Mission and Creation Care (4) Genesis 1-9, September 25th 2022

Mission and Creation Care (4) Genesis 1-9, September 25th 2022

Sermon : September 25th Creation Care 4? ‘Mission on God’s Earth’

Genesis 8:15-9:17; and Matthew 22:34-40.

As a church we talk about UP, IN, OUT – out you could describe as Mission.

The Foundations of Mission are the Creation Platform.

In Acts 17, in Athens, Paul is speaking to a sophisticated  polytheistic audience. He skilfully preaches a scriptural – so OT / Hebrew Bible in his time – worldview, but without quoting the OT. The Hebrew scriptures would not have carried much weight with his hearers – compared to his mission practice when speaking to Jewish audiences in the synagogues and elsewhere (see the earlier parts of Acts 17 as an example). He preaches this biblical worldview using a few well known phrases and some quotations from their own cultural heritage. And by so doing, Paul lays down a platform of OT creation theology on which the message of Jesus is built.

It includes monotheism – God as creator

God as non-material and distinct from creation

God as Lord of human history

God in relation to human life, ignorance and idolatry,

God as moral judge.

You see these all in Acts 17:24-31.

As theologian and Anglican minister Chris Wright says ‘’A biblical basis of mission must begin with this creation platform because it provides the basic biblical world-view of reality.’’ Evangel Summer 1996 p.38.

These early chapters of Genesis, set out the relationship of God, earth and humanity. It sets before us the basic human obligations – love and obedience towards God, care and keeping the earth, and mutual love and care for one another. All of these relationships and obligations can be observed and expounded from the early chapters of Genesis and are essential to an understanding of mission –

as  Chris Wright says: ‘’one cannot understand what makes the gospel to be GOOD NEWS, unless one has grasped what the bad news is in relation to the way God meant human life on earth to be.’’ P.38 ibid.

Wright goes on to say: ‘’ the biblical gospel only makes sense only in relation to a biblical worldview, which means an OT Creation worldview and ALL its implications.’’ P.38.

What do learn of humanity from Genesis 1-3…

A – HUMANITY – on earth with a mission.

Humaniy – every one of us – has been given a purpose, a mission under God. Our mission begins with being human, not just being Christian. We were put on earth with a task and a goal, which our Christian identity does not replace or rescind.

Ecological dimension. There is the command in 1:27 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.’’

And the instruction to humans Genesis 2:15 ‘’The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.’’ To work it – some translations say ‘dress it’ – it is commonly translated as elsewhere as ‘serve’. To take care of it, has ideas of guarding. Serving and guarding.

Ruling, dominion, through servanthood when we put the two together. This is humanity’s role, which is of course, an interesting reflection of Christ’s. The Servant King.

Archbiship Welby said in the Queen’s funeral, that the Queen declared on a 21st birthday broadcast that her whole life would be dedicated to serving the Nation and Commonwealth. Servant Queen.  Ruling and servanthood.

Earthkeeping, stewardship of creation – all this is a vital human duty, and a legitimate part of Christian mission, since being a Christian should enhance, not deny, our human obedience to our Creator. God will hold us as accountable for our humanity as for our Christianity.

Humans have an assignment. More than an invitation. It is a mission. ‘Go to all of my creation and tend it’ – the first missionary commission.

Economic dimension. The right and responsibility of work is part of the image of God in human life. Work existed before the Fall. It is not part of the Fall! Human life on God’s earth, requires economic structures and relationships. Christian concern for economic justice can also be included as a legitimate dimension of mission – it is a major biblical concern as we see in the laws given to Israel.

Humanity – on earth with a mission.

B)Humanity – Created in God’s Image

We touched on this last week. All humans have dignity and status and represent God  – we are all made in the image.

 But two more aspects that are relevant to Mission. This basic truth means that all human beings are addressable by God and all human beings are accountable to God. All humans can enter into relationship with him. Mission is not to a religious group – Hindu or Muslim – but to people in God’s image, to whom God can speak and who stand before God in his judgment and mercy. 

All humanity created in God’s image

C)Humanity – Made in, and for, Relationship

‘Male and female he made them’ … ‘it is not good that man should be alone.’ 1:27 and 2:18.

God’s creative intention for human life includes social relationships. So, active concern, for just and loving relationship, not only marriage, between people and communities, is a vital part of Christian mission, just as it was an essential element in the power of the gospel, according to Paul in Ephesians 2 -3 where the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile is broken down.’’

Humanity made in and for relationship.

D)Humanity –in Rebellion

Christian mission must work with a holistic view of sin and evil.

Sin affects every dimension of the human person.

The profound simplicity of the story of the fall in Genesis 3 describes the entry of sin into human life in its spiritual dimension (distrust of God),

mental dimension (Eve’s use of rational and senses in a disobedient direction),

physical dimension (she took and ate),

and social dimension (she shared it with her husband who ‘was with her’.).

Sin affects human society and history.

The early Genesis narratives describe the spread of sin from family to society and through generations of nations, until Noah’s time and beyond.  Sin is more than individual sin, it affects the conditions and structures of human life, and it affects the historical setting into which each generation is born. Truly the sins of the fathers and mothers do affect the world into which the next generation are born.

Sin affects the whole physical environment.

Through sin, the earth is placed under a curse.

Humanity in Rebellion and its broad effects

We need to look closer at our Fallen World.  

God makes a covenant with Noah, Genesis 8:15-9:17. It is the first explicit time that covenant making is mentioned in the scripture.

What do we note.

God’s commitment to all life on earth.

God has just radically judged human sin. Yet he still commits himself to the created order itself, and to the preservation of life on the planet. It is important to remember – while we live on a cursed earth (see Genesis 3 and Romans 8), we also live on a covenanted earth.  There is an unambiguous  universality about God’s covenantal self-commitment here: his promise is not just with humanity, it is also with ‘every living creature on earth’ – 9:10.  This Noahic covenant provides a platform for the ongoing mission of God throughout the rest of human and natural history. Whatever God does, or whatever God calls us to do, there is a basic stability to the context of all our history.  ‘Never again will all life be cut off’. 

Now, this does not mean of course, that God would never again use his natural creation as an agent of his judgement as well as his blessing – as we see in other parts of the OT.  But the covenant does set limits to such actions within history. Apart from the final judgement of God that will bring an end to fallen human history as we currently know  and experience it, on this sinful planet, the curse will never again be expressed in an act of comprehensible destruction as the flood. This is God’s earth and God is covenantly committed to its survival to its ultimate redemption. Even the final judgment will not mean the end of the earth as God’s creation but the end of the sinful condition that has subjected the whole of creation to its present frustration.  Our mission takes place within the framework of God’s universal promise to the created order.

Ecological dimension of mission.

Now the words that God speaks to Noah, at the end of the flood clearly echoes Genesis , that we mentioned earlier. 1. In a sense it is a fresh start for all creation. So Noah and his family are blessed and instructed to fill the earth, and (though not with the same phrase) to have dominion over it. The creation mandate is renewed.  The human task remains the same – pre-fall, post fall – to exercise authority over the rest of creation, but to do so with care and respect for life, symbolized in the prohibition on eating animal blood. 

So there is a human mission – to return to that theme – a human mission built into our origins  in God’s creation and God’s purpose for creation.  As Chris Wright says: ‘’To care for creation is in fact the first purposive statement that is made about the human species; it is our primary mission on the planet. ‘’ p.327, Mission of God.  The covenant with Noah effectively renews this mission, within the context of God’s own commitment to creation…

The earth is the Lords

As we heard Paul declare in Acts 17, the earth belongs to God because he made. Deut 10 says: To the LORD your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. (10:14). And God himself says to Job in 41:11, ‘everything under heaven belongs to me.’’

So creation reminds us: that if the earth is God’s, it is not ours. We do not own this planet, even if our behavior seems to act like we do. No, God is the earth’s landlord, and we are God’s tenants.  God has given the earth into our possession, but we do not hold the title deed of ultimate ownership.  So like any landlord-tenant relationship, God holds us accountable to himself, for how we treat his property.

The whole earth.

So if God owns the whole universe, there is nowhere that does not belong to him. There is nowhere we can step off his property, either into the property of some other deity or into some autonomous sphere of our own private ownership!

Remember Deuteronomy 10. To the Lord your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. 

Think of Jesus before his ascension – to return to the Great Commission. The risen Jesus says: All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me’ – Jesus thus claims the same ownership and sovereignty over all creation as the Old Testament affirms for YHWH. 

The whole earth belongs to Jesus. It belongs to him by right of creation, by right of redemption and by right of future inheritance as Paul declares in Colossians 1:15-20. 

So wherever we go in his name, we are walking on his property. There  is not an inch of the planet that does not belong to Christ.

Care of Creation and Christian Mission.

Great would be the numbers who care about creation and take our environmental responsibilities seriously. Maybe we choose sustainable forms of energy, maybe we switch off unneeded tech; we avoid overconsumption and unnecessary waste, recycle as much as possible…

The number would be smaller who would include the care of creation within their biblical concept of mission – of their OUT. 

In the past, Christians have instinctively been concerned over great and urgent issues in every generation and rightly included them in their overall concept of mission calling and practice. These have included the evils of disease, slavery and other forms of exploitation. Christians have taken up the cause of widows, orphans, refuges, prisoners, insane, challenged poverty.

So is climate / creation care an urgent issue? If so we should be engaged.  If God’s creation is abused, we seek to align our mission objectives to include what matters to him. William Wilberforce, as one of his arguments against slavery, was how all were made in God’s image and thus how could you treat fellow humans as slaves… the value God placed on his human creation mobilised action. How does the value God place on his creation mobilise action?

Creation Care flows from love and obedience to God.

We heard Jesus say – that to Love your God is the first and greatest commandment.

In human experience, to love someone, means you care for what belongs to them. Trashing someone elses property does not line up with any claim to love that other person, does it? We have seen in this message and in the Word, that the earth is God’s property.

And more specifically it belongs to Christ who made it, redeemed it, and is heir to it.

To take good care of the earth for the sake of Christ, is surely a fundamental dimension of the calling on all God’s people to love him.  Is it possible to love and worship God, be disciples of Jesus and have not concern for the earth that bears his stamp of ownership?

John 14: if you love me, keep my commandments. The Lord’s commandments begin and are restated in Genesis 9, with the fundamental creation mandate to care for the earth.  Obedience to that command is as much a part of our human mission and duty as any of the other duties and responsibilities built into creation – such as the task of filling the earth, engaging in the rhythm of productive work and rest and marriage.

Wright: ‘’Being a Christian does not release from being human.

Nor does a distinct Christian mission negate our human mission, for God holds us accountable as much for our humanity as for our Christianity.

 As Christian human beings, therefore we are doubly bound to see active care for creation as a fundamental part of what it means to love and obey God.’’ Wright, The Mission of God, P.414.

 Shall we pray.