Creation Care, Sunday 6th February 2022,
What is my attitude towards creation? Which one do you feel most at home with?
Attitudes to Creation.
1. Ecology and environmental issues are themes that we don't necessarily need to concern ourselves with. These are complicated issues for which we cannot find the solution as Christians. We'd better stay out of this one.
2. The point is that we bring people to Jesus and that people come to faith.
Evangelization and discipleship are the core of living the gospel.
Taking care of the environment is therefore not as important as these themes.
3. We should indeed take care of creation and I'm glad there are people who do this
and see their calling in this (but glad I don't have to).
4. Caring for the world is fundamental to the God of the Bible
and His purpose for people and the world.
Hopefully this sermon will get us thinking on this a little…
Psalm 104. You might have thought – that is a long psalm – yes it is! But it is more importantly, one of the most extensive psalms in the whole Book of Psalms, considering how much ground it covers. It gives us a grand tour, of God’s creation and his maintenance and sustaining of the cosmos.
And it begins with praise! V1 and v35 – as you look at your bibles – it begins and ends with ‘praise the Lord, o my soul!’ In that way it is linked to the psalm that comes before it – psalm 103 – which begins and ends in the same way. Psalm 103 gives praise for God’s actions as Saviour. Psalm 104 – our psalm – give praise for God as creator. Together these two psalms 103 and 104, form ‘’an essential theological pairing: the God of Salvation and the God of Creation are identified as one and the same.’’ (Brown, Psalms for Preaching, p.271).
A brief overview.
‘O LORD my God you are very great!’ A writer titled his commentary on this psalm ‘ How Great thou art!’ The worshipper exclaims in wonder at who God is, and invites us to join in with him.
There is light, heavens, rain, clouds, wind fire, flame. All natural and also meteorological occurrences.
But these are described as God’s garment, his tent, his room in a house, his chariot.
God – our God – is clad in radiant light, brighter than the sunniest day, brighter than the sun as it rises at the equator, brighter than the sun on a mountain as you stand above the clouds.
That God has his heavenly home about the heavenly waters.
And how Great is our God – an earthly king would travel by chariot pulled by horses; the Lord makes the clouds his chariot! And it is pulled by the wings of the wind. Such images – God is totally above any human ruler – and God controls all natural forces – he can order the winds to deliver his messages, the flames of fire – probably lightning bolts – are his servants.
‘How Great Thou Art’ is what the psalmist wants us to join in with…
He sets the ‘earth on his foundations’ – it cannot be moved. He is the world’s creator. As we hear in Genesis 1, the waters are gathered into places, dry land is to appear. God has control over creation.
First nine verses.
God is great. God is creator.
We see our beautiful environment, ordered by God as he willed,
sky, land, sea. This is our world.
BUT. This psalm then moves on. We just heard God has a heavenly home. But God is not passively sitting in his upper chambers, ignoring the world, or just watching it. ‘He is a ruler actively involved in the universe he rules.’ (South Asia Bible Commentary, Psalms, p.729). This world is not created by a deity, started off and then left to run by itself.
The verses which follow, describe in ‘present tenses’ God’s ‘’continual creative and preserving work in adapting all sorts of living creatures to their respective environments. He is the Creator and Sustainer.’’ (Howard Peskett, BST Mission, p,246).
Water is provided. Without water, plants die, animals die and finally humans die. It hard to imagine – as I preach this in February in the Netherlands – hard to imagine any shortage of rain.
Yet we can forget where the Bible was written – for those who have visited and know Israel – the dryness of the land, the change that truly comes when the rains arrive.
God provides food and shelter for animals and humans. But not just the basic needs – water he provides for humans. Not just basic needs – water – but wine that gladdens the heart, oil that makes the person’s face shine, bread to sustain the person’s heart. This is generous provision, seeking the thriving of humanity.
V19-23. Seasons and Patterns
Seasons and the patterns of life set by God. Sun and Moon. At night the animals of prey come out; daylight, man goes to work.
v24-26 – God’s Diversity and Wisdom. He erupts in praise for God’s diversity and his extravagance in creation. He just didn’t make a few creatures – but how many species are there? In 2011 there was a scientific study, reported by National Geographic, a study which estimated there could be up to 8,7 million species in our world; as of 2019, National Geographic said, we had identified maybe 1.6 million of them.
And such extravagant diversity shows God’s wisdom!
V27-30 – God as Sustainer. Creatures – including humans – look to God to sustain to provide. ‘We creatures do our work, we gather up what we can, we work in season, and out of season, but we are totally dependent on the Creator’s breath of life.’
He declares his desire that ‘the glory of the Lord would never cease to be revealed in the natural world, and he prays that the Lord would remain joyful over his good creation.’ (South Asia Bible Commentary, ibid., p.730). God has joy in creation – in his works – joy in his creating but also in his sustaining.
This is not boring for God. Our creation at this root, is a place of joy.
‘We are his servants, who seek to bring him joy, we want to work to preserve or renew his world, to let his glory shine forth.’ He looks at the world, he sees the problem of sin and he asks in effect ‘God’s kingdom may come, as in heaven, so on earth’ and he finished with a Hallelujah.’
Shaping us and how we live.
Wonder, Worship and Service.
As we reading Psalm 104, it is full of amazement at the wonders of our natural world. And it is not wonder at the sensational and spectacular sights, but also the wonder at the ‘dependable order of nature’ (Peskett, o,251), and the provision of our Creator God for all creatures and not just humans. So pondering on these things, wondering at these things we learn wisdom.
As someone said: ‘Wisdom is generated and sustained by wonder. To wonder, is to be intrigued, engaged, to behold and to be beholden to something. It is to be held in contemplation, to be provoked into thought.. To wonder is to seek to come to terms with the unfamiliar’ (Robert Forrest quoted by Howard Peskett, BST, p.251).
Early European Scientists had this sense of wonder. Thomas Keplar, who discovered the laws of planetary motion, spoke famously about ‘thinking God’s thoughts after him.’ (Thomas Keplar) as he examined the night sky. Wonder and awe at what we see but also about what we learn of God.
As we hear the psalm and the breath of it, a psalm is a prayer, or a hymn of praise in this case. Words directed to God. That is what Psalms are – that is one way we involve them in our own worship.
So can we take any parts of this psalm and weave them into our prayers and praises this coming week?
The Psalmist has met with God. Creation has become a vehicle to draw him in praise and prayer and a renewed sense of responsibility.
Is there a place in nature where you meet God or have met God, or where God has spoken to you in the past?
Many of us love the hymn ‘O Lord my God when I in awesome wonder… Your hymnals will probably say translated from the Russian by Revd Stuart Hine. That is correct. However, this Russian hymn was a translation of a Swedish hymn, written by Carl Boberg. Carl Boberg, a member of the Swedish Parliament from 1912 to 1931.
Boberg said of the writing of his song, “It was in 1885, and in the time of year when everything seemed to be in its richest coloring; the birds were singing in trees and wherever they could find a perch. On a particular afternoon, some friends and I had been to Kronobäck, in Eastern Sweden, where we had participated in an afternoon service. As we were returning a thunderstorm began to appear on the horizon. We hurried to shelter. There were loud claps of thunder, and the lighting flashed across the sky. Strong winds swept over the meadows and billowing fields of grain. However, the storm was soon over and the clear sky appeared with a beautiful rainbow.”
“After reaching my home, I opened my window toward the sea. The church bells were playing the tune of a hymn. That same evening I wrote a poem which I titled, ‘O Store Gud,’ (How Great Thou Art).”
Creation led him to God. The wonder, majesty of it, shaped and informed his praise.
Peter Harris and his wife Miranda founded the Christian environmental organization ARocha in 1983. He wrote in 2000. He felt our questions about care and responsibly for creation, was not just simply ‘what do we do about the environment’ but he felt we needed to ask ‘what sort of God do we believe in?’
He argues that Psalm 104 – written after the Fall – it gives clear testimony for God’s love and care for all creation as we know it. God cares for all creation and not just the human part. Our wonder, which leads to worship.
But as Romans 12 reminds us, our worship is not just on a Sunday but it is daily, ‘to offer your bodies as living sacrifices – holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.’ Wonder, to worship, to shaping how we live…
Psalm 104:20-22. The wild animals come out at evening and seek their ‘food from God’ as they hunt etc. They then return at sunrise to their dens, and humans go to work. Work within creation. Suggesting somehow, it all balances out. It is not an image of dominance but rather of ‘integration or interdependence. They all have room to thrive.
In Genesis 1, after God had made humankind in his image, he says: ‘God blessed them and said to them: Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’’
Humans are given dominion. Yet this is different from domination.
It depends on how we see the word ‘rule over’.
If we see ourselves as the kings and queens of creation, if we see our world as a machine, left running, with humans in sole authority, then domination and exploitation follow easily.
Yet God has not set the world off running like a clock and let us get on with it.
We – as human beings – are given authority under our Creator God. We have a unique status in creation – made in God’s image – yet our authority is to be exercised as royal stewards.
The image of God wording, carries this idea, of being God’s representative on earth.
We are accountable – always – to the king of kings and lord of lords, for how we have exercised the authority he has given us. So our dominion has a moral dimension. We are to exercise the authority in a way through reflects His character. We are here to look after what God has made.
The words in Genesis 1 are added to, in Genesis 2 – the man placed in the garden to work it and to keep it (using the traditional language). The language of ‘keeping’ has the idea of guarding in it.
It is possible that you may read or hear people say that our motive for looking after the environment is to protect ourselves, our children in the future. Maybe to help protect other parts of the world. But this motive is too limited the Bible shows us. ‘We care for the environment because God gives us this responsibility. ‘ (David Wilkinson, BST, Creation, p.42).
We are in the image of God – if we are to reflect the image of God, then we must exercise our God given responsibility in a way which reflects the way God exercises authority. We see in Genesis 1 and in Psalm 104, that God values diversity and fruitfulness.
The Anglican Communion – which is the worldwide network of Anglican Churches – since the 1990s has defined mission as having 5 marks.
For the Anglican Church, the Mission of the Church is the Mission of Christ.
These 5 marks.
*To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
*To teach, baptise and nurture new believers
*To respond to human need by loving service
*To transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation
*To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth.
J. Andrew Kirk, missiologist, wrote: ‘’I believe the Church at large as to endorse the findings of the World Council of Churches San Antonio Conference that
‘Mission in Christ’s way, must extend to God’s creation. Because the earth is the Lord’s, the responsibility of the church towards the earth is a crucial part of the church’s mission.’
(J . Andrew Kirk)
The psalm closed with – ‘the glory of the Lord would never cease to be revealed in the natural world, and he prays that the Lord would remain joyful over his good creation.’
Yet those words of prayer we need to consider : ‘in a era of pollution, environmental degradation and extinctions caused by human sin and greed, can we still see enough of the natural world to catch a glimpse of his glory revealed in it?’ (South Asia Commentary, ibid., p730). We now live in a world, for example, where there has been a 60% decline in the size of populations of mammals, fish, birds, amphibians and reptiles. Each of these created by God, valued by God, and loved by him.
Can the Lord still rejoice over his creation? God has delight at sustaining creation. That highlights the human role within creation – it is incumbent upon us to ensure that divine delight is sustained. So how can we not be active in working to see changes in our world? (Figures from Ruth Valerio, Tearfund).
Psalm 104 reminds us that we have many wonderful reasons for praising God in this magnificent world he has place us and all creatures within. We recognize the damage or degradations which our lovely planet has suffered and is suffering. ‘’The responsibility and mission of the Church is to show through our creation care, our love for the Creator.’’ (Peskett, ibid., p.256)
We do this in our work of stewardship by all appropriate means. With the advice of scientists. The insights of Christian organizations such as A Rocha and Tearfund, who among others, have reflected upon what stewardship can practically mean.
And in all this way, we wait for a new heavens and new earth. There are two greek words for new – neos – which means brand new, never seen before. And kainos – which means new in terms of quality, of nature.
So Jesus talks of new – neos – for new wineskins. But in 2 Cor 5:17, anyone in Christ is a new creation – there is continuity – you are you – but now there is quality, something unprecedented has happened – you are now spiritually alive.
The New heavens and new earth is kainos – a new quality to come, but continuity or linked to the past. So it is not that God gets ride of these heavens and this earth; there are renewed, a new quality to come.
So as we read Psalm 104, after Psalm 103…
Mission is about holding in a fruitful energizing balance our understanding that God is both Creator and Redeemer.
He calls us to care for all that he has made, as well as, to seek to save the lost.
Shall we pray.
Send your Holy Spirit to renew this Living World
That the whole creation in its groaning and striving
May know your loving purpose and come to reflect your glory in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.