25 years ago, grey wolves were re-introduced to Yellowstone National Park. Elk populations were completely out of control ever since wolves had been completely eradicated there by the 1920’s.
Once the wolves came back to help regulate the elk, the most unexpected things started happening.
Elk and other grazing animals started avoiding places where they could be easy pickings, which allowed river valleys to regrow with shrubs and trees.
With more trees growing, birds started coming back, as well as beavers, who used these new trees to build dams in the rivers again. These dams created habitat for muskrats and ducks and otters and amphibians and fish and reptiles, all of which started proliferating again.
And on top of all of this, the rivers themselves started changing. The regenerating forests prevented erosion, allowing their banks to stabilize, for deeper pools to form, and helping the land retain more moisture, which gave a huge number of plants and animals a chance to thrive once again…
It is crazy to think that one small act of re-wilding the land could lead to such powerful healing of an ecosystem. And how one thoughtless act of destruction 100 years ago could lead to so many unexpected consequences.
I don’t think humanity realizes just how much power we have to change our world… Or how connected we are to the thriving or devastation of the creation around us.
Welcome back to Hope Month at Grace Church. This year it’s all about healing the broken place of Decay, and learning how to care for God’s creation.
We’re asking three big questions in this series:
Last week we asked, “Why should I care?” The short answer: because God cares about his creation.
This week we’re asking, “What should I do?” In response to that.
Next week we’ll ask, “What if it’s not enough?”
To cap it all off, on August 28 and 29, it’s Weekend of Service. [describe invasive removal projects]
So let’s keep the conversation going. If God cares about his creation, and if he has designed it to thrive, what should we do to care about it as well?
To answer that, we have to ask a big question:
How did God intend for things to be in his creation? And how did things go so terribly wrong?
We have to go back to the beginning. The first book of our Bibles, Genesis, has two different accounts of creation.
The first focuses on God creating everything - stars and mountains and elephants. He brings order and life out of the watery abyss of chaos.
The second story zooms in on God creating humanity and the garden of Eden. This time he brings order and life out of a dry wasteland.
In both cases, God turns chaos and disorder into order because that’s who he is. He turns a place of death into a place of abundance of life. And he calls his creation “very good.”
Into this abundant paradise, God places humans.
So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.”
It says God makes us in his image. What this means is that we are his representatives. When creation looks at us, in other words, it should see an image reflecting God’s intentions for the world.
This is why God tells the humans to “fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the animals…”
As God’s images, we are here to rule on God’s behalf. We are the princes and princesses of creation. We’re like the elder siblings of all living things.
In the second creation story it says something similar,
The LORD God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it.
In other words, from the very beginning, humanity had a job to do, to carry on God’s creative intentions. To be his images. To tend and watch over the garden of life and all that lived inside, just like we saw God doing last week in Psalm 104.
Humans are the stewards of this earth.
And in return, the earth is meant to be bountiful. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds… Everywhere you look in the garden of Eden there is plenty. Abundance.
And there’s peace between all creatures. Adam’s first job is to give all the animals names. In the ancient world, names were a huge part of your identity. And God’s given that job to Adam.
You can imagine them all gathering around to find out what he’ll call them. “You are swan. You, my friend, are panther. And you… naked mole rat, I guess?”
You get what I’m trying to say, though. It’s basically Narnia.
Last week we talked about how God is actively sustaining and nurturing life. Well, as the stewards of creation, that’s what humanity is here to do as well.
It’s crazy, right? This is wild stuff. The writer of Psalm 8 had trouble getting his head around it, too.
What are mere mortals that you should think about them,
human beings that you should care for them?
Yet you made them only a little lower than God
and crowned them with glory and honor.
You gave them charge of everything you made,
putting all things under their authority—
the flocks and the herds
and all the wild animals,
the birds in the sky, the fish in the sea,
and everything that swims the ocean currents.
We were created to be the stewards of creation. The caretakers of all living things. The shepherds. The gardeners. Woven into a harmonious relationship with the natural world and flourishing ourselves as a result.
So how did it all go so wrong? Why is “creation groaning” as Romans 8 says?
Well, let’s start by talking about how things fell apart in Eden.
In Genesis 3, the man, Adam (which literally means “human”), and the woman, Eve (which literally means “life bringer”) make a choice.
They are deceived by a crafty serpent. And this is important, because remember… what are humans meant to do with the animals? We’re meant to rule over them.
But here, they are giving one of these creatures authority over them.
The serpent convinces them to eat fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and bad.
Up to this point, God has been the only one defining what is good and bad, but now humans want to take matters into their own hands.
“We’ll decide what’s good for us. What’s good for the world.”
As a result, they bring about the Curse.
And what is the curse? It’s the consequence of trying to rule in our own way, not God’s.
It’s separation from God, both in our relationship with him and separation from his intentions… it’s pain and injustice and hatred and isolation…
It’s the brokenness of our world. But not just brokenness between humans. This brokenness includes our relationship with the earth itself.
God explains it this way to Adam:
The ground is cursed because of you.
All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it.
It will grow thorns and thistles for you,
though you will eat of its grains.
By the sweat of your brow
will you have food to eat
until you return to the ground
from which you were made.
For you were made from dust,
and to dust you will return.
“The ground is cursed because of you.” In Hebrew, the word for “ground” is adamah.
ʾaḏāmāh - ground
ʾāḏām - human
And the word for human is Adam. God formed Adam out of the adamah. He breathed life into the dust. Humanity was born out of this creation. Out of the ground.
And now we’re at war with it. Adam and adamah are in conflict. “All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it.” And the ground will fight back with thorns and thistles. This is a war.
Where once there was life and abundance, now there is conflict and desolation. Where once there was order, now there is chaos.
Where once there was harmony between the creatures, now there is pain and death.
A few chapters later, as Noah is leaving the ark after the flood, God tells him that now
All the animals of the earth, all the birds of the sky, all the small animals that scurry along the ground, and all the fish in the sea will look on you with fear and terror.
Things have broken down. The gates of Eden are closed.
It’s not hard to see that breakdown even today.
Think about those wolves hunted to extinction in Yellowstone. We didn’t like them attacking our cattle, so we got rid of them, which led to elk starving to death and ecosystems disappearing and rivers eroding their banks.
That’s not the way things were meant to be.
And that’s just one story. Species extinction, pollution, climate change, the thoughtless exploitation of natural resources, the senseless suffering of countless creatures…
Humans were meant to be the benevolent rulers of the earth, but now we’ve become despots. We’ve spread the Curse.
And in return, our own abundance is threatened. Food scarcity and poverty and disease…
We have squandered what we were meant to steward.
So that’s… terrible.
But guess what? I’ve got good news.
Our God was not content to let our sin and brokenness win the day. Even in that moment when the Curse was unleashed on creation, God began a rescue mission to bring us back to the garden of Eden. Back to life. Back to blessing.
That mission culminated in Jesus Christ, who took the Curse on himself on that cross, and rose again to declare that the days of blessing - the days of Eden - are back.
Jesus opened the gates, and now we can enter the garden once again.
Does this mean a healed relationship between us and God? Absolutely. Does it mean a healed relationship between humans and one another? Of course.
But it also means a healed relationship between humanity and creation itself.
Adam and adamah reconciled through Christ.
The Old Testament prophets understood this was where things were headed. They looked around at the brokenness of their world and they knew where God was taking creation.
Not just abundance and life for the earth, but human flourishing as well. A return to Eden. Listen to this!
Even the wilderness and desert will be glad in those days.
The wasteland will rejoice and blossom with spring crocuses.
Yes, there will be an abundance of flowers
and singing and joy!…
There the LORD will display his glory,
the splendor of our God…
And when he comes, he will open the eyes of the blind
and unplug the ears of the deaf.
The lame will leap like a deer,
and those who cannot speak will sing for joy!
Springs will gush forth in the wilderness,
and streams will water the wasteland.
The parched ground will become a pool,
and springs of water will satisfy the thirsty land.
It is a return to Eden. Order out of chaos again. Not just for humanity, but for all living things.
In that day the wolf and the lamb will live together;
the leopard will lie down with the baby goat.
The calf and the yearling will be safe with the lion,
and a little child will lead them all.
Think about that. No more fear and terror among our fellow creatures.
I talked last week about how God cares for his creation. And this is what it looks like. Gently restoring the things we’ve broken. Breathing life into the things we’ve killed. Spreading abundance where we have spread scarcity.
God is healing this creation, and we don’t deserve this, but he still wants us to be his representatives in that work. To be his images. To do what he would do.
We are still invited to be stewards of God’s creation.
Jesus ended the Curse on the cross. Adam and adamah are reconciled in him. And now, creation can heal.
Last week we asked, “Why should I care?" The question for today is “What should I do?”
The answer, I believe, is that we should steward creation again. Get back to our original vocation as the caretakers of the garden.
How do we do that? I’d suggest there are three ways we can start.
The first is simple:
1. Pay attention
So much of our life today is disconnected from the natural world.
Our rooms are climate-controlled, our food is wrapped in plastic hundreds of miles away from where it was grown, and the consequences of our choices are hidden from us…
Right? You buy a $7 t-shirt and never see the toxins dumped into a river in Bangladesh to make it.
You buy a banana at the grocery store and never see the pile of unsold bananas that get thrown away.
Where did our meat come from? How much CO2 was produced to make this new phone? Where does all our garbage end up? We just don’t see it.
Again, I’m not trying to make any of us feel guilty here. The whole system is designed for us to not see these things.
All I’m saying is that if we want to become stewards of creation again, we have to learn how to pay attention.
Like those wolves in Yellowstone. Getting rid of them was shortsighted. We didn’t pay attention. But now we’re learning to do that. We can see the effects of our actions.
We’re learning how Adam and adamah in relationship.
Let’s learn how to pay attention to the food we eat. To where our stuff comes from. To the air we breathe. To the energy we use.
Let’s pay attention to the plants and animals around us and see God’s Spirit bringing life.
When we do, not only will we see the brokenness of our world, but we’ll learn to see how God is healing it.
And maybe, just maybe, we’ll notice opportunities for us to jump in and do the same.
So. Pay attention. Second,
2. Steward your patch of Eden
It can be so overwhelming when you see everything going on with our planet. You can’t control what other countries and multinational corporations are doing.
It’s tempting to just give up. Because what could I possibly do?
We’re going to talk a lot more about this next week, but here’s what I want you to understand. God is not inviting you to heal the world. He’s inviting you to heal your world.
And he has given you his Holy Spirit to make that possible. Remember: we are the hands and feet of Jesus. We are the image of God. His representatives.
And every one of us has a sphere of influence.
Whether you live on 100 acres or you live in a one bedroom apartment.
Whether you’ve got a huge family or you live alone.
Whether you’ve got a herd of cattle or a chihuahua.
You have a patch of creation to steward. You have a neighborhood, a town, a county. Together, we share 48 acres here on 146th Street.
How are you making your sphere of influence more like Eden?
How are you nurturing life? Pushing back on the Curse and helping your patch of creation flourish…
How are you caring for the creatures around you? Wild and domestic.
How are you becoming a source of life, not a source of destruction?
Like I said last week, I’m not advocating for a specific lifestyle. I’m advocating for a change in our mentality.
God has made you a steward of his creation. A ruler over the patch of Eden that he has given you. Are you a benevolent one?
Pay attention. Steward your patch of Eden. And finally,
3. Follow your passion
One of the most beautiful aspects of God’s design for humanity is that he didn’t make any two of us the same.
Each of us has unique skills and gifts and passions, and it’s only in community that we fully represent God’s intentions for the world.
Now, this is true about the six broken places broadly - some of us are passionate about injustice, others about separation from God. But it’s also true about caring for creation.
Some of us are passionate about biodiversity, others are wild about animals, some of us have a green thumb… When we step into these passions and others around us are stepping into theirs, that’s when our community can bring about actual change.
Just like with the 6 broken places, all of them are important, but it’s when we step into our passion that we truly come alive.
What is your passion within creation care?
Is it Sustainability? Reducing your footprint on the earth, decreasing waste and living simply?
Is it Organic Farming? (When I say that I don’t mean federal certification) I’m talking about working with the earth and not against it to grow food?
Is it Biodiversity? Protecting natural habitats and helping pollinators and indigenous species flourish?
Is it Animal Welfare? Working to make sure God’s creatures are cared for and dignified?
Or is it Clean Energy? Leading the way in renewable sources of energy to fight against climate change?
Again, these are all important for us to bring to bear in our patch of Eden, but what is your passion?
Because we need you to step into it (and influence the rest of us!) if we ever want this world to change.
And just imagine if we did. If we all paid attention. If we all committed to steward our patch of Eden. And if we were all following our God-given passions to help God’s creation thrive…
If we did this together in the name of Jesus, I believe this broken world would start to look a lot more like it was meant to be.