I used to hate nature.
I mean, the sweating, the mosquitos, the dirt. The sand. “It’s course and rough and irritating, and it gets everywhere.” Plus, I was a germaphobe.
Until I was in my mid-20’s I was content to stay inside in the air conditioning.
But then I went to Panama and spent weeks sleeping in tents and village huts in the jungle, I cut myself with a machete, I climbed mountains…
And I don’t know why, but on that trip something clicked for me. I don’t know if it was the scenic vistas or the biodiversity or the adventure, but I came home from that trip with a very different opinion about the natural world.
And it began a journey for me. I started doing solo backpacking trips in the woods, I developed an interest in plants and animals, I started growing a few things, and for the first time in my life I started to actually care about the state of the planet.
That journey has taken me to places I never expected. Today
• I spend my free time growing organic fruits and vegetables
• I drive a Prius and I’m saving up for solar panels
• my wife and I adopt rescue animals [image: chickens]
• and we’ve been vegetarians for over 5 years.
[video: Heather – no audio] Literally this last week Liv and I found ourselves bathing and blow-drying a sick chicken.
In the last 12 years or so, I went from an AC-loving, nature-hating, germophobic couch potato to basically a tree-hugging environmentalist.
In preparing for this new sermon series about creation care, I’ve been asking myself why. Why did my posture towards nature change so drastically?
I think the answer boils down to three things:
One, I’ve had a growing realization of my own connection with creation and how beautiful and life-giving that connection can be when it’s healthy.
Two, I’ve come to understand just how badly we've broken our planet and how disastrous the consequences could be (for the earth and for humanity – the poor and marginalized, the vulnerable) if we continue neglecting creation.
And three, perhaps most surprisingly, I’ve developed a renewed grasp of what Scripture teaches about all this stuff. And how the biblical call to care for creation has actually been staring us in the face this whole time.
Now, we don’t all have to start blow-drying chickens. But if creation care really is in the Bible, then we’d better pay attention to it!
Today we are kicking off our third annual Hope Month, where we do a deep dive into what Scripture has to say about healing one of the six broken places of our world.
This year we’re talking about the decay of our planet. Or to flip that around, our call to join God in caring for creation.
We get the word “decay” from the book of Romans, by the way. Paul says,
The creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.
When we look around today and see environmental catastrophes and species extinction and wildfires and climate change we know what it means for creation to groan. And we know this isn’t the way it’s meant to be.
So, Hope Month. We’re going to search scripture to answer three big questions:
1. Why should I care?
2. What should I do?
3. What if it’s not enough?
Throughout the month there’s going to be a bunch of other stuff going on. Bonus content online, events, activities… and, for the first time in many years, we’re bringing back Weekend of Service!
On August 28 and 29, we’re not having worship services at all. We’re going to close down the building and go out into our world to care for creation together. [invite a friend]
If you want to register for a project, go to gracechurch.us/hope. I do recommend that you get on that quick, because some of the coolest projects will probably fill up fast.
And by the way, we do have a number of family friendly projects, so if you have little ones, they can participate too!
It’s going to be great.
GOD AND CREATION
So let’s dive in. Why should we care?
Well, I’ll give away the ending right now. The answer is because God cares. God cares about his creation.
Let me show you what I mean. Please turn with me to Psalm 104:10, Page _____.
Now, we’re only going to touch on this psalm, but there’s so much great stuff here. If you really want to learn more, I made a 20-minute-long deep dive into Psalm 104 on my YouTube channel. We’re talking Egyptian mythology, Hebrew parallelism. It’s fun.
Alright, let’s dive in. The psalm starts at a really cosmic level - God creating the universe and the stars and the earth itself, and then we read this.
You make springs pour water into the ravines,
so streams gush down from the mountains.
They provide water for all the animals,
and the wild donkeys quench their thirst.
The birds nest beside the streams
and sing among the branches of the trees.
You send rain on the mountains from your heavenly home,
and you fill the earth with the fruit of your labor.
You cause grass to grow for the livestock
and plants for people to use.
You allow them to produce food from the earth—
wine to make them glad,
olive oil to soothe their skin,
and bread to give them strength.
The trees of the LORD are well cared for—
the cedars of Lebanon that he planted.
There the birds make their nests,
and the storks make their homes in the cypresses.
High in the mountains live the wild goats,
and the rocks form a refuge for the hyraxes.
I love the imagery of this psalm. It’s as if the writer is starting on a mountaintop, descending into a fertile valley, and then back up the other side, observing what he sees along the way.
And what does he see? He sees life and provision. He sees, as it says in verse 13, the “fruit of God’s labor.”
Here’s what’s interesting. Yes, in the middle of this passage God’s providing food and wine for humans to enjoy, but he’s also everywhere else, providing places for birds to nest and water for donkeys to drink.
Trees are not just part of the scenery here. Verse 16. They’re the “trees of the Lord.” God plants them himself. God cares for them.
He’s like the ultimate gardener, nurturing every part of his Creation to flourish.
Let’s keep reading.
O LORD, what a variety of things you have made!
In wisdom you have made them all.
The earth is full of your creatures.
Here is the ocean, vast and wide,
teeming with life of every kind,
both large and small.
See the ships sailing along,
and Leviathan, which you made to play in the sea.
They all depend on you
to give them food as they need it.
When you supply it, they gather it.
You open your hand to feed them,
and they are richly satisfied.
But if you turn away from them, they panic.
When you take away their breath,
they die and turn again to dust.
When you give them your breath, life is created,
and you renew the face of the earth.
“The earth is full of your creatures… they all depend on you… You supply their food. You give them your breath.”
Here’s what I want you to notice: in this whole psalm God is active. It’s all in the present tense. God is doing all of this as we speak. Whether we see it or not.
In other words, creation is not just some historical event, where God created everything and let nature run its course.
No. According to Scripture - and believe me, Psalm 104 is hardly the only place we see this - God is actively sustaining this world. He’s providing food right now for his creatures. He’s providing water for his trees, his grass. He’s involved.
Jesus himself said,
Not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it.
And look at verse 30! It’s God’s very breath - his Spirit (same word in Hebrew) - It’s God’s breath that gives life to everything. God’s Spirit is the animating force of life in the universe.
Put simply, wherever we see life flourishing in this world, we see God’s hand at work.
Here’s what this tells me. It’s tells me that,
God cares about his creation.
God is not indifferent about the health of his planet. About the wellbeing of his creatures. About the natural order that he masterfully designed.
God cares about his Creation. And any conversation about the environment, or the decay of the planet - it has to start there. God cares. So we probably should too.
HUMANITY AND CREATION
So how are we doing with that? How well are we as a species caring for the creation that God is so actively nurturing?
Well, we’re not doing so great.
For one thing, humanity has tended to treat the earth as a resource to exploit. While God is gently nurturing life, we’re deforesting the Amazon to plant palm trees, we’re blowing up mountaintops to get coal, we’re ripping up ancient prairies to give cattle more space to graze…
And this isn’t just a modern thing, either. Just about every ancient civilization collapsed at least in part because of over-exploitation of the natural world.
We treat creation like a pile of commodities to consume.
Another thing. While God is paying loving attention to every sparrow and cypress tree, we’re allowing invasive species to take over our landscapes, we’re destroying natural habitats to grow vast monocultures of corn and soybeans, and we’re exploiting God’s creatures in a way that just is not humane.
On top of all this, while God is “filling the earth with the fruit of his labor,” as Psalm 104 says, what are we filling it with?
We’re polluting waterways with toxic chemicals, we’re filling the ocean with plastic waste, and we’re pumping enough CO2 into the atmosphere to practically guarantee the untold suffering of plants, animals, and humans alike by the end of this century.
So, no. Humanity is not doing an amazing job.
While our God is a God of life, order, abundance, and provision, as a species we seem to be hell-bent on death and destruction and chaos.
God cares about his creation. But so far, humans have proven that we don’t.
UN-BREAK THE WORLD
So how do we respond to this? Because if you’re like me, this can be really overwhelming.
What do we do when the relationship between humanity and the planet we live on is so deeply broken?
Well, what do we do about the other broken places? Injustice, pain, isolation, hatred, the separation of people from God in the first place…
We try to heal them. They’re all overwhelming and huge. But we trust, with those broken places, that God is in the business of restoration.
We trust that he wants to bring humanity back to Eden. Back to blessing. And we trust that we can play a part in that.
Restored relationships, justice, peace… We are the hands and feet of Jesus.
It’s why Christ came to the world in the first place. To heal it. To un-break it.
Why wouldn’t that include our broken relationship with creation itself? He came to heal injustice. He also came to heal decay.
Listen to how Paul put it in Colossians 1.
Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.
He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation,
for through him God created everything
in the heavenly realms and on earth…
He existed before anything else,
and he holds all creation together.
That sounds like Psalm 104. God as the life-giving sustainer of Creation - holding it all together.
But then listen to this, just a couple of verses later.
For God in all his fullness
was pleased to live in Christ,
and through him God reconciled
everything to himself.
He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth
by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.
So he holds all creation together and he reconciled everything through the death and resurrection of Jesus.
This word “reconcile,” in Greek it’s just like healing the relationship between two friends who had a falling out. It’s replacing their hostility with love.
We have had a falling out with Creation itself. We’re enemies! But God, though Christ, is reconciling us. He holds all creation together and now he’s making peace.
So if that’s what God is doing through Jesus, then what should we do? Well, as Paul says, we should
Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children.
Imitate God. Look at what God’s doing in the world and join him. Look for God’s hand at work and try to do the same thing.
And what do we see God doing? Psalm 104!
We see him nurturing creation, spreading life and abundance, caring for the world he made…
We’ve all seen how adorable it is when a child imitates their parent, right? Like a toy lawnmower. If we see our father at work, we can imitate him.
God cares for His Creation. We can too!
And just imagine for a moment if we really believed this. Imagine what would happen if the Church was actually leading the way in caring for this planet.
Think about how much the credibility gap would close if we took a stand as a community and said, “we’re going to care for this creation because we serve the Creator himself.”
This is an opportunity for us to put our faith into action in such a way that our community might actually sit up and take notice.
God cares for this creation. It’s time we do the same.
HOW DO WE JOIN HIM?
So that’s what this series is all about. For the next few weeks we’re going to spend some time digging into what that looks like.
Next week we’re going to look at how the breakdown of our relationship with creation started in the first place and find some clues about the kind of life we were mean to live on this earth.
We’ll also start to get practical about what it actually looks like to imitate God in healing the planet.
What I want you to understand today, though, is that as we go through this series, this is not about feeling guilty. It’s not about imposing a bunch of little hardships on your life so you can get points for “going green.”
Nor is this about mandating a specific lifestyle. I may joke that I’m a tree-hugging environmentalist now, but I’ve got a long way to go. You should see our house’s energy bill. It’s embarrassing!
No. This series is not about feeling guilty. This series is about changing our mentality. Thinking differently about our place in the world we live in.
It’s about realizing that we are not just mindless consumers here to suck the earth dry until we zip off to a disembodied heaven.
It’s about understanding that we are an integral part of a vibrant creation which is being reborn into a New Creation as we speak.
Ultimately, it’s about understanding that our best possible life comes from joining God in the things he cares about. In the work that he’s doing.
God cares about “renewing the face of the earth,” as Psalm 104 says. We can join him in that work, and – I believe – experience some of that renewal ourselves.
Guys, the creator of life itself – our Father – is extending an invitation to us. “Imitate me,” he says.
I say we give it a try and see where this journey takes us.