“Restoring the Planet… and Ourselves”
June 11, 2017
By John Partridge*
Genesis 1:1 – 2:4 Matthew 28:16-20 2 Corinthians 13:11-13
On June first of this year (2017), President Donald Trump announced that the United States would cease to participate in the Paris climate agreement that had been signed by President Obama. Our news media has been full of stories on both sides of the issue. Naturally, Europe and leaders from around the world were opposed to him doing such a thing, but it also seems that the primary role of the United States under the Paris Agreement was to pay for other countries to comply. There have also been questions about whether the Paris Agreement was ever legally binding because it had twice failed to be ratified by the United States Senate as required by our Constitution.
I have to admit to some mixed feeling about what has been done for a variety of reasons and I find both good and bad points in the arguments of both sides. Regardless of your position or personal feelings about the Paris Agreement, or about climate change, or environmentalism, or any number of other hot button environmental issues, there are elements of scripture that require us to take a second look at the interests of environmentalism, but which also call us to look deeply into the mirror and consider who we are and what we have done with what we have been given.
Let’s begin at the beginning, at the creation of the world and all that exists. Let’s begin by reading the story of creation from Genesis 1:1 – 2:4.
1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.5 God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.
6 And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” 7 So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. 8 God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.
9 And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.
11 Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. 12 The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.
14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. 16 God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. 17 God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, 18 to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.
20 And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.” 21 So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.22 God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.”23 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day.
24 And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.
26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
27 So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
29 Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.
31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.
2:1 Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.
2 By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. 3 Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.
4 This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.
First, since this is Trinity Sunday, I want to point out that it was the Spirit of God that hovered over what had not yet been created, but I also want to point out that God’s command to humanity was not to fill the earth and destroy it, but to fill the earth and subdue it. When we subdue and animal, or even an enemy, the word subdue allows us to understand that what is subdued is not damaged, but repurposed or redirected. Wild horses are subdued so that they can be transformed into a creature that works side by side with humans to do things together that neither could ever do alone. Other animals are subdued so that they can be relocated away from populated areas. But in most cases, the act of subduing is done in a deliberate way so that the animal is not harmed. When God blesses humanity with the world that he has created, we are established as custodians and caretakers and not installed as overlords who are bent on domination and destruction.
But we know from the story of Adam and Eve, that our custodial care of the world quickly went disastrously wrong. Because of their sin, human beings were suddenly thrust from a garden in which their care was custodial, into a harsh world where every moment of their existence was focused on survival. What God saw at the end of the sixth day was “very good” but today, maybe not so much. After the sin of Adam and Eve and their ejection from the Garden of Eden, both humanity and the planet on which they lived began a serious decline. For thousands of years, not only did humanity struggle for survival, but we also struggled to rediscover the wonder of those early days in the garden, humanity has struggled to rediscover the kind of relationship and the closeness that Adam and Eve had with God but we were eternally separated from God by our sinfulness.
Until the arrival of Jesus.
The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross was the one thing that could repair our relationship with God and return us to the kind of closeness that humanity once had with God. That return, rescue, and restoration, was such amazing news that Jesus’ final words to his disciples were about what they needed to with what they had learned. In Matthew 28:16-20, we hear these words:
16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Jesus’ instruction is to go into the world and make disciples in every nation and to baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As we’ve discussed before, the word, “Trinity” doesn’t appear in scripture, and isn’t invented by the church for almost a hundred years, but Jesus obviously understood the concept that God existed as three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, regardless of what term you choose to describe it. But Jesus also cautions his disciples not to teach half-heartedly or with some kind of bias, but to teach everything that Jesus had taught them. And finally, as Jesus left, he reminded them that while he might be leaving the world physically, he would be with them always even until the end of the world. It doesn’t take a genius to understand that Jesus’ words were intended for us just as they were for the first disciples. Since humans only live for a few dozen years and then pass their mission on to the next generation, Jesus’ promise to remain with the disciples is clearly a message that Jesus remains with us still today.
But there is one more thing I want to point out. Beyond Jesus’ command to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations, there remains one more statement of purpose from the Apostle Paul that helps us to understand why we do the things we do. Besides simply obeying Jesus, or besides sharing because the story of Jesus, and the opportunity to repair our relationship with God, is best news ever (as that isn’t enough), Paul says this in 2 Corinthians 13:11-13,
11 Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.
12 Greet one another with a holy kiss. 13 All God’s people here send their greetings.
Paul says that we should celebrate because the story contained in the gospels truly is Good News but he also tells us that our goal should be full restoration. Not only should we accept Jesus as our rescuer, but we should also work toward restoring who we are to the perfection that God intended. Far too often, we are less than we could be, and less than God intended for us to be, because of our struggle with sin, and so, although we have already been forgiven, we must constantly be at work trying to move ourselves closer to God and closer to becoming the people that God created us to be. Most of us know that we can do better. It isn’t difficult to imagine a version of us that is better than the one that we see in the mirror. Our mission is to try to move toward that goal. But I also think that because God gave us intelligence, power, and authority over the planet, we are still the custodians and caretakers of the earth. We must work toward restoring the earth, as much as humanly possible, to the perfection that it once was, and maintain it, in good condition, for future generations.
Perfect people would have no use for a ruined planet, and as we’ve already seen, a perfect planet could not last long if it’s filled with ruined people.
We need to restore our planet, and ourselves, at the same time.
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* You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted on the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry Heights in Massillon, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646. These messages are available to anyone regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org. To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn. These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.