“Creation Care”

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Rev. Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer

April 24, 2016 (Earth Sunday)

Genesis 2:4b-17

 

One of my earliest memories of church is a memory of this story.  I must have been in fourth grade, because that was the year we received our first Bibles, and then we spent time in church school learning about how the Bible came to be and studying a variety of its stories.  And of course, one of the stories we learned was the story of creation.  (Actually, if you look carefully, you’ll find that there are two stories of creation, back to back, the first one in the first chapter of Genesis, and the second, the one we heard this morning, in the second chapter.  The stories are not the same; in fact, they offer contradictory versions of how the earth and its creatures came to be.  But that’s another story altogether, and you’ll have to look it up when you get home.)

Back in fourth grade, when we studied this story, one of the activities we did was make dioramas of the Garden of Eden.  We used colorful modeling clay, and pipe cleaners, and tissue paper, and cardboard, and pictures we cut out of magazines, and all kinds of other materials.  My friend Kathryn and I worked as partners on the project.  We imagined Eden as a tropical paradise.  In a shoebox turned on its side, we created palm trees and bright flowers, birds and frogs and monkeys and, of course, a snake.  In that paradise we placed two human figures, Adam and Eve, dressed in construction paper fig leaves.

Kathryn and I pictured Eden the way it is often portrayed in the popular imagination—a utopia, a perfect primordial place where nothing goes wrong, everything goes right, everyone lives in perfect harmony with one another, and all the inhabitants spend their days in luxurious enjoyment of the beauty that surrounds them.  It’s a nice fantasy.  But the thing is, that’s not actually what the book of Genesis describes.

No, the story in the Bible describes the land as empty in the beginning.  The soil is rich and fertile, but nothing yet grows there, because there is no rain and no one to cultivate the earth.  And then God forms a creature from the earth and breathes the breath of life into his nostrils, and that soil-creature becomes a human being.  (The original Hebrew text gives it another layer of meaning.  The word for “soil” is adamah, and the word for “human” is adamAdam from adamah, human from humus—you get the idea.  Our earthly origins are encoded into the very names by which our species is called.)

Only then does God plant a garden in Eden, in the east, and God puts the human there—did you catch this when Zoe read it?—“to farm it and to take care of it.”  This is the original human vocation, the reason for which, according to this story, our species exists.  Adam and Eve were not put in that garden to lounge about all day doing nothing but munching on edible fruits from beautiful trees and drinking sweet water from a burbling stream.  They were not put there to tromp around as they wished, satisfying their own desires without considering their impact on the rest of the garden’s creatures.  They were put there as caretakers, as stewards, charged with the care and preservation of the garden and all that lived there.

That is not to say that they did not delight in their garden home.  They were surrounded by every beautiful tree, nourished by every delicious fruit, sustained by fertile soil and plentiful water.  All they had to do was take care of the earth, which was the very source of their being, and enjoy the lives and the surroundings God had given them.  And when they took care of the earth, it took care of them.

Of course, there is that pesky bit about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  If you remember how the story goes, if you remember what comes next, then you know that the humans do in fact eat that fruit, the one fruit that is declared off-limits for them.  Rather than dying, as today’s reading promises they will, they are kicked out of Eden, out into what you might call the real world, where life is harder and much more complicated.  And although that tree and its fruit and the human choice to eat of it, like the dueling creation stories in the opening chapters of our Bible, is another story for another day, it seems pretty clear to me that we are still living in that real world, complete with the knowledge of good and evil and the complicated choices that knowledge brings.

 

Paper or plastic?  Hydroelectric or nuclear?  Mountaintop removal or hydraulic fracking?  Prius or minivan or sports car or hand-me-down clunker?

Out here in the real world, we face choices every day about what is efficient, what is convenient, what is necessary, what is moral, what is affordable, what is preferable, what is possible.  Sometimes the decision is obvious, but most of the time, it is anything but.  Most of the time, for most of us, this means making compromises, doing the best we can with the information and resources that are available to us.  There is no one formula for these calculations, no one recipe to follow in our daily decision-making.

But what we all have in common, and what we cannot compromise, is this:  we are here on this earth with a purpose, and that purpose is nothing less than the care and preservation of creation.  Not only for our own benefit, but for the benefit of future generations.  Not only for our own species, but for all inhabitants of this God-so-loved world.  We are inextricably connected to the earth and to our fellow travelers here.  The water we drink has been frozen in icy glaciers and evaporated in steamy rain forests, tossed in ocean waves and held in underground aquifers.  The oxygen we breathe has flowed through the nostrils of dinosaurs and the gills of sharks and the mouths of golden retrievers and the pores of redwood trees.  We are indeed adam from adamah, made at the most fundamental level of stardust and spirit.

 

It turns out that even Eden was not as simple a place as Kathryn and I imagined back in fourth grade.  And it turns out that real life in the real world is downright complicated.  But if we remember who we are, from whence we come, and to whom we belong, we and our planet just might stand a chance.  When we take care of the earth, it will take care of us.  And with each decision, each step we take toward faithful stewardship of this splendid planet, we will move closer and closer to the right relationship God intended for us, to communion with all of creation, and to joyful restoration to the delight of our garden home.

May it be so.

 


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