he creates a metaphor, and the image is that of an early airplane — gliding through the air with the pilots quite proud of themselves. The pilots represent our society, and the plane, civilization on our planet. But while the humans are busy being so proud of themselves for actually inventing and flying, Quinn points out that because the plane is simply gliding, the ground is getting closer and closer, yet no one notices —or wants to notice — that fact, instead saying that surely, as superior as humans are, we will also invent a solution to keep the airship aloft. Yet the ground, incrementally, is getting closer and closer and closer… Like Quinn’s metaphor, humans — so proud of ourselves for believing we have created and we are controlling our own destiny — we refuse to see that every human action has a consequence to the natural world. And we’re getting closer and closer to an end. Too, that humans fail to recognize that we will someday have to answer for it — to make an account for what we’ve done, or failed to do, with that which we have been entrusted. Six Days This morning, we heard the Creation Account — all seven days — as recorded in the Book of Genesis. We don’t need to debate whether this account is literal or allegorical this morning; that doesn’t change the important lesson here. And so what we understand from this lengthy passage are two very important things: Everything was created by God; and Humans were created last — for a certain purpose. Now, remember, we’re in the second of a four-part sermon series titled “Entrusted,” in which we together will discover the very wonderful gifts we’ve been given by God, and what we are called to do with them. Last week, we talked about money, which ended up being sort of a currency that included the talents and gifts we’ve received from God, and how God calls us to reinvest in those gifts to live more into God’s kingdom. Today, that currency becomes the natural world. So this morning, we will look to the Creation Account to see exactly what that gift is that we’ve been entrusted with, and what we are called to do with it. In the beginning… So in five days, God creates everything. God orders chaos, separates land from sea, brings light, and creates an ecology that includes flora and fauna — plants and animals. God creates sustainable life. But on the sixth day, after seeing it all there laid out as far as the eye can see, God creates humans, man and woman. Did God save the best for last? Ishmael — and a whole lot of others — would say, well, probably not… As I read once somewhere: Remove the humans from the planet and the trees do just fine; Remove the trees from the planet, and the humans die. Regardless, humans tend to think this isn’t the case. Why? Well, let’s look at the text. In Verse 27, we learn that God created humans in God’s own divine image. That’s important. That means the flora and fauna weren’t created in God’s image; but only humans. That’s a gift. In Verse 28, God blessed the humans. And that, too, is a gift. These two short verses show us, well, we’re indeed special. Blessed! The account continues with God gifting all of creation to the humans. Giving the humans dominion over everything on earth. Some translations use the words “dominion” and “subdue” to describe what humans are charged to do. But, unfortunately, those words have caused great misunderstanding and great hurt to God’s creation. And to us. That word, Dominion, however, doesn’t mean Domination, as modern humans have interpreted it to mean. Abusive parents dominate. That’s a whole different idea of what God had given us. If we go back to the original language of Genesis — that is, Hebrew — we see that there are actually two different words meaning dominion, and with two different meanings. One of those Hebrew words is Mashal. And that has a negative connotation to an iron-fisted and cruel ruling over. But that’s not the word that is used in the Genesis Creation Account. That word for dominion is Radah. And that word means, and I quote here: “…a privileged position to rule over all of creation and also the solemn responsibility of exercising that control in accordance with God’s explicit instructions. It is not a dominion invested in human authority — it is derived from God alone. Human beings act as God’s vice regents over a created world.” In plain terms, that means simply this: God entrusted us to be caretakers of God’s creation. How did we humans somehow come up with the idea that we could be cruel toward, and irresponsible of, a gift that God gave us? Does a farmer have control of his or her livestock? Yes. But should that farmer abuse the livestock? No. Does a pet owner have control over their pet? Yes. Does that pet owner have the right to abuse the pet? No. Does a parent have authority over his or her children? Yes. Is it OK if that parent abuses the child? Certainly not. It’s a crime! Do humans have authority over the natural world? 
Yes. Is it right to abuse the natural world? No. Yet this is exactly what we do. Abuse of livestock, pets or children is reprehensible. It’s sickening. But yet when it comes to the planet, we seem to be completely OK with spewing toxic CO2 into the air and rolling back emissions standards; polluting rivers with our pesticides to keep our lawns unnaturally green; to allow dumping pollutants into rivers; to dump medical waste into the oceans; and to over graze fields and forests around the world. And those are macro-level problems. What about here in our communities, and in our homes? All the bottled water that we consume. All the Styrofoam plates and cups that we use. Every single piece of plastic ever made in this world is still in existence today. Intentions You see, that’s all because we’ve removed the idea of being caretakers from the original intent of the Creation Account itself. Instead of understanding that we’ve been given a gift to oversee — just like the Parable of the Talents that we studied last Sunday, in which God gave gifts that were intended to be invested, but when one of the people entrusted with the gift did nothing with it, God was furious. How much more worse will it be for us when we take a gift so good and so great and not only not invest it, but actually destroy it? You see, God gives a command in this Creation Account. And that command is this: “Be fruitful and multiply.” Or as our translation today reads: “Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth…” Verse 28. Inward… See, children, pets and even livestock have voices, in a sense. We can hear when they are being abused. The earth doesn’t really have that kind of a voice. In other words, we don’t necessarily put a face on this kind of abuse. We even make fun of it. You know, all those tree-huggers, and all those people who want to save frogs and owls and fish. We say global warming isn’t accurate, and so we soften the name by calling it climate change. And then we say climate change isn’t real either. Why? Why do we abuse such gifts from God? Martin Luther, the catalyst for the Protestant movement, called it homo incurvatus in se. That’s Latin for humans curved in on or inward toward ourselves. Self-focused. Self-centered. Selfish…. Luther calls that sin. That’s the same sin as the servant in the Parable of the Talents who refused to act on God’s gift. By looking at the steady and troubling decline of the condition of the natural world, including its atmosphere as well as flora and fauna, it is apparent that God’s people have turned and continue to turn away from God’s plan for humans as creation’s caretakers. Instead of being the stewards that God calls humans to be, we have become selfish abusers over the responsibility and the gift of creation. You see, in this sense, ownership is a lie. We don’t own any of it. We sure know we’re not taking any of it with us when we die… But we will be held accountable for what we’ve been given care over. Negative reinforcement? Now, we might hear this message today, and maybe even begin to understand the amazing gift and responsibility we’ve been entrusted with. That actually should make us happy. But I imagine that maybe we feel like we’re being given some sort of negative ultimatum that sounds a bit like a punitive God rather than a loving and merciful one. If we actually heed God’s command to be caretakers rather than abusers of creation — whether that abuse is active or passive — then surely we’re going to be punished if we destroy it. Was that God’s intention? As we said last week in the Parable of the Talents, God’s intention was for us to multiply those gifts, not diminish them. It would be like someone who loves you giving you a present on your birthday, and you opening it and then throwing it away or simply smashing to bits. How hurtful would that be to someone who gave you this gift? It doesn’t make sense, does it? Who would do such a thing? Why would God think we would do such a thing with God’s creation? It’s not a question of punishment; it’s a question of thankfulness. In Quinn’s book, Ishmael, the ape asks the human: Would not humans rather be the ones who were remembered as those who saved the world and its endangered species than the ones who destroyed them? The ape goes on to say how wonderful the world would view the humans, those who saved the world! Listen: We don’t need our egos stroked for doing what God commands us to do. But we also don’t have to look at good stewardship of nature as a command, either; because it is a gift. It’s the very thing that sustains us. We don’t have to look at it retributively either. That we’ll be punished for not doing what God has commanded. Those two things certainly are in play; however, who doesn’t enjoy the feeling of a gentle summer breeze, the artistic pallet of a morning sunrise, or the decadence of the autumn foliage? Who doesn’t want a better community, a place to safely recreate and a tomorrow for our children and grandchildren that they can enjoy? If it’s only a matter of inconvenience, we have to be honest with ourselves and the decisions we make each day. What we consume and why. Because taking care of a garden, a farm, a pet or a child is actually hard work sometimes. But we also understand the benefits of that hard work. That’s what a labor of love truly is. Rethink Well, sermons, as they say, are always supposed to have takeaways, right? Things we can practice to make God’s word more relational to our lives. I could point out a whole lot of ways we could all take better care: Reduce, Recycle, Reuse… But I’d be happier if we all simply Rethink. Rethink the Creation Account and what God is really calling us to do. Rethink the way we see our role — even as one person in 7 billion people on the planet today. Rethink what it means to have been given such an amazing responsibility; what it means to have been created in God’s own divine image; and what it means to be given such an amazing gift! Because that gift that we unwrap every morning when we open our eyes, pull back the curtains and look outside is exactly that: The entire natural world. A gift, just for you, made by God, and given over to your care! So that others, too, can enjoy it for centuries yet to come. Isn’t that extraordinary? You see, that’s exactly the kind of gifts an extraordinary God gives to each of us. God loves us, and trusts us that much! We are blessed because we’ve been entrusted. And we’ve been entrusted so we can bless others and bless God. .

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